THE HISTORY OF BRAGAR goes back at least 2,000 years. There was a chapel built where the present graveyard stands, and you can still see part of the wall and the entrance where the door used to be. The first part of the chapel was built by the wandering monks of the Celtic Church. That was the first form of Christianity that ever came to this island. The chapel was first called "Cill Sgàth". "Cill" meant the cell, and "Sgàth" meant the person, the monk. That continued until the 14th century. Up to that time the Celtic church had no connection with the Church of Rome. In the 14th century the Roman Catholic Church took over everything connected with the Celtic church.

It is easy to notice the difference between their two styles of building. The walls of the first church were built without mortar. In the 14th century, when the Roman Church took over from the Irish Church, additions were made to the chapel. The lime which was used in the mortar was made from burnt sea shells. I remember seeing the arch while it was still standing. It was only during the last war that it eventually fell down. The main cause of it falling was our own mines exploding on the shore beside it. The cemetery around the Bragar Chapel was considered to be consecrated ground and people usually wanted to be buried near the chapel. Although centuries previously the place had been used to bury thousands of people, the Macleods of Arnol, Bragar, and Shawbost are buried all around the chapel.

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH continued until the beginning of the 17th Century. After that a form of Episcopacy, which all landlords and tacksmen had accepted, took over. It had two ministers, one in Stornoway and one in Barvas. Both were named Morrison. They formed Lewis into two parishes, Stornoway and Barvas. The boundary between them ran from Fevig near Shawbost, to the mouth of the Laxdale River, the Northern aea being the Barvas parish. This division existed until the Seaforth forfeiture of 1722, when the present parishes came into existence.

WHEN Martin Martin visited Bragar in 1699, the Chapel was still standing and Bragar was under the control of a tacksman named John Morrison. The tacksman had complete control over the people and the land. He paid all the rent to the landlord himself, and he charged whatever he liked from the people. He cultivated the whole area where the present Loch Ordais is today. Tradition says that he used to get 365 "curracagan" - pochards - every year.

THE TACKSMAN once told Martin Martin that he remembered when people used to approach the chapel and kneel dwn and pray, but the practise was dying out. Its expenses were met by a form of tithe, called "prac", which was paid by the Tacksman. One year Morrison, the Tacksman in Bragar, owed the Earl of Seaforth money for his "prac" and rent. The tacksman had to go to Strathpeffer to appear before the Earl of Seaforth. He was frightened to appear before him, because in those days the Highland Chieftain was all powerful and could sentence one to death anytime. He spent a sleepless night thinking about it, and the following morning he went to the shore and saw one of his servants, who had been out all night fishing, asleep beside his boat. He really envied him for his lack of worries compared to himself, who had to appear before the chieftain for not paying the Church tithe. He couldn't help thinking how lucky his servant was compared to himself, although he knew the servant had nothing in the world except the fish that he had caught at sea. He composed a verse which went something like this:
Siud thu fhèin, a Dhòmhnuill a' chuain,
Na do laighe air do chluain thaobh,
Pracadair cha tog do gheall
Nas mò chan eil thu 'n taing nam maor.

A "pracadair" was the man who collected tithes that were overdue for the Episcopal Church. I have no idea when the Church of Scotland took over the Churches.


SOMETIME IN THE PRE-CHRISTIAN ERA, a number of monks came ashore in Arnol. The natives of the village didn't take too kindly to them, and seemingly attacked and killed all but one of them. The one that survived went to "Eilean Loch a' Bhaile", but I have no idea what eventually became of him. Two of those killed were buried underneath Cnoc nam Manach. The stones are still standing at both ends of the grave to this day.


THE NORSE MILL, where the people of Arnol used to grind the seed, was between Arnol and Brue and they used to call it the "Caiseal". It was the water that came from Loch Urraghag that kept the mill working during the wet weather. Before being milled in the Caiseal, the grain had first been dried in the kilns in Arnol. I remember when I was a young schoolgirl, and my father was out at the Caiseal, I used to take his meals out to him and stay for a while to pass the time for him.

