For 'A Souvenir of Great Yarmouth':

Joan Morrison, Volunteer Centre North Lewis:


"The decades slipped away when ‘Mairi’ shared her reminiscences recently in the Ness Hall. Her memories of brushing her Granny’s long white hair in her family home was in stark contrast to her own old-age experience in a Care Home, waiting for the schedule of strangers to perform the tasks she could no longer do for herself.  'She was beautiful to me,' said Mairi fondly remembering her Granny. The unspoken question hangs in the air.  Who will have time to appreciate the beauty of old age in a Care Home?


"Frailty is only one half of the coin.  An unexpected visitor arrives to research for a book and Mairi’s story unfolds.   This Cailleach has lived.  She has seen the world. She knows the anticipation of packing for an adventure and she has experienced travel.  She has survived the rigours of a harsh system with great dignity and emerged with a strong work ethic and a warm heart. She has the self-confidence of one who has secured employment and the generosity of heart to spend her earnings on loved ones back home.  


"In the days of her youth there were few opportunities for a lively teenager. ‘Choice’ wasn’t an option.  Scant opportunities had to be grabbed.  Mairi had joined the ranks of people engaged in the herring industry, travelling to ports between Lerwick, Lochmaddy, Lowestoft, Peterhead, Fraserburgh & Yarmouth. Conditions were grim and the performance targets were excruciating.  As the story unfolds, details of life for ‘Clann-Nighean an Sgadain’ emerge.


"Hundreds of island girls were recruited by the Curers to work in ports the length and breadth of Britain. In these days of international flights it’s hard to envisage the time involved in travelling before the First World War. If the girls left Stornoway at 11 o’clock on a Monday night they wouldn’t arrive in Lerwick until Wednesday morning.

"They lived in huts provided by the Curers, but they had to take their own bedclothes, pans and dishes. The Curers provided as much coal as they needed. Their work shift could start at 6 a.m. and continue till 2 a.m. the following morning. Fishermen poured the herring into big wooden tubs.  A crew consisted of three women: two would gut and one would pack the herring into barrels. Every day they stood in the same location. They were given the gutting knives (cutag) and allocated a crew number by the Curer. If he was dissatisfied with the way a barrel was packed, he might tip it over with his foot and the process had to be repeated to his satisfaction. The girls were paid at the end of the season, often on the day they left.


"The Highland News of January 1916 reported the distress caused by having to abandon the herring fishing as Lewis had sent a seventh of its entire population into the fighting line.  It was estimated that 95 % of all able-bodied men of military age were serving in sea or land forces. Previously in a good fishing season, the girls collectively could bring in excess of £50,000 home to Lewis. At the outbreak of hostilities in August 1916, 2500 girls returned to Lewis almost penniless and 800 households required assistance.


"Research into this aspect of island history was conducted by Joni Buchannan, via a series of interviews with surviving participants in the herring industry.  Eric J. MacDonald captured the essence of a bygone age, incorporating intimate details, and created the  magnificent script performed brilliantly by Maggie Smith.  Between them they have illuminated an aspect of island life that deserves more recognition."

Clive Sheppard, Assynt Festival:

"Maggie Smith gave a sincere and evocative performance with her reflections of a Highland Herring Girl in the monologue " A Souvenir of Great Yarmouth". The audience were gripped and moved from beginning to end. The Gaelic songs added depth and further emotion to the story. The discussion and reminiscing session after the performance was greatly appreciated generally by the audience and by a few elderly members particularly, those who had had experiences of the herring days themselves.   

"Maggie gently persuaded those members of the audience to tell their tales. One lady said to me afterwards that before the evening she did not feel that anyone really cared about her experiences as they were just part of the old days. Now she feels that she may have taken part in something of value and has been inspired to research some of her old photographs and note down her memories so they are not lost! We will be following this up and giving her support locally.   

"Thanks Maggie, a wonderful trip back in time filled with human emotion and spirit. A real taste of the common man's history."    

