Tag Archives: SSSA in 70 Objects

SSSA in 70 Objects: Filling the Creative Well: A Tribute to Joan W. Clark

Manuscript: The Joan Clark Collection

Response by: Elaine MacGillivray

 

Out of a thousand possible options, I have chosen to respond to the manuscript collection of Scottish botanist Joan W. Clark (1908-1999) – in particular, her wildflower specimen books

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Water Speedwell’, pinkish broiwn stem with seeds and leaves

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Water Speedwell’, collected by Joan Clark from a ditch on North Uist, August 1976 (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

Joan Wendoline Clark grew up in Kincardineshire and Sussex. Fluent in French and German, skilled in shorthand and a trained typist, she worked for a time at the Foreign Office in London and at the British Embassy in Paris. In the 1930s she returned with her Scottish husband to Scotland and together they settled in Lochaber, where she remained until her death on 6 July 1999. Shortly after her death, her daughter, Anna MacLean kindly gifted Joan’s manuscript collection to the School of Scottish Studies Archives. The collection includes her correspondence and botanical research notes dating from the 1970s right up until 1999, along with three specimen books containing almost 350 pressed wildflowers collected around Onich, Ballachulish, North Uist and Glencoe in around 1976.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Bitter Vetch’

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Bitter Vetch’, collected by Joan Clark at [B]allachuil[ish], May 1976. (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

Joan Clark’s wildflower specimen books are made up of three A4 sized sugar paper leaved scrapbooks.  Turning the pages, I found each leaf contained between one and three pressed wildflower specimens. Bedstraw, iris, sea pinks, sundew, dog’s mercury and so many more are all represented, carefully laid out and attached with tiny strips of paper glued at either end. Beside each specimen the name of the plant, the location it was found, the date collected and additional notes are recorded in blue or black ink. The addition of this metadata means that the specimen books are not purely aesthetic but also scientifically valuable.

Joan Clark’s manuscript collection is testament to her incredible contribution to botanical science. Her meticulous and painstaking research informed Richard Pankhurst and J. M. Mullin’s Flora of the Outer Hebrides (1991), and she collaborated with Ian MacDonald of the Gaelic Book Council to publish Gaelic Names of Plants / Ainmean Gàidhlig Lusan (1999). Many have paid tribute to her calibre as a botanist, not least the renowned and respected botanist A. C. Jermy of the Natural History Museum (Watsonia, 2000).

Pressed plant specimen, ‘St John’s Wort’ (also known as Goat Weed), A stem with two fat green leaves at the bottom. two further up and two yellow flower heards

Pressed plant specimen, ‘St John’s Wort’ (also known as Goat Weed), collected by Joan Clark from the shore at North Ballachulish, July 1976. (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

Jenny Sturgeon wrote in her response to Alan Bruford’s recording of Tom Tulloch (11 Jun 2021), “local names for flora and fauna root us to where we come from and there is a cultural history and identity associated with them.” Growing up on the west coast of Argyll, I was taught the names of the local wildflowers there by my mother and grandmothers. During my post-graduate studies in Liverpool, my mother once sent me a snapdragon – collected, pressed and placed between two pieces of tissue paper in a card. On the card was a scribbled note: “snapdragons are out and so I thought you would like to see one!” For me, and for many, flora and fauna offer up a very tangible connection to people, place and time.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Dog’s Mercury’, This is a burgundy in colour with eight or nine leaves terminating at the top of a long stem

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Dog’s Merury’, collected by Joan Clark at Duror, April 1976 (SSSA: Joan Clark Collection)

With this in mind and inspired by Joan Clark, earlier in 2021 I set out to collect some of my own herbarium specimens. I packed up my rucksack with the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland’s Guide to Collecting and Pressing Specimens, my phone (for the camera), a pair of scissors, a pack of coffee filters (in place of parchment paper), and Delia Smith’s Complete Illustrated Cookbook (the weightiest book in my library and my makeshift flower press).

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Bluebell’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at the Den of Scone, June 2021.

I collected around 10 specimens from a local Perthshire woodland. Some of them I knew well, like the common broom, vetches, campion and bluebell; others left me scratching my head.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Unidentified’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at the Den of Scone, June 2021.

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Unidentified’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at the Den of Scone, June 2021.

 

In attempting to identify my specimens, I found myself poring over Francis Buchanan White’s Flora of Perthshire (1898), the Perthshire Society for Natural Science’s Checklist of the Plants of Perthshire (1992), and an old copy of the Readers’ Digest Guide to Wildflowers of Britain (1996). I compared my specimens to photographs that I had of Joan Clark’s specimen books, and to images and descriptions on the webpages of the Scottish Wildlife Trust, Wildflower Finder, and the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. The result is that some of my metadata remains lacking until such a time as I can identify and name the plant, or until my newly acquired membership of the botany section of the Perthshire Society for Natural Science pays dividends!

Pressed plant specimen, ‘Common Broom’, collected by Elaine MacGillivray at Nether Balgarvie / Parkfield House, Scone, June 2021.

