From currachs to coffins. Wickerwork and basketry as cultural and historical indicators.

From currachs to coffins. Wickerwork and basketry as cultural and historical indicators.

Hugh Cheape


This paper gathers evidence from language, material culture and the environment to help to build a picture of basketry and wattlework as essential components of everyday life and of the synergy between the raw material and longstanding skills of eye, hand and mind.


Material Culture Studies

The publication of The Making of the English Working Class in 1963 changed the landscape of English and Scottish social history and has shaped ideology and methodology in teaching and research since then. This was the seminal work by the Warwick University ‘New Left’ historian, E P Thompson, with its detailed analysis of popular movements and the growth of ‘working-class consciousness’ in the formative years between 1780 and 1832, approximately through the first so-called ‘industrial revolution’ until the passing of the Reform Act. In his preface, E P Thompson set the tone of his thesis in relation to the English working class with his intention ‘to rescue [them] from the enormous condescension of posterity’ (Thompson 1968, 13). I have adopted this high-sounding and proper objective in my own approach to the study and interpretation of Scottish material culture.


This short paper assumes that wickerwork and basketry are ripe for rescue and should be recognised as cultural and historical indicators and a significant component of the material culture record. Evidence is offered to take the subject forward. Conventional historical treatment has ignored such material culture and it is left to art and archaeology – perhaps also cultural anthropology – to bring them to our notice. Many museums, especially the national collections of human history and ‘ethnology’, hold representative collections of baskets. Museum collections of baskets, where they exist, seem to have the interest, inspiration and enthusiasm of individuals at their foundation, for example, in the donation to the National Museums Scotland of Dr Evelyn Baxter’s collection of baskets in 1962.


Curachs and Coffins

Taking seemingly random objects into my title, curachs and coffins are either serially ignored and not recognised as potentially indicative objects or are taken for granted and shunned. Made largely of organic material, they do not survive well and, in the case of coffins, are intended to moulder away rapidly in the earth. In wider contexts, they frequently emerge coincidentally from our sources and supply evidence of manufacturing processes, interplay of form and function, and crucial components of economic and social history, being also the focus of naming, language and communication. They serve perhaps to hold a mirror to the ‘massive condescension of posterity’.


In one form or another, curachs and coffins have both incorporated basketry or have depended on wickerwork for their construction, form and strength. In one circumstance or another and in current forms, they still do. I am thinking of a contemporary interest in organic woven coffins which either consciously or unconsciously draws on very ancient traditions. The carved oak figurine or ‘goddess’ discovered at Ballachulish in 1880 was surrounded by wickerwork both in close-woven basket form and in the form of a structure or shrine. Radio carbon dating has located the oak figure in a seventh to sixth century period BCE. The ‘goddess’ so-called was disinterred by workmen and no on-site archaeological work was undertaken. A report in the Inverness Courier (9 December 1880), probably by the local minister, Rev Dr Alexander Stewart, quoted a local man, Donald MacInnes, who discovered the iomhaigh or ‘image’ and he described the basket work to the minister.


Another verbal account for which I have seen no archaeological report was given to the late Dr I F Grant (1887-1983) by a man who was employed in the restoration of Iona Abbey. He described how the remains of many bodies were found in the Crypt in wickerwork coffins and with pebbles placed beside many of them (Grant 1961, 207; Grant and Cheape 1987, 6). Rev Norman MacLeod (1783-1862), virtually the creator of a modern literature in Scottish Gaelic and notable under the cachet of Caraid nan Gàidheal (‘The Friend of the Gael’), wrote in one of his essays about burial practices: ‘The Gaelic terms still in use for a coffin, Caiseal Chro, the “wattle enclosure”, points to what we doubt not was equally peculiar to the Highlands, that of surrounding the dead body with slender branches of trees, and bending them firmly together with withs or twisted rods of hazel or willow, and thus interring it’ (MacLeod 1923, 176). From the same nineteenth century period, Rev Thomas Sinton noted for Badenoch, glossing the word ceis used by the poet and hymn-writer, Mary Clark (c. 1740-c. 1815) of Torr Dhaimh, Glen Truim, that corpses were formerly enclosed in wickerwork coffins, or laid in long withies and bound round (Sinton 1906, 335). In this context, ceis was probably borrowed from English ‘case’. The Gaelic term Caiseal Chro is particularly interesting, incorporating an Old Irish word, cro, for ‘death’. Caiseal seems most familiar today in Irish place-names where it commemorates a circular stone fort or enclosure, the best-known being Cashel in Tipperaray. In spite of differing folk etymology, it derives from Latin castellum. The Irish place-name scholar, P W Joyce, commented that ‘Cashels, and places named from them, are scattered over the four provinces, but they preponderate in the western and north-western counties’ (Joyce 1871, 277). In Carmina Gadelica, Alexander Carmichael explains the term as the ‘bier’ or frame on which the dead were carried to the grave, as cro-leapa with an alternative version, cro-charbad, perhaps literally ‘death chariot’, used in Appin and said to have been made of wickerwork (Carmichael 1900, 252). Generic statements such as this should be used with caution and treated critically.


