Encroachments on our Ancient Language

Recently I was flipping through the Old Statistical Account, written in the 1790s. I was wondering whether a particular individual in Inveran, situated in what I knew was a Gaelic-speaking parish, would have understood English or not. The parish accounts revealed the beginning of a mighty cultural transformation, from one tongue to another.

The minister of Tain did a detailed analysis. He found that the ‘inhabitants of the town speak the English, and also the Gaelic or Erse. Both languages are preached in the church. Few of the older people, in the country part of the parish, understand the English language; but the children are now … taught to read English.’ In rural Rogart, those with English ‘speak it grammatically, though with the accent peculiar to most of the Northern Highlanders.’ So, in the 1790s townspeople were probably bilingual, older country-people were probably monoglot Gaelic speakers, and younger country-people were taught English at school.

Lt Col Sutherland in Gaidhlig

Lieutenant Colonel Alasdair Sutherland (1743-1822) from Braegrudy, Rogart, is buried underneath this rather ostentatious pillar which details his life in both English and Gaelic. Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie

The second (or New) Statistical Account was written in the 1830s and 40s. By then Gaelic was still generally spoken in rural parishes and more and more people could also read it: in Kincardine each family owned a Gaelic Bible and Psalm-book. The minister of Lairg even thought that because they could read, the people now spoke their own language ‘more correctly.’

English was gaining ground. Young people learned at school but a ‘considerable proportion’ of Rogart’s population acquired the language ‘from books, and occasional conversation with educated persons’. They were therefore ‘more easily intelligible to an Englishman than the dialect spoken by the Lowland Scotch’ because their English had only ‘a degree of mountain accent and Celtic idiom’. Some English speakers had settled in the area, but they had not had any effect. These shepherds had moved from the Lowlands as the Sutherland Estate developed commercial sheep rearing operations and could speak only English. Lacking Gaelic must have meant a rather lonely existence. Their families had assimilated and all spoke Gaelic.

Despite the extension of English, the ministers of Lairg and Kincardine felt Gaelic had not lost ground as it was used in everyday and in religious life. The rural parishes which bucked this trend were Creich, where English was used by the majority, and Edderton, where they spoke ‘English less or more perfectly’. It is probably no coincidence that these parishes are close to the towns of Dornoch and Tain.

Intrigued by this change, yesterday evening I took a turn about the town of Dornoch, then drove to Pittentrail before cycling towards Lairg. I wanted to find evidence of Gaelic. There wasn’t much. Most was tokenistic, or connected with names of streets, towns or houses. There was a nice little collection of materials in the Dornoch Bookshop and a poster for traditional music events. When and how did this dissolution of Gaelic happen?

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The towns acted as catalysts for language change. In Dornoch this was dated from about 1810 and in Golspie from the 1790s. It was ascribed to the influx of ‘persons from the south country’ and to the increase in formal education, first in Gaelic then in English. The minister of Dornoch noted this was as much due to Gaelic schools as to English ones. Indeed in the town of Tain it was rare to find a person under the age of thirty who could speak Gaelic.

Tain was a complex parish, or perhaps the minister took a more sophisticated approach to analysing it. The parish was equally divided with Gaelic spoken in the country and in the fishing village of Inver while the town and the ‘higher ranks’ were English speakers. The parish of Dornoch has a similar town/country make-up and it would have been interesting to know if the situation was similar there.

 Language in Tain parish town Country/Inver village
Gaelic only 66 96
English only 100 36

The minister’s numbers indicate most people were bilingual, but he did warn this was not really the case. Presumably most people had a dominant language and could get by in the other.

In the 1840s Gaelic was still the preferred language of the people. Apart from in the town of Tain they used it for communicating with each other and they preferred attending Gaelic church services. However the minister of Dornoch could see what was coming. He expected that the ‘encroachments on our ancient language’ meant that in sixty or seventy years, that is by about 1900, it would be extinct.

He wasn’t far wrong.