 

The creative process of collecting, pressing, identifying and documenting was completely absorbing. Through it I have learned to pay greater attention to my environment, gained a deeper understanding of my locality and the interdependence of people and plants. One of the many privileges of working so intimately with archival collections is that we are repeatedly offered a unique opportunity to develop knowledge and interest in a person, subject or era that otherwise may well have eluded us. In trying to see the world through the botanical wisdom of Joan Clark, the present-day natural world has opened up to me in a way I might never have imagined. I have an even greater respect for the knowledge, work, tenacity, dedication and patience that she and others must have brought to their botanical studies. I wonder what Joan Clark would have made of my amateur attempt to emulate her. I hope that she would be pleased that her legacy has inspired, and is able to continue to inspire, a new found passion to know, understand and protect plants and their environment.

 

 

 

Acknowledgements

Thank you to Louise Scollay, Caroline Milligan and Dr Ella Leith for their encouragement, prods, and proofreading.

 

Images are copyright, please do not reproduce.

 

Sources and further information:

Jermy, A.C., Obituary of Joan Wendoline Clark (1908-1999) in Watsonia, No. 23, (2000), pp.359-372 (http://archive.bsbi.org.uk/Wats23p359.pdf)

Murray, C.W., In Memorium – Joan W Clark (Rust) 1908-1999 in BSBI Scottish Newsletter, No. 22, (2000), pp. 12-13 (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=2BC0FC507955B7D126E651E0C6CFE287?doi=10.1.1.659.2850&rep=rep1&type=pdf).

 

Elaine MacGillivray was the School of Scottish Studies Project Archivist, 2014-2016

 

 


Is there an ‘object’ related to the School of Scottish Studies that you would like to write about or respond to? It could be a recording, an image, a manuscript or something else!
We’d love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at scottish.studie.archives (at) ed.ac.uk

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Cassette of Annie Arnott Recordings

 

Recently this object was received back to SSSA.

The tape contains several recordings of Gaelic songs performed by Mrs Annie Arnott, of Skye. Born and raised in Linicro, in the Kilmuir district in Skye, Annie learned a large number of songs from her mother, who was descended from the Macdonald bards. Annie was regarded as a great tradition-bearer and she was recorded many times by fieldworkers from the School of Scottish Studies.

You can listen to over 150 recordings of Annie Arnott singing, from SSSA collection on Tobar an Dualchais .

The tape was made for Annie’s Grand-daughter, also named Annie; She sent us a letter to say she had listened to the tapes (this is one of a few she has) many times over the years and she hoped that we might be able to fix it for her.

After a lovely telephone call with Annie, we learned that she remembered well the fieldworkers from the School bringing their huge recording machines to Skye to record with her grandmother. We asked her if she wanted the recordings put on a CD, which she did, but she also was keen to see the tape fixed – if it was possible – as the cassettes are an important item to her.

Fix it we could! It took short work from Stuart, our AV technician, and here it is almost as good as new. This is winging its way back to Skye today.

The same tape as before, but this has now been fixed!

Stuart is going to do a little video for us on tape repairs like this, but in the meantime, here is one he made earlier on fixing a microcassette.

 

It is always special to hear from people who were recorded by the School, or who have memories connected to their family or local area and the recordings in the archive.  Do you have any connections to The School of Scottish Studies or our archives? We would be delighted to hear from you. Drop us an email at scottish.studies.archives@ed.ac.uk or telephone (or leave a message) at 0131 650 3060.

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SSSA in 70 Objects: A Seer Saw a Full-Rigged Ship

Response by Gill Russell, Artist

 

Material from the archives of the  School of Scottish Studies forms a central part of South West by South, An t-Eilean Fada, The Long Island: A Poetic Cartography,  an exhibition of new work I created for An Lanntair in Stornoway, and Taigh Chearsabhagh in North Uist, in 2021. 

My recent focus as an artist, explores the dynamic relationship between sea and land – ‘South West by South’ is the result of many visits to the Western Isles. Along the extent of the liminal shore the interplay of tidal currents and weather is complex and, from a human perspective, fickle, authoring dramatic, sometimes destructive, events. In ‘South West by South’ these are expressed through a ‘poetic cartography’, in an installation of large-scale prints, vinyl wall drawings, audio recordings, and maps. 

The dense interplay of sea, land, and light in the northwest of Scotland, and in particular the Western Isles has captivated me since childhood. I often imagined living there. Although I felt a deep attachment to the place and however much it inspired my practice, I came to realise that I would always be a tourist, a spectator, on the outside of an entrenched culture looking in. It was important to make connections.

I listened to sea lore stories on the  Tobar an Dualchais website, oral history interviews recorded by fieldworkers from the School of Scottish Studies Archives. The stories were hugely powerful, giving first-hand accounts of the lore of these waters – including ‘South West by South’, in which an apparition changes the course of a ship. This story was given by Peter Morrison, North Uist, recorded by Gun Forslin (SA1968.109.A3)

In another tale, a seer spies a full-rigged ship approaching from the direction of St Kilda, years before the vessel was wrecked on rocks between Heisker and North Uist – this story was also recorded by Gun Forslin, told to her by Angus MacKenzie (SA1968.110.A5)

The interviews held so much more than the words they spoke. They flooded me with intense and emotional visual imagery.  In response to the stories, I began creating large drawings on a graphics tablet. The process became utterly meditative. I drew until the stories of the sea came back to me, producing hundreds, choosing just a few. It would be impossible to replicate any particular one, as I became lost in them.  

