A Description of the Western Isles of Scotland

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

Additional Information of the Isle of Skye & Adjacent Islands

The Diseases Known and not Known in Skye and the Adjacent Isles

THE gout, corns in the feet, convulsions, madness, fits of the mother, vapours, palsy, lethargy, rheumatism, wens, ganglions, king’s-evil, ague, surfeits, and consumptions are not frequent, and barrenness and abortion very rare.

The diseases that prevail here are fevers, stitches, colic, head-ache, megrim, jaundice, sciatica, stone, small-pox, measles, rickets, scurvy, worms, fluxes, tooth-ache, cough, and squinance.

The ordinary remedies used by the natives, are taken from plants, roots, stones, animals, &c.

To cure a pleurisy the letting of blood plentifully is an ordinary remedy.

Whey, in which violets have been boiled, is used as a cooling and refreshing drink for such as are ill of fevers. When the patient has not a sweat duly, their shirt is boiled in water, and afterwards put on them; which causes a speedy sweat. When the patient is very costive, and without passage by stool or urine, or passes the ordinary time of sweating in fevers, two or three handfuls of the sea-plant called dulse, boiled in a little water, and some fresh butter with it, and the infusion drunk procures passage both ways, and sweat shortly after: the dulse growing on stone, not that on the seaward is only proper in this case.

To procure sleep after a fever, the feet, knees, and ankles of the patient are washed in warm water, into which a good quantity of chick-weed is put, and afterwards some of the plant is applied warm to the neck, and between the shoulders, as the patient goes to bed.

The tops of nettles, chopped small, and mixed with a few whites of raw eggs, applied to the forehead and temples, by way of a frontel, is used to procure sleep.

Foxglove, applied warm plaisterwise to the part affected, removes pains that follow after fevers.

The sea-plant linarich, is used to procure sleep, as is mentioned among its virtues.

Erica-baccifera, boiled a little in water, and applied warm to the crown of the head and temples, is used likewise as a remedy to procure sleep.

To remove stitches, when letting blood does not prevail, the part affected is rubbed with an ointment made of camomile and fresh butter, or of brandy with fresh butter; and others apply a quantity of raw scurvy-grass chopped small.

The scarlet-fever, which appeared in this isle only within these two years last, is ordinarily cured by drinking now and then a glass of brandy. If an infant happen to be taken with it, the nurse drinks some brandy, which qualifies the milk, and proves a successful remedy.

The common alga, or sea-ware, is yearly used with success to manure the fruit-trees in Sir Donald Macdonald’s orchard at Armidill: several affirm, that if a quantity of sea-ware be used about the roots of fruit-trees whose growth is hindered by the sea-air, this will make them grow and produce fruit.

Head-ache is removed by taking raw dulse and linarich applied cold by way of a plaister to the temples. This likewise is used as a remedy to remove the megrim. The jaundice is cured by the vulgar, as follows: the patient being stripped naked behind to the middle of the back, he who acts the surgeon’s part marks the 11th bone from the rump on the back with a black stroke in order to touch it with his tongs, as mentioned already.

Sciatica is cured by applying the case with the fat of the carara-fowl to the thigh-bone; and it must not be removed from thence till the cure is performed.

Flamula-Jovis, or spire-wort, being cut small, and a limpet shell filled with it, and applied to the thighbone, causes a blister to rise about the bigness of an egg ----- which being cut, a quantity of watery matter issues from it: the blister rises three times, and being emptied as often, the cure is performed. The seaplant linarich is applied to the place, to cure and dry

Crow-foot of the moor is more effectual for raising a blister, and curing the sciatica, than flamula-Jovis: for that sometimes fails of breaking, or raising the skin, but the crow-foot seldom fails.

Several of the common people have the boldness to venture upon the flamula-Jovis, instead of a purge. They take a little of the infusion, and drink it in melted fresh butter, as the properest vehicle: and this preserves the throat from being excoriated.

For the stone they drink water-gruel without salt. They likewise eat allium or wild garlic, and drink the infusion of it boiled in water, which they find effectual both ways. The infusion of the sea plant dulse boiled is also good against the stone; as is likewise the broth of whelks and limpets. And against the colic, costiveness, and stitches a quantity of scurvy-grass, boiled in water, with some fresh butter added, and eaten for some days, is an effectual remedy.

To kill worms, the infusion of tansy in whey or aquavitæ, taken fasting, is an ordinary medicine with the islanders.

