Scottish Gaelic heritage
Artist Malina Monks talks about her Scottish Gaelic cultural heritage, from being born and raised on the Isle of Lewis, the most north-west island of Scotland.
Gwanji [your son] tells me that you know your family history back to the 16th century?
Oh well, in one line - you know how often it's just one line that you know, and up to 10-something - and that was Harald the Black from the Isle of Man. And his son was Gorrie Crovan and he came up to Scotland and there's a lovely song that we sing about Gorrie Crovan in his rowing boat with all his men on it. And my brother and I when we'd go home we'd sing that song, The Barge of Gorrie Crovan .
So that was the McClouds. I'm Malina McCloud. And that's the McCloud line. And it comes down and it's all men. Men, men, men, men, until about the middle of the 1700s.And then the woman start getting introduced.
That particular line, they'd been in the Isle of Lewis for centuries really, and then in the middle of the 1800's, Scotland had been taken over by England. The last battle was the Battle of Cologne in the late 1700s. Scotland lost so Great Britain was England and all Scotland soley. That was the last time we fought to make Scotland independent, at that time.
Anyhow, when the English were thinking, "What are we going to do with these high, wild highlands and islands? It might be good for sheep. We could make some money out of sheep. On nice bits of land that the people have really made good by putting seaweed on it round the sea shores, where the village people put their sheep."
So they worked out that if they could get rid of these savages up north, on the highlands and islands, that could be a good thing. So they started making the crofters pay rent. Well, who had money to pay rent? Very few. You know, some people had a little bit of money from going fishing, or being builders, or making barrels for heading, or something - there'd be a few jobs around - but not very much. So people generally couldn't pay the rent.
And so the people were thrown off the land.
So that was called the Highland Clearances. The Highland and Island Clearances. And my McCloud people lived in a lovely spot in part of the island, nice and green, and they got thrown off because they couldn't pay the rent.
So lots of families went to Canada, to NovScotia - New Scotland, even down to Tierra Del Fuego, and America and New Zealand and Australia. There were boats waiting to take people away to foreign lands and told that they would be able to survive. Lots of people died. So my people who were told to go took a year and a half to come to where I was born and brought up on the island - the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland - the most north-westerly island of Scotland. And they stayed with relatives half-way, and my grandfather was 2 at that time. Of course they had to walk. And my great auntie was 6 and when we were young, we used to [spin and weave wool together according to our tradition]... and we still have that spinning wheel...
The place where we settled, the place I was born, I think the government gave a bit of land in lots... to the people... it was just heather and peat bog. So it took them a long time to get the peat off the land so that they could grow anything because you can't grow crops in peat. So they were very poor for a long time. And they had to of course build a house. And the houses that they built were stone houses, very thick walls, low stone houses with thatch on the roof. And that's where my father was born, in a black - they were called black houses - my father was born in a black house. And that was his home until he was 20, when he built a house... the eldest brother built a house for his mother and father before my father and his brother came to Australia to look for work. But my father only stayed here for 10 years and he went back, back home.
So the houses had a fire in the middle of the floor. There were still 4 or 5 [black] houses of 28 houses in the village... 4 or 5 houses were still black houses. So when you went up to the door, you'd see the smoke coming out of the door, and you'd look in, and you'd say, "Any body home?" [laughs] "Yes, yes, come in, who is it?" The gradually you'd say who you were. And of course if your name was Hugh, and your father and your grandfather, that's how you'd say your name. So I'm Malina, Aby, Myrtle, and then my great grandfather Donald Myrtle. So my name is Malina, Abby, Donald Myrtle in Gaelic.
Anyhow, you'd see first of all the fire, and then you'd see maybe a cat or a dog. And then you'd see the dishes glinting on the Welsh kind of dresser that people had, with fancy dishes that they'd brought home from the fishing. From when they went down to England to gut herring. They would bring home a nice dish or something and put it up on the dresser. And then you'd see the woman of the house. The men would usually be out working, depending on the weather of course.
Then gradually your eyes would get accustomed to the light, and you could almost see everything. There'd be a little bit of glass in the thatch - a few little bits of glass in the thatch - where the light came in. And they were so cosy, these houses. There was just one bedroom. One room with curtains in front of the little nooks that had the beds in it. And then in the main part of the house there was probably another bed if there was a granny and a grandpa, if you could get a bed in there. There's be a bench to sit at. Maybe a stool and a table.
You couldn't get lost when you went in. You knew where to sit. You knew where things were. And then at the lower end of the house, in the middle as you went in the door, that was usually where the hens were. And in the lower part of the house, because the house was on a slight slope down the hill, there'd be the cows. And of course that's good that the cows were down the bottom of the slope, because all the manure went down the hill.
Oh they were just very ... my auntie had one, a black house, they were very very cosy - but they were thought of as being very backward, to have one of these houses. And I remember when I was at high school I stayed at hostel because my home was 13 miles from school, so there was no bus, daily busses, so all the kids from our part of the island had to stay in hostel for the weekend then we got home at weekends. And there was a girl in the hostel who lived in a black house still, and her clothes smelled of smoke. And I used to feel so sorry for her because there was a stigma attached to still living in a black house. It was very sad.