Within living memory there were at least ten smiddies on Tiree.
There the blacksmith shod horses, and made and repaired all the iron implements used on the island: Hynish (Cèardach Haoidhnis): the original smiddy was built during the construction of Skerryvore lighthouse and is now part of Morton Boyd House.
It still has bars on the window and the remains of the forge.
It was reopened by Donald MacKinnon (Dòmhnall a’ Ghobhainn) who later emigrated to Australia.
Balinoe (Cèardach Cù’ Dhèis): the blacksmith here was Hugh MacKinnon, Eòghann a’ Ghobhainn, from Farm House, Balemartine.
He made the girders for the bridge by the graveyard.
Middleton: there was a Baca na Cèardaich (sand dune of the smiddy) on the Middleton machair.
Kilkenneth (Cèardach Theònaidh Ghobhainn): John MacKinnon, Teòn Iain a’ Ghobhainn, the blacksmith at Kilkenneth and the father of Sandaidh Ghobhainn, was shoeing the horse of Iain Bhiltidh.
While this was being done the horse fell asleep and when John stepped away the horse fell over, fortunately not far as it was standing next to the wall (Sandy MacKinnon).
There were two forges in this smiddy so that two smiths could work side by side (Robert Beck).
Kilmoluaig: there were three smiddies at different times.
Kenneth Matheson had one opposite Greenbank; Criù Eachainn a’ Choll, Angus and Teòn MacKinnon, had one opposite Angus MacKinnon’s house (Cèardach Theònaidh Eachainn a’ Choll); there was another on the ‘Club’ east of the ùtraid.
Cornaigbeg (Cèardach mhic Eachairn): the MacEachern family were wellknown blacksmiths.
Archie MacEachern had come to Tiree from mid-Argyll in the early 19th century and his family worked in the Cornaigbeg smiddy for four generations.
Robert Beck’s horse ‘Wee Dapple’ was the last to be shod in this smiddy: [Wee Dapple] was a small pony, 11.2 hands, which was ridden to school at Scarinish by Drew, our middle son every day.
The playground was grass and extra fodder was kept in the front porch of the teacher’s house (then empty).
On Saturday, Sunday and holidays ‘Wee Dapple’ stood at the gate snickering because he wanted to go to school.
The other pupils, and a great many folk, gave him a lot of kind attention.
Normally our ponies were not shod, but ‘Wee Dapple developed laminitis; hence the very specialised shoes made and fitted by Mr.
He was very highly skilled (Robert Beck, personal communication). 44 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk James MacCallum, (Seumas Mòr), had a smiddy in front of Hugh MacLeod’s house.
Cornaigmore (Cèardach Nèill Bhàin): Niall Bàn had a smiddy where the Magees live today.
He moved to Caolas because there were too many smiths nearby.
Balephetrish: in front of Margaret McDowall’s present house.
Earnal : Hector MacDonald (Eachann mac Chaluim) had been delivered by a stranger and forever had one blue and one brown eye.
His trademark when shoeing horses was to have five nails on the outside rim and the usual four on the inside (Hector MacPhail’s township histories, AI 1998.44.4).
Gott (Cèardach Ghot): the MacIntyres had been brought to the island from Lochaber by the estate.
The Gott smiddy was at the side of the road.
You can see the ruins still just south of the gate going up to the church…that’s where my great, great grandfather, [and] my grandfather [worked].
Niall, my grandfather’s brother, he was the last smith there. [His son] Calum taught me (Donald MacIntyre, AC189).
Neil MacIntyre (1843-1908), known as An Gobhainn Beag, had worked for many years in France and Italy, specialising in making frames for street gas lights.
The story goes that a puffer which had been discharging coal on Gott bay suffered an engine breakdown because the connecting rod (three inches in diameter) from the piston had snapped in half.
The skipper came ashore with the broken rod and asked Neil MacIntyre if he could carry out a repair that would allow them to proceed home to the Clyde.
The blacksmith forge-welded the rod, not only enabling the skipper to depart for home and arrive safely, but prompting a visit two years later when the same puffer returned to Tiree and the skipper was able to inform the blacksmith that his ‘temporary’ repair was still working perfectly! Apparently, Neil’s repaired rod was driving the engine until the puffer finally went to the scrapyard (Hector MacPhail’s township histories, AI 1998.44.4).
