Kate Ferris, (CONTACT INFO), lives on the Isle of Lewis, and manages occasional trips across the Minch to Ullapool, where the Museum has many documents and materials of interest to her genealogy researches into her Coigach ancestors, including the Matheson family of Isle Tanera. A volunteer at the Museum, Ann Urquhart, has been a great help to Kate, even hunting up pages unavailable during her visits, photocopying them, and forwarding them to Kate on Lewis. Genealogy is very much a collaborative hobby!
On a recent visit Kate photocoppied the following document, entitled "TANERA ISLAND". A call out to the Ross and Cromarty listserve yielded volunteers to scan and OCR this and another document (the "Mitford" manuscript). The Tanera manuscript was scanned and OCRed by Flora MacDonald who lives in southern Ontario (no, she is not "over the sea....")
Though the author of the manuscript, Alexander "Alick" MacLeod, died in 1974, his nephew Roy Macpherson lives in Ullapool. Kate has spoken to Roy, and been assured he has absolutely no objections to the manuscript being posted as a file on this website, and he feels that Alick would have done so himself if the internet was available when he wrote it. Roy notes that in the article Alick indicates how nice it would be if someone picked up the article he wrote and expanded on it.
This file links from my genealogy introduction file at index.htm, which includes links to files with some other history of Coigach, a gazetteer of descriptions and translations into english of the gaelic place names of Coigach communities and places, and annotated 19th century census returns for the district. Those annotated census files include one on the families of Tanera; tanera.htm
Any suggestions for additions or edits please feel free to email me, Donald MacDonald-Ross, at;
This attractive island is situated at the estuary of Loch Broom, on the West coast of the county of Ross and Cromarty. The distance to it by sea, from the township of Ullapool is ten knots. The channel separating the island from the mainland is two miles wide at its broadest and one mile at its narrowest. Tanera is about l & 1/2 miles in length and about 3/4 of a mile in breadth with an area of over 800 acres.
It has a safe anchorage, it's harbour being considered second best in Scotland. Campbeltown harbour in Argyllshire is said to be first and Tanera second. This however has been argued as some people are of opinion that Tanera harbour, for safety and cosiness, is even better than Campbeltown. The fishermen who came from the southern parts of Scotland to fish in Lochbroom, named Tanera harbour the "Garadh Cal", meaning cabbage garden because of its safety and quietness, This name applies particularly to the part between the two small islands called the "Eilan Mor" (big island) and the "Eilan Beag" (small island) at the south east end of the big harbour. There is another harbour at the north side of the island called the "Acarsaid Dhriseach" (thorny harbour). With strong easterly winds this is also a very safe harbour.
I was born and spent the days of my youth in Tanera. It consisted of two hamlets, one on each side of the harbour. The north end was called "Ard-nan-goine" and the south end the Acarsaid or harbour. There were six families resident on Ardnangoine in those days, nine on the Acarsaid and two at Tigh a' Quay, the old fish curing station at the top end of the harbour, being seventeen families in all, but my father remembered well over twenty families being there.
Every yard of arable land was cultivated intensively and before the days of artificial fertilisers, excellent crops of potatoes, corn and barley were produced by using seaweed as manure.
So great was the demand for seaweed in those days that every crofter was allotted a small piece of coastline to enable him to cut seaweed. During the low spring tides every bit of seaweed along the coastline of Tanera and indeed all the inner group of the Summer Isles was cut and taken to the respective crofts both on Tanera and the mainland. It was an interesting sight to see the sailing boats, during the late afternoons returning, each loaded with seaweed.
I remember on one occasion , when we were short of the required amount of seaweed, going round the island in the hope of getting a vacant spot somewhere, which would enable us to get a load, but all around the back of the island there were boats side by side and our task was hopeless. We tried some of the smaller islands without result. We managed eventually to get some at Buck Island, close to Tanera, but were forced to leave owing to the rising tide and had to content ourselves with half a load.
On returning home with seaweed the boats were moored, near the crofts, until the late evening when the tide was at its highest. The boats were then pulled up level with a rock or ledge to make unloading easier. It was hard labour unloading a cargo of seaweed and carrying it above the sea's edge, where it was dumped and at a convenient time carried to the crofts. How different are matters nowadays when not the slightest notice is taken of seaweed for manuring purposes.
