STATEMENT by Mr ALEXANDER CARMICHAEL as to Farming Customs in the Outer Hebrides.
1. Township.—The English word township represents the Gaelic word ' baile,' as applied to a rural locality and to a country community. I prefer the word townland to township, having already used it in the paper which Mr Skene asked me to write for his Celtic Scotland, and which your Lordship was pleased to commend. The word commune has unpleasant associations, but being descriptive of the social economy of the Highlands, I shall use it here. The earliest mention which occurs to me of the word townland, is in Martin's Western Isles, published in 1703. This is the book which Dr Johnson says gave him a desire to see the Highlands of Scotland, and to which the world is indebted for Johnson's famous Tour to the Hebrides. I think the word townland is recognised by law. I have seen it used in law documents. The townland has a collective existence in various ways—by tradition, by usage, by the conditions of the people, and by the treatment of the proprietor. I shall endeavour to show this, and in doing so shall confine my illustrations to the Long Island. All the crofter land in the Outer Hebrides is either wholly or in part held in common by the crofters of each commune. There are three modes of holding the land by the crofters. In some townships no part of the land is permanently held by an individual crofter. In this case, a third of the arable land is triennally allotted ; in another, part of the arable land is permanently held, and the rest periodically allotted; while, in the third case, all the arable land is held unchangeably, the grazing ground alone being held in common. All the crofters throughout the Long Island graze their horse, sheep, and cattle in common, each townland being, however, confined to its own special grazings.
2. The Townland Constable —The crofters of each commune are presided over by one of themselves. This officer is called by the people the townland constable—Gaelic, constabal baile. In some townlands the crofters alone elect the farm constable ; in some they elect him in conjunction with the proprietor ; in others the proprietor alone appoints him ; while not infrequently, people and proprietor have each a constable to represent them in the townland. The crofters complain that when the proprietor, or rather the factor, ignores them in the appointment of a farm constable, the man thus appointed and paid by the factor is, unconsciously to himself no doubt, altogether too compliant to the factor, too often to their loss. Hence the people elect a man to look after their own interest, when the factor alone appoints the constable. When a constable is elected, the crofters confer among themselves as to the man most suitable for the once. They meet, and this and all kindred meetings are all called nabac, ' neighbourliness.' If the crofters meet during the day they probably meet at Cnoc Na Comhairle, the Council Hill, or at Clach Na Comhairle, the Council Stone. If they meet at night it is in some central house in the farm. Invariably these meetings are held at night to avoid losing time during the day. To me these meetings of the crofters were highly interesting, as
showing the ability of the people, their logical and legal acumen, their readiness of resource, and, I am happy to add, their invariable courtesy towards one another. In seeing these respectable industrious crofters quietly, friendly, and judiciously thus arranging their farming affairs, often wet, weary, and hungry, without food, without rest, without having been home since early morning when they left for their work, I have felt that they are cruelly maligned.
When a crofter is elected constable of his townland, he takes off his shoes and stockings, and taking his bonnet in his hand, and bowing low and reverently, he declares on honour, in presence of earth and heaven, in presence of God and men — Am fianuis uir agus adhair, am nanuis Dia agus daoine —that he shall be faithful to his trust. When the man stands with his bare feet on the ground, it indicates that his body is in contact with the earth of which he is made, and to which he returns. To emphasise this, he sometimes in bowing takes up a handful of earth and places it on his head. This simple declaration of office is extremely impressive, though now, alas, becoming obsolete from the fears of the shallow thoughtless, and the scoffs of the severely wise. Utilitarians say that 'the progress of civilisation is dying away with the ' rude ignorant ways of the people.' It may be so. But the so-called 'rude ignorant ways of the people' were infinitely more manly and natural than many of the shoddy artificial ways by which they are being supplanted. In some townlands the constable is elected or re-elected yearly ; in some he is elected for a term of years, and in others he is elected for life. The practice varies in the various townlands, but the principle is the same throughout. The services of the constable appointed by the factor are paid in money; those of the constable elected by the people are paid in kind. To compensate the constable for his time in looking after their affairs, the crofters of his townland give him grazing and tillage—Gaelic, fiar agus aiteach. The duties of the constable are varied, delicate, sometimes troublesome, and require shrewdness, firmness, and judgment. The constable, however, is always assisted by his fellow-crofters, sometimes by the whole of them, as occasion may require.
staill, poill) of the farm having become exhausted, the factor or his ground officer points out a new peat moss for the people. The constable divides this new peat moss into the necessary number of shares, or pennies'—Gaelic, peighinnean—lots are cast for these stances, and every crofter takes the stance which has fallen to him. Lest a man should be placed at any advantage or disadvantage from his neighbours, these banks are again subjected to the lot (Gaelic, crann), in the course of three, five, seven, or nine years, as the people may determine.
