NEWS FROM PENNYGOWN
ST. FENNICH’S KEY
What an exciting find! It took us a little time to determine how it
came to be unearthed in what appeared to be a drain that eventually fed into
Asart’s Run. It didn’t appear to be of
importance at first, but the clump of rusted metal was extraordinarily
important. For upon close inspection, it
at one time had been a ring of keys, ancient keys. Made of stout steel, although
rusted into an
amorphous ball, each member of the agglomeration must have unlocked something
substantial. My mind raced and I began
to picture an old warship. My
imagination brought up an image of an old ocean-going ship having a locked
hold, possibly concealing gold brought back from the new world. Perhaps the
ship sunk in the waters of
Pennygown’s rough coast and a surviving lifeboat may have attempted Artur’s Run
to its source near the old monastery. It
could have carried the items we were finding.
Artair was with me that morning
when we came
across “the find”. Artair makes a habit
of exploring the waterways around Pennygown with the hope that something of
value can be found. On this occasion I
had joined him on a casual inspection of the drainage into the river from the
old monastery. I described to him what I
imagined, but he insisted, “No, no, no.
These are keys to huge doors to the inner chambers of a great castle.”
Artair held onto the keys and
it might be fun later that evening to stir the curiosity of the lads at the Fox
and Hen with these mysterious keys. Much
later, as promised, Artair and the keys appeared at the Fox and Hen, and as
expected, the keys created a lot of excitement plus a great number of
theories. Jud thought they might belong
to a pirate who frequented the waters nearby looking for vessels carrying
valuable cargo. Lachlan determined that
the king himself came to the island to visit St. Catherine’s well in order to
clear his dewwarts and an attendant carelessly dropped the keys into the river
before returning to London.
But it remained for old Calum
to state a
compelling argument that the keys washed down to the riverbanks through an
ancient culvert and drainage ditch connected to the ruined monastery close
by. Old Calum acknowledged that he knew
more about the monastery than anyone else and he had some papers and items in
his possession to prove it. “The keys
have to come from the monastery. They
would have unlocked inside doors, don’t you think?” asserted old Calum.
Seamus joined the discussion,
“Aye, you dug
up that old culvert and found those keys, I see. Calum, didn’t you find
an old chest in the
river near that drain years ago? What
became of it?”
At this point words were flying
us nowhere. In the confusion, I was
moved to intervene. I might add that I
was more piqued in my curiosity about the papers and something about an old
monastery. I declared that the next night
old Calum should appear with the artifacts and we could see if there was any
connection between keys and a monastery.
This made sense to the others and besides, they all wanted to finish
I was beside myself in anticipation
an artifact of an old monastery, but could old Calum produce the evidence? The
new day dawned and that evening I rushed
to the pub to see if old Calum was there with whatever he had. It was even better
than I had imagined. There on a table sat a small box reinforced
on all sides with steel staves. Rust had
consumed most of the staves, and water had blackened the wood, giving the box a
look of something not worth salvaging unless there were remnants of something
inside. But the best description of the box
that I could come up with was that it looked like an ancient reliquary.
And there was something of value
box. Lying at the bottom of the box,
wrapped in what must be vellum, was a key similar to the keys on the rusted
ring. But those on the ring could not be
separated. Marking this key as
distinctly different from the others was an inscription that clearly read: “Finnich
the Righteous.” We were spellbound and
speechless as we gazed upon it.
“The key belonged to our
own Saint Fennich,”
bellowed Artair, thereby breaking the spell.
“Our church is dedicated to St. Fennich and here’s proof that he was
here and he founded something. That
something was the monastery close by.”
Upon close examination, there
scraps of vellum inside the box, but they were close to being the consistency
of hardened clumps of paste. Some
readable scraps were left, fortunately.
It was my turn to speak. “I’m going to hazard the theory that old
Calum is right. There was a community of
monks and it was headed by an abbot by the name of “Fennich, the Righteous” and
that community became a monastery which still stands in ruins. Our church is
located near the site. Furthermore, the culvert you dug up, Seamus
and Calum, drained water from the monastery which in turn led to the river and
on up to the sea. Somehow a ring of keys
miraculously worked its way along the culvert to the spot close to the seashore
where you found it. On the other hand, I
believe the chest you, Calum, dug up was buried in the banks of Asart’s Run and
it worked its way to the surface.”
Here it is the autumn of the year. The harvest is in and it isn’t
Michaelmas*. I hasten to inform all that
I’ve earned my keep and participated in preparations for the kirn, otherwise known
as “harvest home.” It’ll be time to
celebrate with a huge dinner at the Morrison homestead which is the only place
where all can gather.