Tanera, or Tanera Mor, is the largest and nearest to the mainland of the Summer Isles group. There is also Tanera Beag, which shows no signs of ever having been permanently inhabited, but I am of opinion it was used for the purpose of summer grazing for cattle, accompanied by people who erected improvised dwellings or summer shielings and attended to the milking of the cattle, in order to produce a winter stock of butter and cheese. There is splendid grazing on the north side of Tanera Beag and a bay with a very good landing place, which made it very suitable for loading amd unloading cattle. It was in this way that these islands were called the Summer Isles having been occupied during the summer months for this purpose. The name Tanera is ubdoubtedly of Norse origin and believed to be very old. There is nothing known of pre norse history and no such records exist. In fact there is not a great deal recorded about Tanera before the '45. It seems a pity that more information was not transmitted to posterity, respecting this island, which no doubt has a most interesting history.
I have never been able to obtain any definition of the name Tanera, which I could accept as being perfectly accurate. The most accepted definition was "Tamh ri rath", which means sheltering from a heavy shower or storm. Perhaps before the days of barometers, or weather forecasts, when seafarers had to rely on their discernment of an impending storm, they would shelter in Tanera. It has also been called Taneray and the name is Norse as I am not aware of any word in ancient or Irish gaelic which ends with (ey) or (ay), which denotes an island. This is how we get the Norse names Vatersay; Mingulay; Raasay; Scalpay; Pabbay; Taransay and others.
Tanera was called Hararymoir by the Norsemen, which means "Island of the haven". My own fancy is that the name Tanera is a derivative of the word Tairanus, who was a Norse noble, but I have never heard that suggested by anybody else.
Donald Fraser, who lives in the village of Achiltibuie, facing Tanera, made a good deal of research, as a hobby, of celtic and Norse place names. He was commended for this work by the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh. He consulted some authority of place names, (it could have been Professor Watson, the great authority on gaelic and norse place names) regarding the name Tanera. He was informed that it was not Tanera, but Honera or Honeray. I am not sure of the correct spelling only phonetically, nor do I remember their definition of the name, but I am sure Donald would put us right on this point.
Unfortunately there is nothing on record to inform us how long Tanera was under Norse influence, but it can reasonably be assumed that it would have been from the eighth to the thirteenth century. No doubt Tanera was an island that suited them admirably, because of its excellent harbour, in fact one on each side of the island.
The Norsemen were a seafaring race and never penetrated more than a few miles inland anywhere and were not found at a height of more than 500 feet.
That Tanera is of great antiquity there can be no doubt, but little has been done in preserving its antiquity. I would refer to the burial ground from my own observation. During my young days the cemetery was open and unprotected from sheep and cattle. It was presumed that a cow's hoof slipped on one of the tomb stones, removing a covering of earth and moss. This revealed that the stone bore the inscription 1193. 1 have examined this stone more than once. This would indicate that it was a place of burial during Norse times. This cemetery was also used on occasions by people from the mainland. Within my own memory it was used occasionally by mainland people who claimed to have relatives buried there and looked upon it as their family burial ground. In olden times Tanera was considered to be more inaccesible than most places for medical students or those who worked for them. They crept surreptitiously during cover of darkness to raise the corpses for the purpose of studying anatomy.
The inhabitants of Tanera were first and foremost fishermen. In my own day crofting was only a sideline. Each crofter planted sufficient potatoes to keep his family going and enough corn and other crops to rear two or three cows to provide his household with milk. Each family had twenty or thirty sheep, grazed communally. There was a spinning wheel in every house and there was sufficient wool spun to provide most woollen garments, woven by a weaver on the mainland.
An old man told me a story of how he collected wool. During the lambing season, when ewes are heavy in lamb, wool becomes loose on their lower parts, and when they come in contact with bushes, thorns or heather, there is a tuft of wool left behind. He collected every bit of wool and placed it on the inside of his jacket. At the end of the lambing season the wool he collected in this way was washed, carded and spun. The yarn was then taken to a weaver and there would be sufficient material to justify a visit to a tailor. Out of this length of cloth he would have sufficient for a suit for himself and a skirt (in those days called the gaelic name "Drogaid") for his wife. This was a good achievement from the collection of bits of wool from heather and peat banks.
