AN AIRIGH - THE SHIELING

THE ANNUAL MOVEMENT of livestock to the summer shielings for grazing used to be an integral part of the cycle of subsistence and survival in the crofting community. Each summer whilst the stock, the women and the young folk were at the shielings, the year's crops were growing unmolested in the unfenced fields and cultivation beds around the villages. The shieling was constructed of an outer stone wall and a peat turf roof weighted down with stone. The following recollections are of time spend at the "àirigh".

Katie Ann Gillies - Ceitidh Ann Kent - of 47 South Shawbost

WE USED TO GO out to the Shielings at the beginning of May. Two of us would go out with the essentials, that is to say, bed-linen,dishes etc.. Another would go out to get the shieling trimmed up and ready for use.

As a rule there would be a few shielings near one another and we'd all go out together. We would then get a meal ready, especially tea for the crowd to sit round. No-one was left out.

That night you would see smoke coming from every "bothan" (bothy), as they were called. That was a very pleasant sight. We used to look forward to Saturday, as more of the younger generation were able to have the weekend off. They usually came back home very early on Monday mornings to attend their various occupations.

The cows were taken out to the moor also and that meant they had to be milked every night and morning. Of course there was hardly any night at that time of the year. The milk was taken home every morning. It was a long distance but we did not feel tired as it was all very refreshing out there in the heather. After coming home in the morning, sometimes we had to go to the peats to do whatever had to be done. As a rule the work at that time of year was ferrying the dried peat to a place the carts would get to. There were no lorries or tractors then, but every family helped one another in any work that was to be done.

BHITHEAMAID A' DOL chun na h-àirigh anns a' Chèitean, aig toiseach na mìos. Bhathas a' falbh leis an iomraich. B' e sin a chanadh iad ris na rudan a bhiodh iad a' toirt leotha chun na h-àirigh - aodach na leapa, soithichean 's mar sin. Bhiodh dithis a' falbh a-mach leis an sin. Bhiodh duine eile a' falbh a chuir an ceann air an àirigh 's ga 'trimigeadh' airson na h-oidhche sin. 'S dòcha gum biodh còig àirighean timcheall air a chèile agus dheigheadh a h-uile duine a-mach thuca còmhla. Bhiodh sinn a' dèanamh tè agus shuidheadh a h-uile duine còmhla ga h-òl. Cha robh duine air fhàgail air leth ann an sud, bha a h-uile duine còmhla. An oidhche sin bhiodh an àirigh fo cheò le teine anns a h-uile taigh.

Bhathas a' coimhead air adhart ri deireadh na seachdain. Bhiodh sinn a' dol a-mach Disathuirn. Bha an tìde cho math, 's bhiodh tòrr dhan òigridh a' falbh bhon bhaile an latha sin. 'S dòcha gun cuireadh iad seachad an oidhche an sin no 's dòcha gu fuiricheadh iad gu Diluain mus deigheadh iad dhachaidh.

Bhathas a' tighinn dhachaidh a h-uile latha leis a' bhainne agus a' dol a-mach air ais feasgair. 'S e an duine a dheigheadh a-mach a bhiodh a' bleoghann a' chruidh. Bhiodh an crodh a' tighinn chun na h-àirigh a h-uile oidhche leotha fhèin. Bhiodh tu dhan cuir air falbh anns a' mhadainn nuair dh'èireadh tu, mas deigheadh tu dhachaidh. Choisicheadh tu dhachaidh an uairsin agus is dòcha gun deigheadh tu greiseag dhan mhòine. Bhiodh iad an uair ud ag aiseag na mònach gu àite far am faigheadh cairt thuice. Bha na cairtean an uair sin a' tòiseachadh a' toirt dhachaigh na mònach. Bha a h-uile duine a bha a-muigh aig a' chrodh a' lìonadh nan cairtean - cha robh e gu diofar cò mhòine a bh' ann.


Catherine Campbell - Catriona Mhurchaidh an Tac - of 20 Arnol

WE USED TO GO to the shieling at the beginning of summer. The boys would be out as soon as they got the holidays and they would be there until the cows came home at the end of July. Our shieling was out at the foot of the hill. We used to climb every one of the Barvas hills. The shieling was good for a holiday. There was no word of caravans then!

There was quite a crowd of us going out to the shielings, going from one to the other. We used to sing a lot as we had a good collection of Gaelic songs in those days. As a rule we came home every day as there was enough work to do, at the peats especially. There were no tractors at that time.

BHITHEAMAID a' dol chun na h-àirigh aig toiseach an t-samhraidh. Bhiodh na balaich a-muigh fad na h-ùine bho gheibheadh iad na 'holidays' gus an tigeadh an crodh dhachaidh aig deireadh an Iuchair. Bha an àirigh againne a-muigh aig bonn na beinne. Bhiodh sinn a' dìreadh bheanntan Bharabhais agus a h-uile aon dha na beanntan a bha sin nuair bha sinn a-muigh air an àirigh. 'S e 'holiday' mhath a bh' anns an àirigh. Cha robh guth air 'caravans' an uair ud!

Bhiodh grunn againn a-muigh aig an àirigh còmhla agus bhiodh sinn a' falbh bho àirigh gu àirigh agus a' seinn. Bhiodh òrain gu leòr a' dol air an àirigh. Bhiodh sinn uaireannan a' tighinn dhachaigh a h-uile latha. Dh'fheumadh sinn a' mhòine aiseag an uair a bhiodh sinn a' tighinn dhachaigh, agus a' falbh a-rithist. Cha robh tractairean ann.

