Neil Morrison – The Pabbay Bard

I thought it would be interesting to have a look at what the census information has to tell us about the life of Neil Morrison, the ‘Pabbay Bard’:
Kenneth Morrison, 70, Ag Lab, Scarista, b. Inverness
Marion Morrison, 70, b. Inverness
Neil Morrison, 25, Shepherd, b. Inverness
We find the bard living with his parents in Scarista at the time of the 1841 census. According to George Henderson, in his book  ‘Leabhar nan Gleann’, Neil Morrison spent the middle segment of his working life, “…at Scarista, with Mr Macdonald…”so whether he was in fact already working for ‘Mr Macdonald’ at this time or not isn’t clear to me.
Neil Morrison, 34, Shepherd, Luskintire, b. Harris
Rachel Morrison, 29, Wife, b. Kilmuir, Inverness-shire
Janet Morrison, 3, Daughter, b. Harris
Donald Morrison, 1, Son, b. Harris
Donald Morrison, 15, Servant, b. Harris
Kenneth Morrison, 96, Pauper Formerly Farmer and Merchant, b. Harris
Marion Morrison, 90, Mother, Pauper’s Wife, b. Harris
Mary McLennan, 30, Daughter(?), Occasional House Servant, b. Harris
A decade later he was in Luskentire and, presumably, shepherding on the farm of Luskentire. His Skye-born wife, Rachel, had borne him two children and he appeared to be supporting his very elderly parents at this time, too.
Neil Morrison, 46, Shepherd, Cleit na Duthcha, b. Harris
Rachel Morrison, 37, Shepherd’s Wife, b. Kilmuir
Janet Morrison, 12, Daughter, b. Harris
Donald Morrison, 11, Son, b. Harris
Marion Morrison, 7, Daughter, b. Harris
Christina Morrison, 5, Daughter, b. Kilmuir, Invernessshire
Catherine MacPherson, 19, General Servant, b. Kilmuir, Invernessshire
Catherine McDermid, 17, General Servant, b. Harris
Neil morrison’s family has doubled to four, the last child having been born in his wife’s own birthplace of Kilmuir in Skye.
According to George Henderson this time spent in Cleit na Duthca “…with Mr MacRae, a son of Maigstir Fionnladh, a former minister of North Uist…” came at the start of Neil Morrison’s career but as Finlay MacRae died on 15 May 1858 then this may indeed be the correct episode?
What is perhaps worth remarking upon, is that this ‘Mr MacRae’ had an aunt living in Harris, for the Rev Finlay MacRae’s sister, Isabella, was married to James Robertson Macdonald, the Factor of Harris who was responsible for overseeing several Clearances during the Dunmore family’s ownership of the estate.
Neil Morrison, 56, Shepherd, Pabbay, b. Harris
Rachel Morrison, 48, Wife, b. Skye, Invernessshire
Marion Morrison, 16, Daughter, b. Harris
Christy Morrison, 14, Daughter, b. Harris
John MacDonald, 30, Visitor, Ag Lab, b. Boreray
This is the only time that we have the ‘Pabbay Bard’ recorded living in Pabbay and Bill Lawson suggests that he probably was working in the island between 1863 and 1873.
George Henderson remarks that Neil Morrison spent the final phase of his career “…in the Isle of Pabbay, with Stewart of Ensay…”. This was John Stewart, son of Donald Stewart, Factor, farmer and the main figure behind the Clearances in Harris
Donald Morrison, 32, Shepherd, South Harris ED1, b. Harris
Mary Morrison, 30, Shepherd’s Wife, b. Loch Broom, Ross-shire
Murdo Morrison, 3, Son, b. Loch Broom
Neil Morrison, 1, Son, b. Harris
Neil Morrison, 64, Father, Shepherd, b. Harris
Our final glimpse of the bard finds him somewhere within Enumeration District 1 of South Harris and I do not, at present, know where the boundaries of that district were. The bard was living with his son Donald, who was a shepherd, and his wife Mary. She had made Neil a grandfather twice over, the first boy, Murdo, having been born in her birthplace, Loch Broom, and the second, named Neil after his grandfather, had been born in Harris.
I think it is interesting to note that this township bard was shepherding for at least two families intimately connected with the clearances that occurred in the nineteenth century in both Harris and in North Uist and I hope that these five small snapshots, and my brief comments, add something to our knowledge of his life.


‘Harris in History and Legend’ by Bill Lawson (2002)

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