During the early centuries the West Highlands were invaded by Scandinavian pirates or sea-robbers, probably from the eighth to the eleventh century.
Meal Mor, which is over 400 feet high, is the highest part of Tanera. This was a point of vantage and there is some evidence to support it for warning the mainlanders of danger when pirates were sighted coming round Stoer Point or Rubha Re (Gairloch Point) by lighting fires to warn them to flee to the timber woods surrounding the villages for safety. The peat bogs on the top of Meall Mor is evidence that peat was cut for this purpose. There were also cairns of stone from which flares could have been used conspicuously. There were expanses of timberwood at the rear of these villages in those days and indeed there is ample evidence that parts of Tanera had been wooded. The tree stumps are still visible in "Coulle Dhorch" or dark wood on the north end of the island. This wood was like many more, destroyed by fire by a Norse princess, known as "Dubh a' Ghuis", who was out for plunder and indeed did plunder. Adverting to Meall Mor the sea robbers or Vikings could be sighted at long range. They came round Cape Wrath, a further 20 miles to Stoer Point, another 26 miles if they chose that route to Gairloch Point, or if making direct for the Summer Isles they would come round Coigach Point and every move could be spotted from Meall Mor.
There are three small fresh water lochs on the Ardnangoine end of Tanera. A stream runs from each into the sea at Acarsaid Driseach. Between the largest loch and the sea there are ruins of an old "Shebeen" or illicit still. The water was considered to be ideal for the blending of whisky. There was a good sale for this illicit spirit from the fishing fleet. However Customs Officers began to make their presense felt. The "still" was camoflaged with turf and heather, but they called at the house where the "distiller" lived and asked him if they could each have a glass of whisky. On being wide awake as to who they were he said "yes, certainly " and served the gentlemen. On being asked what the charge was, he replied "Nothing at all, I never charge for whisky. I only keep a little for visitors and friends." Needless to say there was nothing they could do by way of prosecution. I still remember an old man, who lived at Ardnangoine telling me a story. He was an old man when I was a boy. His father was the man who owned the "Shebeen" and when the visits of customs officers became too frequent and he discovered he would be caught sooner or later, he dumped the distilling equipment into one of the lochs. This consisted of copper urns, spiral pipes (worms) and other implements. There is no doubt they are still embedded in the loch as I have never heard of any attempt at salvaging them.
It was the heavy fishing of the eighteenth century at Tigh a' Quay, which was then a curing station.
An old woman at Polbain, who lived to be 103 years, told me that her family came from Harris to Tanera to work for the proprietor at Tigh a' Quay. When she was old enough to work she obtained employment with the man who owned Polbain. She called him the Officer McLeod. Whether he was an Army or Naval Officer I don't know. She said the only other person living in Polbain at that time was a keeper or overseer employed by the Officer McLeod. I wish I had committed to memory more of the stories she told me about Tanera. She has a grand daughter, a Mrs. Sarah McLean, an intelligent woman, still living at Polbain and I feel sure she would recall some of her grandmother's stories.
My own grandfather and his brother came to live on Tanera by eviction. Ruthless evictions were rife all over the Scottish Highlands during the eighteens. He and his family had a shop and an inn an Isle Ristol, a few miles north of Tanera. This island is tidal and it is possible to walk across to the mainland at low tide. My grandfather had a thriving trade owing to the heavy fishing and sea traffic. This was too much for the proprietor and consequently my grandfather and his brother were evicted. They had nowhere to go, but eventually landed on Tanera and each erected a thatched cottage.They remained on Tanera for the rest of their lives.