 

Sources

Old Statistical Account and New Statistical Account of Scotland. Parishes of Creich, Dornoch, Edderton, Golspie, Kincardine, Lairg, Rogart, Tain. http://stataccscot.edina.ac.uk/static/statacc/dist/home

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Alex’s Farm: On Space, Time and Going Places

They watched me, keeking through the living room window, as my bike skimmed from Pittentrail towards the A9 junction at the Mound. I was racing the light. Too easy in early summer, intoxicated by the evening daytime, to forget the gloaming. And to forget the invisibility of an unexpected cyclist. All evening Janet had plied me with biscuits to wash down the tea as I noted down what Alex patiently explained of the annual tasks of a sheepman. Half-understood notes I found weeks later, scrumpled in my fluorescent pink cycling jacket, when I had returned from the conference in Kentucky. Anxiety at my inadequate knowledge of practical farming had been ameliorated by discovering most speakers at the Agricultural History Society were fine historians but few could have overwintered a cow any more successfully than myself. So in June, at ten o’clock at night, Alex and Janet checked out the window, across two fields and the River Fleet, to ensure the pink blob was safely whizzing east on the A839 to the sea-line and back to Dornoch.
Two hundred years ago I wouldn’t have been there and not for the obvious reasons of my and the bike’s lack of existence. Cycling the mile west to Pittentrail, fording the river, returning east 6 miles then rousing the boatman at Little Ferry to cross Loch Fleet would have been a nonsense, particularly as there was a direct road passing Eiden Farm through Torboll Farm, on the correct side of the estuary and only 2 ½ miles. Today’s road, on the north rather than the south bank, dates from the Sutherland Estate’s investment in infrastructure in the 1810s.

The A839 which joins the A9 to Pittentrail, Lairg and then the north west. Complete with it's own herd of wild goats. Photograph from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie.

The A839 which joins the A9 to Pittentrail, Lairg and then the north west. Complete with its own herd of wild goats. Photograph from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie.

William Young and Thomas Telford’s innovative crossing of the Fleet-mouth was a boon for east-coast travellers, and it made the Estate’s north bank road practicable. The tarmac thread connects some places, but it has added several miles between me and the Campbells. Only a few minutes on the bike, but the best part of an hour by foot, the way most folk travelled two hundred years ago. And in my mind’s map today’s network of roads has divorced places which are actually held fast.

Eiden, looking towardsTorboll and the Mound. Taken from the A839. Photo from colelction of Elizabeth Ritchie

Eiden, looking towards Torboll and the Mound. Taken from the A839. Photo from collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Last Autumn Alex treated me to an archaeology tour by tractor. I jumped out to open gates on what was the Eiden-Torboll road, its edges tasselled with alder and birch. Up on the rolling ridge, where a warmer climate had once permitted arable farming, crouched the heap of the chambered cairn and the tell-tale circles of Iron Age houses. Folk who farmed Eiden long before the Campbell men, according to family legend, tempted up from Argyll by promises of land made by their sister newly wed to the Earl of Sutherland back in the sixeenth century. And then Alex proposed a wee jaunt, just a bittie further, to see an old stone. Being particularly fond of old stones I was intrigued by the initials C on the Eiden side, and B on the Torboll side. I told him how, before the year Bonnie Prince Charlie came, territory was marked by walking the boys round the boundaries and beating them. The pain and trauma incising the marches in their consciousness. Painting a rock seems a better idea.

Roy's Military Survey of Scotland, 1747-1755. Shows the site of Eiden and Torboll Farms before clearance of townships, the creation of improvement farms and the building of the Mound and the north bank road. The south bank road is marked as a brown line. Image from the National Map Library of Scotland http://maps.nls.uk/roy/index.html

Roy’s Military Survey of Scotland, 1747-1755. Shows the site of Eiden and Torboll Farms and the road up Strath Carnaig before clearance of townships, the creation of improvement farms and the building of the Mound and the north bank road. The south bank road is marked as a brown line. Covers the joins of three modern OS maps. Image from the National Map Library of Scotland http://maps.nls.uk/roy/index.html

But, pushed against the wind on that unremarkable ridge, I realised I was only a few hundred yards away from the site of several Sunday afternoon explorations in Strath Carnaig. My mental map had placed there much closer to home: a mere wiggle up the Loch Buidhe road from my side of the Mound. My place of Sunday hillwanders and a challenging cycling circuit. Eiden, on the other hand, was connected with Alex selling raffle tickets at winter ceilidhs in the Pittentrail Hall and the fun of playing tunes with the Accordion and Fiddle Club on Thursday nights. Yet here I was, looking at both of them together. The Hall just down there, and the Loch Buidhe road over by. Alex’s farm was in both. Bridges stretched across the fissure in my mind’s map.

