This piece began to form when I found a story, ‘Great fight’in the records of the Carmichael Watson Project. The gist of the story is that, during the reign of King Charles II (1630-1685), there was a ‘Great fight’ between men aboard competing herring fishing boats from Leith and Campbeltown. The ensuing battle, which the Campbeltown men won, apparently took place following the delivery of some ‘drink’ from Uist.
Many men from all over Britain (and Ireland) were killed and their bodies then buried (some secretly at night) in several islands in the Sound of Harris, as well as in Cheesebay in North Uist. These islands included Hermetray/Thermatraigh on which Martin Martin, in 1695, had seen:
“the foundation of a house built by the English in the reign of King Charles the First’s time, for one of their magazines to lay up the cask, salt etc, for carrying on the fishery, which was then begun in the Western Islands; but this design miscarried because of the civil wars which then broke out.”
I wrote of John Lanne Buchanan’s opinion of this, and other fishing developments, when discussing his ‘General View…’ and it is clear that the building that Martin Martin saw is believed to have been built in 1633 by Charles I as an element in his attempt to foster the fishing industry in Scotland.
What intrigues me, however, is that when one looks at the image of the entry in Alexander Carmichael notebook, it appears that he may have originally ascribed the ‘Great fight’ as having occurred during the reign of Charles I (1600-1649) ,for the second ‘I’ looks very much to be an afterthought.
I wonder if Carmichael, who would have been familiar with Martin’s account of having seen the building on Hermetray, had assumed that his informant (John Morrison, a Ground Officer from Lingerbay, Harris) was talking about an event that had occurred during the time when the fishing station was in use, and that John Morrison had then clarified that it was in fact during the reign of Charles II?
It is unfortunate that we have no date for the event, but the islands where the casualties were buried are Nàrstaigh, Sàrstaigh, Suarsaigh, Bhòtarsaigh, Hermetray and Taghaigh.
And it is said that the herring never came back to these waters after the ‘Great fight’…