It was the general opinion of the village in the "Taighean Cèilidh" that the Caiseal was haunted and that people were supposed to have seen ghosts there. I remember once about a man from Arnol (my own father) who was walking to Barvas at night, and he was hearing voices coming down the road from the Brue area. He went down to the loch and cracked the ice with his foot. The ice gave a long hollow shriek and people were convinced that it was the ghost which they called "Bodach a' Chaiseil".

If there ever were any bodachs or ghosts there, they never bothered me, and I have travelled past it many times in my life. The people of Arnol genuinely believed that the Caiseal was haunted. Whether there was any truth in their belief, nobody knows for certain. The mills probably stopped working some time between the wars. The ones that are built today are built mainly for curiosity's sake and as a tourist attraction


I THINK that Dòmhnull a' Cheannaiche's house was the first white House built in Arnol. That was No 37. At that time it was a shop, and you could buy anything there, from needles to anchors. I think that our own house was the next white one - Taigh Aonghais Mhaois. It would have been built around 1910, whilst Dòmhnall a' Cheannaiche's house would have been built around 1905. Today these houses have been modernized and extended, but they are still the same buildings.

There were two stonemasons around at that time. The "Màdaidh" was one of them. His daughter, Cairistiona, is still alive to day, in Dun Berisay. These people built all the houses at that time. They dressed the stones as they built the houses. You can still see an example of their work beside Bragar School, which to me is a "monument for many scholars".

In those days there were no stoves, just open fires with pothooks hanging down in the chimneys. It was only after the First World War that the first modern chimneys were built in the white houses. It was also at that time that they a started building chimneys in gable-ends in the black houses. Some of the black houses were just as nice and as clean as the white houses. They were always much warmer than the white houses.
The First World War fell heavily on the men of Arnol, and many were killed. When the ones who survived returned, they started improving the houses.


BETWEEN CARLOWAY AND SHAWBOST on the West Side of the Isle of Lewis, lie Dalmore and Dalbeg, less then a mile apart, with their green meadows and silver sands reaching down to the Atlantic. In the time of the Seaforths they were occupied by crofters but early in the 1850's, after the purchase of Lewis by James (later Sir James) Matheson, both villages were cleared. There was a farm in Dalbeg and it also had the unusual distinction of possessing an inn, one of only three licensed premises outside Stornoway at that time. Five crofters - Malcolm Morrison, John MacIver, Malcolm MacLeod, Kenneth Murray and Malcolm MacKay, along with their families - were removed to provide more land for the innkeeper, Donald MacKenzie. Three years after the Dalbeg clearances, the twenty families in Dalmore were evicted and their lands attached to the Dalbeg farm.

Three of the Dalmore families settled in South Shawbost, some in Carloway, some in Laxay on the other side of the island, while others emigrated to America. The South Shawbost crofters suffered doubly by the clearances of Dalbeg and Dalmore as not only were five more families thrust upon them but the part of their common pasture nearest to Dalbeg was also given to Donald MacKenzie, the farming tenant of Dalbeg and Dalmore, without any reduction of the crofters' rents, although it was estimated that it was the best part of the South Shawbost grazing and could maintain one third of the cattle of the township.

Eventually dykes were built between the Shawbost common grazing and that of Dalbeg by order of the estate officials. This had to be done by the Shawbost people themselves and they were held responsible for maintaining one half of it in good repair while the farmer had to maintain the other half. But as the crofters were, naturally enough, reluctant to do so, the estate officials had added an extra shilling to the rent of each crofter. Before the dykes were built, Donald Mackenzie and his son John, who succeeded him as tenant of the Dalbeg farm, used to siege the crofters' straying cattle or sheep and impound them, keeping them for two or three days until a fine was paid.