Alex knew the old places I had tramped on those Sunday afternoons: the white-walled house with the green porch; the wobbly triangle of wall suggesting to the sheep that the grazing might be better within; and the head dyke up Strath Tollaidh (a strath it took me four years to notice, being incised into forgettable stubs by the division between OS map 16 and 21) which once kept the cattle out of the olden people’s crops. He knows them because, despite the illusion created by the technological advances of the 1810s and the happenstances of map boundaries, the separating space does not exist. They are the same place. It is the old road that tells that story: the one from Eiden past Torboll that we bumped along in the tractor; that all the generations before Thomas Telford walked when they drove their cattle; carried their cheese and butter to market; and along which the twelve year old boys slouched each term to board at Dornoch Academy.

The new roads connected some places. Other places, their connectedness now only by tractor tracks and hillpaths, became separate, even remote, as we whizz over the tarmac on our bikes.

With thanks to the Campbells for their generosity in tea, biscuits, sharing of knowledge, tractor rides, lambing tutorials, and allowing me to publish this!

The funeral of James Sutherland of Pronsie, 1741

This week’s post is by Malcolm Bangor-Jones. Malcolm is a civil servant who makes regular contributions on Sutherland’s history to the ‘Am Bratach’ newsletter and to various academic publications.

In November 1741 James Sutherland lay sick in bed at Aberscross. James was Sutherland of Pronsie, wadsetter (or mortgage holder) to the Earl of Sutherland who had a controlling interest in the Skelbo estate in which Pronsie sat. The family had possessed Pronsienaird since early in the seventeenth century. James’ grandfather had expanded the family’s influence in 1679 and in 1687 by obtaining the wadset of Knockarthur and Easter Aberscross: the place where his grandsons, first James then William, were to die of the “rageing Distemper”.

A longhouse at Aberscross. There is no way of telling whether it was the building in which Sutherland died of his 'raging distemper' or if one of his neighbours lived there. It overlooks the route the thirty carriers of his coffin would take across Loch Fleet to burial in Dornoch. Picture: From collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

A longhouse at Aberscross. There is no way of telling whether it was the building in which Sutherland died of his ‘raging distemper’ or if one of his neighbours lived there. It overlooks the route the thirty carriers of his coffin would take across Loch Fleet to burial in Dornoch. Picture: From collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Isabella Grant had only been married to James for six years when she was widowed. She was left with two daughters, Margaret and Jean. Later Isabella married Dr John Gordon, surgeon at Golspietower and later of Jamaica. James did not leave his affairs in good order. He had not made up his title to his property (never a good sign) and was succeeded by his brother, David, who did not either. This David Sutherland of Knockarthur was generally agreed to be “remarkably weak in his understanding [and] altogether unfitt for manageing the affairs of [Margaret and Jean]”. Efforts were made to overturn his appointment. This was part of the battle over who should administer the affairs of the girls, and over the Isabella’s jointure. Both ‘sides’ appealed to the Earl of Sutherland for support. For the Earl, James’s death meant the loss of one of his political ‘friends’ or voters at a time when his political contest with the Mackays was intensifying.

As well as casting light on regional politics, the legal tussling over power and money after James’ death left a series of financial accounts about his funeral. These tell us about how minor gentry in the Highlands dealt with death and how they spent money at funerals to bolster their status.

Kenneth Sutherland, a joiner as well as bailie and sheriff substitute, in Dornoch charged for a “WenScot Cophin” £3; a “Box for Do Intralls” 6 shillings [30p]; the cost of “ane Express for Carriing” them to Aberscross 1 shilling [5p]; “Blaking ye Kirk Doors of Dornoch” 7 shillings [35p]; “Making the Funrall Table” 10 shillings [50p]; cash for “ale to Men for takeing off & putting on ye Grave Stons” 1 shilling 6d [7½p].