 (click on each image to open it fully)

Seer , 2021  

 

 

 

An Lanntair May-July 2021 ( photo c. John MacLean) 

 

Audio recordings of the stories were played in the gallery at a low volume, looping continuously. 

Selected extracts from the stories were made into a booklet: ‘A seer saw a full rigged ship’ 

Through seeking permissions to use the material, and my visit to North Uist in 2019, I met Catherine and Alastair Laing from North Uist. Alastair’s father Andrew Laing had given an account of the Van Stabel, a ship wrecked off the coast of Heisker. Andrew’s father in law, Donald John MacDonald, was stationed on Heisker as the Receiver of Wrecks c.1900. Catherine also showed me her daughter Mary’s dissertation about Heisker.  You can hear Andrew Laing’s recording with Donald Archie MacDonald on Tobar an Dualchais (SA1968.150.A7)

Catherine told me a story of a man she knew, who had stood out on the headland at Tigh a’ Ghearraidh, North Uist, watching a ship floundering in the sleet and gales with her sails torn. The day we visited that same headland it was very stormy. We walked to the point where the man had watched from, and the vision in his tale came to me vividly. It led me to explore shipwrecks, in the theme of ‘Lost Ships’. 

Hundreds of ships were wrecked around the coasts of the western isles to the sea and weather, war, or navigational error. I trawled through the maritime archaeological archives from Canmore mapping, absorbed by the detailed records of events: loss of life and cargo, weather conditions, accidents. The immense journeys some of these ships made a hundred or so years ago, crossing oceans to other continents, and coming to grief on the Islands. 
 

Map for Lost Ships, 2021 

 

 

Poem for Lost Ships,  2021 

in gale force winds and snow showers

her sails torn and tattered

lying on her side

thumping heavily in six fathoms

at Aird an Runair

north west of Shilley

blown off course

back and forth

demasted

a severe westerly gale

ripped her sails

and drove her through

the sound of Monach

to the sands of Baleshare

in dense fog she struck

a sunken rock

and was holed on the Uisgeir reef

at daybreak a heavy sea breaking

all around them

struck heavily on a rock

in the sound of Monach

during a gale in the night

a brocket washed ashore

at Hanglum Headland

with iron canons

struck by a huge wave

in rough weather off Barra

St Ilfonsado sank in ten fathoms

off the Butt of Lewis

three casks of whisky

marked ‘Glasgow Distillery Company’

floated on

St Kilda was sighted

off the port bow

by 6:30 pm the light

at Barra Head 

 

****** 

 

Thanks to  

Louise Scollay, from the SSSA who pursued permissions for the eight stories on my behalf. 

Dougie MacDonald, for translation of the two Gaelic stories. 

 

Gill Russell, 2021 

https://www.gillrussell.co.uk/

 

Images are copyright and used with kind permission. Please do not reproduce.

 

Thanks so much to Gill, for sharing her process with us and letting us glimpse at how the recordings in SSSA have inspired and motivated her beautiful work.

If you would like to tell us about a project which has been inspired by the work of the School of Scottish Studies. our recorded contributors or fieldworkers, we would be delighted to hear from you. Email us at scottish.studies.archives (AT) ed.ac.uk

 

 

 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Puzzling Black Cats

Do you suffer from paraskevidekatriaphobia or Mavrogatphobia? Perhaps don’t read on!

Today is Friday, 13th August – Friday the Thirteenth! The day, it is said, that is purported to be unlucky or be shrouded in superstitious or even supernatural belief, although nobody really knows why! Nevertheless, we are always keen for an opportunity to delve into the collections related to superstitions.

I found this letter in a box of correspondence (SSSA/Box141) related to Alan Bruford, Archivist and lecturer at the School of Scottish Studies. This letter was sent from a school in Aberdeen by Class 1K and is dated January 1980; the query is on black cats and luck!  The class had been learning about superstitions, but had a burning question for Professor John MacQueen, the Director of The School of Scottish Studies at that time.

 

 

“Most of the things [superstitions] that we have thought of we have found a solution to them, but there is one thing that has had us puzzled, BLACK CATS. We don’t know why they are lucky or unlucky, so that is why we are writing.”

The letter was signed by 19 students.

You can really feel that sense of bewilderment and that vehement thirst for knowledge of Class 1k.

 

As you can see, the secretary at the School was perhaps unsure who was best to answer this question and suggested Alan Bruford or Jack [John] MacQueen might have the answer. But did they? Did Class 1K get a response?

Often with correspondence such as this, a copy of the response was kept with the letter and there was no response with this one. I hope that we might be able to give some information today, if it isn’t too late.