In November 1884, the dyke was broken down by men from Shawbost and despite being repaired was knocked down time and time again. John Sinclair, who had followed John Mackenzie in the tenancy of Dalbeg in 1875, resumed the practice of impounding the cattle and obtained from the Small Debt Court decrees for payment of damages caused by the trespass of the cattle.

On 21st April 1885 Sinclair, accompanied by a strong party of farm servants, rounded up thirty-three head of cattle on the disputed grazing. The Shawbost children in charge of the cattle did their best to prevent them being driven to the Dalbeg farm and as a result found themselves forced into the pound, an enclosure with walls six to eight feet high. They were detained until their parents arrived and broke down the door at nearly twelve o'clock midnight, when the children were "nearly dead with hunger and thirst and fear". The question of the enforced confinement of the Shawbost children in the Dalbeg pound was raised in the House of Commons by Charles Fraser-MacIntosh, M.P. for Inverness Burghs, who was informed that the children had followed the cattle into the pound of their own accord and that Crown Counsel, following a report from Stornoway Procurator-Fiscal, had decided on no further proceedings. Farmer Sinclair, however, sued the children's parents and obtained decrees for trespass and damage to the grazing by the cattle.

Not all of Sinclair's decrees for payment were enforced without opposition. When John Macleod (son of Murdo), South Shawbost, refused to pay the 9s 1Od. for which Sinclair had obtained a decree in the Small Debt Court, a sheriff officer arrived from Stornoway to poind his effects. The sheriff officer, William Ross Macleod, accompanied by his concurrents, Roderick Macleod, Laxdale, and Norman Macleod, estate constable, were given a reception in South Shawbost which they would long remember. When they approached MacLeod's house, they were deluged with "urine or other filthy liquids". MacLeod's wife, Effie, and other women who gathered in support brandished sticks and threatened to use them against the officer, who was compelled to retreat without poinding any goods. MacLeod and his wife, along with a Mrs Ann MacLeod, wife of Kenneth MacLeod, were later charged in the Sheriff Court in Stornoway with deforcement of the sheriff officer and when they failed to appear on 16th October 1885, a warrant was issued for their arrest. It was not until 2nd February 1886, that they were tried. John MacLeod and Mrs Ann MacLeod were each fined £1 or four days' imprisonment, while the charge against Mrs Effie MacLeod was dropped.

On 2nd August 1886, Sinclair's son, Hector, with one of the shepherds, John MacLeod, and a cowherd, Norman Martin, attempted to lead off some of the South Shawbost cattle, which were grazing on Aird Dabeag, well beyond the ground claimed by the Shawbost people as theirs. This time they had to deal not with children but with youths, Murdo Macphail (Murchadh lain Oig), Alexander MacLean (Alasdair Phluic), and John MacLeod (lain an Fhraoich), who were subsequently charged with breach of the peace and disorderly conduct. It was alleged that they had hooted and yelled at Sinclair and his assistants and had thrown clods and stones at the farmer's dogs to prevent them driving off their cattle. During the melèe, the barefooted Shawbost youths were at a disadvantage compared with their opponents with their hob-nailed boots, but they managed to prevent their cattle being impounded. In the Sheriff Court, the youths defended their action by stating that they had been informed by the older men in the village that the Dalbeg grazing had been taken from them thirty years before but that, as there had been no reduction in the crofters' rents, they were therefore still paying for the grazing rights. Their arguments, which were translated by the court interpretor, George Macleod, failed to convince Sherrif Black, who gave then a lecture on the consequences of defying the law and imposed fines of 15 shillings on MacPhail and Maclean, the charge against MacLeod being dismissed.

This was the last case connected with the Dalbeg grazing dispute. In the following year, the ground to the west end of Loch Raoinavat was restored to the South Shawboat crofters, who also had their rents reduced and most of their arrears cancelled. Sinclair, who also lost part of his grazing on the Dalmore side, had his rent reduced from £102 to £90. Thus ended the feud between tenant farmer and crofters, a feud paralleled in many parts of the Highlands and Islands during the "Crofters' War".