My grandfather said fish was so plentiful in those days that all he had to do was to spend an evening hour on practically any rock of Tanera and return with a basketful of fish. That was prior to the days of trawlers and seine-netters. Indeed I would add that during the heavy fishings of 1909-10-11-12, herring were so plentiful that as boys we used to catch them in pools when the tide was low. During the years mentioned every inch from Tanera to Horse Island and all the visible area was so crowded with fishing boats, that on looking out at nights, their lights seemed like Blackpool. It was great fun for us as boys watching these boats, with the charm of sail, leaving Tanera for the fishing grounds and taking a note of their numbers in nautical almanacs and find out where the port of registration and owners were. It was just like what London boys do nowadays at King's Cross and Euston Station taking a note of the train numbers.
During these years there were several curing ships in Tanera harbour. They were from Russia, Holland and the Mediterranean ports, nowadays called Klondykers who came to purchase large quantities of herring for curing. They used to recruit all the male and female labour available for packing herring. As boys we used to do everything possible to get on board these ships. They used to treat us to small luxuries such as sweets and biscuits and in return it was a pleasure to dig a basketful of potatoes for them. We used to be amused watching the Russians slitting up salted herrings into small chunks, eating them raw with ship's biscuit and a colourless liquid which I now believe to have been vodka.
Another attraction was a sailing ship, in fact two (floating shops) which made monthly visits from the Orkney Islands. Each ship was sub-divided into three compartments, one for groceries, one for drapery and another for sweets and toys. We used to gather winkles, for which they would give us a few shillings, or barter them for sweets, biscuits and chocolates. The ships were anchored in the harbour and in response to a signal they would come with a dinghy and collect the customers. When the shopping was finished they would ferry us back.
In those days two boats from each end of the island, loaded with people, went every Sunday to church on the mainland. On stormy days when a crossing was not possible, services were held in the schoolhouse on the island. The religion was Protestant - reformed faith - and there was an outstandingly able lay-preacher, who I believe, had he received the advantage of an advanced education, would have been one of the outstanding theologians of his day and generation. Very often the schoolhouse used to be packed with people who came ashore from the fishing boats in the harbour, to worship with us.
This Church-going habit had a good moral influence on the people and I can only say that I just caught the tail end of a very fine race. They were strictly honest and a kindly law-abiding people. I have never known even a petty theft to have been committed. It never entered anybody's mind to lock a door, but the same thing could happen in London. There would be no need to lock a door if everybody were honest.
I often wonder what the religion would have been on Tanera, in pre-reformation times, whether it would have been on Catholic or mere paganism. Perhaps it shared the fate of North Uist, in the outer Hebrides. In the days when Roman Catholicism swept across from the continent of Europe, it penetrated the West Highlands and Hebrides, However a new proprietor, a perfervid Protestant, came to North Uist. He was a man of very powerful physique. It was his custom to walk about with a big yellow walking stick and with this weapon he bullied all his tenants into protestantism and ever afterwards it was called "The creed of the yellow stick."
There is a good schoolhouse on the Ardnangoine end of Tanera and not long before my own time there were 33 schollars. There is a dwelling-house (teacher's accommodation) attached to the schoolhouse.
I recall meeting an old man - Donald MacRae - many years ago, He lived at Strathpeffer and was a building contractor. It was he who had the contract of the interior carpenter work at the school. He remarked what a hard job it was carrying building material from the shore up the steep hill to the schoolhouse site. This was done in the only way it could have been done by carrying slates in creels on people's backs, while wood and pipes were carried on handbarrows.
Those were the days of cheap labour. There is a slated cottage on the Ardnangoine end of Tanera, substantially built and still standing, which cost only 20 pounds to build and there is another one, now roofless, beside it which cost only 14 pounds.
Before the days of heavy taxation, when many of the nobility owned yachts, Tanera used to be a popular place for these luxury boats to anchor and perhaps wait for a week, both steam and sailing yachts.
I remember, on one occasion, a beautiful steam yacht came steaming up the channel between the island and the mainland. It anchored in the harbour. I met a lady, accompanied by a pomeranian dog, who came ashore from the yacht, walking along at Ardnangoine. It was a beautiful day in July. The sun was shining brightly and the air was sweet from the sea. The potato fields were in full bloom, corn and clover delightfully green and the place looked at its best. The lady asked me some questions about the island and remarked how beautiful it was. I ascertained afterwards that the lady was the Duchess of Bedford and owner of the yacht.