Caolas: Niall Bàn moved here from Cornaig.
He was the great grandfather of Willie MacIntosh.
Malcolm MacDonald, Calum a’ Ghobhainn was Calum Alasdair Nèill Bhàin.
There was a big fire in the smiddy with a bellows.
You had to get special coal – gual cèardach.
You’d be getting it when the coal puffer came in, but you had to order it specially (Donald MacIntyre, AC189). 45 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk Shoeing horses was the main trade of the blacksmith.
Until the 19th century few horses on Tiree had horse-shoes.
A report in 1811 said of Tiree horses: They are not shod at all (MacDonald, p. 481).
However, the horseshoe gave the horse more grip.
The shoe had a small flange at both ends, called an cràgais: The same as the tread on a tractor tyre, the horse shoe gives a horse more grip, more power, especially if the ground is wet, but also if it’s dry (Donald MacIntyre talking to Maggie Campbell, AC391).
Horses would be shod every three months: There was a great skill [shoeing horses].
The first thing when the horse came into the smiddy you would look to see what hooves it had.
Some of them, when there hadn’t been much attention paid to them…the shoes had been lost and the hooves were broken.
If the horse had been well looked after it was easy enough then.
You took a length – gada – of iron an inch wide.
If the hoof was eight inches wide you took an eighteen inch length, a seven inch hoof seventeen inches and so on.
You put the length of iron in the fire until it was hot and the first thing you do is put it over the back of the anvil – innean – and bend it round until the two ends came together.
Then you have to make holes for the nails.
The hole on the bottom has to be wide enough for the head of the nail [so that it doesn’t protrude].
You then turn the shoe over and the hole on the hoof side has to be smaller.
The shoe nails (tairnean cruidh) are quite narrow at the point.
If the hole is too wide the shoe will move and it won’t last long.
MC: Are the nails sore going into the hoof? DM: No! No! It’s horn, the hoof.
They don’t notice it.
Then to get it right…you put the shoe into the fire until it’s glowing and when you put it back on the hoof smoke comes out.
Lots of people think it’s burning [the horse] but it’s only horn and you have to burn it like this so that the shoe fits snugly.
Then you put the nails in.
Four shoes on each horse, especially for the spring work.
It’ll take an hour to do two shoes… But often the smiths would have the shoes ready-made because they knew the horses coming down and their measurements….You can do it in 1 ½ hours then.
An older horse is used enough to the smiddy.
But younger horses – and it was usually three year olds that were shod at first – some of them had never had their feet lifted until they went to the blacksmith….They said that the smiths in our family – and it was the Duke that brought our family to Tiree – if they had a horse that looked if it was going to be difficult and dangerous, they had a bit.
They would cut a small piece of tobacco and tie it to the bit and put the bit in the horse’s mouth and leave it in for five or ten minutes.
The horse can’t spit out the juice.
It had to swallow it.
And the nicotine in the tobacco was doping the horse…it didn’t know what was happening to it! (Donald MacIntyre, AC189).
RB: There’s a lot of cold shoeing now, especially lighter horses.
In the old days you used to have to take the horse to the smiddy.
And sometimes it was a very welcome rest! You were awful pleased if the horse lost a shoe! Hector Campbell: It was alright if the horse hadn’t lost half its hoof when it lost the shoe.
The blacksmith wasn’t very happy then. 46 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk RB: And you got the odd one [horse] who’d get into the habit, quite deliberately, they’d get the shoes caught in the wire of the fence.
They’d work away and work away and get it off, so they’d get a holiday too! (Robert Beck, AC2).
Although shoeing horses was a big part of a blacksmith’s work: MC: There’s a lot of other work in the smiddy.
DM: Oh! Ploughs, harrows.
Everything else to do with the land was made in the smiddy, wheels having their rims put on (Donald MacIntyre, AC189).
Hector Campbell: The blacksmiths here put the fire around the wheel.
And the fuel they used was the clods off an old thatched house.
Coal was no use.
Robert Beck: And you couldn’t get the draught to it for coal.
Hector Campbell: They picked a day for it…The measurement of the iron [hoop].
It had to be spot on.
