Contemporary Blog,  News / Blog

Dementia, first language and reminiscence

A Cows and Boats

Working on the Arora, Dementia Friendly Community project today and the workshop theme was loosely tweed, blether about boats and cows. Also, the residents in both the Isle of Lewis and the Isle of Harris care homes were in superb voice.

In a Lewis Care Home, Mary Smith joined me with her spinning wheel and the Smith family heirloom blanket. The blanket contains wool spun on a spinning wheel, a gift from the groom to the bride, circa 1897. This item brought stories of traditional wedding presents in days gone by.

One lady told us that on the occasion of her marriage, she had received her granny’s spinning wheel and a cow.

Daisy, the brown cow with white spots was taken by this lady’s brother by boat from Balesheare in North Uist, to her new pasture on the shore at Cromore in South Lochs, Isle of Lewis.

How on earth, do you handle a cow on a boat? I am having enough problems with seven cows on dryland. Well kind off dryish land, my Isle of Lewis croft, early in April, after a wet spring season.

A cow on a boat… well, that reminded me of another story, a lady from Great Bernera, had told me about a place in Kirkibost called Liana na Ba Mhanaich.

An Isle of Man boat had come to the shore due to the ship’s cow being poorly. The cow later expired, hence the name of the field. This knowledgeable Bernera lady explained it was common practice to have a cow aboard the larger fishing boats, long ago, to provide fresh milk, to protect the crew from scurvy.

But back to today’s story, about a cow as a wedding gift.

Now I recall that, in the late 1970s, a wedding dowry in one part of Harris, comprised of half a house and a cow.

Understandable, as a cow was part of the extended family, before dairies and supermarkets provided fresh milk.

Although, cheese and butter, could be purchased from the village merchants.

This reminds me of one of my grandfather’s favourite stories “A slightly unscrupulous man visited the merchant’s house. He stole a large slab of butter and promptly hid it under his hat.

The merchant realising a slab of butter was missing, invited the man to sit closer to the fire, which he banked up with lots of good black peat, while they yarned.

Offering copious amounts of tea from the pot, the man was unable to make his excuses and leave the merchant’s house before the butter melted and ran down his face!”

In the Isle of Harris gathering today, a lady admired the tweed garments I had taken from my colourful wardrobe and spoke of her own early 1970s, Harris Tweed Wedding dress. An early trend setter!

Having to purchase an entire bale of ecru tweed from Smiths, Todds or Newalls in Stornoway, for the princely sum of £52.00.   She sat up through the night removing the darker coloured flecks with tweezers. Then sketched the design and the wedding dress was tailored by Mrs Macleod of Steinish.

Lengths of the same ecru tweed was dyed by the same mill, to the bride’s specification, to make her three bridesmaid’s dresses.

What remained of the tweed bale she later used to make curtains for her new home. Not one scrap of that bale of tweed went to waste.

The 1970s bride reckons she made quite a saving, buying a bale of tweed for £52.00 when a wedding dress would have cost ‘hundreds’

The Gaelic songs we sung today included Eilidh, Feasgar agus Ceo Ann, Balaich an Iasgaich, Eilean Fraoich, Stocainnean Diamon, Dòmhnall Dubh an Dòmhnallaich, Morag Bheag Nighean Mhurchaidh an t-Saoir.

*Mental note to self: learn Murdani Mast’s song ‘I once had a girl friend that came from Cromore’ having come across not one but two, Cromore ladies today.

Contributions offered round the room were Chi mi an Tir, Eilean Beag Donn a Chuan. Lovely Stornoway and others, including this verse about the village of Carloway. A song which I had never heard before:

‘S bidh baile mòr an Càrlabhagh

Bidh bùthtean agus sràidean ann,

‘S bùrn Loch Langabhat am pìob

‘S chan fhaic tu treabh nan ceàrdan ann

‘S bidh baile mòr an Càrlabhagh

Finally this quote is from one of the ladies “The Gaelic songs are so warm in my heart. It is so wonderful to sing them, na daoine againn fhìn, amongst our friends here. It is just lovely that we can still remember them and have a laugh together”.