Donald MacKay - Domhnall Fhionnlaigh Ruaidh - of North Bragar

OUR SHIELING was situated beside a loch called "Loch Shuaineagadail" at the end of "Beinn Roiseil". It was really good to be out there hunting rabbits and moor-hens. My grandfather stayed with us and he had a knack of catching both. I'd go out to the nest and set a snare there. He himself would not eat either of them, but would always give them away to other people. As long as he was provided with herring from home and crowdie and cream he was satisfied!

There was as much flirting going on at the Shieling as there was at home - and there was more fun in it! The people were very good to one another and, although sometimes there was a lot of teasing going on, there was no malice.

BHA AN AIRIGH AGAINNE a-muigh aig àite ris an canadh iad Loch Shuaineagadail, dìreach aig ceann Beinn Ròiseil. Abair gun robh e math a-muigh an sin, a' lorg rabaidean agus chearcan-fraoich. Bhiodh mo sheanair a-muigh còmhla rinn agus bha esan math air breith air na cearcan-fraoich. Dheigheadh e gu nead agus chuireadh e rud ris an canadh sinn bùthach (snare). Chan itheadh mo sheanair rabaid no cearc-fraoch idir - 's ann dhan toirt seachad dha daoine eile a bhiodh e. Fhad 's a gheibheadh esan sgadan bhon taigh agus cothrom air gruth agus bàrr bha e sona gu leòr.

Bha cheart uidhir de ruith na h-oidhche a' dol air adhart air an àirigh agus a bha aig an taigh. 'S ann a bha barrachd spòrs ann air an àirigh! Bha daoine glè mhath dha chèile. Ged bhiodh daoine a' toirt an car às an nàbaidh aca bheireadh iad cuideachadh dhaibh a cheart cho luath 's a bhiodh feum air. Cha robh olc sam bith air an aire.

Kenneth Campbell - Coinneach Isaac - 1 North Bragar

OUR SHEILING was out at Beinn a' Chanaich. During schooldays we used to go out to the shielings every Friday and come back on Sunday to attend school on Monday. Once we got the school holidays, we went out to the shielings and stayed there until July, when the cows came home with us. Only some of the family stayed out during the season. Being out on the shieling then was so different from the way things are today. There was peace and quietness all around, and as the bard "Donnchach Bàn" said -
"An t-uisge glan 's an t-àile
Th' air mullach nam beann àrda
Chuidich iad gu fàs mi
'S e thug dhomh slàinte is fallaineachd."
("The fresh water and aroma
That was found in the hill-tops
Helped to promote my stature
And left me hale and hearty.")

Supposing one went to the top of the hills today you cannot be sure that both the water and the air are clean! There was no other place for me better than the shieling. There was no clock, radio or television to distract your attention. Gathering together; wandering over the moorland; and chasing the moor-hens, which were very plentiful then.

The only thing we were supposed to do was to have a good fire going before the milkmaid (a' bhanachag) came for the milking. As a rule every household had two cows then. Our own cows and my grandfather's were kept together, a bit away from the shieling, but they came to the shieling at milking time of their own accord. Their milk tasted much better when they were on the moor than when they were on the croft. The milk was so plentiful then that the porridge was made with milk instead of with water. The shieling was open to everyone who came along. Nobody would go away hungry.

BHA AN AIRIGH AGAINNE aig Beinn a' Chanaich. Nuair bha sinn san sgoil bhitheamaid a' dol chun na h-àirigh a h-uile Dihaoine agus a' tilleadh dhachaigh feasgair na Sàbaid airson a dhol dhan sgoil Diluain. Bhiodh sinn an uairsin a-muigh bho gheibheadh sinn 'play' an t-samhraidh gus an tigeadh an crodh dhachaigh san Iuchar. Cha bhiodh an teaghlach gu lèir a' dol a-mach idir. 'S e àite gu math eadardhealaichte ri càil a chì thu an-diugh a bha anns an àirigh aig an àm ud. Cha robh càil air an àirigh ach sàmhchar agus siubhal na mòinteach. Cha chluinneadh tu càil. Mar a thuirt am bàrd Donnchadh Bàn:
"An t-uisge glan 's an t-àileadh
Th' air mullach nam beann àrda,
Chuidich iad gu fàs mi
'S e rinn dhomh slàinte 's fallaineachd."

Ged dheigheadh tu gu mullach nam beann àrda an-diugh chan eil thu cinnteach gu bheil an t-uisge no an t-àileadh glan! Cha robh càil a-riamh a chòrd riumsa cho math ris an àirigh. Cha robh cleoc no rèidio no telebhisean ann. Cha robh càil an siud ach na cearcan fraoich. Bhiodh a h-uile duine againn a' cruinneachadh còmhla ri chèile agus a' siubhal na mòinteach. Dh'fheumadh sinn teine a bhith againn air mus tigeadh a' bhanachag. 'S e seo an aon rud a dh'fheumadh sinn a dhèanamh nuair bha sinn nar balaich san sgoil. Bhiodh a' bhanachag a-mach is dhachaigh ag iarraidh a' bhainne. Cho luath 's a chitheadh sinn i a' tighinn faisg dhan àirigh dh'fheumadh sinn ruith airson ceap no fàd a chur air an teine.
Bhiodh dà bheathach mart aig a h-uile duine mar bu trice. Bhiodh na beathaichean againn fhìn agus beathaichean mo sheanar air an aon àirigh. Bha am bainne cho pailt is gur ann leis a bhathas a' dèanamh an lit, an àite le bùrn. Bha an àirigh fosgailte a h-uile latha agus cha deigheadh duine air falbh bhuaipe falamh.