They measured the wheel [rim].
They put a mark on it with chalk, and then they measured the iron leaving it a wee bit shorter than the wheel so that when it went on it squeezed the whole thing together (Robert Beck, AC2).
Tiree smiths were in demand on the mainland.
The late Archibald MacEachern of Cornaigbeg was employed by the LNE railway as a blacksmith, shoeing horses during the Second World War.
He often had to work over 12 hours a day owing to wartime shortage of blacksmiths… until the 1950s much haulage in towns was still done by horse drawn lorries and vans.
For example, at the time of railway nationalisation in 1948 the LMS railway alone had over 500 horses in Glasgow (Robert Beck show text).
The smiddy was also a warm place for men to meet and talk.
A smithy in the old days was the centre of society – a very busy place.
People were always coming with horses every day and coming for other work to be done.
Some people just came to sit and enjoy the conversation (Hector MacPhail, AC41).
Today there are no more smiddies on the island.
Smiths are no more on Tiree.
I’m the only person left on Tiree who can shoe a horse.
When I go, that’ll be the end of smiths on Tiree.
The horses went, the tractors came and there was no work for smiths after that (Donald MacIntyre, AC189). 47 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk Other trades connected with horses There were an awful lot of trades connected with the use of horses – saddlers, wheelwrights, coach builders, blacksmiths (Robert Beck, AC2).
Most of this work was done by skilled craftsmen on the mainland.
However, there were cartwrights in Vaul, Balephuil, and Kenovay (Eòghann Eachainn’s father).
There were no saddlers on Tiree but crofters did make their own sùgan (collars) out of straw and canvas (Hector Campbell, AC). 48 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk Superstitions about horses The water-horse, each uisge, was an evil spirit which lived in water, disguising itself sometimes as a horse, sometimes as a man: The belief in the existence of the water-horse is now in the Highlands generally a thing of the past, but in olden times almost every lonely freshwater lake was tenanted by one – sometimes by several – of these animals (The Gaelic Otherworld, p.109).
There are several stories about water-horses on Tiree.
On the north side of this loch [Loch Bhasapol]…there was a farm, where there are now only blowing sandbanks, called the town of the Clumsy Ones [Baile nan Cràganach] from five men who resided there, each having six fingers on every hand.
They were brothers, and it was said that the Water-horse came every night, in the shape of a young man, to see a sister who stayed with them.
With the tendency of popular tales to attach themselves to known persons, this incident is related of Calum Mòr Clarke and his family.
Calum had three sons, Big Fair John (Iain Bàn Mòr), Young Fair John (Iain Bàn Og), and Middle Fair John (Iain Bàn Meadhanach).
The four conspired to beguile the young man from the loch, who came to see the daughter, into the house, and got him to sit between two of them on the front of the bed.
Upon a given signal these two clasped their hands round him and laid him on his back in the bed.
The other two rushed to their assistance; the young man assumed his proper shape as Water-horse and a fearful struggle ensued.
The conspirators cut the horse in pieces with their dirks, and put it out of the house dead (The Gaelic Otherworld, p. 114-5).
In another story: A son of one of the chamberlains [factors] of the island last century [ie the 18th] found a horse on the moors, and being struck with its excellence, mounted it.
The horse tore away at full gallop and could not be stopped.
It galloped all round the [island] till at last one side of the reins broke and the horse rushed out on Loch Bhassapol, carrying its ill-fated rider with it.” (Superstitions, John Gregorson Campbell, p.211).
Again: A man working in the fields in Caolas, in the east end of the island, saw a water-horse coming from Loch an Air, a small marshy lake full of reeds.
He ran off in terror and left his coat behind.
The water-horse tore the coat into shreds and then made after the man.
The dogs came out when it came near the house and drove it away (The Gaelic Otherworld, p.113).
Fairies were seldom said to use horses.
In the Highland creed the Fairies but rarely have horses…In Tiree two fairy ladies were met riding on what seemed to be horses but in reality were ragweeds…When horses neigh at night it is because they are ridden by fairies and pressed too hard. 49 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk The neigh is one of distress, and if the hearer exclaims aloud “Your saddle and pillion be on you / do shrathair ’s do phillein ort” the fairies tumble to the ground (Superstitions, p.30).