Uig Cairdeas 

On November 21st we were entertained by Eric MacDonald's drama Clann Nighean an Sgadain, a very versatile piece of work which appears in both Gaelic and English. On this occasion it was the English version superbly delivered by Maggie Smith, Achmore as a monologue without any backdrop or sound effect. The audience listened spell bound for a good half hour to an evocative script which touched many chords with its authentic re-creation of a past and harsher way of life. We're sure the wider Uig community would welcome the opportunity to see the Gaelic version of the show and have asked Cabraich to return in the spring of 2013. 

Loch Roag Community Association 

I'm not going to say "Thank you very much for your performance last night which we all enjoyed," because it's not true!  It wasn't a performance – you lived that life, and we lived it with you.  And "enjoy" isn't at all the right word.  I can't think of the right one, but I think that appreciate comes nearer it – appreciate your sharing that experience with us, maybe.  Co-dhiù...   and how many versions of that simple sigh there were!  An incredible writer, too – or did it kind of grow between you?  Anyway – sorry!  Co-dhiù: Thank you very much!  You must have been exhausted afterwards.  Tha sinn fada nad chomain.                   
Tony Henk Producer Isles FM

A Souvenir of Great Yarmouth was recorded in one continuous session in which Maggie really lived the part, performing from memory and giving a totally convincing characterisation which shines through in the final production. The songs by Margaret MacLeman, Bible Readings by Anne MacDonald  and music by Dol MacDonald were all recorded in separate sessions and melded into the final edit.  The result is compelling listening quite moving at times and very informative about the conditions in which the herring girls had to live and work, in short, it forms excellent radio.

Solus Geur Luminate on 30th October 2013

Inspiration  was the order of the day as Cabraich presented Solus Geur, the Lewis
interpretation of a national campaign, ‘Luminate- Festival of Creative Aging,’ sponsored by AGE SCOTLAND.  Approximately 160 Amazing Bodachs and Cailleachs  from 11 clubs across Lewis participated.  Whilst the minimum age of the audience may have been sixty, there was no upper limit to the talent involved.   The harmony between creative dexterity and intellectual agility created a superb programme to delight the senses.

Poetry from local Bard Chrissie MacIver transported awareness from a Lewis landscape to the turmoil that afflicts mankind from the tsunami that is Afghanistan.  Sean Macleod read the poems in Gaelic and English.  Members of this audience had first hand experience of life, love, war and its aftermath.
Life’s inexplicable revolutions were reflected and recorded in three short Gaelic productions by writer Eric J MacDonald and Uig film maker Keith Stringer. Taigh Dhè captured the essence of Baille na Cille Church before the transforming hand of new proprietors has its impact.  Am/Aite reflected on the powerful bond of love emerging in youth and lasting after decades apart. Leabhar na Beatha portraited love surviving despite the fatal intervention of war and remaining faithful till reunion after deaths.

Visual stimulation (and envy) was sprinkled throughout the beautiful Breasclete Hall.   In one
area Dawn Susan displayed a unique range depicting basket-making for particular historical usage. One compact spherical one was designed to transport a hen! Dawn the basket maker, was amazed to discover that afternoon that they were used for early hen parties, when the women took live hens to island weddings.  

In  another area this maritime audience was suitably impressed by Kenneth MacDonald’s expertise in knot work.  Sue Boyd dazzled all with dyeing (the colouring variety) and Angela Price fascinated folk with her felting technique. Rhoda Mackay, Mary Smith and Mary Morrison gave an impressive demonstration of spinning and winding wool.   Exquisite examples of knitting, wool crafts, patchwork and other craft skills adorned the displays.

Feeding 160 senior citizens from all over Lewis proved no serious challenge to the efficient team that run Breasclete Hall. They provided a wonderful lunch and excellent service.  These bakers could give Mary Berry some serious competition.
One aspect of this event was to shine a light on the amazing contribution senior citizens make to and for our aging population.  Over 25% of our islanders are aged 60 plus. Whilst there is no doubt old age has serious consequences, this is a formidable group of dynamic, purposeful, effective and spiritual people.  These Amazing Bodachs & Cailleachs are the backbone of our communities. They demonstrate the values and vision that inspire us.

Congratulations to Cabraich’s creative team that shone a spotlight on this undervalued 
group. Solus Geur was supported by Age Scotland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Bord Na Gaidhlig.
Joan Morrison Happy Ness club 


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