A peat road—Gaelic, utraid moine—has to be made to this new peat ground. Probably the road has to be made over some miles of rock, bog, and moorland. It is the duty of the constable to see that every crofter in the townland gives his necessary share of free labour to make this road He must see also that all the bye-roads on the farm are kept in repair by the mutual co-operation of the people, and that where the roads are on a soft foundation, that no traffic is carried over them during or immediately after wet weather. To ensure equal distribution of labour, these bye-roads are divided into ' pennies.' The good and bad, the soft and hard, the steep and level portions of the road are thus divided, and each crofter has to repair his own share. The constable engages the herds and shepherd of the farm, apportions their land, and collects their wages from his fellow crofters according to their rent. He sees that the souming of the townland is Lu conformity with the rules of the place, and that no man has a greater aggregate stock than his holding allows, according as he has a whole croft, a half croft, or a quarter croft Every townland has a cattle fold on the machair and another on the gearry. The machair is the irregularly broad plain of sandy soil on the edge of the Atlantic, and the gearry is the irregularly wide grazing ground between the machair and the moor, and which has been wrested from the bog and heathery waste by the hard splendid labours of the crofters. In wet weather the constable instructs the herd to keep the cattle on the machair, where the fold (Gaelic, cuthebuaile), from the nature of the soil, is less wet and comfortless for the cows and the women who milk them than the fold on the gearry. The constable must see that the dyke round the fold is repaired in early summer before being used, and that the gate, so to speak—Gaelic, cliath na cadha or cadha-chliath—is good. This term, cliath na cadha, literally the wattle of the gorge or pass, is curious. In wooded districts throughout the Highlands, where materials can be found, doors, gates, partitions, fences, and barns, and in some places dwelling-houses, are still made of wattling. Of old this wattle work was used largely by the Celts. It is believed that many of their early houses and churches were so made ; and those best qualified to judge, notably Mr Skene, believe that Saint Columba's first church in Iona was constructed of wattles. The old name of Dublin—Gaelic, Dubh-linne, literally ' black pool'—was and is Bail-ath-cliath, the town of the ford of wattles, from the first bridge over the river Lifey having been made of wattle work. Probably the interlacing so much used and so much admired in ancient Celtic sculpturing had its origin in this wattle work, occasionally called basket work.
An important part of the duties of the farm-constable is to measure and divide the arable land previous to lots being cast for the shares. In doing this the measures the land across and at the boundary of each share—Gaelic, earann — he cuts an incision in the ground, such like the broad arrow of the Ordnance Department. This incision—Gaelic, beum—is called by the curious name of ' tore' being the Gaelic name for a boar. In reclaiming moorland the people cultivate the ground in long narrow strips, with deep drains between. This is an admirable way of reclaiming land, and the crops produced by these narrow strips, incorrectly named lazybeds, are better than those produced by any other mode of tillage. The frequent drains dry the moss, very often morass, while the sun has access to the seed, not only at the top but also at both sides of the ridge. Should the crofters of a townland have occasion to complain to the factor of a fellow crofter, a deputation from the crofters go to the factor to prefer the complaint. This deputation is represented by the constable alone or in company. The factor confers with the constable, gives instructions, and possibly removes the refractory crofter from his croft should he continue to offend against the customs of the commune. The constable delivers information from the factor to the people as to the day on which the factor is to collect rents and rates, as to new rules which the factor is to enforce, or old ones that he wishes more strictly observed, and so forth.
In the past the farm-constable had often to help the ground-officer—Gaelic maor—to carry out directions under the factor. In this he had sometimes to help evicting the people, in pulling down the houses of near relations, even those of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters. The constable sees to cuartachadh a bhaile, which may be described as rounding or circuiting the crops of the townland. There are no fences, and when the crops grow up two men of the townland perambulate the farm all night, lest any of their own horses or cattle, or those of neighbouring farms, should break loose and destroy the com. Each two crofters in the townland take this watching in rotation. Should the watchers be remiss, and damage— Gaelic, miaatadh domail—to result, the two crofters responsible have to make good the loss. The constable appraizes the injury and exacts the money; and in this the people are very exacting. As they say—' Is e an cuntas goirid a ni an cairdeas fada'—It is the short accounting that leaves the friendship long.
Those, however, who are thus exacting in pecuniary matters are nevertheless most considerate towards one another in other things. Should a crofter or his family be laid up with illness his fellow crofters help on his work. This neighbourly help is, I regret to say, becoming less as the progress of civilisation' among the people is advancing. In connection with this watching, the people speak of a time when they had to kindle fires to scare away wild beasts from their flocks, as they have to do still to scare away deer and wild geese from their crops. In some places in the Long Island the people have to sit up all night to watch their com from the deer. I asked the crofters if ever they mentioned this hardship to the factor. Yes, we have mentioned it to him, and he told us that if we ever mentioned it to him again he would clear us all out to be out of the way of the deer. We therefore keep quiet, but suffer.
In some places the grey-lags (gtas-gheoidh) come down in such thick flocks in autumn as to wholly destroy the field on which they alight. The people are not allowed to shoot them, nor to Are at them, nor even to keep a gun to scare them away, so they resort in their watching to kindle fires. These fires look picturesque at night, and remind one of Campbell's beautiful poem of The Soldier's Dream'—
' By the wolf-scaring faggot that guarded the slain'
The farm-constable buys fresh stock for his townland and sells the old. He will not allow a crofter to cart seaweed from the shore till his neighbours have reasonable time to be there, nor will he allow a crofter to cut seaweed when and where he likes. He must see that the run-rig land—Gaelic, rinn-ruithimire—
of one man is not allowed to he under water to the injury of the man to whose lot it may fall at next allotting.