Old Stories from Islay by Dougie MacDougall

At the beginning of this year I had plans to post a couple of stories of Dougie MacDougall on my blog but somehow I only managed to post one story: More Illicit Islay Whisky Distilling by Dougie MacDougall. Today I can present you more old Islay stories by Dougie MacDougall, the late husband of Lily MacDougall who is Chistine Logan's mother. This story is from the booklet "As Long as Water Flows".

Dougie Macdougall: Retracing my thoughts back to the local worthies, there were quite a few of them. There was this old chap, he lived in the vicinity of Port Askaig. Most of his life was spent at the fishing - he was a weel kent face. For a time he was ferryman between Port Askaig and Feolin on the Jura side. This day they were going across with a passenger in an open boat, rowing of course, no engines in those days.

The passenger was in full naval uniform and looked as if he was quite well off, indeed that's what the rowers thought and they were going to charge accordingly. The naval officer took the tiller, but he wasn't up to old Alistair's expectations. In fact, the boat was veering off course with the strong tide. In the end Alistair spoke up angrily, "Keep the boat on is proper course, you must remember you're not in charge of a man-of-war here!" Continue reading...

The two rowers were discussing in Gaelic what to charge their passenger, the proper charge then being sixpence for the crossing. One said "Well, by the looks of his coat and uniform he can well afford a shilling." The other thought for a while in case that would not be enough, but in the end he agreed to one shilling. They arrived at the jetty on the other side. The passenger jumped ashore and handed Alistair one shilling with the Gaelic words, "Am bheil sin gu leoir" - "Is that enough?" They nearly dropped, never thinking that the man was a fluent Gaelic speaker and a native of Jura, home on leave.

By the way, a shilling in those days was quite a tidy sum and one had to work pretty hard to earn it. The two same men were lobster fishing together, but not Alistair, who was a crabbity, taciturn old chap. Nothing was ever right so they did not get on very well together.

This early morning they went off north to their pots, lifted them and were going to shift them to the south along the Islay shore. In the passing they called in at Port Askaig where they had a very long session in the bar. My late father, who had returned from Rhuvaal, called in at Port Askaig for the McArthur's Head mails and stores, saw their loaded boat and knew that they were under the influence. On his way back from McArthur's Head he noticed a whole lot of lobster pots set nearby on top of each other. They were just flung out any old way. He knew whoever set the pots was in no fit state to be in charge of a boat, so he kept a weather eye open for them. In the end he noticed the boat ashore and the two men lying down seemingly asleep beside a local burn. They must have got thirsty, so they went ashore for a drink and had fallen asleep under the unfluence.

My father went ashore to see if they were alright, wakened Alistair to give him a few words of advice, but he had to run for it for he wasn't in any mood for advice from no man. The old man even stood up on groggy legs and was throwing stones at him and was he thankful to get away from the old man's wrath.

The next day the fishermen didn't remember where they planted the pots and no question passed between the two of them regarding this. They met in the pub every day for nearly a week but no word was spoken regarding lobster fishing for they were both guilty of not knowing where the pots were. My father, knowing the situation, thought with trepidation that he should drop a kindly hint as to where the lost pots were.

When he met Alistair, the mood was not at its best, for when he was asked how the lobster fishing was getting on, there was no answer. It was then that my father told him that someone else must be lobster fishing, for there were quite a few pots down at a place named "Baleacherach". "Dhia Dhia Sandy," he said. "There's nobody else fishing. Those are my pots so you go to Hell and don't try any of your lies on me." The very next day they set off to reset their pots - you would never receive any thanks for doing an obligement - you would be more likely to get a telling off in no moderate language.

More old Islay stories soon!