I remember about 40 years ago reading questions in a London newspaper, which had been set at an examination. One of the questions was, "Where is Tanera Island?" I do not consider it was a fair question. My own fancy is that it would have been a master or an examiner, who had been cruising in a small yacht single-handed, as many of them did and probably anchored at Tanera. The place likely appealed to him and he thought of setting that question.
Tanera is a paradise for picnicers. I visited the island about three years ago, on a beautiful day in early September. I was having a walk around my old haunts at Tigh a' Quay, when two motor launches, packed with people, arrived from Ullapool and berthed at the stone pier where the visitors embarked. The 'squeak' went round, probably by a member of the crew who recognised me, that I was born and bred on the island. On hearing this the visitors were clamouring around me amd bombarded me with questions about the island. I met some from Brighton, Tunbridge Wells and other parts of the south of England. As they were like myself, on holiday, I tried to make things as interesting for them as possible. They said they never realised there was such a beauty spot in the British Isles and remarked "Why go to the continent of Europe, or the Channel or Scilly Isles, when there is such a place as this?" The crowd then dispersed and walked up Gnoc Glas, as far as Ardnangoine.
As a boat was calling for me at Mol Ban, opposite Polbain, I followed in the same direction. It was a beautiful day with bright sunshine and not a ripple on the sea. As I walked up to Cnock Glas, with thoughts of old times crowding upon me and the heather purpling beautifully, I thoroughly enjoyed the walk. I overtook some of the visitors, in two and three's basking in the sun. I chatted with an American couple and one of them said, "I guess this is the most beautiful place on earth."
I had a peep over the top of the old quarry, now hardly recognisable as a quarry, as long grass has grown all over it. I remembered the day when I kept an otter under observation at the bottom of the quarry. It landed with a big salmon in its mouth. The salmon was full of vigour and kept slashing at the otter's head with its tail, but the otter held on to it and soon settled down to a sumptuous meal of the rich lower part and the offal, leaving the remainder on a ledge.
When I arrived at Ardnangoune, more visitors were sitting along the green fields which used to be under cultivation. I spoke to a Dutch couple who expressed the greatest admiration for the island.
I would recommend to anybody who would want a pleasurable walk to go along to Mol Mor, about half a mile from Tigh a' Quay, at the back of the island, then bear right to the headland at Mol Dubh and lie receptive above the cliffs. I cannot imagine anything better for anybody suffering from any form of a nervous disease, or who would want to be "away from it all", away from noise, bustle or air pollution. To watch the waves dashing against the rocks, the seabirds and perhaps a few seals, has a tonic value. From there one would be within full view of the whole of the Summer Isles group and the Hebrides if visibility was good.
I must say something about the social life of the island. It was the custom to visit one another's houses, in groups of about half-a-dozen. This was called "ceilidh", a practice which has more or less disappeared nowadays. There was a saying (translating it from Gaelic) "the ceileidh finished with the disappearance of the sooty caber." That meant that in the old type of houses much smoke escaped from the chimneys and created soot on the beams of the roof (cabers). When more modern houses were built the "ceilidh" was much less practised.
At these "ceilidhs" people played draughts, dominoes or play musical instruments and tell stories of various experiences and topics of all kinds. Some people would regard this as a waste of time, but I disagree entirely. It had an educative medium. There one would listen to accomplished folklorists and seafarers who travelled the seven seas, relating their experiences and visits to foreign countries. Quite frequently some of the crews of the fishing boats anchored in the harbour would come ashore and join in at the ceilidh. Fishing news and experiences in storms would be exchanged. Seldom was there a night without some reference being made to fairies and ghosts. There is a cave half way along the harbour side called the Piper's cave, where the fairies were supposed to play their musical instruments. I heard an old man telling a story about his own experience near the cave in the early morning. One particular morning, however, he heard the "little folk" inside playing bagpipes and violins quite audibly and he became so scared that never again would he meet his fellow fishermen at that point.
There was the story of another man who came face to face with a ghost at a stream - I could pin point it - about one hundred yards south of the schoolhouse. Everybody didn't have the slightest doubt but it was true.