Andrew MacCulloch, bailie of Dornoch, charged for borrowing two mortcloths from the church (the funds from the mortcloths went towards assisting the poor), “Toleing the Great Bell for ii Days”, “the Litle Bell & making of the Grave”, and paying “the Beadle for going to Aberscorss with the Mort Cloaths”. That account came to just over £2. MacCulloch also furnished liquor: “3 Doz: 4 [40] Botles Claret & Zerry” £4; 3 “Botles Spirits” 6s; ale 1s; and candles 2s. Alexander Gray of Inverbrora, the renowned drover, added “two Dozen Botles Cherry for Pronsies Funeralls” at a cost of £1 16s [£1.80].

Aberscross. The longhouse pictured above is located in the centre left among clear evidence of walled garden areas. Even two hundred years after the township was given over to sheep the distinction between the arable infield and the pastoral outfield is clear in the grass and heather vegetation. Photo: From collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

Aberscross. The longhouse pictured above is located in the centre left among clear evidence of walled garden areas. Even two hundred years after the township was given over to sheep the distinction between the arable infield and the pastoral outfield is clear in the grass and heather vegetation. Photo: From collection of Elizabeth Ritchie

The corpse needed to be carried from Aberscross to Dornoch to be interred. John Polson, tacksman of Navidale, and John Peterkin provided victuals and drink to over 30 men from the parishes of Loth and Golspie. Polson’s account included “Conveening at Geo: Mcpherson house Kintradwell for Eale”. [This was probably the Wilkhouse Inn.] Peterkin provided rum and ale as well as ‘meat’ or food for the coffin carriers.

Various goods for the funeral, at a cost of £14 10s sterling, were sourced from Nicolas Ross, a merchant in Tain. The list included: “2 Ounces Cinnamon, 1 oz netmoogg [nutmeg], 1oz Mace, ½ pound black Spice, ½ pd Jemaicca Spice, 2 pound Rice, 2 pds Raisens, 2 pounds Currens, 2 pds pruins, 6 pounds pouder Suggar, 7 pounds 5 ozs loaf Suggar” – ingredients for a plum cake. He also supplied mourning materials: “3½ yards Cambrick @ 8/6, 1½ yards Do finer @ 10/, 6 yards black Ribeen, 5 Drops Dark blew Silk, Ane Card black Slive Buttons, a pair of black Stockens”. And he provided yet more drink: “6 Dozen and 1 Bottle Clerret,1 Dozen and 1 Botle white wine, 1 Botle best Clerret”, four bottles of vinegar, four bottles of brandy, four bottles of rum, and then a further two dozen bottles of white wine and two dozen flint wine glasses.

The accounts tell us a good deal about the arrangements although we must guess at some aspects. It seems there was a relatively protracted watch between the death and the burial, hence the need for Pronsie being disembowelled. His body was placed in the wooden ‘wainscot’ coffin and his entrails in a box. During this extended wake, which was typical of this sort of funeral, ‘guests’ would enjoy hospitality and view the deceased. Invitations may have been sent out to relatives, friends and acquaintances of equal or higher degree. Some would have come a distance. The hospitality may have included funeral bread baked with flour rather than meal, and it certainly included plum cake. There was a good deal of alcohol which could give rise to ‘unseemly’ behaviour. The funeral procession involved the wider community, not only of Dornoch but including men from at least as far off as Loth and Golspie. The kirk bells were rung announcing the death and a hand bell was probably rung alongside the funeral procession.

Just as in the Lowlands, these elaborate and public arrangements were what was expected of a minor gentry family at this period. It was a way in which social status was marked, whether the Sutherlands of Pronsie could readily afford it or not.

Poverty and Poor Relief

This week’s blog is submitted by Graham Hannaford who is studying from his home in Australia for his Masters in ‘Highlands and Islands History’ at the University of the Highlands and Islands.

 It’s never much fun being poor but in the Highlands of the mid-nineteenth century, things were really grim. Queen Victoria was reigning over an empire on which the sun never set, but many of her subjects in her beloved Scottish Highlands were barely surviving, living in terrible conditions.

