BACK IN THE DAY: The Old Soldiers of Uig

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Most people are attracted to the Parish of Uig, Lewis, by its unrivalled scenery. Few, nowadays at least, are aware of the fact that in addition to its natural beauty and grandeur, it has the further attraction of a most fascinating history.

If it be true that in every country there is a hidden meaning, an underlying spirit which can’t be experienced by the mere visitor, but only by those who by long residence have their souls tuned in response to it, and, if the richness and variety of the tradition of a people is a reflection of the spirit of the land in which they live, then the historic spirit of Uig is a deep and inspiring one, for it possesses a wealth of tradition.

The heroic exploits of its past, beginning in the dim mists of antiquity, and proceeding through historic times in which more or less approximate dates can be assigned, have come down to us in traditions of the people. In their transmission from generation to generation through the centuries those tales of ancient days and battles long ago seem to have taken on a definite literary form and unity after the manner of a saga; for up till quite recent times the same exploit could be heard from different people with little or no variation.

The Romance Perishes

Some ago when I lived in Uig it was still possible to hear those heroic tales, but a recent visit has convinced me that the generation of those who were familiar with the numerous tales of the Saga of Uig, and who were past masters in the art of relating them, has passed away.

The younger generation, overtaken already by the tide of modernism, and absorbed in the interests of their own day, Gallic-like “care nothing for those things”. Thus the romance of the past perishes.

Not the least interesting part of the Saga was what I used to regard as the last chapter – the last, not in the sense of local history, but the last in the sense of heroic exploits. This was the story, or rather the stories, for there were many, of the old soldiers of Uig.

My interest in those old warriors was recently revived by the re-discovery of some fragmentary notes made by myself about twenty years ago, and at the same time by my introduction to a source of information of which I had hitherto been ignorant: the evidence in regard to the raising of the Seaforth Highlanders given by John Munro Mackenzie, Chamberlain of Lewis, to Lord Napier’s Commission in 1884.

To some, local history is a matter of absorbing interest; to me in my youth it amounted almost to a passion. It has occurred to me that there may be some who, like myself, still care for those things, and to whom my rough notes and research into the history of the old soldiers of Uig may be of considerable interest. Both these must necessarily be inexact, for exiled as I am from my native land, I have no means of access to works of reference, and no opportunity for local verification.

To read the rest of this fascinating article buy the new May issue of Back in the Day, out next week