A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland

The following is from A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland by Martin Martin:

The Island of Erisca

The island Erisca, about a mile in length, and three in circumference, is partly heathy and partly arable, and yields a good produce. The inner side hath a wide anchorage, there is excellent cod and ling in it; the natives begin to manage it better, but not to that advantage it is capable of. The small island near it was overgrown with heath, and about three years ago the ground threw up all that heath from the very root, so that there is not now one shrub of it in all this island. Such as have occasion to travel by land between South-Uist and Benbecula, or Benbecula and North-Uist, had need of a guide to direct them, and to observe the tide when low, and also for crossing the channel at the right fords, else they cannot pass without danger.

There are some houses under-ground in this island, and they are in all points like those described in North-Uist; one of them is in the South Ferry-Town, opposite to Barray. The cattle produced here are like those of North-Uist, and there are above three hundred deer in this island: it was believed generally that no venomous creature was here, yet of late some little vipers have been seen in the south end of the island.

The natives speak the Irish tongue more perfectly here than in most of the other islands; partly because of the remoteness and the small number of those that speak English, and partly because some of them are scholars, and versed in the Irish language. They wear the same habit with the neighbouring islanders.

The more ancient people continue to wear the old dress, especially women. They are a hospitable, well-meaning people, but the misfortune of their education disposes them to uncharitableness, and rigid thoughts of their Protestant neighbours; though at the same time they find it convenient to make alliances with them. The churches here are St. Columba and St. Maryís in Hogh-more, the most centrical place in the island; St. Jeremyís chapels, St. Peterís, St. Bannan, St. Michael, St. Donnan.

There is a stone set up near a mile to the south of Columbaís Church, about 8 feet high, and 2 feet broad: it is called by the natives the Bowing stone; for when the inhabitants had the first sight of the Church, they set up this stone, and there bowed and said the Lordís prayer. There was a buckle of gold found in Einort ground some twenty years ago, which was about the value of seven guineas.

As I came from South-Uist, I perceived about sixty horsemen riding along the sands, directing their course for the east sea; and being between me and the sun, they made a great figure on the plain sands. We discovered them to be natives of South-Uist, for they alighted from their horses and went to gather cockles in the sands, which are exceeding plentiful there. This island is the property of Allan Macdonald of Moydart, head of the tribe of Macdonald, called Clanronaldís; one of the chief families descended of Macdonald, who was lord and king of the islands. He and all the inhabitants are Papists, except sixty, who are Protestants. The Papists observe all the festivals of their Church, they have a general cavalcade on All-Saints Day, and then they bake St. Michaelís cake at night, and the family and strangers eat it at supper.

Fergus Beaton hath the following ancient Irish manuscripts in the Irish character; to wit, Avicenna, Averroes, Joannes de Vigo, Bernardus Gordonus, and several volumes of Hippocrates.

The Island of Barray and Adjacent Islands


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