Tales of galleys, sheilings, and a reckless blunder
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.