 

 

page 81 of "The cat, a guide to the classification and varieties of cats and a short tratise upon their care, diseases, and treatment" (1895)

page 81 of “The cat, a guide to the classification and varieties of cats and a short treatise upon their care, diseases, and treatment” (1895)

 

It is true, there are conflicting reports – sometimes Black cats seem to foretell good and bad luck. Perhaps one reason for this is that black cats were associated with being the devil or with the alleged ill doing of witches. The persecution of people as witches is a blog post for another day!

Perhaps (like “witches”) it’s all down to individual beliefs and who the luck is intended for. Often the cats came off worse!  Here are a few examples from our collections.

 

Bad Luck?

Nan MacKinnon told Anne Ross about a black cat that followed a man who had jilted his wife. The man’s mother had to speak to the minister before the cat, mysteriously, stopped appearing. Was this black cat really a wronged woman, come to seek out revenge?

BANA-BHUIDSEACH MAR CHAT. Nan MacKinnon (contributor), Anne Ross (fieldworker). SA1964.078.B. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/23715

 

In the Maclagan Manuscripts (1893-1902) there are a few mentions of Black cats and mostly of them related to bad luck. A female contributor in Newhaven, Edinburgh, told if men were to meet a black cat on their way to go fishing, they would just say to one another ‘We hae gane far enough the day’, and they would turn back, for they would be quite sure their luck was gone. (MML8840)

This practice was also observed in St Ninians; miners there held that it was unlucky for one to meet one. When they returned home after the encounter, they did not go out for the rest of the day, simply on account of a black cat having crossed the road before them! (MML9112). Also from Maclagan is a statement from an Lewis contributor, who stated that the breath of a black cat was pure poison (MML3847a)

 

Good Luck, but for who?

Another entry in the Maclagan manuscripts details another fishing-related black cat tale, this time from Westray, Orkney. An old man was often asked to secure good weather for the fishermen and he did this by putting a black cat under a creel while the boats were out. On one occasion a boy (who became the reciter’s brother in law in time) let the cat out for mischief. This apparently caused a sudden storm at sea from which the fishermen managed to escape from (MML 6771-6772).

 

Donald John Stewart, of South Uist, told a curious tale of a Glasgow man who went to stay in the highlands for his health. An old woman told him about a particular mirror in one room in the house he was staying in, and said that anyone who looked in it when the full moon was shining on the sea outside would turn into a cat. The man did just that, and turned into a big black cat. The old woman then told his family to submerge the cat in the well seven times by the light of the full moon, and that when they let him go the seventh time, he would be restored!

AN SGÀTHAN ANN AN TAIGH COIRE BHREAGAIN. Donald John Stewart (Contributor), Donald Archie MacDonald (fieldworker). SA1975.113.B3. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/76886

 

Stanley Robertson told a tale to Barbara McDermitt about a woman who sold her soul to the Devil for some wishes. Before her time came to spend the afterlife with the Devil, she wished to be young and beautiful and for her black tom cat to be made into a man to love her. Sadly – for both, presumably – ‘Big Tom’ was lacking somewhat!

An old spinster wished for her cat to be turned into a handsome young man, Stanley Robertson (Contributor), Barbara McDermitt (Fieldworker). SA1971.13.A1. https://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/track/65452

 

Good Luck – they just are!

In my own upbringing I was always told that a black cat crossing your path was good luck indeed. According to my Nannie, they just are lucky!

I can’t find too many examples from our material available on Tobar an Dualchais, but Donald Sinclair, from Tiree. told John MacInnes that it was fortunate to have a Black cat around the place {SA1968.024) and Eileen McCafferty, from East Lothian, told Morag MacLeod and Emily Lyle that the tail of a black cat could cure warts (SA1974.24). If that isn’t good luck, then what is?!

Thankfully, we don’t only have to look to the archives to find out the answer to the query. We took to the twitter hivemind and this is what they had to say (well, 42 of them!)

poll which reads 64.3% of respondents think black cats are good luck

 

 

Class 1k, from Bankhead Academy, 1980 I think it is safe to say there is no real solution to this one.

What are your own thoughts, reader?

 

We will leave you to ponder your own superstitious beliefs with two bonny black cats belonging to Archive & Library Assistant, Elliot.

 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Two Alder Branches

 

Despite this series being called The Archive in 70 Objects, we don’t actually have a great deal of artefact-type objects. We have lots of very interesting collections related to sound (and sound-related objects) and manuscripts etc, however the few artefacts we do have are related to material culture. One such item needed to be checked for conservation purposes recently and we thought you might like to see.

These are two branches of Alder. They come from Kintail and we’ve had them in the archive since about 1988. They have lasted fairly well over the years considering they have not been perhaps stored in the best location.

Why would we have two branches of alder in our archive?

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These branches are actually stilts, or cas-mhaide “wooden legs. They were donated by Duncan “Stalker” Matheson (1929-2010) , Camusluinie, Kintail. Duncan was visited by fieldworkers on a few occasions and contributed material related to place names, as well as local tales and traditions.

Duncan Matheson of Camusluinie, Kintail © SSSA / Ian MacKenzue

In the 1980s there was a fieldwork trip to Kintail to capture video film of Duncan thatching a roof. While they were there, Duncan told Donald Archie MacDonald about the practice of using stilts to cross the River Elchaig.

