Lewis shieling memories to be preserved by project

Calum Graham near his family’s old airidh, with the Point and Sandwick Trust turbines at Beinn Ghrideag in the background. Photograph Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos NO F11 Lewis shieling
Calum Graham near his family’s old airidh, with the Point and Sandwick Trust turbines at Beinn Ghrideag in the background. Photograph Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos NO F11 Lewis shieling

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A project is under way to capture the history of the shielings in one area of Lewis before they pass out of living memory.

The main part of the project, backed by community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust, will involve interviews with people who remember going to the shielings (the ‘airidhean’) belonging to families from the Point and Sandwick area, and collecting old photographs.

The researched material will form the basis of an exhibition by Comann Eachdraidh an Rubha and also be turned into a booklet or book, depending on how much material is gathered.

The year-long project also aims to create a site map of all the shielings that existed on Point and Sandwick’s summer grazings on the ‘Stornoway General’, off the Pentland and Beinn a Bhuna roads, and identify their ownership.

Writer and translator Andrew Dunn, from Point, will be carrying out the research and producing the written material, which will be fully bilingual.

He explained: ‘The idea is that it involves a lot of research. Initially, it will be looking at written material but also doing interviews with people who have first-hand experience, so time is a factor.’

Mr Dunn is hoping to speak to as many people as possible with memories of the shielings. ‘This could be at any sort of stage. I’m interested in older people who would have had the experience of travelling out to the summer grazings as part of the actual routine of life but also people who went there just for holidays because I know people who did that. Any experience at all,’ he added.

Mr Dunn will be taking an audio recording of the memories and collecting photographs at the same time. Copies will be made of all photos so that originals can be returned.

He explained: ‘If people have knowledge of whose shieling was whose, we’re interested in hearing that as well, because part of the project will be doing a map of the shielings and showing which shieling corresponded to which croft or family.’

He said it was important to hear these accounts first-hand. ‘It is a very important part of the community history and it’s a way of life that disappeared but people still remember it and it’s a way of life that was common, not just in the Islands and Highlands as well, but throughout Europe at one point. But it lasted longer in the Highlands and Islands than it did elsewhere.’

Garrabost native Calum Graham is among those with fond memories of the airidh. His first summer at the shieling was in 1947 at the age of five – and he is delighted memories of shieling life are going to be preserved.

‘I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s a very important and rich part of our history and culture and I think in Lewis it persisted long after it ceased elsewhere,’ he commented.