Caryophylata Alpina Chamedress fol. It grows on marble in divers parts, about Christ Church in Strath; never observed before in Britain, and but once in Ireland, by Mr. Hiaton. Morison’s Hist Ray Synopsis, 137.

Carmel, alias knaphard, by Mr. James Sutherland called argatilis sylvaticus. It has a blue flower in July. The plant itself is not used, but the root is eaten to expel wind; and they say it prevents drunkenness by frequent chewing of it; and being so used gives a good relish to all liquors, milk only excepted. It is aromatic, and the natives prefer it to spice for brewing aquavitæ. The root will keep for many years; some say that it is cordial, and allays hunger. Shunnis is a plant highly valued by the natives; who eat it raw, and also boiled with fish, flesh, and milk. It is used as a sovereign remedy to cure the sheep of the cough. The root taken fasting expels wind. It was not known in Britain except in the north-west isles, and some parts of the opposite continent. Mr. James Sutherland sent it to France some years ago.

A quantity of wild sage, chewed between one’s teeth, and put into the ears of cows or sheep that become blind, cures them, and perfectly restores their sight, of which there are many fresh instances both in Skye and Harris, by persons of great integrity.

A quantity of wild sage chopped small, and eaten by horses mixed with their corn, kills worms. The horse must not drink for 10 hours after eating it.

The infusion of wild sage after the same manner produces the like effect.

Wild sage cut small, and mixed among oats given to a horse fasting, and kept without drink for seven or eight hours after, kills worms.

Fluxes are cured by taking now and then a spoonful of the syrup of blue berries that grow on the mertillus.

Plantain boiled in water, and the hectic-stone heated red hot quenched in the same, is successfully used for fluxes.

Some cure the toothache by applying a little of the flamula-Jovis in a limpet shell to the temples.

A green turf heated among embers, as hot as can be endured, and by the patient applied to the side of the head affected, is likewise used for the toothache.

For coughs and colds, water-gruel with a little butter is the ordinary cure.

For coughs and hoarseness they use to bathe the feet in warm water, for the space of a quarter of an hour at least; and then rub a little quantity of deer’s grease (the older the better) to the soles of their feet by the fire. The deer’s grease alone is sufficient in the morning; and this method must be continued until the cure is performed. And it may be used by young or old, except women with child, for the first four months, and such as are troubled with vapours.

Hartstongue and maidenhair boiled in wore and the ale drunk is used for coughs and consumptions.

Milk or water, wherein the hectic stone hash been boiled or quenched red hot, and being taken for ordinary drink, is also efficacious against a consumption.

The hands and feet often washed in water, in which the hectic stone has been boiled, is esteemed restorative.

Yarrow, with the hectic-stone boiled in milk, and frequently drunk, is used for consumptions.

Water-gruel is also found by experience to be good for consumptions. It purifies the blood, and procures appetite, when drunk without salt.

There is a smith in the parish of Kilmartin, who is reckoned a doctor for curing faintness of the spirits. This he performs in the following manner:

The patient being laid on the anvil with his face uppermost, the smith takes a big hammer in both his hands, and making his face all grimace, he approaches his patient; and then drawing his hammer from the ground, as if he designed to hit him with his full strength on the forehead, he ends in a feint, else he would be sure to cure the patient of all diseases; but the smith being accustomed to the performance, has a dexterity of managing his hammer with discretion; though at the same time he must do it so as to strike terror in the patient; and this, they say, has always the designed effect.

The smith is famous for his pedigree; for it has been observed of a long time that there has been but one only child born in the family, and that always a a son, and when he arrived to man’s estate, the father died presently after: the present smith makes up the thirteenth generation of that race of people who are bred to be smiths, and all of them pretend to this cure.

Ilica passio or twisting of the guts, has been several times cured by drinking a draught of cold water, with a little oatmeal in it, and then hanging the patient by the heels for some time. The last instance in Skye was by John Morison, in the village of Talisker, who by this remedy alone cured a boy of fourteen years of age. Dr. Pitcairn told me that the like cure had been performed in the shire of Fife for the same disease. A cataplasm of hot dulse, with its juice, applied several times to the lower part of the belly, cured the iliac passion.

The sea-plant dulse is used, as is said above, to remove colics; and to remove that distemper and costiveness, a little quantity of fresh butter, and some scurvy-grass boiled and eaten with its infusion, is a usual and effectual remedy.