Duncan told us when he was young, in the sparsely populated Gaelic-speaking community, any of the local people who had occasion to cross the River Elchaig regularly made use of stilts… these stilts were home made, quickly cut and shaped from the local scrub woodland. They were often of alder, but any suitable sapling with a branch projecting at a convenient angle would do. Generally, there were a pair of stilts left suspended on the low branches of trees, on either side of the river, for the use of anyone who needed them.

[…]

Among notable users of stilts in Duncan’s boyhood was a famous local character, strongman, poacher and ‘smuggler’ (illicit distiller) Alex MacKay, better known as Ali Mal. Ali was reputed ro have been able to carry a full ten-stone sack of meal, tied to his back, across the river on stilts. Ali’s brother Donald, also known as ‘The Bard’, was another regular user, as was their sister Liosaidh/Leezie (Elizabeth), a diminutive woman who could perform the remarkable feat of crossing the river, hopping on one stilt.

Donald Archie MacDonald, Tocher No 58

We are not 100% sure if the stilts show in the picture with Duncan are the same stilts that we have in the archive, but these certainly came to us from that visit. The images taken on that day were by the late Ian MacKenzie, fieldwork photographer and Photographic archive curator. He captured this wonderful image of Duncan being film, using the stilts in the river.

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Last week, Caroline Milligan wrote about Ian and his fieldwork photography. If you haven’t already enjoyed that post you can read it here:  https://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/sssa/object-12/ ‎

 

 

We wrote a short post about another artefact-type object here: https://libraryblogs.is.ed.ac.uk/sssa/object10/

Information:

There is a poem The Stilt Men of Kintail, by Helen Nicholson https://magmapoetry.com/archive/magma-38/poems/stilt-men-of-kintail/

Duncan Matheson’s obituary in the Scotsman: https://www.pressreader.com/uk/the-scotsman/20101122/284047663253164

 

 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: The Tiree Clapperboard

On Sunday, August 22 1976, the School of Scottish Studies filmed an open air baptism in Tiree. This was the first baptismal service of its kind in several years and the community and church of Tiree were happy for fieldworkers from the School to capture the event for preservation.

For anyone who has visited us over the past few years, you may have seen this film playing in our foyer.

One of the objects we have in our archive is the clapperboard, which was used by the unit who went to Tiree to make the film.

Clapperboards, or sometimes clapsticks, filmsticks or slate, were used in film productions to assist in synchronizing of picture and sound, and to designate and mark the various scenes and takes as they are filmed and audio-recorded. It was operated by a Clapper loader.

 

This is a still from the film showing SOSS staff setting up. with Dr Margaret Mackay being the ‘Clapper loader’.

When I took the board out of its box, from the archive store, I was surprised at the weight and heft of it. Presumably it was used for other purposes over the years, as it appears to show the vague etchings of writing and so may have been used in other filming pursuits by the School. I am sad to say though, it also looks like it could have been used as someone’s coaster at one stage too!

 

 

These items are still used in film production today, but the modern equivalent – digislates – have an electronic display, the time code of which is synced with the cameras.

And, if you are wondering, of course I gave it a try and yelled “Action!” (into the set of the empty Scottish Studies Library). Mind you, I did not bring down clappper with any kind of dramatic snap – previous use as a coaster aside – it is an archival object after all!

 

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SSSA in 70 Objects: CROW PIE: COOKERY FROM THE MACLAGAN MANUSCRIPTS

The Maclagan Manuscripts

Collected by: Elizabeth Kerr

Residence: Port Charlotte

Locality of Collection: Highland

Reference: MML0772b

Chosen by: Theresa Mackay

Five years ago I was completing my MLitt dissertation at the Centre for History, UHI, and like any student who is passionate about a topic, I couldn’t stop researching. The end result was one dissertation submitted for my degree—on the presence of female innkeepers in the early nineteenth-century Highlands—and a big pile of “extra” research on food. This data on what innkeepers cooked two hundred years ago kickstarted my Ph.D and led me to study The Maclagan Manuscripts at the SSSA.

The Maclagan Manuscripts (MM) consist of more than 9000 items of folklore from the western Highlands and Islands. Spearheaded by Dr. Robert Craig Maclagan in 1893, this project saw a team of collectors handwriting and submitting folkloric points of interest over nine years.

I have spent much time studying the MM to understand nineteenth-century foodways and practices of Gaelic-speaking women in the western coastal communities and I have to say this recipe for crow pie collected by Elizabeth Kerr is one of my favourites:

Pithean-cnàimheach. (crow pie.) Ingredients. The legs and breasts of a dozen crows. Two ounces butter; two tea cupfuls of flour; a little Baking powder; salt, pepper, and water.

___Method. Par-boil the meat in very little water, with a pinch of salt added. Put into a pie dish with the gravy and pepper. Make paste in the ordinary way, and cover the pie dish with it. Put a griddle on the fire, on which put the pie, and place a common pot over it, with its mouth downwards. Bake for Forty-five minutes.

