He­bridean sea­far­ing men of the world

The Oban Times - - Letters - AN­GUS MACPHAIL an­gus­macphail@ya­hoo.co.uk

WE LIVE on a shrink­ing planet and are in­creas­ingly con­nected con­stantly to the ways of life, pol­i­tics, opin­ions, cus­toms, crimes and what is be­ing eaten for break­fast in any cor­ner of the globe that can ac­cess the in­ter­net.

This sud­den dis­ap­pear­ance of ge­o­graph­i­cal bar­ri­ers is one of the big­gest cul­tural changes the world has ever seen.

How­ever, for far longer than Face­book has been dom­i­nat­ing our days, the West Coast of Scot­land – and par­tic­u­larly the Is­lands of the He­brides – have been in close and con­tin­ual con­tact with coun­tries across the world.

This was, of course, not via mass me­dia com­mu­ni­ca­tions but through the thou­sands of sea­men who left their is­land homes to travel the oceans aboard the ships of the mer­chant navy.

This meant that, while the Scot­tish is­lands were ge­o­graph­i­cally iso­lated, they were in many ways bet­ter con­nected to the wider world than most ur­ban cen­tres. The sheer num­bers of men trav­el­ling the globe rel­a­tive to the to­tal pop­u­la­tions of their is­lands was huge.

A friend of mine from Barra told me that when his fa­ther left school in the late 1950s, of 43 boys in his class, 40 went to sea. This was typ­i­cal through­out the He­brides at the time and the out­ward-look­ing and non-parochial at­ti­tude of the peo­ple in th­ese parts is largely down to this.

My fa­ther spent 15 years at sea, and the sto­ries he used to tell re­lat­ing to this time and his worldly-wise at­ti­tude that re­sulted from it had a last­ing ef­fect on me.

The be­low lyrics are from a MacPhail/ Robert­son song that was in­spired by th­ese sto­ries and th­ese sea­far­ing men of the world.

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