Tales of gal­leys, sheil­ings, and a reck­less blun­der

The Oban Times - - Births, Marriages & Deaths -

THREE new is­land books have be­come avail­able this month, start­ing with The His­toric Sheil­ings of Pairc by John Ran­dall.

If you walk the re­mote loch-stud­ded moors of the Pàirc area of Lewis to­day, you may un­ex­pect­edly come across old ru­ins on green patches of land, of­ten in evoca­tive lo­ca­tions but usu­ally no more than a tum­ble of rough stones fol­low­ing a roughly cir­cu­lar ground-plan. What are they, and how, when and by whom were they used?

John Ran­dall sheds light on and brings to life the van­ished shiel­ing cul­ture of Pàirc, based on his­toric maps, tra­di­tional folk­lore, and tramp­ing the moors.

Also now avail­able is An Enor­mous Reck­less Blun­der – The Story of the Lewis Chem­i­cal Works, by Ali White­ford. De­scribed as be­ing ‘one of the most en­chant­ingly bizarre episodes in Scot­tish in­dus­trial his­tory’, the full story of the Lewis Chem­i­cal Works is told in this book for the first time.

James Mathe­son, who pur­chased the Isle of Lewis in 1844, be­came in­ter­ested in ways to ex­ploit the abun­dant nat­u­ral re­sources of his new ac­qui­si­tion, and fi­nanced the Lewis Chem­i­cal Works, which pro­duced light­ing oil and paraf­fin from peat.

The story of the works is one of hope, drama and pathos and is in­hab­ited, not only by the cu­ri­ous gen­try, but also by aca­demics, scoundrels and the men of Lewis, some of whom moved in un­ex­pected cir­cles. It is a tale of toil and strife, of suc­cess and fail­ure, of the ad­ven­ture of en­ter­prise, but, above all, a tale of man’s quest to im­prove both him­self and so­ci­ety.

A third book, com­ing out on June 30, is Cas­tles and Gal­leys – A Re­assess­ment of the His­toric Gal­ley Cas­tles of the North At­lantic Se­aways.

Travel by water was, from pre-his­tory un­til the 18th cen­tury, quicker, eas­ier and cheaper than travel by land.

Most of the cas­tles on or near the Norse- Gaelic se­aways were close to the sea – some, like Kisimul – on small is­lands.

Their main means of trans­port were gal­leys – open boats with oars and sails, descen­dants of Vik­ing ships.

The pa­pers in this vol­ume, de­liv­ered at a con­fer­ence on Barra in Septem­ber 2015, de­scribe cas­tles on Scot­land’s western se­aboard, the Isle of Man, Orkney and Ire­land and ask whether gal­ley- cas­tles can be iden­ti­fied else­where within the Norse- Gaelic se­aways.

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