…with grey abandon…


Leac a Li, Loch Stocinis, Na Hearadh

A vision of venison in a once-wooded place…

Somehow, when I was scanning through this document of Gaelic placenames
composed by Iain Mac an Tailleir I somehow missed the very one I was seeking:
Dieraclete (Harris) Diricleit, ‘Deer Cliff’, from Norse.
The ‘Deer Cliff’ is the nearer line of hills in this view taken from the Tarbert-Uig ferry.

Delighted as I am to have now  found this, at the time I was working on the idea that Direcleit might be a contraction of ‘Doire nam Cleit’ or Oak Grove (of the) Cliff.

Dirnanean in Perthshire apparently derives from Doire nam Eum, Oak Grove of the Birds, and Diriebught in Inverness from Doire nam Boc, Oak Grove of the Bucks!

As an aside, I recently came upon this interesting note on the flora of the area:

Coastline from Tarbert dock to Direcleit hosts a broad range of native tree species including Aspen, Downy Birch, Hazel, Grey willow, Sallow Willow, Rowan, Holly.

The name ‘Craobhag’ is given to the place that lies between Tarbert and Direcleit and means ‘Small Oak’. In fact these are stunted English Oaks, NOT Sessile Oaks,indicating that the site was recognised in the past for its woodland activity.

Ref: WI Native Woodland Restoration Survey Report
http://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/woodlands/nativewoodlands.asp (Native Woodland Report PDF)

You can see how this helped fuel my ‘Oak Grove’ conjecture, but alas, I couldn’t see the wood for the trees.

Incidentally, the sequence of names from Tarbert round the coast runs as follows:

Diren – Another contraction of ‘Doire’?
Cadha – Pass/Cliff?
Craobhag – Small Oak
Direcleit – Deer Cliff
Ceann Dibig -Head of the Deep Bay?

Abhainn Ruadh, Geocrab, Harris

‘Red River’, Red Roof
I spotted this sign in the centre of Geocrab.
Immediately to its right is a driveway that leaves the ‘Golden Road’ adjacent to
a small, flat bridge crossing an unnamed river, almost where it enters the sea.
Is ‘Abhainn Ruadh’ the name of the house at the end of this drive, or is this
sign informing us of the name of the river, or, perhaps, doing both?

Orinsay/Orisaigh, Park/Pairc, Parish of Lochs, Isle of Lewis

Orinsay originates from the Norse for ‘ebb-flow island’. It is not known when it was first settled but it is a very pleasant, sheltered spot with arable land and good fishing.

Mary Maciver, who rented the land, wrote that the ‘place is considerably infested with ravens’ which were interfering with the tenants’ fish and barley and in 1830 the township was described by Rev John Mackintosh as ‘very destitute’, though not as bad as Kershader.

View from the head of Loch Shell – the Shiant Islands can (just) be made-out in the distance

One of the people eking-out a living there was Duncan Macdonald (1750 -1830), a Kelp-Worker of 6 Old Orinsay. One of his children, Alexander Macdonald (c1786-c1845) had married Annabella Barbara Mackenzie (1797-1881) from Cro Mor, Lochs.

The family are to be found, at 11 Old Orinsay, amongst the 147 people recorded in the 1841 Census.

Two years later, there wasn’t a soul left in Orinsay, not a roofed-building to be seen and the only inhabitants were the sheep being grazed to fatten the purse of the landowner at the expense of the livelihoods of the people. An earlier attempt had been made, in 1842, to clear the township but it was in 1843 that the men, women and children of Orinsay were scattered throughout Lewis.

‘their fires were drowned on the hearths by officers of the Estate’
(Donald Mackenzie 1817-1892, a 27 year old member of one of the families evicted from Orinsay)

Orinsay – A Day of Sorrows by Donald Mackenzie, Domhnall Dubh
My grandfather, Domhnall Ban, was only four years’ old when the evictions from Orinsay took place in 1843. He remembered walking with his mother to Garyvard early on a summer’s morning where boats were waiting to ferry them over Loch Erisort to Keose. On landing at Keose, they had to walk over the moor to Crossbost where poor, infertile, rocky land had been set aside to form 27 crofts. The women and children made this journey while the young, able-bodied men and women walked all the way round the end of the loch with the livestock and drove them to their new grazings on the northern shores of Loch Erisort.


The men who were left behind stripped the rafters and beams off the old homes and together, with any belongings they had, were loaded on to boats and sailed out of Loch Shell, around the coast to Crossbost. My great-grandfather was one of six brothers cleared from Orinsay that day.


My grandfather was born in 1839 on the croft at 6 Orinsay. Tradition tells us that there was a white house built on that land at a place called “Rudha Mhic Eoin”.

The Macdonald family ended-up at 4 Stenis, near Stornoway and it was there that one of the daughters, Mary Macdonald (1821-1908) met and married a seafaring widower from Harris.

They were my Grandfather’s grandparents.

Anyone wanting to research the history of Lochs, or with an interest in the culture of Lewis, will find these sites invaluable:

http://www.hebrideanconnections.com/ Superb searchable database with names, places, images…

http://www.angusmacleodarchive.org.uk/ Held at Kershader, Pairc, a wonderfully eclectic collection

http://www.cepairc.com/ Pairc Historical Society – publication include ‘History of Orinsay’ £5

http://www.cepairc.com/products-page/other-publications/croft-history-isle-of-lewis-vol-14
Croft History – Lemreway, Orinsay, Stiomreway, Eishken, Southern Park and Aline. Also includes Old Lemreway and Old Orinsay pre-clearance.

F is for… Feannagan

Feannagan or ‘lazybeds’ at Liceasto, Bays of Harris

These characteristic features allow crops to be grown in the thin soil and damp conditions of the Western Isles. The wide ridges provide depth whilst the narrow furrows give drainage. In this example there is a herringbone pattern with a central ‘spinal’ stream taking excess water to the loch below.

Further reading: http://thecroft.wordpress.com/2008/07/06/lazy-beds/