MacPhail – 10.10.19

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The expedition to Tiree to catch a lobster by the age-old means of finding one under a rock at low tide is carried on in this week’s piece.

These special crevices known in Gaelic as “faicheanan” were the subject of last week’s article and on that theme I continue.

I can assure readers that the excitement on the morning of our search was great and heavily disproportionate to the potential prize of our hunt. It was not the monetary value or even the culinary expectation of our quarry that was the cause of the excitement, but the magical feeling that we might find a lobster by means that although once common, is now almost unheard of.

The effect given by the sight of a lobster coming up in a creel is hard to surpass but the thought of catching one straight from its rocky hidey-hole is for some reason even more thrilling.

Being the son of a lobster fisherman and having fished during every summer holiday all through my school years and later, either as part–time or full-time work till I was 24 years old, I have always had a mild obsession with lobsters. Since my early teenage years, I have had recurring dreams about lobsters, seeing them or catching them in different ways and usually in large quantities.

In these dreams I have pulled creels up from the pier at The Harbour, Caolas, with two and three 7lb clonkers in each, I have walked forth on a completely dried-out Skipinnis Bay – dried out far beyond any possible low spring tide – with lobsters thick among the exposed kelp and in a recent dream which visited me just a few weeks ago, I picked up a good-sized male lobster with a heavily barnacled shell as it moved over sand beside a rock at the eastern end of Gott Bay. In this dream I was walking ankle deep in a place that in reality even at low water would be two fathoms below the surface.

My father was told a story about an elderly lady from the east end of Tiree whose knowledge and skills relating to the faicheanan were so great that she used to send boxes of lobsters away to Billingsgate market.

The story goes that although very secretive about her locations, she was rightfully proud of her knowledge.

Accordingly, when a young man she knew well was due to emigrate to New Zealand, immediately before he left the island, she took him in the early morning twilight and showed him every single faiche that she knew. The knowledge was passed on but to one who could not use it and therefore was no threat to her own lobster hunting.

With dreams and stories filling my mind and anticipation running high, we set off for the shore. As the location of each individual faiche was found and tried at different parts of the island, our chances of striking blue gold were lessening. As the tide began to rise, our hopes continued to fall till at last we had to accept defeat for the day.

The lobsters of that day remained in dreams and stories, but what a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon we had among the rocks, memories and ghosts of the past.