Much as has been written about it by other writers, I would make brief reference to the poltergeist at Tigh a' Quay, but I heard a somewhat different version of it from my father. The man who was pestered was George McLean, who occupied part of Tigh a' Quay. He was fishing in the Minch and called at Stornoway. He visited a man who was reputed to have power to expel evil spirits and pled with him to remove the poltergeist. He said he would do so but that he (George McLean) would have to be prepared to suffer the loss of relatives and possessions. He replied that he would like it expelled at all costs as it was driving him mad. The poltergeist was removed, but shortly afterwards George McLean lost a sealskin wallet (fashionable in those days) containing 7 pounds, a lot of money at that time. This was followed by the loss of a young son and in addition much illness in his family.
There was an old woman living in the house next to the schoolhouse, who had a fund of stories about ghosts. She was Mrs. Matheson, who was born and bred at Little Lochbroom. Her father lived at Annat Bay, opposite Tanera on the other side of the water, but he was evicted in the year 1867. She eventually married a Tanera man and she remained there for the rest of her life.
There used to be tales told about the "Mermaid" which was supposed to be seen from time to time. One of her favourite spots was at the fresh water lochs, where I heard one man state convincingly that he saw her at the lochside washing her clothes!
When the herring shoals moved away people took to lobster fishing, a profitable occupation, providing they dealt with honest buyers. However the "sharks" of Billingsgate cheated them right and left. They had such excuses as the market being bad and no demand, or the lobsters were dead. Matters improved when a man came into the harbour with a small yacht. He conversed with some of the lobster fishermen and asked them how they went on about prices. They told him their returns from Billingsgate were generally poor. He said he would like to help them and advised them to send some to the Army and Navy Stores in London. They took his advice and received excellent priced (s), but unfortunately they could only cope with a limited number of lobsters. About 1910 a Billingsgate shellfish merchant (Coverly) appointed an agent at Polbain to buy lobsters at 1 shilling each for every lobster over 8 inches. This was considered a reasonable price, until the outbreak of the first World War, when the price of lobsters went up by leaps and bounds. Coverly raised his price to 1 pound per dozen, but never higher. Some sent small consignments to the Army and Navy again and received prices as high as 3 pounds 12 shillings per dozen.
Crab fishing was never profitable owing to their heavy weight which incurred high freight charges and the same applied to winkles. Lobster fishing demanded a great deal of skill and hardiness. Lobsters were larger and more plentiful at the outer islands, such as Priest Island and Glas Leac Ghorm, a distance of about eight miles from Tanera. Many hazardous journeys were made in sailing boats to these islands. Haddock fishing was also engaged in, but not for sale.
Strange as it may seem Tanera enjoyed a much higher standard of living than their neighbours on the mainland. The reason was that Tanera was so sheltered and congenial that the fishermen would make a good day of it when nobody could dare think of venturing out from the exposed shores of the mainland.
The crofts were worked so well and the ground so fertile that they were self-supporting as far as feeding stuff for the wintering of cattle was concerned.
On one occasion a boat arrived in Tanera and was met by an old man. He enquired of them where they were from and what their errand was. They said they came from 'Foachag' (Gaelic for winkle) which was a hamlet near the Sutherlandshire border and now uninhabited. They said they ran out of feeding stuff for their cattle and hoped they may be able to get some corn or hay in Tanera. The old man replied "How extraordinary that you should come from such a small thing as a winkle".
Sheep shearing was a big annual event. There was a cave on the south side of the island, surrounded by a drystone wall. This served as an excellent sheep fank and shearing was carried out there until a more modern fank was built quite close to Tigh a' Quay.
There were never any snakes on the island or any rabbits. The people very wisely objected to rabbits as they would be destructive to the crops. Hares would never be tolerated as they were reputed of being able to transform themselves into witches! This was an ancient belief.
Another annual event was peat cutting. In the days when there was enough man-power they used to employ what was called peat-cutting squads, which meant that about a dozen men would cut one person's peats in one day. The following day they would cut another man's and so they went on until everybody was served. That practice was carried on well within my own memory, but when the population dwindled and not enough men to form a "squad", the practice ceased and every family cut their own.
