The Gaelic way of liv­ing in the world

The Victoria Standard - - Culture / Heritage -

The lit­tle vil­lage of Ge­shader, with its eleven crofts, lies on a penin­sula into Loch Roag in the district of Uig, on the west side of Lewis. The first Uig clear­ances be­gan in 1804 and con­tin­ued un­til 1851. As Co­munn Eachdraidh Uig (Uig His­tor­i­cal Society) de­scribes it: “The late 1840s were years of des­per­a­tion in Lewis (but also else­where), with much of the pop­u­la­tion near star­va­tion…” The so­lu­tion for self-in­ter­ested pro­pri­etors like Sir James Mathe­son was to en­cour­age his tenants to em­i­grate. And so, in the sum­mer of 1841, 26-year-old mis­sion­ary Don­ald Mac­don­ald of Ge­shader fol­lowed mem­bers of his fam­ily who had gone ear­lier to Cape Bre­ton and sailed with his new wife, Jane, a Ma­clean from Lochs, on the John Walker, ar­riv­ing in Syd­ney Mines some six weeks later. They even­tu­ally set­tled in North River, where Dòmh­nall Ceis­dear (‘Don­ald the Cat­e­chist’) as he was called, ded­i­cated his life to the spir­i­tual wel­fare of the Pres­by­te­rian flock. For many Gaelic im­mi­grants of that time, their lan­guage, cul­ture and faith were in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked.

The other day, I had the plea­sure of vis­it­ing a great grand­daugh­ter of Dòmh­nall Ceis­dear at her home in North River Bridge. Pamela (Mac­don­ald) Mor­ri­son and her hus­band Don­ald run a B&B there. It was in­ter­est­ing to learn that, in 1954 when she was 15 years old, her par­ents Abra­ham and Mar­garet joined a more re­cent di­as­pora --namely, the one to Mas­sachusetts-- and moved the fam­ily there. Both par­ents sang in the Gaelic Choir and the fam­ily at­tended the Need­ham Pres­by­te­rian Church. Pamela re­mem­bers hear­ing Rev. Charles (‘Holy’) Mac­don­ald from Tar­bot and Rev. A.D. Mack­in­non from Lake Ainslie preach­ing there. On May 12, 1962, A.D. preached for the church’s 75th an­niver­sary ser­vices and wrote in his di­ary: “The ser­vice at 4 o’clock was in Gaelic. The church filled to ca­pac­ity. Chairs were taken in to the sanc­tu­ary and peo­ple stood around the en­trance through­out the ser­vice ….Met hun­dreds of friends.”

The pull of home was strong for these Mac­don­alds. In 1979, af­ter a quar­ter of a cen­tury away, they re­turned to Cape Bre­ton from the U.S. But think­ing of the many who had left their home­land never to re­turn, I am re­minded of the words of a Gaelic poem by Nor­man Ma­cleod, “Am Bàrd Bochd” (the ‘Poor Bard’), at one time school­mas­ter at Loch Crois­tean School, down the road from Ge­shader. In it, he men­tions friends no longer there; and he con­cludes by ex­tolling their lov­ing friend­ship which will shine like the stars for him as long as he has life and mem­ory.

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