EADAR SGOIL ‘S OBAIR – David’s Young Life

Latha math dhuibh, a chàrdan.

Our next blog features David’s description of his early life and schooling, unfortunately focussing on the latter in a strictly documentarian fashion with nothing of a personal or cultural nature included. This in some ways sets the tone for the rest of the diaries which are more often than not strictly religion or employment related and touch on little that would be of interest to those seeking insight into life in David’s mid 19th century home or information on Gaelic language and culture.

In truth, this has been the impetus for the inclusion of my notes, some 150 years after the fact.

FULL TEXT WITH COMMENTARY (in brackets and italics)

I was born on 1st November 1853 in grandfather’s house in Leodibest (I can only imagine that there must have been some attendant awareness of the season, around Samhainn, although much of the Highlands would have been adhering to a timing closer to the Julian calendar’s reckoning, perhaps meaning that the birth did not fall in line with the fruiting of the hawthorn, ÀM).  Went when about five years to the Latheron Moderate School (The Moderate Party within Scottish Protestantism was espoused by landowners as the system allowed them to appoint ministers, something which contributed strongly to the Disruption of 1843 after the conduct of all involved in the Clearances) under the protection of Donald Sutherland, son of Angus Sutherland, Leodibest (I imagine these men must have been relations of some kind or another, ÀM).  The Rev. Mr Davidson having objected, I was taken away from the moderates, the established school, and sent to the Latheron Free School (The schism by this point being at its most heated).  But as time was washing away the narrow hatred that existed, I was found going to the Parish School once again.  By this time, father had taken me away from grandfather’s (Are we to assume that David lived with his grandfather in the Strath of Latheronwheel for the first five or six years of his life rather than with his father and mother at the croft at Bardintua?) and after I was going for a few years to Latheron Parish School – alias the Moderate – I was sent to the Boultach School because it was under the shadow of the worthy Donald Grant (I am unclear as to the correct Gaelic for “Boultach”. The pronunciation in English is /BOOL-shach/ ‘ch’ as loch and I imagine – given it does not match the spelling – that this must be closer to the Gaelic. The word buabhall, which can happily be truncated to bual given its di rather than tri-syllabic nature and loss of hiatus in modern speech, means a “cattle stall” and is very common in Caithness. The latter part of the word however remains obscure, ÀM)  This change – although meant for my good by my father – and irregular attendance largely spoilt my education.  The Boultach School [below] was conducted by David Gow, a good man but not qualified by education for a school master (Domhall Gobha would also be a relation of mine, on my grannie’s husband’s side, ÀM)

Father not being very strong, I was kept at home until I left home myself in 1873 when in my ignorance at the age of 20 I went to serve my apprenticeship to the grocery trade in Wick with Msrs Sinclair Brothers, Wick (Any information the Weekers are able provide on anything relating to this grocers’ business would be greatly appreciated! ÀM).  Entered their employment on 20th May 1873 at 3[?] a week.  After being about 16 months in Wick, I told Daniel Sinclair that I intended going south.  He said that David Tait’s time was near up and he intended to allow him to go south so he would give me 10[?] per week if I would remain with him.  I referred the matter to father.  He said that Mr Sinclair could get a boy to work for that sum so I left September 19th 1874 and after having a ramble with James Sinclair to Thurso, to Loch Calder, back to Thurso, to Castleton, to John O’ Groats, to Wick, to Latheron (According to Google Maps, this journey would take 23 hours and 50 minutes on foot and that on the tarmacked roads of our own era. David describes this as a “ramble” but surely what he recounts would be undertaken at least in part by hitching lifts on passing traps or carts? The distance is challenging even over several days. Walking from Thurso to Loch Calder and back – assuming some time was also spent there – would take the best part of half a day. I am baffled by David’s account of this “ramble”! ÀM), left Caithness for Edinburgh, November 4th 1874.  Entered J.B. Low’s November 10th 1874 (Does anyone have any information on this Edinburgh shop? I am assuming it would be a grocer’s shop but of course, it may not be, ÀM).

In the next blog, we will present the very first entries from David MacLeod’s diaries. The writing is dated 1876 [above] by David, but the six has been scored out and replaced with “1874” by my g-grandfather John MacLeod, creating a bit of confusion around the dating of the diaries. The passage above ends with David leaving Caithness for Edinburgh at the end of 1874, with the diaries beginning – as you will see – on the first day of January, presumably 1875. This leaves three possible years for their commencement, a predicament that has caused me to publish them in line with the 1874 date in order to begin sharing on the 150th anniversary.




As you look through the diaries however, it appears as if the first one has been rewritten as the cover is the same as the third diary, but not the same as the second [see above], suggesting that it was bought at the same time as the third book. As you read the other diaries, they do seem to tie in with David’s start date of 1876, despite his own chronology above as to when he moved to Edinburgh seeming out of sync. Would he have written a history of his employment history up until the end of 1874 only to leave an entire year out before beginning the diary? Did he commence the diary in 1876 and then re-write the introduction incorrectly citing dates as belonging to 1874 instead of 1875 before copying the diary entries in after this, but correctly, meaning that he actually moved to Edinburgh at the end of 1875?

All very confusing I’m afraid! I am hoping on close inspection as I read the diaries again and as we move through the entries in detail that some great historical event will be referred to so that we might take it as a reference point, putting the debate to bed!

In the next blog, it will be January 1876…. or is it 1874?!

Gach beannachd air an àm,

Àdhamh MacLeòid [ÀM]

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