The old and new poor laws in Scotland attempted to avoid starvation in the population. There was no expectation that any relief provided would be generous and it is clear that both before and after 1845 when new laws came into being providing for relief for the poor, many, including in the Highlands, lived in circumstances which can only be described as appalling. There was an expectation that people should provide for themselves by their own labour and if that failed, families took responsibility; only when all else failed did parishes take over care, being required to raise the money needed to take care of their own paupers. While we might sometimes view the events as being a long time ago, 1845 was within the lifetime of my own great-grandfather.

The Old and New Statistical Accounts of Scotland provide detailed parish reports completed through responses to a long list of questions. According to the Old Accounts (1790’s), in the parish of Dornoch, potatoes became a principal food source by about 1758, with at least some of the population subsisting on them for up to two thirds of the year. In addition, of an estimated population of about 2600 in the parish, some 80-100 were on the Poor Roll but there was no regular fund for their support except that raised in the Sunday collections in church and occasional small fines levied on delinquents. Such collections amounted to only about seven pounds sterling per annum, and from that figure some salaries were paid. The next Statistical Account for Dornoch, forty years later, lists a population of about 3400, with much of the increase ascribed to the tendency to marry young. Some 120-130 persons at this time were receiving parochial aid, with about £70 available for distribution among them; the lowest amount provided to a pauper was 6 shillings, the highest 25.

Further up the coast in the parish of Golspie, Rev William Keith reported for the Old Account that of the approximately 1700 population, 100 were on the poor list; but with a net amount of about £8 to distribute among them, no one individual could expect much help. Forty years later, Rev. Alexander MacPherson reported for the follow-up survey that the population had fallen to 1149, with the decrease having arisen “from a powerful cause, which has been, for the last 40 years,  in full operations in all the Highlands of Scotland” – the Highland clearances. On average, 60 persons received some poor relief, amounting to about 8 shillings each, and some meal, but none could survive entirely on this aid. When we look at the situation in these two parishes, we can see why the central government enacted new Poor Laws in 1845 in an attempt to try and provide some improvements.

Only some fragments of the documentary records of poor relief have survived to today. However, below is a copy of a 3 July 1874 receipt for payment by Donald MacKay of Badninish of parochial assessment levied. The document survives in our own Historylinks Museum collection. It is interesting to see that poor relief and schools were the major beneficiaries of the rates this year, while public health was apparently sufficiently funded from elsewhere.

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The Statistical Accounts of Scotland can be found online here: http://edina.ac.uk/stat-acc-scot/ 

For a modest subscription fee you can access lots of great associated resources as well as the keyword search facility.

Donald’s Journey Part 1

Donald Sage was born in the Manse, half way up the Strath of Kildonan, in 1789.  When he was twelve he and his older brother Aeneas were sent to Dornoch to go to the grammar school there.  (Aeneas was the Anglicised form of Angus).  In middle age Donald reminisced about his life in a book with the rather off-putting title of Memorabilia Domestica.  A few weeks ago I blogged about his description of Dornoch’s market day and of a funeral which turned into a fight.  Over the next wee while I am going to post about more of his schoolboy experiences in the town, which really bring to life what Dornoch was like over two hundred years ago.  His journey to the town, being only his second trip away from home, made quite an impression him and gives wonderful glimpses into the places between Kildonan and Dornoch.  This is the first post about his journey.  He recalled that

“My brother impresses himself strongly on my reminiscences of this particular period of my life. I was warmly attached to him. Our fishing expeditions together on the burn to its very source, and along the bank of the river, and on one occasion to Loch Ascaig; our excursions … for blae-berries and cloud-berries, all now recall to my remembrance my brother’s … affection. It was about the beginning of November, 1801, I think, that we went together to the school at Dornoch.”

Until then Donald and Aeneas had been educated at the parish school and by their father.  They had learned the basics and had moved on to Latin.  Early in 1801 social unrest in Kildonan required the Sheriff to come north and he lodged with the minister’s family.  He tested the boys in their Latin and

“He was much pleased with my answers, and said that, if my father would send my brother and me to school at Dornoch, he would keep us for three months in his own house. He repeated the same thing to my father next day at parting, assuring him that the parochial teacher at Dornoch was resorted to as a teacher of ability and success. The proposal was entertained, and preparations were made for us to go thither in the beginning of November.

