Callanish Village History

Callanish Village History

  The Story of 12 Callanish   Introduction:   It might be thought that, as a location, Callan... Read more
The Earlier Village

The Earlier Village

Whatever the shape taken by the settlement of Callanish in later years, prior to 1850 it appear... Read more
MacDonalds at No.12 Callanish

In the evening of 17 February 1851 (the year of the census) John Munro Mackenzie, chamberlain of the Lewis estate, set off for Callanish and the following morning he met the tenants of the lots, presumably at some gathering of them there. He gave them emall the necessary information about emigration and on finding that six Callanish tenants were in arrears with their rents, owing in all £26.4s.2d, he decided they and their families, 33 emsouls in total, should emigrate. Five of the families were willing to go. On 15 May Mackenzie found Mr John Morrison trying emto collect his debts from the Emigrants but with little success, so those due to leave had not yet departed. They were gone, however, by 17 September when it was noted that ten families had emigrated from Callanish and ten from Tolsta Chaolish, emall of whom were very poor and much in arrear of rent. They left behind emsmall patches of land which were still vacant and were to remain in this condition as the chamberlain considered the place had been emovercrowded. However this did not seem to prevent an increase in the population over the next few years.

Among the emigrants were at least two of the MacDonald families, headed by one of the two Angus MacDonalds and by Donald MacDonald, both going to Canada. This left a few of the name to carry on the new form of crofting life in Callanish.

Of the several MacDonald families in the township after 1851 the one most likely to be connected later to no.12 was in 1861 to be found at no. 40 Callanish. The 1861 census records the presence at no. 40 of Angus MacDonald aged 69 who was a widower and a crofter. With him lived a son, also Angus, aged 23, who was an unmarried agricultural labourer.

It is difficult to be certain where no.40 was in relation to the present-day no.12, later lots having been introduced at the Garynahine end of the settlement and more at the opposite extremity. However in accordance with the haphazard locating of numbers as they were needed it seems that no.40 was in the north west situation where it is today, not far from no.12, while 41 followed towards Garynahine, a temporary nightmare for a new postman. To complicate matters further, this 1861 census also records one other MacDonald family still in Callanish, located at no 12. Head of the household was Neil MacDonald, aged 38, who was a crofter and bad perhaps been a tailor. When Angus Young wrote to his father from Canada on 23 October 1851 he said: emTell Neil Macdonald that he can earn here 6s.3d. to 12s.6d for making a coat. Neil was married to Anne, 35, and at that time had five children: Kenneth 11, Norman 9, Catherine 7, Janet 3 and Mary 5 months. He seems to have served as a local factor at the time of the lotting and for those days his house was quite a substantial one having two rooms with one or more windows. It is possible that these MacDonalds were related to the MacDonalds at no.40. However, by 1867, a rental book for the parish of Uig shows that the situation had changed. Angus MacDonald was recorded as the tenant of no.12 Callanish.

Both Angus and Neil MacDonald were recorded in the 1871 census when there were three MacDonald families in Callanish, but no croft numbers were given. Neil MacDonald, who like his eldest son Kenneth was now described as a gamekeeper, by this stage had three more children: Angus 7, Anne 6, and Annabella 2. Donald MacKay was a servant in the family. Angus MacDonald, aged 80 still lived with his son Angus, who was married to Chirsty, aged 31, from Garynahine. The younger Angus and Chirsty had three children: John 8, Mary 5 and Marion 1. The household also included Chirsty MacDonald aged 10 who was a servant/cowherd.

This particular family had extended considerably in the space of ten years but before the census of 1881 it was to decrease. It appears from the census information that both Angus senior and his son died, leaving Chirsty as head of the MacDonald household and a widow at the age of 40. With her lived John 17, (presumably the same John recorded aged 8 in 1871) and Angus 8, both of whom were scholars. She also appears to have had a servant, Catherine MacDonald, who was perhaps aged 20. It is possible that this Catherine MacDonald might correspond to the Chirsty MacDonald recorded as a servant ten years previously. Although Chirsty and Catherine are not easily confused, a study of consecutive census records reveals several examples of what is clearly the same woman recorded in one instance as Chirsty and in another as Catherine.

House and croft numbers, absent from the 1871 and 1881 censuses, were again absent from the 1891 census. Chirsty MacDonald can still be located however, aged fifty and still a widow. The 1891 census was the first to note the languages spoken by individuals and Chirsty, predictably, is described as a Gaelic speaker with little or no English. Her daughter Mary, aged 25, lived with her, as did son Angus aged 18. Both were employed, although there is no record of where, and could speak both Gaelic and English. At this time they appeared to be the only MacDonald family left in the township. There is no mention of John MacDonald previously recorded in this family, but as he would have then been about 27 or 28 years old he was possibly working away or had married and was living elsewhere. Marion MacDonald, recorded at the age of I in 1871, was again absent from the 1891 census. It is possible that she left home at an early age to work as a servant, or perhaps she died as a young child, sadly a strong possibility at that period.

In 1901, the head of the one inhabited house at 12 Callanish was John MacDonald, now aged 37. He was described as a crofter working at home, born in Callanish and a speaker of Gaelic and English. The presence of his widowed mother, Christina, aged 60, confirms that this was the same family. John was married to Maggie, then 26, born in Bernera. They had a daughter Katie Mary who was 5 months old at the time of the census. Also in the household was Johns sister Mary, aged 36, who was a spinster servant worker, and Christina Macleod aged 11, a servant. All in the household, apart from the elderly Christina, were bilingual. Subsequently the school register shows that John and Maggie had four children Angus went to school in 1906, Katie Mary in 1907, Agnes in 1910, and Donald J in 1913.

The Macdonald house with its two windowed rooms remained rather a better building than many of the old thatched dwellings in the township. It probably stood beside the road, occupying a different site from the large two storey house standing today and also further up the slope than the neighbouring houses, the walls of which can still be seen in nearby crofts.

Local knowledge of the family allows a fuller picture of the MacDonalds at no.12 to emerge. John was known as lain nam Banntraich (John of the widow), presumably because his mother had been widowed at a young age. While in 1901 he was described as a emcrofter working at home, he at some time in his life ran a general store. This was located at the other end of the village, although a small store also operated from no.12 itself, selling paraffin, cigarettes etc. He had a horse and cart and later a large Ford car in which he took people to church in Carloway. This suggests that John was probably, by contemporary standards, fairly comfortably off, as it would seem the occupants of no.12 had been over many years. On 15 May 1918 he was recorded as having paid 12s rent.

In the 1920s, however, he and his family emigrated to Australia, leaving sister Mary (Main) in a house on no.12 while selling the croft and possibly a more recently-built house to Angus Maciver from Valtos, Uig.


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Picture Framing

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Bee Keeping

Bee Keeping Isle of Lewis