A large handful of the sea-plant dulse, growing upon stone, being applied outwardly, as is mentioned above, against the iliaca passio takes away the after-birth with great ease and safety; this remedy is to be repeated until it produce the desired effect, though some hours may be intermitted: the fresher the dulse is, the operation is the stronger: for if it is above two or three days old, little is to be expected from it in this case. This plant seldom or never fails of success, though the patient had been delivered several days before; and of this I have lately seen an extraordinary instance at Edinburgh in Scotland, when the patient was given over as dead.

Dulse, being eaten raw or boiled, is by daily experience found to be an excellent antiscorbutic; it is better raw in this case, and must be first washed in cold water.

For a fracture, the first thing they apply to a broken bone is the white of an egg, and some barley meal; and then they tie splinters round it, and keep it so tied for some days. When the splinters are untied, they make use of the following ointment, viz., a like quantity of betonica Pauli, St. John’s wort, golden rod, all cut and bruised in sheep’s grease, or fresh butter, to a consistence; some of this they spread on a cloth, and lay on the wound, which continues untied for a few days.

Giben of St. Kilda, i.e., the fat of sea-fowls made into a pudding in the stomach of the fowl, is also an approved vulnerary for man or beast.

The vulgar make purges of the infusion of scurvy-grass, and some fresh butter; and this they continue to take for the space of a week or two, because it is mild in its operation.

They use the infusion of the sea-plant dulse after the same manner, instead of a purge.

Eyes that are blood-shot or become blind for some days are cured here by applying some blades of the plant fern, and the yellow is by them reckoned best; this they mix with the white of an egg, and lay it on some coarse flax ----- and the egg next to the face and brows, and the patient is ordered to lie on his back.

To ripen a tumour or boil they cut female jacobea small, mix it with some fresh butter on a hot stone, and apply it warm; and this ripens and draws the tumour quickly, and without pain; the same remedy is used for women’s breasts that are hard or swelled.

For taking the syroms out of the hands they use ashes of burnt sea-ware, mixed with salt water; and washing their hands in it, without drying them, it kills the worms.

Burnt ashes of sea-ware preserve cheese, instead of salt; which is frequently practiced in this isle. Ashes of burnt sea-ware scour flaxen thread better, and make it whiter than anything else.

When their feet are swelled and benumbed with cold, they scarify their heels with a lancet.

They make glisters of the plant mercury, and some of the vulgar use it as a purge, for which it serves both ways.

They make glisters also of the roots of flags, water, and salt butter.

They have found out a strange remedy for such as could never ease nature at sea by stool or urine. There were three such men in the parishof St. Mary’s, in Trotterness. Two of them I knew, to wit, John Macphade and Finlay Macphade; they lived on the coast, and went often a fishing, and after they had spent some nine or ten hours at sea, their bellies would swell; for after all their endeavours to get passage either ways, it was impracticable until they came to land, and then they found no difficulty in the thing. This was a great inconvenience to any boat’s crew in which either of these three men had been fishing, for it obliged them often to forbear when the fishing was most plentiful, and to row to the shore with any of these men that happened to become sick; for landing was the only remedy. At length one of their companions thought of an experiment to remove this inconvenience; he considered that when any of these men had got their feet on dry ground they could then ease nature with as much freedom as easy as any other person; and therefore he carried a large green turf of earth to the boat, and placed the green side uppermost, without telling the reason. One of these men who was subject to the infirmity above-mentioned, perceiving an earthen turf in the boat, was surprised at the sight of it, and enquired for what purpose it was brought thither? He that laid it there answered that he had done it to serve him, and that when he was disposed to ease nature he might find himself on land though he was at sea. The other took this as an affront, so that from words they came to blows; their fellows with much ado did separate them, and blamed him that brought the turf into the boat, since such a fancy could produce no other effect than a quarrel. All of them employed their time eagerly in fishing, until some hours after that the angry man, who before was so much affronted at the turf, was so ill of the swelling of his belly as usual, that he begged of the crew to row to the shore, but this was very disobliging to them all. He that intended to try the experiment with the turf, bid the sick man stand on it, and he might expect to have success by it; but he refused,and still resented the affront which he thought was intended upon him; but at last all the boat’s crew urged him to try what the turf might produce, since it could not make him worse than he was. The man being in great pain was by their repeated importunities prevailed upon to stand with his feet on the turf; and it had the wished effect, for nature became obedient both ways; and then the angry man changed his note, for he thanked his doctor whom he had some hours before beat. And from that time none of these three men ever went to sea without a green turf in their boat, which proved effectual. This is matter of fact, sufficiently known and attested by the better part of the parishioners still living upon the place.

