Open Story

Old Folk

By Alex Maclennan - Added 17/04/2014

Audio of Alex MacLennan of Grosebay talking about Neil MacAulay, a much loved character, who was married to his Aunt Ann and big Anna MacDonald who kept a cow in one end of her house while she herself lived in the other end. 

Dur: 07.41

As told by Alex to Harris Historical Society in the 1980s:

This old man Neil, son of Roderick, lived next door to us and he was married to my father's sister Ann. You couldn't meet a nicer or more decent man than Neil, and we should know as we were brought up next to him, as was the custom in those days. When you married into a family you made your home as close as you could to them and he lived in one end of my father's house.

He was as good a fisherman as you could find and really nice to children. They had two children themselves; a son who died some years ago in Harris House (over 30 years ago now - he was 84) and a daughter, Mary Ann who married a man from Geocrab in 1928 and went with him to Patagonia. They had two daughters there and when they reached school age they came back to Harris to be educated. They settled in Geocrab but Mary Ann's husband returned to work in Patagonia where we was injured by a horse he was working with.

The old man had a nick-name, Ceilean, and when his brother Donald, who was a policeman on the mainland died he left a small inheritance. This was shared between Ceilean, his two sisters at home and another living in Leith. With that he built the house in Grosebay which is now a ruin. He was always out fishing and never came home without a fish on his hook. We were so fond of him. (He was Neil MacAulay 1855 - 1951 cottar on croft No. 7)

Anyway, he got old and when his daughter came back to live in Geocrab he went to stay with them there and he was heartbroken leaving Grosebay, he loved it so much. However, he lived to the good old age of 96 in Geocrab.

Everyone missed the old man. There wasn't a night that his house wasn't over-flowing with people having a ceilidh, especially one old fellow, a great-uncle of my sister-in-law Joan. (Roderick MacDonald No.6 ) He had been in the Metropolitan Police in London and he always came to Ceilean's for a ceilidh. He had a lot of stories but, having been in London for so long, he had lost some of his Gaelic. He had also missed a generation of families while he was in London and he'd leave them out when naming someone e.g. he'd call us (Alec and his brothers) "sons of John, son of Hugh" instead of "sons of Ewen, son of John, son of Hugh". That generation had been unknown to him. He had been working in the docklands area of London and had many stories. They sent him home without a penny, suffering from dropsy.

He went to stay with his sister, Big Anna, daughter of Donald son of Angus. (Grosebay croft history of no. 6 gives different parentage - Domhnall mac Choinnich Mhurchaidh - think this is same Ann with brother Roderick - both unmarried) The old policeman was Roderick and we knew his sister Anna well.

Ceilean used to give Big Anna the livers from the fish he caught for her oil-lamp. That's how we remember Ceilean and Big Anna so well. She had an oil-lamp and would melt the livers to put in it, and the white inside of rushes is what she used for a wick. That's what she had for a light.
We used to spend more time with Ceilean than we did with our own father and we'd have to make sure the fish was gutted and the livers taken to Big Anna so that she would melt it. She was a good, godly woman. That's how we'll remember these old folk and the useful lives they led for as long as we live.

And another thing many people haven't seen, Big Anna's house had one door and she and her cow both entered the house by this door. The cow turned to the right, Ann to the left, and she would talk to her cow that was in the byre in one end of the house, from her kitchen in the other end. When the cow calved she'd have the calf in a crib in the middle of her kitchen close to the fire. She was that contented. If she said a cross word to the cow when she was letting her out of the house in the morning, or if she was a little impatient and hit her with a stick the cow wouldn't return as usual in the evening. Anna would have to go and fetch her. They were very close, Anna and her cow!

These old folk lived in another world. Anna loved to go to church in Tarbert and one day, that was particularly wet and unpleasant, she met a man who said to her, "Anna, wouldn't it be wiser for you to be sitting in the house reading your Bible by the fireside, than to be in Tarbert on such a day?"
"Oh," she said, "it's much easier to swallow if someone else has chewed it first!"

Ceilean wasn't a regular church-goer at first, but he was still a good man, a man that would do anything for you and loved to help everybody. You never saw anything nicer than the way everyone would gather in his house. It was the ceilidh house in Grosebay at that time.