Horses were one of a crofter’s main possessions and were constantly under supernatural threat.
When taking delivery of a horse from one of whom you are not sure, you should come deiseal [sun or clockwise] between him and the horse and take hold of the halter inside his hand, that is between him and the horse.
Otherwise the seller’s eye will be after the beast [bad luck will follow] (Superstitions, p. 245-6).
When a stranger having the evil eye meets a rider or person leading a horse, and praises the animal’s points, the effects of his looks are soon evident.
Before he is out of sight the horse is suddenly taken ill and falls down.
The rider should return after the evil-eyed stranger and boldly accuse him of having done the mischief.
The more ‘bitterly and abusively’ he does so the better.
On coming back he will find the horse all right (The Gaelic Otherworld, p. 202-3).
In spring the horses, harness and plough were sprinkled with water which had been in contact with gold or silver using a wisp of straw, the sop seile (The Gaelic Otherworld, p.137).
The horses would also be given a special sheaf of corn.
This was called the cailleach, the last sheaf to be cut the previous year.
Horse-shoes protected against the powers of witchcraft. [The horse-shoe] must be found by accident.
It was put above the byre door…it preserved horses when put above the stable door and ships when nailed to the mast (The Gaelic Otherworld, p. 178).
In Tiree a person lost several stirks by the stakes falling and strangling them in byre.
A ‘wise’ woman, reputed a witch, advised…that the right hand part of a fore horseshoe with three nails in it should be put below the threshold of the byre along with a silver coin (The Gaelic Otherworld, p. 179).
Horses were believed to have more sensitive ‘second sight’ than humans.
A horse in Vaul, ordinarily a quiet beast, used when carting to be most unaccountably startled, especially when passing a certain boat drawn up on the beach [which was already thought to be unlucky]…and it was ultimately sent back to the lenders who again sold it to people in the west end.
Here a melancholy loss of life occurred in it.
A gale off the land suddenly sprang up when the boat, with six of a crew, was within a few hundred yards of the shore.
The men were seen hard to bring the boat to land, but they had at last to give up the attempt.
Some days after the boat came ashore in Coll with only one of the crew in it.
He was reclining in one of the thwarts, dead.
It was the 50 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk horse and cart mentioned that took home his body.
After that day the horse was never known to be unaccountably startled or frightened (The Gaelic Otherworld, p. 262).
A crofter from Balevullin told this story.
He was returning home one day with a young horse hitched to a cart.
He was at the crossroads at Cornaigmore.
The horse stopped and would not go on towards the mill.
It reared and neighed as if frightened and the crofter reached to calm the horse.
As soon as he touched the beast he could see two coffins at the mill.
He had to take the horse round by the school and when he reached home the horse was sweating.
He got Duncan MacLean, the vet, to check the beast over and the horse was put in the stable with water and half a sheaf of corn.
It was thought to be unlucky to see the first foal of the year with its back towards you.
A Gaelic proverb, well-known on Tiree, goes: Chuala mi a’ chuthag gum bhiadh nam bhroinn, chunnaic mi searrach ’s a chùlaibh rium, thuig mi nach rachadh a’ bhliadhna math leam / I heard a cuckoo with no food inside me, saw a foal with its back to me and I understood the year ahead was going to be unlucky. 51 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk Donkeys In living memory there were three donkeys on the island.
John MacDonald, Heanish (Teonaidh Nònian) had one that was so old when it died that no one could remember it coming to Tiree.
John MacKay from the Bail’ Ùr, Balephuil, had another.
He had been wounded in the First World War and limped badly.
The donkey, who John always maintained was a ‘hard worker’ pulled a small cart with himself and his wife (Bean MhicAoidh) when they went collecting tangles at Ceann a’ Bharra (Nan McClounnan).
Lachie MacKinnon from West Hynish had a third. Johnny MacKay, Balephuil, collecting dry tangles (seaweed) by donkey and cart in 1957 (U23) Alasdair Sinclair, Balephuil, wrote this song about one donkey.
Part of it goes: — Epilogue There’s something else, and it’s very sad – that [the younger generation] will never realise the glory, the beauty, the pride [of the horse].
I know I’m romanticising a wee bit.
