A ‘PRIVILEGE’ and an ‘honour’ were the words used by Western Isles MP Angus MacNeil to describe his uptake of the Ness Guga Hunters’ invitation to join them last weekend on the annual pilgrimage to the island of Sulasgeir for the traditional gannet sea-bird harvest.
Angus accompanied the Niseach group aboard the Heather Isle fishing boat to travel the 40 miles north of the Butt of Lewis and help unload the four to five tonnes of supplies which will keep the hunters going for their fortnight stay.
“It was amazing and one of the best nights of travel out they’ve had for a while, the sea was calm with just a small swell,” said Angus.
“We left from Ness at around 1.15am and took five hours to get out to Sulasgeir. I didn’t sleep but some of the lads did – anywhere! One guy slept on the deck, one on the bags of peat and salt, one guy even slept up on the cab next to the warm exhaust pipe.”
On arrival at the island however, Angus appreciated why the Ness men had made sure to get their heads down while they could.
“The first thing to be done was to unload the supplies and that takes real, proper manual labour to get everything up the cliffs,” he continued.
“There was about a tonne or two of salt for starters and about a tonne of peat, not to mention all the food and water supplies, mattresses and such; all in all I reckon about four or five tonnes of supplies had to be manually carried up the cliffs.”
After lending a hand with the unloading, Angus was then taken a tour of the island by Guga stalwart John ‘Dods’ Macfarlane.
He expands: “When Dods was taking me round the first thing you saw were fulmars, regurgitating and splitting all over the place. The rock itself was quite green with vegetation, but as you go onto the gannet area, there’s almost a straight line where the vegetation stops leaving just rock.
“Dods showed me where the men would be sleeping in stone bothies as well as a small chapel around 12,000 years old and the stone stacks which have been built by those who have come out before. It was amazing to see it all, a real privilege to be there.”
Back in the Western Isles and Angus revealed he was asked about his trip – and about the possibility of getting a Guga! – from the Butt of Lewis down to his home in Barra.
“People were asking for it all the way down,” he said. “There’s a great interest and support for the Guga hunt throughout the entire Western Isles.”
The MP also divulged that upon his return to civilisation, he had a number of emails from protesters and animal groups opposed to the annual bird cull.
“A number of them were asking me to confirm that I’d taken part in the hunt, but I was only on the island for two and a half hours!” Angus stated.
“The misinformation is what’s most annoying and the speed at which people will swallow wrong information and then regurgitate that wrong information is astounding.
“The Guga that are hunted probably have a far better life and a swifter, more humane dispatch than many battery farm chickens and animals.
“The people against this are not in touch with nature. The people who are in touch with nature and how to manage it well are out right now on Sulasgeir, not sitting in a comfortable centrally heated living-room sending off emails!”