The ancient way the islanders used to procure sweat was thus: A part of an earthen floor was covered with fire, and when it was suiciently heated the fire was taken away, and the ground covered with a heap of straw; upon this straw a quantity of water was poured, and the patient lying on the straw, the heat of it put his whole body into a sweat.

To cause any particular part of the body to sweat, they dig a hole in an earthen floor, and fill it with hazel sticks and dry rushes; above these they put a hectic-stone, red hot, and pouring some water into the hole, the patient holds the part affected over it, and this procures a speedy sweat.

Their common way of procuring sweat is by drinking a large draught of water gruel with some butter as they go to bed.

Of the Various Effects of Fishes on Several Constitutions in these Islands

DONGAL MACEWAN became feverish always after eating of fish of any kind, except thorn-back and dog-fish.

A ling fish, having brown spots on the skin, causes such as eat of its liver to cast their skin from head to foot. This happened to three children in the hamlet of Talisker, after eating the liver of a brown spotted ling.

Finley Ross and his family, in the parish of Uig having eaten a fresh ling fish, with brown spots on its skin, he and they became indisposed and feverish for some few days, and in a little time after they were blistered all over. They say that when the fresh ling is salted a few days, it has no such effect.

There was a horse in the village Bretill which had the erection backward, contrary to all other of its kind.

A weaver in Portree has a faculty of erecting and letting fall his ears at pleasure, and opens and shuts his mouth on such occasions.

A boy in the castle of Duntulm, called Mister to a by-name, hath a pain and swelling in his great toe at every change of the moon, and it continues only for the space of one day, or two at most.

Allan Macleod being about ten years of age, was taken ill of a pain which moved from one part of his body to another, and where it was felt the skin appeared blue; it came to his toe, thigh, testicles, arms, and head; when the boy was bathed in warm water he found most ease. The hinder part of his head, which was last affected, had a little swelling and a woman endeavoring to squeeze the humour out of it, by bruising it on each side with her nails she forced out at the same time a little animal near an inch in length, having a white head sharp pointed, the rest of its body of a red colour, and full of small feet on each side. Animals of this sort have been seen in the head and legs of several persons in the isles, and are distinguished by the name of Fillan.

Yeast, How Preserved by the Natives

A rod of oak, of four, five, six, or eight inches about, twisted round like a with, boiled in wort, well dried, and kept in a little bundle of barley straw, and being steeped again in wort, causeth it to ferment, and procures yeast: the rod is cut before the middle of May, and is frequently used to furnish yeast; and being preserved and used in this manner, it serves for many years together. I have seen the experiment tried, and was shown a piece of a thick with, which hath been preserved for making ale with, for about twenty or thirty years.

The Effects of Eating Hemlock-Root

FERGUS CAIRD, an empiric, living in the village Talisker, having by a mistake eaten hemlock- root, instead of the white wild carrot, his eyes did presently roll about, his countenance became very pale, his sight had almost failed him, the frame of his body was all in a strange convulsion,and his pudenda retired so inwardly, that there was no discerning whether he had then been male or female. All the remedy given him in this state was a draught of hot milk, and a little aquavitæ: added to it; which he no sooner drank, but he vomited presendy after, yet the root still remained in his stomach. They continued to administer the same remedy for the space of four or five hours together, but in vain; and about an hour after they ceased to give him anything, he voided the root by stool, and then was restored to his former state of health: he is still living, for anything I know, and is of a strong healthful constitution.

Some few years ago, all the flax in the barony of Trotterness was over-run with a great quantity of green worms, which in a few days would have destroyed it, had not a flock of ravens made a tour round the ground where the flax grew, for the space of fourteen miles, and eat up the worms in a very short time.

The inhabitants of this isle are generally well proportioned, and their complexion is for the most part black. They are not obliged to art in forming their bodies, for nature never fails to act her part bountifully to them; and perhaps there is no part of the habitable globe where so few bodily imperfections are to be seen, nor any children that go more early. I have observed several of them walk alone before they were ten months old; they are bathed all over every morning and evening, some in cold, some in warm water; but the latter is most commonly used and they wear nothing strait about them. The mother generally suckles the child, failing of which a nurse is provided, for they seldom bring up any by hand; they give new-born infants fresh butter to take away the miconium, and this they do for several days; they taste neither sugar, nor cinnamon, nor have they any daily allowance of sack bestowed on them, as the custom is elsewhere, nor is the nurse allowed to taste ale.