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Kildonan Manse.  Picture by kind premission of Timespan Heritage Centre and SCRAN.

“The morning of the day of our departure from under the paternal roof, to attend a public school, at last dawned upon us. My brother and I had slept but little that night. After breakfasting by candlelight, we found our modes of conveyance ready for us at the entry-door. My father mounted his good black horse Toby, a purchase he had lately made from Captain Sackville Sutherland of Uppat, while my brother and I were lifted to the backs of two garrons employed as work-horses on the farm. We set forward, and both my sisters accompanied us to the ford on the burn, close by the churchyard, whence, after a few tears shed at the prospect of our first separation, we proceeded on our journey accompanied by a man on foot. We crossed the Crask, and stopped for refreshment at an inn below Kintradwell, in the parish of Loth, called Wilk-house, which stood close by the shore. This Highland hostelry, with its host Robert Gordon and his bustling, talkative wife, were closely associated with my early years, comprehending those of my attendance at school and college. The parlour, the general rendezvous for all comers of every sort and size, had two windows, one in front and another in the gable, and the floor of the room had, according to the prevailing code of cleanliness, about half an inch of sand upon it in lieu of carpeting.

As we alighted before the door we were received by Robert Wilkhouse, or “Rob tighe na faochaig,” as he was usually called, with many bows indicative of welcome, whilst his bustling helpmeet repeated the same protestations of welcome on our crossing the threshold. We dined heartily on cold meat, eggs, new cheese, and milk. Tam, our attendant, was not forgotten; his pedestrian exercise had given him a keen appetite, and it was abundantly satisfied.”

And so the boys set out on their journey with their father and with a servant, Tam.  Rather than take the road through the Strath that we would drive along today, it seems that they crossed the River Helmsdale and walked through Glen Loth.  They joined the coast at the inn and, after eating their substantial meal in the sand-floored room, they continued south, following the route that the A9 takes today.

Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica or Parish Life in the North of Scotland [freely available online at archive.org if you want to read more]

Fisherman’s Friend

In the early 1820s Embo was re-developed as a commerical fishing village.  As the Sutherland Estate commercialised their vast tracts of land, they moved people around, sometimes forcibly, and introduced new industries.  The Estate re-organised the village of Embo to promote commercial fishing, building it on a modern grid pattern of streets imitating Edinburgh’s New Town and the redevelopment of Paris.  In about 1819 a young fisherman sat in a house in the new village, ignoring his boisterous children, to puzzle over the letters in a Gaelic psalm book.  He was a devout Christian but, living several miles from the parish church in Dornoch and with a young family, he wasn’t always able to get to Sunday services or the Sabbath school.  He wanted to be able to read so that he could read the Scriptures himself during the week and so he could include Bible reading in the daily worship time which was the custom of many families at the time.

A few years before the young man decided to teach himself to read, a group of philanthropists in Edinburgh saw a need for a missionary society in the Highlands.  The felt the best way to reach people was by teaching them to read the Bible for themselves. Despite the aims of the Reformers, very few ordinary rural people had access to a school at this time.  Most schools which did exist were taught in English which was useless for Gaelic speakers.  The Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools provided temporary schools which taught pupils to read the Gaelic Bible.  When we think of a school today we think of a classroom, of book learning, a room full of children, and a teacher who stays in the classroom.  When Mr Sutherland was sent to teach in Embo the young fisherman must have been delighted to meet him as not only did he do all of these things, but he did much more.

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Children in a nineteenth-century Scottish fishing village. 

Image from: www.tayroots.com 

In 1821 Mr Sutherland reported that he had twenty boys and twenty one girls on his school roll.  He added that the keenest student was not a child but a certain thirty year old fisherman who had taught himself to read using his psalm book and now attended the school with his three children.  The psalms were a good place to start learning to read as most people knew many by heart, having sung them all their lives.  Once the young man had figured out the letters and sounds, he would have quickly found sentences that he recognised.  When the school came, he enrolled to improve his skills.  It was possibly also his enthusiasm which caused the number of pupils “to increase, till the fishing and the harvest called the efficient hands away.”  The teacher anticipated “a very crowded School for the Winter-Session”.  Going to school was not obligatory, so people attended when they could.  If people were busy with work, or needed the children to work, then they stayed away.  But in the winter, when it was too stormy to take to the sea, when it was the wrong season for working on the land, and when the evenings were dark and long, the school was popular.

