Saturday, November 05, 2011

1861 - Incomer to Nairnshire upsets local Gaelic speaker

"About a mile from the farm house, in a lovely cottage by the river side, there lived a single, middle-aged spinster who earned a precarious livelihood during the spring and summer months as a fieldworker. To eke out a scanty income she kept a large flock of hens which, at the time of my visit, were being allowed to feed without restraint among the farmer's lea oats at the end of her house. Taking down his gun one morning after breakfast, my host announced to me with some warmth that he had made up his mind to shoot every one of the depredators, and asked if I cared to accompany him on his punitive mission. Desirous to see this kind of doubtful sport, I at once agreed, and so we both set out for the scene of operations. On our arrival the whole poultry tribe, as we expected, were holding high revel in the midst of a fine crop, and had evidently picked the grain and trampled down the straw over a considerable area. Just as the farmer was raising the gun to his shoulder I said, 'As the hens are to be killed, perhaps you would allow me to fire the shot?' Most certainly,' he replied, 'and I'll stand between you and all danger.' Accordingly I took the fowling piece, pointed it in the proper direction, closed my eyes and drew the trigger. Heraring a loud report, the poor woman guessed the reason and came out to see what had actually happened. Becoming greatly exited, she delivered herself in forcible Gaelic as to the character of the person who could be guilty of such a deed. On me, however, her tirade had no effect, as I knew only one word 'schoolmaster'.

About three weeks afterwards I received a letter from her law agent in Nairn stating that I had killed a very fine cock, valued at a guinea, together with thirteen hens, for all of which his client demanded the sum of one pound ten shillings. Soon after I called on the writer who was not a little amused at my case, but advised me to settle the matter by private agreement. Taking his advice, I asked a decent neighbour to visit the old lady and on my behalf to obtain from her the best terms possible. This he did, and paid her the sum of thirteen shillings! The lesson was a wholesome one and although my friends often complimented me as a crack shot, it was, I am pleased to add, the first and only time I ever fired a gun with intent to kill."

An extract from: "A Salmon for The Schoolhouse: A Nairnshire Parish in the Nineteenth Century, from the Diaries of Robert and Elsie Thomson." It is interesting to think of such a woman, pretty low in the social scale by Thomson's own way of viewing the world, should have recourse to law to seek redress. Perhaps this defies conventionial thinking on the drown-trodden rural poor in those times? Perhaps she had support over the issue elsewhere in the Community - maybe word of an over the top reaction reached the ears of the estate factor or even the Laird who then had a hand in the process? One can understand the perspective from the farmer's standpoint too perhaps - especially if he tried to resolve the situation by other means beforehand. He must have been only too happy to let Thomson carry out the deed.

Robert Thomson was to acquaint himself with a fair bit more knowledge of local Gaelic language and folklore however when he moved from Cawdor to Ardclach and wrote "The Natural History of a Highland Parish." Although centered around Thomson's botany skills the book makes several mentions of the Gaelic language and there is an extensive chapter on the place names of Ardclach and another on local folklore, legend and superstition. If you want to acquaint yourself with some of Nairnshire's Gàidhlig heritage the chapter on place names is well worth a read.

You can read the book on line here or even download a copy for your Kindle or similar device if you have one.


growtosow said...

i was up at ardclach today some stunning colours on the trees, such a peaceful place some view from the belltower a few birds of prey about.

growtosow said...

yes it is worth a read a look in to the past on the wildlife and plant life that was to be found around the parish of ardclach in those times.