The generality wear neither shoes nor stockings before they are seven, eight, or ten years old; and many among them wear no night-caps before they are sixteen years old, and upwards; some use none all their lifetime, and these are not so liable to headaches, as others who keep their heads warm.

They use nothing by way of prevention of sickness, observing it as a rule to do little or nothing of that nature. The abstemiousness of the mothers is no small advantage to the children: they are a very prolific people, so that many of their numerous issue must seek their fortune on the continent, and not a few in foreign countries, for want of employment at home. When they are any way fatigued by travel, or otherwise, they fail not to bathe their feet in warm water, wherein red moss has been boiled, and rub them with it going to bed.

The ancient custom of rubbing the body by a warm hand opposite to the fire, is now laid aside, except from the lower part of the thigh downwards to the ankle; this they rub before and behind, in cold weather, and at going to bed. Their simple diet contributes much to their state of health, and long life; several among them of my acquaintance arrived at the age of eighty, ninety, and upwards; but the Lady Macleod lived to the age of one hundred and three years: she had then a comely head of hair, and a case of good teeth, and always enjoyed the free use of her understanding until the week in which she died.

The inhabitants of this and all the Western Isles do wear their shoes after Mr. Locke’s mode, in his book of education; and among other great advantages by it, they reckon these two ----- that they are never troubled with the gout, or corns in their feet.

They lie for the most part on beds of straw, and some on beds of heath; which latter being made after their way, with the tops uppermost, are almost as soft as a feather-bed, and yield a pleasant scent after lying on them once. The natives by experience have found it to be effectual for drying superfluous humours, and strengthening the nerves. It is very refreshing after a fatigue of any kind. The Picts are said to have had an art of brewing curious ale with the tops of heath, but they refused to communicate it to the Scots, and so it is quite lost.

A native of this isle requires treble the dose of physic that will serve one living in the south of Scotland for a purge; yet an islander is easier purged in the south than at home. Those of the best rank are easier wrought on by purging medicines, than the vulgar.

The inhabitants are of all people easiest cured of green wounds; they are not so liable to fevers as others on such occasions; and therefore they never cut off arm or leg, though never so ill broke, and take the freedom to venture on all kinds of meat and drink, contrary to all rule in such cases, and yet commonly recover of their wounds.

Many of the natives, upon occasion of sickness, are disposed to try experiments, in which they succeed so well that I could not hear of the least inconvenience attending their practice. I shall only bring one instance more of this, and that is of the illiterate empiric Neil Beaton in Skye; who of late is so well known in the isles and continent, for his great success in curing several dangerous distempers, though he never appeared in the quality of a physician until he arrived at the age of forty years, and then also without the advantage of education. He pretends to judge of the various qualities of plants and roots by their different tastes; he has likewise a nice observation of the colours of their flowers, from which he learns their astringent and loosening qualities; he extracts the juice of plants and roots after a chemical way, peculiar to himself, and with little or no charge.

He considers his patient’s constitution before any medicine is administered to them: and he has formed such a system for curing diseases as serves for a rule to him upon all occasions of this nature.

He treats Riverius’s Lilium Medicinæ, and some other practical pieces that he has heard of, with contempt; since in several instances it appears that their method of curing has failed, where his had good success.

Some of the diseases cured by him are as follows: running sores in legs and arms, grievous headaches; he had the boldness to cut a piece out of a woman s skull broader than half-a-crown, and by this restored her to perfect health. A gentlewoman of my acquaintance having contracted a dangerous pain in her belly some days after her delivery of a child, and several medicines being used, she was thought past recovery, if she continued in that condition a few hours longer; at last this doctor happened to come there, and being employed, applied a simple plant to the part affected, and restored the patient in a quarter of an hour after the application. One of his patients told me that he sent him a cap interlined with some seeds, etc., to wear for the cough, which it removed in little time; and it had the like effect upon his brother.

The success attending this man’s cures was so extraordinary that several people thought his performances to have proceeded rather from a compact with the devil, than from the virtue of simples. To obviate this, Mr. Beaton pretends to have had some education from his father, though he died when he hurnself was but a boy. I have discoursed him seriously at different times, and am fully satisfied that he uses no unlawful means for obtaining his end.