It was not only during school hours that Mr Sutherland was busy.  To avoid treading on the toes of local ministers the SSGS, despite being a missionary school, ordered its teachers not to preach.  However in many parishes, especially where the minister was an evangelical, the rule was ignored.  In Dornoch parish Angus Kennedy was the minister and he was grateful for any assistance.  Kennedy was unable to meet all the needs of the villagers and happily passed on some responsibilities to Mr Sutherland.  Sundays may have been busier than weekdays for the teacher!  He “tests children [on their catechism], teaches a Sabbath School for adults and preaches every 3rd Sunday in a nearby fishing village”.  If anyone has any idea where this other fishing village near to Embo was, then do let me know!  Kennedy was delighted with the effect as the children were attending Sunday services more frequently and more parents wanted their children baptised.  Embo residents may be relieved to hear that the school also apparently inspired “a general attention to cleanliness and decency in their clothing.”

The school had already fulfilled the dreams of the nameless young fisherman, but Angus Kennedy was still looking to the future when he wrote to the SSGS full of optimism about what might yet happen.  “Upon the whole I have every reason to hope that these Schools, situated as they are in populous Districts, and disposed, as the people appear to be, to attend them, shall prove, by the Divine Blessing, a means of training the rising generation in the knowledge and fear of the true God”.

Women and World War Two

Last weekend I went for a delightful cycle around the firth.  I started in Dornoch and pedalled past the enchantingly named Cyderhall Farm – originally the land of a Viking named Sidera.  The name seems to have been gentrified to Cyderhall in the late eighteenth century.  After ten miles or so I stopped at the war memorial in Edderton, ostensibly to enlighten myself about local history and nothing at all to do with the state of my lungs and legs.  I ran my eyes over the usual depressing list of young men’s names.  Poignantly, attached to each one was the name of their farm or home.  Three of those young men were from one house: the manse.  I hopped on my bike and continued to Ardgay and stopped again at the memorial.

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This time two names caught my attention: Mary Urquhart and Mary MacAskill.  Women.  Young women.  Along with all those young men.  What on earth happened to them?  A little bit of online searching brought up the bare bones of a biography.

Name: MacASKILL, MARY
Initials: M
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Leading Aircraftwoman
Regiment/Service: Women’s Auxiliary Air Force
Unit Text: 953 Balloon Sqdn.
Age: 22
Date of Death: 18/05/1943
Service No: 2045888
Additional information: Daughter of Norman and Joan MacAskill, of Culrain.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Grave 166.
Cemetery: KINCARDINE CEMETERY, Ross and Cromarty

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

URQUHART, Mary Annie Ross
Rank: Sister
Number: 274611
Unit: Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service
Died: 12.2.44 Lost at Sea
Age: 31
Parents: Mr and Mrs Donald Urquhart of Rhelonie
Buried: Brookwood Memorial, Pirbright, Surrey
Memorials: Listed on the Kincardine and Croick War Memorial, Ardgay

Sister Mary Urquhart QAIMNS was one of 76 female service personnel who drowned when the S.S. Khedive Ismail was torpedoed in the Indian Ocean on 12th February 1944. She is also commemorated on the Brookwood Memorial.

There are other women’s names scattered about on local war memorials: Lily Murray in Dornoch and Williamina Matheson in Brora.  There are doubtless more that I haven’t found yet.  Some letters carved in stone and some basic facts.  Not much left of the lives of four Sutherland women.  But something.

This information and photos were gleaned from: http://warmemscot.s4.bizhat.com/warmemscot-ftopic841.html

http://scottishwargraves.phpbbweb.com/scottishwargraves-ftopic54.html

Transcriptions of all the war memorials around the Kyle of Sutherland and photos can be found here: http://www.kyle-of-sutherland-heritage.org.uk/page10.html