 

From MacGillivray’s British Birds (1837)

Here we identify birds eaten on Islay, but if you look closely at this record, and others found in the MM, they help us to understand foodways practices of the past. Looking at the main ingredients, this recipe calls for “legs and breasts of a dozen crows” which sparks us to think about how the birds would have been caught (a job for boys with a sling, perhaps?) and how the remaining heads and feathers would have been used.

The prevalence of certain “supporting” ingredients in these cookery records point to foodstuffs that were considered staples, such as bread, whisky, cream, meals of barley and oat, and butter and salt (as seen here). In this recipe we also see that the pie covering was made “in the ordinary way” causing us to explore what specific foodstuffs were used in this “paste” and what practice was the “ordinary way”.

In terms of cooking equipment, here we see a “pie dish” referenced, a note that helps us to understand how a kitchen was outfitted. Along with pie dishes, the MM suggests that kitchens also included various sizes of barrels, three-legged pots, and buckets and bags for collecting whelks at the shore, giving us an understanding of nineteenth-century material culture and cooking technology.

It is the idea that this simple recipe for crow pie tells us so much about how women in the Gàidhealtachd fed themselves and their families that appeals to me so much. A recipe by collector Elizabeth Kerr that may have taken her only a few minutes to jot down has forever preserved the foodways of the nineteenth century western Highlands and Islands.

 

Theresa Mackay is a Ph.D candidate in History at the University of Victoria (Canada). Her research centres on foodways and practices of nineteenth century women in the Gàidhealtachd along the western coastlines of the Highlands and Islands.

To find out more about The Maclagan Manuscripts visit: https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/library-museum-gallery/cultural-heritage-collections/school-scottish-studies-archives/manuscripts-collections/maclagan

To read Theresa’s article on female innkeepers in the Highlands and Islands, see the Journal of Scottish Historical Studies: https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/full/10.3366/jshs.2017.0218

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Plants used in traditional Shetland medicine

Contributor: Tom Tulloch

Fieldworker: Alan Bruford

SA Reference: SA1978.068

Chosen by: Jenny Sturgeon

My chosen object is a recording of Shetlander Tom Tulloch talking with interviewer Alan Bruford.

Recorded in Yell, Shetland (presumably in Tom’s house), Tom and his wife, Elizabeth, chat about the local Shetland names for plants. The recording opens with a list of plant names including arthie (chicken-weed) and blugga (marsh marigold).

I came across this recording whilst researching for a workshop I was running as part of an artist residency at the National Library of Scotland. Working with participants from across Scotland I ran four workshops exploring creative music and spoken word responses to a series of plant lectures given to University of Glasgow students in the 80s. Presented by Professor James Holmes Dickson, these lectures are housed in the Scotland’s Sounds archive and gave the group an insight to ecology and conservation of plants in Scotland. Alongside mentions of the common and Latin names of plants I was keen to explore local plant names and uses across Scotland, with particular reference to Shetland, which is where I live.

The thing that really endeared me to this particular recording on Tobar an Dualchais is Tom saying,  ‘I keyn the wirds but I dinna keyn deir proper names’. This struck me when I first heard him saying it because my interpretation is that he does know the ‘proper names’. It got me thinking about different names for plants and animals and how there is not one ‘proper name’. There is a Latin name, which is the accepted scientific name, but that does not mean much to a lot of people, myself included! Local names for flora and fauna root us to where we come from and there is a
cultural history and identity associated with them. Being able to delve into archives such as this is a way we can access and be inspired by our heritage.

Along with several other recordings from Tobar an Dualchais this recording of Tom features in one of the two pieces created during my residency. As with many of the recordings I came across from that time, you can clearly hear the ticking of a grandfather clock in the background. The finished sound pieces feature music, words and field recordings created by participants during the workshops.

You can listen to these pieces at the link below.
https://jennysturgeon.bandcamp.com/track/pushing-reaching-falling-replacing
https://jennysturgeon.bandcamp.com/track/as-far-north-as-anything-grows

You can listen to the original recording of Tom Tulloch on Tobar an Dualchais: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/81445

Jenny Sturgeon is a singer-songwriter based in Shetland. In addition to her residency with Unlocking our Sound Heritage, Jenny has recently collaborated on an audio visual project based around  Nan Shepherd’s book, The Living Mountain. https://www.jennysturgeonmusic.com/thelivingmountain

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SSSA in 70 Objects: “No Winder You Canna Catch Fish”

Response by: Holly Graham

Recording: Up Helly Aa peats replaced by tar barrels

Contributor: Katie Laurenson

Fieldworker: Elizabeth Neilson

Reference: SA1961.89.B74

© Gaada

My chosen object is a short audio extractan excerpt of a longer oral history interview with Shetlander, Katie Laurenson; held within the School of Scottish Studies online collection of archive audio. I came across it while delving through another gathering of materials that has become an archive collection in its own right, hosted online by Shetland-based art space Gaada. Over the past year or so, Gaada have been working closely with local activist group Up Helly Aa for Aa (UHA4A) to collect a range of matter that together tells a story of the island’s annual local fire festival and its historic exclusion of women.