The curach was a wickerwork form of boat, most familiar perhaps as the Welsh coracle with cow or ox-hide covering. These were small craft used for fishing on the west Wales rivers, about four or five feet in length or diameter (Jenkins 1974, 115). Wickerwork boats had a very wide distribution and practical knowledge of them survives also in Ireland, with for example descriptions of a boat-frame or basket being made for the River Boyne. In the modern period, the coracle or curach was most commonly used for salmon fishing and netting in fresh water in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In a telling of the celebrated tale of the ‘The Healing of O’Keyn’s Foot’ by Malcolm Sinclair in Tiree in the 1880s, the hero sees the mysterious healer coming towards him, ‘rowing a curachan with two silver oars’. The editor, Rev John Gregorson Campbell, the story-teller’s island minister and neighbour, notes that ‘the curachan or coracle is a boat made of wicker work covered with hides’, and he continues, ‘it is still in use in Bantry Bay and other parts of Ireland, and is also known in Wales. It was in such a boat that Caesar crossed the Rubicon’ (Campbell 1888, 82, 92, 100).


Sea-going skin boats have been used in the west of Ireland and sea-going curachs carrying sails are described in history and hagiography. The same word ‘curach’ appears in Early Irish and Latin sources such as a version in ‘Lives of Columba’. Port na Curaich as a place-name in Iona is said to mark the landing-place of St Columba. Monks of the Celtic church voyaged north and west as far as Iceland and beyond. This theme and associated motifs have come to form a significant corpus in Early Irish literature, described as Immrama and including such classics as ‘The Voyage of Mael Duin’ (Immram Curaig Maile Duin or ‘The Voyage of Mael Duin’s Curach’) (Hamel 1941, 20-77). Voyage tales of course extended the concept of the sea journey as a journey to an ‘Otherworld’ region or regions whose credibility, imagery and message depended on a familiar framework of material culture. Our image of these boats may veer from the one-person coracle to Tim Severin’s ‘Brendan’ voyage, recreating St Brendan’s ocean-going curach with the hides dressed with butter. The longer and elaborate prose ‘Voyage of Teige’ or Echtra Thaidg Mhic Chéin describes a relatively large vessel with masts and 25 thwarts or rowing benches. Whether sea-going craft included constructional basketry must be a moot point. Curachs of smaller size were commonly used on Scottish rivers into the eighteenth century, for freshwater fishing and for crossing rivers and for ferrying one or two individuals. Scottish sources commonly use the term ‘curach’, spelled in different ways not surprisingly before a standardised orthography. Rev Dr John Bethune, born in Kintail in 1746, described the curach as formerly in widespread use in the Highlands as a ferryboat on rivers, writing in a letter on 22 May 1798:

‘It was constructed of a round form and of a sort of Wicker-work, for the greater buoyancy, and covered outwardly with green hides. Two or three passengers, according to its size, entered into it and paddled forward as they could. … In the West Highlands of Ross-shire, where I was born, the Courich was very commonly used, and I have known some people who had seen it, though it had been disused before my time. In my day, it had given place to a sort of Canoe called Ammir i.e. Trough. This was nothing more than the hollowed trunk of a great tree’ (Joass 1881, 179).


A seemingly unique survival of basket work craft is the curach in the Elgin Museum. This was used in connection with the timber-floating trade on the River Spey (Fenton 1972, 61-81). The timber-floating process was vividly described by Elizabeth Grant of Rothiemurchus in 1813.