There was an awful lot of very, very hard work, there were very long hours, there was exposure to the weather.
But they weren’t lonely, stuck in the cab of a tractor listening to wireless.
We could talk to our horse! Aye! And a horse was the talking point.
And everybody and I mean everybody would know all the points of the horses and could criticise them very intelligently.
Very sad. ! (Robert Beck, AC2).
I miss the horses a lot.
Horses were doing everything…they were the backbone of the island altogether (Hugh Archie MacCallum talking to Maggie Campbell, AC394).
Perhaps in twenty or forty years time people will listen to this tape to hear what it was like to shoe horses and work with them in a bygone age.
And maybe the day will come yet when horses are needed to work again on Tiree (Donald MacIntyre, AC189). Donald MacIntyre, Gott, with ‘Lady’ in 2006 – the last remaining Clydesdale on Tiree (L173) 57 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk Horse place names on Tiree There are at least 16 place names on Tiree connected with horses.
Six are sea features.
It was quite common to name offshore rocks after animals (*), presumably because of some resemblance, for example An Coilleach, meaning the cockerel, a cockscomb of a rock off Mannal: Caolas: Pairc nan Each (field of the horses) Ruaig: Sgeir nan Each* (skerry of the horses); Tobar nan Each (well of the horses); Cru’ an Eich (horseshoe of the horse).
Soay: Sloc an Aon Eich (gully of the one horse – possibly it was so narrow that only one horse at a time could fit down it while collecting seaweed) Baugh: Loch nan Chapull (loch of the mare); An t-Each Dubh* (the black horse); An t-Each Bàn* (the white horse) West Hynish: Sloc Leum nan Eeach (gully of the horses’ leap); An t-Each Gobhlach* (the crooked horse); Tobar nan Each; An t-Àigeach* (the stallion) Balephuil: Beinn nan Each (hill of the horses) Barrapol: Loch Garradh nan Capull (loch of the mares’ enclosure) Greenhill: An t-Each Dubh*; Ròsdal (Viking for horse field).
These names don’t tell us very much, except that horses sometimes had their own enclosures and wells at which they habitually were given water. 58 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk Gaelic words connected with horses Searrach foal (under one year) Loth filly (young female horse under the age of four) Each colt (young male horse under the age of four) or gelding (castrated horse) Òigeach stallion Capall, Làir mare Bliadhnach yearling Dòbhliadhnach two year old, ready to start work Trìbliadhnach three year old Seisreach team of two horses (Neil Brownlie) Creibhire mhòr / eich horsefly (Willie MacLean) Creibhire chumanta cleg (Willie MacLean) Urball biting part of cleg (Willie MacLean) Acfhuinn harness Brangas head collar with two wooden cheek-pieces.
Sròinneach band around nose Smeachan band under chin Udalan swivel Cipean metal stake, about 18” long for tethering horses An Fheist rope between cipean and udalan Taod rope head collar Healtar halter Na hems hems Sùgan collar Srathair cart saddle Druimeal chain over saddle Strap/ iris bhroilleich belly rope (Donald Sinclair) Briogais Cromagan na briogais breeching hooks (Neil Brownlie) Guailnean cartach draw chains (Neil Brownlie) Na trims Loidhnichean / tarraing, tairgnean reins Loidhne cùl reins of the following riderless cart (John Fletcher) Plough Two Greallagan beaga (swingle trees) Amal main swingle tree Sìnteagan chains or traces by which the horse pulled the plough Smuiseal board with 8-10 pins to control the width of the furrow Losgann sledge (Neil Brownlie) 59 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk Cliabh pannier Peallag mat under pannier Diollaid riding saddle Peallag clump of dirt matted into a horse’s hair Claigeann forehead Muing mane Slinnean withers Bròg hoof Bus snout Coinnleanan nostrils Urball tail (Tiree pronunciation of earball) Tòn rump Smigead chin Gluinean knees Speir hough Feathar (Donald MacIntyre) / mogan (Donald Hough) the feathers Strìochd, a’ strìochdadh or Bris a-steach to break in a horse Spoth, a’ spothadh to castrate Cairt obrach working cart Cairt copaidh tipping cart 60 ©2010 An Iodhlann All Rights Reserved www.aniodhlann.org.uk
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