This assemblage of scanned press-cuttings, screen-shots of Facebook posts, drawings, videos, photographs and more, exists as a Google drive of digitised ephemera, documentation and artworks built collaboratively with contributions from UHA4A members. I had been invited, alongside a small selection of other artists, to explore this collection and to develop some accompanying artwork in the form of a flag design, and pieces for a display unit – outdoor structures that could allow for socially distanced viewing in the context of Covid19. A selection of these artworks were later donated to Glasgow Women’s Library. 

As I read and surveyed images, a picture of the festival and what it meant to local people built in my mind – firearms, tar barrels, guizing, Vikings, community. The earliest festivals were “a highly ritualised form of mis-rule governed by the people” according to writer Callum G. Brown (Up-Helly-Aa: Custom, Culture and Community in Shetland, 1998); a show of what Brydon Leslie calls “disruption, devilment, and above all, flame” (New Shetlander, 2011). Brian Smith debunks the authenticity of what he terms the ‘bogus name “Up Helly Aa”’ and the festival’s links to Viking history, saying its inventors – young working men in Lerwick – ‘had their tongues firmly in their cheeks’ (The Shetland Times, 1993). Recent article headlines from local papers jostle and joust: ‘Is Up-Helly-A’ brazenly sexist, or is ‘the way it’s always been’ still acceptable?’ asks Peter Johnson in a 2017 issue of The Shetland Timesthere’s a ‘Burning desire for change’ says Zara Pennington for The Orkney News in 2018; ‘Leave it as it is’ reads the opener of a letter from Lerwick resident Jolene Tindall for The Shetland Times in a year later; ‘Up Helly Aa sexism under the spotlight’ reads a headline of a 2020 Sunday Times article written by Shetlander Sally Huband; ‘They call us backward’ claims a staunch member of the ‘remain the same’ camp in a short video feature by Huck Magazine posted on their site in the same year. 

There was a lot to look through, and I spent a number hours-worth of screen-time squinting at and zooming in on minute columns of newspaper text, lined by pixelated image boarders. The link to Katie’s sound file on the School of Scottish Studies website stood out to me as one of the only items in the Google drive present existing in audio format. It was a welcome pause from the glowing screen and I closed my eyes while I listened. Katie’s lilting narrative told of roots of the festival, steeped in sun-worship rituals. She spoke of flaming tar barrels and the healing properties of tar. She told her own anecdotes of being chastised for wandering to a neighbour’s house via a forbidden route. 

Postcards by Holly Graham

I often work with audio. I’m interested in story-telling and how individual voices present singular subject views, that listened to along-side others, can layer to build complex and nuanced narratives, versions of histories. I was intrigued by Katie’s recounting of her journey to the neighbour’s house and of how that mapped onto histories of the Up Helly Aa procession route, steeped in the superstitious belief that there was only one correct direction to move. Through Katie I learnt vocabulary that was new to me – ‘sungaits’, the way of the sun, also known as clockwise; and ‘widdergaits’, against the sun, or anticlockwise. She laughed at what ‘the old folks’ would say if they saw the present day Lerwick Up Helly Aa procession, weaving a figure of eight back and forth through the town centre. They’d think it was bad luck to travel in such a direction – they’d say ‘no winder you canna catch fish’. I liked this idea of tradition, superstition, direction, push-back and change. 

From what I’d read in the Gaada and UHA4A collections of text, the main argument against women’s participation in the annual procession was one founded in tradition, in the notion that things had not changed before and should therefore not change now. But in light of Katie’s memories of the festival this case falls short. Katie was speaking in 1961, and her voice reaches us intact 60 years later, to speak some home truths to ‘this modern Up Helly Aa that you see nowadays’. And while speaking to us from the 20th century, Katie was born in 1890, just 9 years the first organised torch-light procession took place in Lerwick. Viewed through the span of a life and a voice – human for scale – we see the festival past as not so old, not so distant and concrete, impervious to change. We make traditions collectively, collaboratively. They are often built around small truths that in turn expand foam-like to form myths, and we pack further myths in around them, insulatory protective wrapping to transport them. They morph and change with time. Why would we not desire our traditions to be flexible enough to accommodate us, and to suit us societally as we move and shift, rather than remaining rigid restraints that constrict our collective growth? 

The work I made for the project pivoted around a verbatim poem I assembled from Katie’s words, channelling the push and pull, forward and backward notions held by the terms ‘sungaits’ and ‘widdergaits’. The flag featured a mass of spiralling ribbons, and the two words – one on either face – constructed from these ribbons and enmeshed within them. The display case held a collection of prints: a collage of newspaper headlines, a dictionary definition of ‘widder-’, screenshots of a subtitled documentary on the festival and it’s accompanying calls for change. I also worked with other fragments of archive from the Scottish School of Studies collection; field recordings of songs sung and music played in the processions, recorded by Peter R. Cooke in 1982 [SA1982.010.011].

I pieced together an audio piece or ballad of sorts, that combined Katie’s voice with those of contemporary UHA4A women – Debra Nicolson, Joyce DaviesLindsey Manson, and Frances Taylor – who echoed her words to form a chorus. The audio cycles, returning to familiar melodies played in reverse, words layered and repeated, the narrative is slippery. Together, tongues in cheeks, Katie and the UHA4A women chant: ‘No winder you canna catch fish!’ 