Creels and Carts

Where roads in today’s sense are few and makeshift (without a firm or metalled surface), older forms of transport may persist. Forms of container for carrying loads emerge as organic solutions to particular needs and take many forms. In Scotland, wickerwork creels were made of raw materials such as willow, straw, bent grass, docken stalks and rushes for a variety of functions such as the carrying of goods for market, peat as fuel for the fire or seaweed as manure for the fields (Grant 1961, 207). In Gaelic Scotland, the term cliabh (plural clèibh) seems to stand commonly for ‘creel’. A variation on the simple theme of a basket work container was a D-shaped creel (in section), widely used for carrying manure and seaweed. The base was hinged on withies and could be opened and the load dropped on the intended spot of ground (Macinnes 1894, 216). The parts of the creel are (or were) separately named and are recorded in Edward Dwelly’s Dictionary. This includes a curious detail that the ‘open’ row in the weaving of the wall of the creel through which the carry-rope or carrying band was threaded was termed briagan, the same word as the Gaelic word for ‘lies’ or ‘falsehoods’ (Dwelly 1949, 208, s.v. cliabh). Rev Duncan Macinnes of Oban noted terminology for ‘Highland Panniers or Cleibh’ in his ‘Notes of Technical Terms’ in 1894 and perceptively stated his view that ‘The following and many other technical terms being on the eve of falling into oblivion, it is desirable that they be preserved and put upon record to prevent their being lost for ever’ (Macinnes 1894, 213).


When goods and materials were carried in baskets on horse-back, typically a cover, mat or pad was formed for the horse’s back. A wooden pack-saddle carried on top of the pad was held in position by ropes round the horse’s tail, belly and chest and the pair of creels slung from the saddle on each side of the horse. In the islands the pad or mat was usually made of muran or bent grass (Grant 1961, 202). The ropes holding the pack-saddle in position were of straw, rushes, horse-hair or twisted willow or birch. In Gaelic the term gad or goid or gadan has commonly been used for a withy or any twisted twig work such as this. Terms for the mat are plat or plat-eich or sumag. The pack-saddle in the Highlands and Islands in recent times was the crook-saddle type, with two flat boards on a carved wooden bow with an open slot on its top edge, forming two ‘horns’ over which the carrying bands of the creels were looped. The general term for the saddle in Gaelic is srathair, (and with the definite article) an t-srathair. A story was told in the world of the Highland bagpipe of John Mackay of Raasay, leaving his native island and employment as ‘Piper to the Laird of Raasay’ in 1823 and moving to Drummond Castle by Crieff. He arrived after a journey on foot of anything up to 200 miles with his children and belongings in baskets over the backs of two Highland ponies. What was still considered normal means of transport in the islands had become unusual and old-fashioned on the brink of the Lowlands by the 1820s.


Larger burdens could be carried on a so-called ‘slide-car’. The load is placed between a pair of poles stretching from the points of draught on the horse’s collar and saddle to the lower ends that trail on the ground. The term ‘slide-car’ has been commonly used in Ireland (Evans 1957, 108). To this simple format could be added an upstanding framework with wattle infills and some form of solid base. The making of these in the Gairloch district in the early nineteenth century was described by Dr John Mackenzie:

‘There being no need of wheels in a roadless country in my young days, we had only sledges in place of wheeled carts, all made by our grieve. He took two birch trees of the most suitable bends and of them made the two shafts, with ironwork to suit the harness for collar-straps. The ends of the shafts were sliced away with an adze at the proper angle to slide easily and smoothly on the ground. Two planks, one behind the horse and the other about half-way up the shaft ends, were securely nailed to the shafts, and were bored with holes to receive four-foot long hazel rungs to form the front and back of the cart and to keep in the goods, a similar plank on the top of the rungs making the front and rear of the cart surprisingly stable and upright. The floor was made of planks, and these sledge carts did all that was needed for moving peats, and nearly every kind of crop’ (Byam Shaw 1989, 33).


A different form of ‘slide car’ with creel was known in Scots as ‘kellach sled’ or ‘kellach cart’. A version with wheels described as a ‘kellach’ possibly derived its name from Gaelic ceallach, defined in Edward Dwelly’s Dictionary as ‘peat-cart, creel placed on a sledge to carry peats, manure etc’. The addition of an axle and wheels to the sledge poles may have evolved in time with roads, particularly in the eighteenth century. One of this type of vehicle is shown in Burt’s ‘Letters’, notionally in Inverness or neighbourhood (Burt 1876). A further term that emerges is lòban or càrn-loban, where the first element, càrn, is a word for ‘cart’ or ‘sledge’ (Dwelly 1949, 593, s.v. lòban). Another reference adds a phonetic detail: ‘… luipen or conical basket placed in a frame between two trams and drawn by a garron’ (Ross 1888, 184). These types of vehicles seemed to have been typical over most mainland areas, or at least those areas with greater abundance of growing timber. Duncan Campbell, the urbane Highland newspaper editor, seemed to be describing them as commonplace when he was young in Highland Perthshire: ‘light peat carts, which looked not unlike big baskets on low wheels, that sure-footed horses could almost haul anywhere’ (Campbell 1899, 69).


