Sgoil Bhagh a’ Chaisteil: 2014


Fundraising tea towels for schools is big business these days. I know a number of firms that specialise in this work. When I wrote about my tea towel from Dovelands Upper Junior School on 7/6/16, I was mindful of the fact that, for some children, school may not be a time they want to remember, it may have been a time of abuse, as it was for some children at Dovelands.  However, I was also reminded by a firm specialising in school fundraising tea towels, that such comments might adversely affect their business.  As a former social worker, I would not want to undermine the bad experiences of school for some children, however few and far between they might be; but I do like seeing those tea towels and hope that things are improving in schools.

This is one of the fundraising tea towels where children do self portraits and write their own name.  For a while I looked at the title ‘Sgoil Bhagh a’ Chaisteil’ and wondered where it had come from; there was no translation.  I knew it was written in Gaelic and therefore probably came from the West Coast of Scotland; then I noticed the two circles with a silhouette of Kisimul Castle, the iconic castle that lies on a rock in the bay off Castlebay in the Isle of Barra.  62% of the population of Barra is Gaelic-speaking so it is little wonder that there was no translation.

In 2013, we spent two weeks in South Uist, often travelling the man-made link between South Uist and Eriskay.  Standing on the beach where Bonnie Prince Charlie landed, we often watched the CalMac ferry sail in from Ardmore on the Isle of Barra.  So, one day we decided to leave the car behind and take the ferry to Barra for a day trip.  It was a beautiful day; the 40 minute journey passes many uninhabited islands, the water looked so blue, almost tropical.  We watched the seabirds follow the trail of the ferry.  On arrival, we caught the bus to Castlebay, the main centre of population. The bus took us through the length of the island; a few tourists caught the bus but, in the main, locals seem to come from nowhere to catch the bus to Castlebay.  The bus stops at the airport; Barra Airport is actually an airstrip on the sand at Northbay; it is an amazing sight to watch the small planes land in front of the sea.  The timetable for planes is variable because the airport is only accessible at low tide.

Private Frazer, in ‘Dad’s Army’, described Barra as “a wild and lonely place”; while that is probably true, it is also a stunningly beautiful place.  Travelling by bus, you can see that it is an island of contrasts – white sandy beaches, banked by shell-sand and machair on the west and rocky inlets in the east.  The bus takes you by isolated cottages, small inland lochs; the highest point is Heaval, at 1200 feet and half-way up is the majestic statue of Madonna and Child.  You can see by the way the population is distributed that Barra suffered badly during the Highland Clearances in 1840s when most of the population was expelled to make way for sheep farming.  Today, the population of Barra is gradually growing, thanks to tourism.

We spent most of the day in Castlebay, the main settlement.  We walked around the shoreline and saw the former foundations of the fish factories which used to be a thriving industry; we found the Hebridean Toffee Factory, sampled their wares and bought some presents for family.  We found the local indoor market which sold both provisions and crafts; we bought some Christmas decorations and a tea towel from the local Nursey Department!  Don’t you love the drawing by Emily, which has a look of Usain Bolt’s iconic pose after he wins a race; Ewan has a look of having speed but Anna definitely has a dramatic pose.  All those drawings are so cute.  We had a toasted sandwich in the community centre.  We walked up the hill behind Castlebay to look at the views across to Kisimul Castle.  The day on Barra was certainly memorable and we both felt, as we arrived back on Eriskay, that we would like to return to Barra for a longer time.  While I use this tea towel I can hold on to those memories and wonder when we will return.

Click below to return to the Virtual Tea Towel Museum


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