Holly’s flag flying at Gaada, in Bridge-End, Burra Isle.

 

________With thanks to Amy Gear and Daniel Clark at Gaada; Caroline Gausden at Glasgow Women’s Library; Louise Scollay at The School of Scottish Studies Archives and Library; Debra Nicolson, Joyce Davies, Lindsey Manson, and Frances Taylor of Up Helly Aa for Aa; Katie Laurenson and her family, and Peter R. Cooke. 

______________ 

Thanks to Holly and Gaada for use of their images.

You can visit Holly’s website here: https://www.hollygraham.co.uk/

You can find out more about the project on Gaada’s website: https://www.gaada.org/weemins-wark 

Up Helly Aa for Aa campaign:  https://www.facebook.com/S4UHAE/about/

Glasgow Women’s Library: https://womenslibrary.org.uk/

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SSSA in 70 Objects: Psalm 118 to ‘Coleshill’

Contributor: Murdina and Effie MacDonald, Psalm 118 to ‘Coleshill’

Fieldworker: Thorkild Knudsen

Reference: SA1965.031

Link to recording on Tobar an Dualchais

Response: Clare Button

Visiting the Isle of Lewis with my parents at age fifteen seemed the ideal chance to use my newly acquired pieces of Gaelic. Back home in England I was a fervent convert, listening to all the Gaelic music I could find and devouring a book titled (more than a little misleadingly, as it turned out) Scottish Gaelic in Three Months. Thrilled as I was to hear the language around me on the streets of Stornoway, I lost the bottle to try it myself, save for a shyly squeaked ‘madainn mhath’ to a lady behind the counter in a charity shop. Bolstered by her kind reaction, I thought to repay her by purchasing something, and my eye was caught by a record titled Gaelic Psalms from Lewis, the cover emblazoned with J.H. Lorimer’s dramatic painting The Ordination of Elders in the Scottish Kirk.

Closer inspection revealed that it was Volume 6 in Greentrax’s Scottish Tradition Series, which showcased recordings from the School of Scottish Studies, a new name to me at that time. I hardly knew what to expect, but it was only twenty pence, and would just about fit in our suitcase. I suspect the lady behind the counter was somewhat bewildered to see this earnest English teenager expressing an interest in the devotional singing of her island.

It was around a month or two before I played the LP on my dad’s record player, but when I did, my musical landscape was changed forever. I had heard sacred music before, of course, but nothing like this, with the psalm being ‘lined out’ by the precentor, and the congregation following after in a heavily ornamented style, each person at their own pace. The effect was an ocean of sound, both alien and familiar, human voices locked in private devotion yet joined in communal worship.

I loved the richly dramatic congregational recordings, but I was especially struck by the singing of two sisters, Murdina and Effie MacDonald, of Balantrushal, north west Lewis. Recorded at their home in 1965 by Thorkild Knudsen, a Danish musicologist then on the staff of the School of Scottish Studies, they intone verses 15-23 of Psalm 118 to the tune ‘Coleshill’, their brittle voices trilling, soaring and swooping together in two barely separable strands. ‘Guth gàirdeachais is slàinte ta / am pàilliunaibh nan saoi…’ Their singing is particularly touching because it is domestic, sisterly, intimate. The notes to the recording mention that, although it was quite unheard of for women to precent, they may often ‘be heard singing Gaelic Psalms while at household chores.’ Now, years later, with many recordings of the MacDonald sisters available online via Tobar an Dualchais, the extent and depth of their skill at psalm singing can be truly appreciated.

A year or two later, I heard the same recording sampled by Martyn Bennett on another album which changed my life, Grit (2003). In the sleeve notes, Bennett tells the story of travelling to Balantrushal to see Murdina, then in her late eighties, to get her blessing to use the recording. She confided to Martyn her own initial misgivings back in the 1960s on recording these religious songs, a confession which he found reassuring. Of the resulting composition, ‘Liberation’, Martyn wrote:

‘I could not find any other way to express the profound feeling of losing faith, and the determination to find it again.’

It is both touching and strange to think of the sisters giving their blessing to this epic mashup of their voices with clashing rave beats, euphoric sonic whirls and Michael Marra’s best (and, I suspect, his only) attempt at being a minister. The track is radically different from Murdina and Effie’s world, but it does, I think, retain the kernel of purity found in Knudsen’s original recording.

Now, many years later, I have been entranced by sacred music of all kinds, from the astonishing Canu Pwnc tradition of Wales, to the heart-bursting ecstasy of Sacred Harp, to the simple grace of medieval plainchant, but the billowing swells of the Scottish Gaelic style hold a unique magic. My Gaelic may still not be much improved, but this recording grows with me all the time.

Clare Button is Archivist at Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London.

 

Listen to Murdina and Effie MacDonald here: http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/fullrecord/67880/1

More about Martyn Bennett here: https://realworldrecords.com/artists/martyn-bennett/

Find out about the Gaelic Psalms from Lewis here: http://www.greentrax.com/music/product/Various-Artists-Gaelic-Psalms-From-Lewis-Scottish-Tradition-Series-vol-6-CD

 

 

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