His discourse of the several constitutions, the qualities of plants, etc., was more solid than could be expected from one of his education. Several sick people from remote isles came to him, and some from the shore of Ross, at 70 miles distant, sent for his advice. I left him very successful, but can give no further account of him since that time.

They are generally a very sagacious people, quick of apprehension,and even the vulgar exceed all those of their rank and education I ever yet saw in any other country. They have a great genius for music and mechanics. I have observed several of their children that before they could speak were capable to distinguish and make choice of one tune before another upon the violin; for they appeared always uneasy until the tune which they fancied best was played, and then they expressed their satisfaction by the motions of their head and hands.

There are several of them who invent tunes very taking in the south of Scotland and elsewhere. Some musicians have endeavoured to pass for first inventors of them by changing their name, but this has been impracticable; for whatever language gives the modern name, the tune still continues to speak its true original; and of this I have been showed several instances.

Some of the natives are very dexterous in engraving trees, birds, deer, dogs, etc., upon bone and horn, or wood, without any other tool than a sharp-pointed knife.

Several of both sexes have a quick vein of poesy, and in their language (which is very emphatic) they compose rhyme and verse, both which powerfully affect the fancy. And in my judgment (which is not singular in this matter) with as great force as that of any ancient or modern poet I ever yet read. They have generally very retentive memories; they see things at a great distance. The unhappiness of their education, and their want of converse with foreign nations, deprives them of the opportunity to cultivate and beautify their genius, which seems to have been formed by nature for great attainments. And on the other hand, their retiredness may be rather thought an advantage, at least to their better part; according to that of the historian: "Plus valuit apud hos ignorantia vitiorum, quam apud Græcos omnia præcepta philosophorum": The ignorance of vices is more powerful among those than all the precepts of philosophy are among the Greeks.

For they are to this day happily ignorant of many vices that are practiced in the learned and polite world. I could mention several, for which they have not as yet got a name, or so much as a notion of them.

The diet generally used by the natives consists of fresh food, for they seldom taste any that is salted, except butter. The generality eat but little flesh, and only persons of distinction eat it every day and make three meals, for all the rest eat only two, and they eat more boiled than roasted. Their ordinary diet is butter, cheese, milk, potatoes, colworts, brochan, i.e., oatmeal and water boiled. The latter taken with some bread is the constant food of several thousands of both sexes in this and other isles, during the winter and spring; yet they undergo many fatigues both by sea and land, and are very healthful. This verifies what the poet saith, "Populis sat est lymphaque ceresque": Nature is satisfied with bread and water.

There is no place so well stored with such great quantity of good beef and mutton, where so little of both is consumed by eating. They generally use no fine sauces to entice a false appetite, nor brandy or tea for digestion; the purest water serves them in such cases. This, together with their ordinary exercise, and the free air, preserves their bodies and minds in a regular frame, free from the various convulsions that ordinarily attend luxury. There is not one of them too corpulent, nor too meagre.

The men servants have always double the quantity of bread, etc., that is given to women servants, at which the latter are no ways offended, in regard of the many fatigues by sea and land which the former undergo.

Oon, which in English signifies froth, is a dish used by several of the islanders, and some on the opposite mainland, in time of scarcity, when they want bread. It is made in the following manner: A quantity of milk or whey is boiled in a pot, and then it is wrought up to the mouth of the pot with a long stick of wood, having a cross at the lower end. It is turned about like the stick for making chocolate; and being thus made, it is supped with spoons. It is made up five or six times in the same manner, and the last is always reckoned best and the first two or three frothings the worst. The milk or whey that is in the bottom of the pot is reckoned much better in all respects than simple milk. It may be thought that such as feed after this rate are not fit for action of any kind; but I have seen several that lived upon this sort of food, made of whey only, for some months together, and yet they were able to undergo the ordinary fatigue of their employments, whether by sea or land; and I have seen them travel to the tops of high mountains as briskly as any I ever saw.

Some who live plentifully make these dishes above-said of goats’ milk, which is said to be nourishing. The milk is thickened, and tastes much better after so much working. Some add a little butter and nutmeg to it. I was treated with this dish in several places; and being asked whether this said dish or chocolate was best, I told them that if we judged by the effects this dish was preferable to chocolate; for such as drink often of the former enjoy a better state of health than those who use the latter.