Wattlework and Creel Houses

The prevalence of basket work is a function of the natural history of the West Coast and Atlantic zone, with its humid climate and natural woods of oak, birch, aspen, rowan, hazel, holly and willow on indented coastline and fjord-like lochs and mountains. Small-scale arable cultivation took place in the glens but pastoral agriculture predominated with managed hill-grazings and shielings. In general, there were old mixed deciduous forest to the west and pine forests to the east – east, that is, of the Great Glen – though there were extensive pine forests nearer the West Coast such as ‘Locheil’s Forest’ on the shores of Loch Arcaig and in Glen Loy and pine woods round Loch Hourn and in Glen Barrisdale in Knoydart. The prevalence of timber in these areas gave rise to a proverbial expression in Scottish Gaelic which infers the same sense of absurdity in the notion of taking coals to Newcastle: ‘That would be like taking wood to Lochaber’ – B’e sin a bhiodh ’toirt fiodha  do Lochabar e, or alternatively, B’e sin a bhiodh ’toirt giuthas (i.e. pine trees) do Lochabar e. 


Regional styles of vernacular building have been more distinctive or pronounced with sharp differentials in naturally occurring raw materials, themselves a function of the Highland and Island elementals of geology climate and vegetation. Upstanding remains of buildings in rural settlements are exceptionally rare in Scotland and the limited lifespan of timber buildings is a given. A ‘Pilot Season’ (2001) in Glasgow University’s ‘Rannoch Archaeological Project’ chose the so-called ‘medieval village’ (as marked on the current OS map) of Bunrannoch, at the south-eastern end of Loch Rannoch. Typically, there was clear evidence of multi-period settlement from approximately the Neolithic or the late second millennium BCE. Two sites were chosen for excavation and these were of buildings described as ‘creel houses’. Though assumed to have been the remains of dwelling-houses burnt down in reprisals following the last Jacobite Rising of 1745, detailed analysis of the site, including radio-carbon dating, pointed to these being structures of the early historic and medieval period. Taken with later (eighteenth century) and documentary evidence, it has been suggested that Highland ‘creel houses’ in this district demonstrate the persistence of a fairly fixed building type for about a thousand years. The evidence of structural posts (to carry a roof), wattle panels and stone and turf footings forming a long and relatively narrow building should not necessarily surprise us in a district of woodland evidenced by the ‘Black Wood of Rannoch’ and remains of the so-called ‘Caledonian Forest’ (MacGregor 2010, 399-401, 409-411). If this offers early evidence for the creel house, the same district gives us a list of the timber components of such a structure at Bunrannoch in 1717. The local saw miller listed the requirements in a letter to the Laird of Atholl, as being ‘7 couples, 35 pan trees of birk, 20 jests of fir between sole trees and side wall, 2 trees to be forks for the gavels, 100 leads of wands to work the criels, 160 standards with as many cabers besides door checks and windows’ (Bil 1990, 240).


A significant detail to emerge from accounts of the Highlands, particularly from the pens of travellers and visitors to the region, is that, apart from the larger masonry structures such as castles, housing was undifferentiated across social spectrums. It might be a matter of surprise or certainly a matter of comment that the house of the local chieftain or tacksman seemed undistinguishable from the other houses in a community. This point is made by Burt in the early eighteenth century. At Tom-an-t-Sabhail, Inverwick, Grant of Glenmoriston lived in a house of wattle and turf, described as tigh caoil. The daughter of Campbell of Cawdor had eloped with Grant of Glenmoriston, being the chieftain of lower status, and this prompted her father ultimately to build An Tùr or ‘The Tower’, being a stone and lime building (MacDonald 1982, 22).