If the squad worked a long distance away, food was carried to them in containers. They had both breakfast and mid-day meal in picnic fashion. When they worked near enough they had their meals in a house.
The peat-bogs on the harbour end were of considerable depths and could be cut in layers of several feet deep, but this type of peat was mossy and fibrous and very'light when dried up in wind and sunshine. A different type of peat was cut on Ardnangoine. This was peat of hard substance, very black and heavy and only went to the depth of one layer. This peat made splended fires when mixed with some driftwood, better and much cleaner than coal.
Another custom was herding cattle in the mornings. They were turned out about 7:30 am and were herded on the infields as the corn and hay fields were unprotected. When the sun shone directly on the top of Ben More Coigach, that indicated that the time was 9.30 am, that was before British Summer Time (10.30 BST) the milk cows were brought home and milked. They were afterwards turned out to the heather for the rest of the day. When British Summer Time was introduced early in the first world war it was very much resented, as it was thought to be an innovation from the evil one. It was years afterwards before it was accepted and never accepted by some. An old man on being asked what the time was, when he replied was questioned whether he meant the old or new time. He said "I have only an old watch, which shows only the old time and always will as far as I am concerned."
Since the first world war the population of Tanera began to dwindle. The younger generation would not put up with the way of life of a former generation. Family after family left for the mainland and Ullapool. Eventually there was only one family left on the harbour end (Grants) and owing to depopulation they removed to Ullapool. What dealt the final death blow was a drowning accident May 1920. Two men (Campbell and Matheson) were lobster fishing at Glas Leac Dubh when an unexpected wave rose from a sunken reef and swamped their boat. That was a further reduction of two able-bodied men.
It is impossible to work an island for a living without manpower and it requires a crew of four skilled fit men to man a sea-worthy boat in order to keep things going.
My father had to remove regretfully in 1931 to the mainland. His sheep were there for a few years afterwards and it was his delight to go there and attend to them for six weeks during the lambing season.
Ferrying sheep became more difficult and he was forced to sell them, when the markets were at rock bottom in this country, for a ridiculously low price.
I would mention that there are two sunken rocks or reefs parallel and visible at low tides, one about 200 yards from the mainland at Dornie and the other equidistant from Tanera. I have known steamers and fishing boats (not acquainted with that part) becoming stranded on the reef next to Tanera. My father's advice to strangers was "If only you keep a couple of inches of Horse Island in sight, you are safe.
A cargo steamer, laden with timber, became stranded there in the summer of 1909. They employed all the labour they could muster from Tanera and the mainland to unload the timber and put it into rafts, in order to get the ship refloated. When the job was finished each man received a remuneration of 37/6, which was very acceptable at that time of scarcity of money.
Years ago some man prophesied that Tanera would yet be bridged as he was of opinion the two reefs were there for that purpose. Should such a thing ever happen I don't think I would welcome it as it would spoil the exclusiveness and wildness of the place. It would be the means of opening the floodgates to every Tom, Dick and Harry.
About the beginning of this century and later, very few people visited remote Highland villages and islands, but since the advent of the motor-car, there has been an invasion of all kinds. During my early years in London I have often been asked, "Is Scotland beyond Ireland?" Nowadays the "spivs" of Hoxton and Bethnal Green are conversant with Highland geography, but one thing sure and certain is that they cannot enter Tanera unless they are taken there.
The following story may be worthy'of mention. Two strangers went up there on holiday. They met a simple-minded man and thought they would have a joke with him. On asking him some questions they said "Can you count?" "Yes I can count" he said. The next question was "How many of us are here now? He replied "One Hundred." On being asked how he arrived at that figure he replied, "Well I am one and you are two nothings." No further questions were asked.
If any people competent of making an historical survey of Tanera and feel inclined to write it for publication, I have endeavoured to set before them - conscious of my limitations in attempting it - some facts of the way of life, as I have known them, of an isolated community on Tanera. In reviewing the past, I often think people who missed it missed a lot.
It is my sincere wish that the present proprieter will in years to come - as I feel sure he will - derive much pleasure from his ownership of this island of my birth.
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Donald MacDonald-Ross, at:
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