Graddan

THE ancient way of dressing corn, which is yet used in several isles, is called graddan, from the Irish word grad, which signified quick. A woman sitting down takes a handful of corn, holding it by the stalks in her left hand, and then sets fire to the ears, which are presently in a flame. She has a stick in her right hand, which she manages very dexterously, beating off the grain at the very instant when the husk is quite burnt; for if she miss of that she must use the kiln, but experience has taught them this art to perfection. The corn may be so dressed, winnowed, ground, and baked within an hour after reaping from the ground. The oat bread dressed as above is loosening, and that dressed in the kiln astringent, and of greater strength for labourers: but they love the graddan, as being more agreeable to their taste. This barbarous custom is much laid aside since the number of their mills increased. Captain Fairweather, master of an English vessel; having dropped anchor at Bernera of Glenelk over against Skye, saw two women at this employment and wondering to see so much game and smoke he came near, and finding that it was corn they burnt, he ran away in great haste telling the natives that he had seen two mad women very busy burning corn. The people came to see what the matter was, and laughed at the captain’s mistake, though he was not a little surprised at the strangeness of a custom that he had never seen or heard of before.

There are two fairs of late held yearly at Portree on the east side of Skye. The convenience of the harbour, which is in the middle of the isle, made them chuse this for the fittest place. The first holds about the middle of June, the second about the beginning of September. The various products of this and the adjacent isles and continent are sold here ---- viz., horses, cows, sheep, goats, hides, skins, butter, cheese, fish, wool, &c.

All the horses and cows sold at the fair swim to the mainland over one of the ferries or sounds called kyles ----- one of which is on the east, the other on the south side of Skye. That on the east is about a mile broad, and the other on the south is half a mile. They begin when it is near low water and fasten a twisted with about the lower jaw of each cow. The other end of the with is fastened to another cow’s tail; and the number so tied together is commonly five. A boat with four oars rows off, and a man sitting in the stern holds the with in his hand to keep up the foremost cow’s head; and thus all the five cows swim as fast as the boat rows; and in this manner above a hundred may be ferried over in one day. These cows are sometimes drove about 400 miles further south. They soon grow fat, and prove sweet and tender beef.

Their Habit

THE first habit wore by persons of distinction in the islands was the leni-croich, from the Irish word leni, which signifies a shirt, and croach saffron, because their shirt was dyed with that herb. The ordinary number of ells used to make this robe was twenty-four. It was the upper garb, reaching below the knees, and was tied with a belt round the middle; but the islanders have laid it aside about a hundred years ago.

They now generally use coat, waistcoat, and breeches, as elsewhere; and on their heads wear bonnets made of thick cloth ----- some blue, some black, and some grey.

Many of the people wear trews. Some have them very fine woven like stockings of those made of cloth. Some are coloured, and others striped. The latter are as well shaped as the former, lying close to the body from the middle downwards, and tied round with a belt above the haunches. There is a square piece of cloth which hangs down before. The measure for shaping the trews is a stick of wood, whose length is a cubit, and that divided into the length of a finger and a half a finger, so that it requires more skill to make it than the ordinary habit.

The shoes anciently wore were a piece of the hide of a deer, cow, or horse, with the hair on, being tied behind and before with a point of leather. The generality now wear shoes, having one thin sole only, and shaped after the right and left foot so that what is for one foot will not serve the other.

But persons of distinction wear the garb in fashion in the south of Scotland.

The plaid wore only by the men is made of fine wool, the thread as fine as can be made of that kind. It consists of divers colours; and there is a great deal of ingenuity required in sorting the colours so as to be agreeable to the nicest fancy. For this reason the women are at great pains, first to give an exact pattern of the plaid upon a piece of wood, having the number of every thread of the stripe on it. The length of it is commonly seven double ells. The one end hangs by the middle over the left arm, the other going round the body, hangs by the end over the left arm also ----- the right hand above it is to be at liberty to do anything upon occasion. Every isle differs from each other in their fancy of making plaids as to the stripes in breadth and colours. This humour is as different through the mainland of the Highlands, in so far that they who have seen those places are able at first view of a man’s plaid to guess the place of his residence.

When they travel on foot the plaid is tied on the breast with a bodkin of bone or wood (just as the spine wore by the Germans, according to the description of C. Tacitus). The plaid is tied round the middle with a leather belt. It is plaited from the belt to the knee very nicely. This dress for footmen is found much easier and lighter than breeches or trews.