Basket or wattlework was not generically of low status. Mary Mackellar, writing in 1889 on the ‘Traditions of Lochaber’, described ‘Locheil’s castle of the ’45, burnt by the Duke of Cumberland [following the Battle of Culloden], was all of wattle, excepting the bit of wall where the fire-places were, and which still stands’ (Mackellar 1890, 267). A useful description of the dwelling of Cameron of Glendessary at Acharn written in August 1843 by Rev John Macleod was included in the ‘New Statistical Account’:

‘He resided at Ach-a-charn, and occupied a house of very peculiar construction; formed of oak beams placed at regular distances, the intervening spaces being closely interwoven with wicker-work. The outside was wholly covered with heath, and the interior was divided into several apartments, and finished in a style of taste and elegance corresponding with the enlightened refinements of the occupants’ (MacLeod 1845, 177).


In James Robertson’s tour of the West Coast and Inner Hebrides between May and October 1768, coming to Moidart and Arisaig he described ‘creel houses’ in some detail:

‘The houses in which they live they call basket houses. The method of building them is this: they first mark out both breadth and length of the house, then drive stakes of wood at 9 inches or a foot distance from each other, leaving 4 or 5 feet of them above ground, then wattle them up with heath and small branches of wood, upon the outside of which they pin on very thin turf, much in the same manner that slates are laid. Alongst the top of these stakes runs a beam, which supports the couples, and what they call cabers, and this either covered with turf, heath or straw’.


Further north he made the distinction between respective building techniques of barns and houses at Conton:

‘Their barns and houses are built in the same manner as hath been described, only the former have no turf fastened on their outer side from the ground up to the easing, so that the wind blows through all parts of the barn with freedom, and dries their corn’ (Mitchell 1898, 14; Henderson and Dickson 1994, 81, 101).


The barn beside the present road at Kirkton, Balmacara, whose repair was grant-aided from the public purse, has louvre panels on the gables and side-panels of wattle work with hazel and heather. In the textbooks, this is sometimes described as ‘stake and rice’, and the same term was used historically. Houses at Letterfearn on the south side of Loch Duich, photographed by the Aberdeen photographer George Washington Wilson in the late-nineteenth century, illustrate this technique and suggest that this was normal in the area. This seems to be confirmed by Alexander Carmichael, writing in his paper published in 1884 on ‘Grazing and Agrestic Customs’, added to the Crofters’ Commission Report at the special request of its Chairman Lord Napier:

‘In wooded districts throughout the Highlands, where materials can be found, doors, gates, partitions, fences, barns, and even dwelling houses, are made of wattle-work. In the case of dwelling houses and their partitions, the wattling is plastered over on both sides with boulder clay, and whitewashed with lime, thereby giving an air of cleanliness and comfort to the house’ (Carmichael 1884, 454)


When I F Grant was collecting for the Highland Folk Museum, these details can be seen to have persisted into the mid twentieth century and were to be observed by the discerning eye: ‘…. in the west, the land of scrub and bushes and of the most skilful basket-workers, cupboards were often made with wickerwork sides on wooden frames. They were used for keeping milk, butter and food and were called “larders”’ (Grant 1961, 175). A general observation such as this is given impressive point by a piece of furniture collected by Dr Grant in Acharacle at the west end of Loch Shiel, that is, a wattlework food press, preas or preas-bidhe (Highland Folk Museum Accession Number KNM 10 [D70]).


There is a modest supply of evidence concerning the wide use of wattlework. The minister of Kilmuir, describing the houses in Trotternish in Skye about 1840, includes useful detail:

‘The houses generally consist of three apartments, which are separated either by stone walls or partitions made of wattled-work, straw or reeds. The middle apartment is the one principally occupied by the family, who have the fire in the centre of the floor, over which the crook is suspended from the rafters above. …. The inmost apartment serves the purpose of barn or bed-room, sometimes both, while that next the door is occupied by the cattle.’


Details of creel houses were recorded in Lochaber by Calum MacLean in the 1950s for the newly-founded School of Scottish Studies. His informant in this instance, whom he met near Roy Bridge in January 1951, turned out to be one of his outstanding tradition-bearers. He was ‘little John MacDonald of Highbridge’ or ‘John the Bard’ (1876-1964) who was a raconteur, seanchaidh and poet in his own right. Calum MacLean has painted a vivid pen picture of how a rich rapport was established in Gaelic between recorder and informant: ‘We continued to meet once weekly for a whole five months. Day after day he came and poured out the unwritten history of Lochaber. Everything that ever took place there seems to have left some imprint on his memory’ (MacLean 1975, 20-21). The following extract from one of the recordings is an abbreviated version of the Gaelic text:

‘I saw wattled houses, and this was the way they built them. They set up strong casain (posts). I believe they would be about nine inches each way – strong. It was oak they used for them pretty often. They would be as high as they wanted to have the wall – no more than six feet high. They set the casein so firmly that they could place the cupuill (couples) on them to keep the roof up. And then they put on the taobhain across them – timbers along the side. Taobhain was what they called them. They wouldn’t be very thick at all, the taobhain. They did not mind at all if they were round and they did not mind what sort of timber it was – anything but the fiodhagaich (wild cherry); it was taboo. They were full of superstitions. And then they went and got the slatan (rods), alder for the slatan. It wouldn’t matter what length the slatan were. And they would draw them back and forth through the fire – they were singed brown. And then this alder would become so soft and so supple. This would make the slatan flexible so that they could go in among the taobhain – perhaps two inches apart. And then when the slatan were plaited up among the taobhain, they got clay and cow dung and straw. And they mixed it with shovels till they got it right. And then they pressed it on with the shovels, and it went through. The slatan held it, with the straw. And they made it as smooth on the outside as it could be. Then they did the inside, in the same way. It would take a day or two for it to dry. All that had to be done now was to put the cupuill on the casein. If they could get it at all they liked pine or oak for the cupuill. Then they put on the roof’ (School of Scottish Studies SA1958/20/A11).


The selection of evidence reviewed here draws on a range of sources to raise the profile of basketry and wickerwork as cultural and historical indicators and to tease out elements of what might today be described as the ‘cultural landscape’. These elements too often are allowed to fall below the radar and therefore tend not to be considered as dynamic or causative (see for example O’Dowd 2001, 262-278; Lucas 1954, 71-134). Description of the ‘cultural landscape’, for example, is generally bound up with conceptual and ideological issues of definition and battles over the intellectual high ground.  ‘Material Culture Studies’ as university discipline can also be a contested area. Academic disciplinary boundaries and current ideologies may also marginalise material culture of this sort although archaeology is readier to recognise it than most conventional disciplines. The relative success of archaeology in recent decades, its confidence in why archaeology matters and its transformation into a global discipline may sometimes blind it as to possibilities of pragmatic alliances with other disciplines such as history, literature and, as in my case here, language. Modern pedagogy deserves such broader alliances. A slight example throws up significant detail from a language context; Duncan Campbell’s description of shielings and animal husbandry in Upland Perthshire identified the circular folds for cattle, sheep and goats – what he termed crodhan – as circular and without necessarily any associated hut structures. His cautionary tale of recognition of these features seems aimed at archaeologists:

‘[The Crò] was generally surrounded by a strong wall, but in bushy districts it was often fenced in by rough wicker-work, which when it disappeared, only left the circular floor to mark the place. …. The folds were in pairs, or sometimes in double pairs, because milking and cheese-making purposes required that calves, lambs and kids should be kept separate from their mothers. What are called ‘hut circles’ seem to me to be in many, but not perhaps in all cases, the floors of wicker-work folds, which were too near permanent abodes to be associated with regular shieling huts’ (Campbell 1899, 69)..


A healthy home was found for basketry in Scottish museum-based ‘ethnological studies’ as pioneered by the late Professor Alexander Fenton. This uses a conceptual label of ‘ethnology’ to describe a mix of social, economic and cultural history, based on language, locality and region and an integrity supplied by the fresh evaluation of sources and an enlargement of the repertoire. Here too, perhaps, cultural attitudes are still hard to shift. The Highlands and Islands particularly were locked within a dominant narrative. Landscape and scenery have been romanticised for tourist and ‘heritage’ consumption and, arguably, the inhabitants patronised, perhaps not currently but certainly historically. The historical narrative is dominated by the political tensions between crown, government and the Highlands and Islands, the debacle of the Jacobite Wars, and the onset of the Enlightenment with accounts of Highland life stressing a need for change and ‘improvement’ dominating the ideological currency of the age. We can all sense the ‘condescension’ that emanated from this and we can all learn to delve deeper.


Sabhal Mòr Ostaig

An Lùnastal 2012



Acknowledgements: I am most grateful to my former colleague in the National Museums Scotland, Irene Mackay, for curatorial work and discussion on the Evelyn Baxter Collection, and to Elaine Bruce and Rachel Chisholm, Highland Folk Museum, for references to the I F Grant Collection.




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