In his book ‘Behold the Hebrides’, Alastair Alpin MacGregor (1925) explains how the people of the Hebrides are surrounded by the sea and it though the sea is part of them and they are part of the sea. He says it was known as well as though it were a member of their own family and that to them the sea spoke in Gaelic. He says they listened to what it said and from this they prophesied good and bad fortune, at home and abroad, and how by its sounds and moods they could tell what weather was coming. There was the ‘laughing of the waves’ – ‘gair nann tonn / gair na mara’ and sometimes this laughter would be mocking and derisive when a storm had risked life and feeble humans had struggled to survive it. He also describes the laughing of waves across a great stretch of sand on Lewis in calm and frosty weather as being “weird and eerie”.
In the Hebrides there are many descriptions of the sounds and moods of the sea. Here are a few of them.
Nualan na mara – sounds like the lowing of cattle
Buaireas na mara – restless sea
Gearan na mara – complaining or fretting sea
Mire na mara – joy and cheerfulness of sea
Osnadh – sighing of sea, like the breeze through pine and larch at nightfall
Caoidh na mara – lament of the sea.
He says that sometimes the sea is totally still and silent as though it sleeps, and the people nearby are lulled into sleep also; and he says that people who live by the sea derive their vision from it.
Martin Martin, writing of the Western Isles in 1695 says of the inhabitants of one of the small, then inhabited, islands round Lewis, that they took their surname from the colour of the sky, the rainbow and the clouds.
This paper reviews progress in Atlantic Scottish Iron Age studies over the past twenty years, with particular reference to a long-term programme of fieldwork in west Lewis undertaken by the University of Edinburgh. It deprecates the survival and revival of older conventional models for defining and dating the major field monuments of the period and region in the face of accumulating evidence for the origins of Atlantic roundhouses in the mid-first millennium BC, and discusses important new evidence for the first-millennium AD sequence of occupation and material culture. The material assemblages of the Hebridean Iron Age are contrasted with the impoverished and relatively aceramic material culture of lowland Scotland and northern England, and the importance of the western seaways in later prehistoric and early historic times as a distinctive cultural region is emphasised.
A tale of strange fairy cows, that usually live (obviously) under the sea. Traigh Niosaboist is the beach immediately near the chambered cairn.
Several generations ago a herd of cows came ashore at Nisabost, which then formed part of the farm of Luskentyre, in South Harris. In order to prevent their return to the sea, if possible, the natives got between them and the shore, and drove them inland with the assistance of such weapons as lay ready to hand. It was discovered that even handfuls of sand thrown between these sea-cows and the shore checked their return to the sea. In many respects these particular animals resembled ordinary Highland cattle, although they were known to dwell under the sea, and to feed on the sea-weed called meillich in the Gaelic. Some of them broke back to the sea: others settled down at Luskentyre.
This was a 'wonderful surprise'. Again, I have Margaret Curtis to thank for pointing it out. It was a very windy, chilly, bright day and I took a few minutes for myself to run and look at this stone. Some ancient sites induce a sensation of euphoria, this was definitely one of them - the wind, the rolling clouds and the blue sea in front of me gave me a momentary feeling of flying. What more can I say.
Photographed the information board and have reproduced the text below:
"In this field today stands a solitary standing stone almost 2 metres high, overlooking the Sound of Taransay. It has remained in this position for up to 5,000 years since the Neolithic period or Early Bronze Age. Across the Sound, another standing stone is set above the shore on the island of Taransay, and a third, Clach MhicLeoid, is on Aird Nisabost to the north-east. Over the years local legends have gathered around the stone. In one, a giantess was gathering limpets on the shore and, striking a stone with her hammer, it flew off in three pieces, which landed at each of the three sites.
The Scarista bardess Seonag NicSuain wrote a ‘Song of Steineagaidh Stone’
‘Some say in the village
(though unproven so far)
‘Tis a headstone of a chieftain
From Fingalian’s war.
Should arms and battle
Stir up, as of yore,
Won’t he have to struggle
From ‘neath Steineagaidh Stone
Each man will retire
In peace to sleep in pastures
But over Finlay’s land
The big stone will be watching’
When the stone was first raised, however, it was part of a complex prehistoric ritual site. In front of the stone stood a large circle of 12 or 13 atones more than 40 metres in diameter, indicated now by several fallen stones or the stony sockets in which they had stood. Behind the stone is also a large circular mound which, if contemporary with the circle, may be the remains of a burial cairn. Geophysical survey has shown that around all of this was a ditch, either man-made or natural, that defined the edges of the monument.
The scale and complexity of the original site, and its proximity to other standing stones, suggest that this was the this was the focus for prehistoric religious activity in Harris, as Calanais was for Lewis.
The field wall is said to have been built from the demolished houses of the Scarista tenants who were cleared from the area in the 19th century."