Western Isles history: Spooky tale for Halloween week

For the murderer in this tale the Loch did not keep his secret forever and he was soon to pay the price for his terrible crime.
For the murderer in this tale the Loch did not keep his secret forever and he was soon to pay the price for his terrible crime.

This unnerving tale of murder and an accusation from beyond the grave seems to be entirely approriate for Halloween week.

The article was first featured in a sister title to the Stornoway Gazette, ‘The Hebridean’ and it featured in that title under the heading ‘Hebridean Connections’ in August 2004.

In days gone by there would not have been many men in our villages who did not go fishing with a hand-Iine.

Of course, fish were plentiful then as were boats, which would frequently return home from fishing trips laden with an abundance of, particularly, haddock, whiting and lythe.

The hand-line was a com monly used implement consisting of a wooden frame and piece of wire, on which a number of hooks and a weight would be attached.

This wire was thrown over the side of the boat and run through the fingers until it could be felt touching the bottom.

It would then be pulled up in the water, how far being dependent on the fishing ground and left until a ‘dubadh’ , or the biting of the fish on the hook, could be felt.

Although this method of fishing, called ‘dorghadh’, was a common occurrence throughout our island, for one group of men in Lochs it turned out to be an uncanny experience.

This day, a group of four men from South Lochs were fishing out on Loch Erisort, adjacent to the village of Laxay and opposite Rubha an Ithich, or Ravenspoint, in Kershader.

As they fished one of the men, on pulling in his line, was shocked to discover a bone attached to the end of his hook, instead of the expected fish.

He unhooked it and threw it back into the loch. Shortly afterwards, the bone appeared again, on the second man’s hook.

Once again, it was unhooked and thrown back into the loch.

When the bone surfaced a third time, on the third man’s hook, he came to the conclusion that it must have had some special significance or message for someone in the boat.

He shared his strong belief concerning the bone with his companions and instructed that they were all to touch it.

This all four men did. Taking it in turn they passed the bone around and it appeared to all as though nothing was happening.

However, spookily, that was soon to change.

When the fourth man took a hold of the bone, a spray of blood came from it and landed onto his startled face.

On seeing this, the other men in the boat immediately recognised that their companion had carried out a crime of some sort and, so, the relentless questioning began.

Eventually, they got the man to admit to his wrongdoing he had savagely murdered a young woman.

In those days it was customary for the inhabitants of Kershader and Habost to take their cattle across to the anloch side of Loch Erisort for summer grazing.

Unfortunately, this girl had, one day, happened to witness the afore-mentioned man killing a bullock or heifer on a promontory on the Laxay grazing, close to where their boat was anchored.

Fearing repercussions should this news be broadcast, he decided to silence the girl forever.

There, he killed her and, after having waited for nightfall, weighted her lifeless body before casting it out into the deep, dark waters of Loch Erisort.

Standing alone in the murky shadows of the night, he believed he had hidden his secret in the waves where it would remain forever.

Unfortunately for him, this was not to be. Also unfortunately for him, in those days the system of law was a great deal less complex than it is now.

The severity of the punishment matched the heinousness of the crime, as ‘an eye for an eye’ was very much the rule of law applied by those ready and willing to ‘ take matters into their own hands’.

Following the revelation concerning the young woman’s murder, the accused was led out into the moorland that lies between the villages of Sheildinish , and Habost and was tied between two horses .

There , by Loch na Craoibhe (the Tree Loch) his body was torn in two.

To this very day, the spot in Loch Erisort where the bpne was found is known as Aite na Caillich and the hillock ‘ on which the woman was killed, Ara na Caillich (the place and the high ground of the old woman).

These place names are commonly believed to have ‘ derived from Aite and Ard na Caileag (the place anti the high ground of the maiden) in memory of the unfortunate victim who lost her life there so many years ago.