The ancient dress wore by the women, and which is yet wore by some of the vulgar, called arisad, is a white plaid, having a few small stripes of black, blue, and red. It reached from the neck to the heels, and was tied before on the breast with a buckle of silver or brass, according to the quality of the person. I have seen some of the former of a hundred marks value. It was broad as any ordinary pewter plate, the whole curiously engraved with various animals, &c. There was a lesser buckle which was wore in the middle of the larger, and above two ounces weight. It had in the centre a large piece of crystal, or some finer stone, and this was set all round with several finer stones of a lesser size. The plaid being plaited all round, was tied with a belt below the breast. The belt was of leather, and several pieces of silver intermixed with the leather like a chain. The lower end of the belt has a piece of plate about eight inches long and three in breadth curiously engraved, the end of which was adorned with fine stones or pieces of red coral. They wore sleeves of scarlet cloth, closed at the end as men’s vests, with gold lace round them, having plate buttons set with fine stones. The head dress was a fine kerchief of linen strait about the head, hanging down the back taper-wise. A large lock of hair hangs down their cheeks above their breast, the lower end tied with a knot of ribbands.

The islanders have a great respect for their chiefs and heads of tribes, and they conclude grace after every meal with a petition to God for their welfare and prosperity. Neither will they, as far as in them lies, suffer them to sink under any misfortune; but in case of a decay of estate, make a voluntary contribution on their behalf, as a common duty to support the credit of their families.

Way of Fighting

THE ancient way of fighting was by set battles; and for arms some had broad two-handed swords and head pieces, and others bows and arrows. When all their arrows were spent they attacked one another with sword in hand. Since the invention of guns they are very early accustomed to use them, and carry their pieces with them wherever they go. They likewise learn to handle the broad sword and target. The chief of each tribe advances with his followers within shot of the enemy, having first laid aside their upper garments; and after one general discharge they attack them with sword in hand, having their target on their left hand (as they did at Killiecrankie), which soon brings the matter to an issue, and verifies the observation made of them by our historians:

Aut mors cito, aut victoria læta.

This isle is divided into three parts, which are possessed by different proprietors. The southern part called Sleat is the property and title of Sir Donald Macdonald, knight and baronet. His family is always distinguished from all the tribes of his name by the Irish as well as English, and called Macdonald absolutely, and by way of excellence; he being reckoned by genealogists and all others the first for antiquity among all the ancient tribes, both in the isles and continent. He is lineally descended from Sommerled, who, according to Buchanan, was Thane of Argyll. He got the Isles into his possession by virtue of his wife’s right. His son was called Donald, and from him all the families of the name Macdonald are descended. He was the first of that name who had the title of King of the Isles. One of that name subscribing a charter granted by the King of Scots to the family of Roxburgh, writes as follows: ----- "Donald, King of the Isles, witness." He would not pay homage to the King for the isles, but only for the lands which he held of him on the continent.

One of Donald’s successors married a daughter of King Robert the Second, the first of the name of Stuart, by whom he acquired several lands in the Highlands. The Earldom of Ross came to this family by marrying the heiress of the house of Lesly. One of the Earls of Ross, called John, being of an easy temper, and too liberal to the Church, and to his vassals and friends, his son Æneas (by Buchanan called Donald) was so opposite to his father’s conduct that he gathered together an army to oblige him from giving away any more of his estate. The father raised an army against his son, and fought him at sea on the coast of Mull. The place is since called the Bloody Bay. The son, however, had the victory. This disposed the father to go straight to the King, and make over the right of all his estate to him. The son kept possession some time after. However, this occasioned the fall of that great family, though there are yet extant several ancient tribes of the name, both in the isles and continent. Thus far the genealogists Macvurich and Hugh Macdonald, in their manuscripts.

The next adjacent part to Slait, and joining it on the north side, is Strath. It is the property of the Laird of Mackinnon, head of an ancient tribe.

On the north-west side of Strath lies that part of Skye called Macleod’s Country, possessed by Macleod. Genealogists say he is lineally descended from Leod, son to the Black Prince of Man. He is head of an ancient tribe.

The barony of Trotterness, on the north side Skye, belongs to Sir Donald Macdonald. The proprietors and all the inhabitants are Protestants, except twelve, who are Roman Catholics. The former observe the festivals of Christmas, Easter, Good Friday, and that of St. Michael’s. Upon the latter they have a cavalcade in each parish, and several families bake the cake called St. Michael’s Bannock.

The Island of Bute


Copyright © Scotland from the Roadside 2016