We all look forward to rabbit pie and rabbit
stew produced by Anna Morrison. Rabbits
are easy to come by having been rousted by the shearers as they work the
fields. There’ll be whisky and home
brews, hot and spicy, oat cakes, and any number of dishes that have oats in
them as the thickener and a wee bit of whisky added. Berries will satisfy the
craving for a sweet
pudding. Corn in every form makes the “groanin
board” groan. Ale in abundance for the
men-folk will quicken their pace on the dance floor. We’ll dance ‘til
Eimond on the pennywhistle and Ian on the
pipes will wail and squeal over the whole valley. Last year I thought I saw
the dead doing a
jig on the graves in the cemetery close by.
Wait another month and they’ll be wandering about.
You asked about the finds turned up from the
old drainage ditch and those from Asart’s Run.
A significant find was a key possibly associated with St. Fennich and
the old monastery. The harvest is
in. We had time now to examine all more
at a table at the inn we anxiously looked
forward to retrieving the items from their hiding place close to the kiln where
an effort was made to keep them dry. We
sat in the corner where we could examine the items carefully and privately.
For the longest time we stared at things,
trying to imagine the ancient times from which they’d come. In a few moments,
however, I was seized by
the thought that I must look at the wee bits of vellum stuck to the bottom of
The scraps had something printed on them,
barely discernible. Scraping the vellum
up to examine it more closely, I drew one of the fragments close to my eye, and
then held a glass up to it, straining to see.
just make out the words, “Bro. Stevn”
written in a form of Latin I hadn’t seen since my studies at St. Andrews.
Drawing the bit closer to read the fine print, I could make out the words, “pelun
provadum mir scriptus.”
encountered these words before, early in
my studies. They constituted the title
of a compilation of 15th century poems notable for their words of
inspiration to brave lads looking for a fair lass. Otherwise it was a guide
to an unknown world
later interpreted as the Isle of Mull – not far away. Could this be a
tiny portion of the original
another piece of vellum from the
bottom of the box. This one read, as
close as I could make it out, “This is the key of St. Fennich.” A
fact that we’d already surmised. A third scrap of vellum, however, noted
the remains of St. Fennich and his personal articles were secured in a safe
place in anticipation of Viking raids and their ransacking of the island. “Now
that hiding place would be worth
finding!” I said.
closer examination, a series of strange
marks on the back of the vellum scrap provided what looked like a cipher.
“Wait a minute!
Look, that’s a setting sun next to a mark of
some sort. Is the mark Sanskrit perhaps?”
examining the scrap for some time I
exclaimed, “No, it’s a Mason’s symbol!”
Then I added, “I’m going to interpret this as a clue to the hiding place
where monks spirited away and placed in hiding the remains of St. Fennich and
articles from the monastery worthy of preserving. They’d return for them
later or perhaps that
was never to be, as we know. I’ll wager that
the chest was placed in the river bed so that others might someday unlock the
place where treasure is buried, just in case they wouldn’t return. The
keys are obvious. They would have opened doors throughout the
monastery as Calum has already stated.
The prized key is St. Fennich’s own key.”
“What about the setting sun on the piece of
vellum? My wager is that the treasure is
somewhere in the West of Scotland,” added Seamus.
“Not necessarily,” chimed in Artair.
“I’ve seen that mark on the wall of the old
monastery and we’re not a furlong away from it.
The wall that’s still standing has that mark on it.”
“I have an idea. Let’s
go see,” exclaimed Calum, hobbling off
with his stout stick.
that command, we all made our way to
that dreadful ruin of an edifice that at one time was grand and glorious. The
Benedictines ran the monastery and worked
the land hereabouts. That was before
King Henry VIII chased them out. We
still tend the fields surrounding the ruins in the same way they did.
around at each other, I was prompted to ask, “Now where’d you see the mark,
Artair? What part of the monastery?” Then, without waiting for an answer, I
hypothesized, “A setting sun tells me something’s on the west wall of the
monastery. That’s actually the rear of the monastery where the Lady Chapel
stands in ruins. Only a portion remains of the outside of the chapel, but
enough to bear the mason’s mark I’m sure. What do you think we’ll find there that
hasn’t been exposed already to the light of day? I’d say we find out.”
five of us set out in our investigation. Thick patches of thistles made the
trip to the monastery somewhat treacherous. There was a path but vegetation had
grown over the path. Torturous scratches could not be avoided even as they were
cleared away with Calum’s stick.
Old Calum at one point signaled that he would need help, but there was only one
way we could figure out to get him the rest of the way. So upon my back he
clambered and I proceeded to carry him the considerable distance to the rear of
I eased old Calum to the ground and Artair, Seamus and Adamh immediately ran
over to the monastery’s west wall and started searching its ancient stone work
much of which lay in rubble.
the mason’s mark!” cried out Seamus excitedly.
replied “Now that you found the mark, let’s take it one step forward. There
would be a tomb. And it seems to me that a sarcophagus would more apt to be in
a place inside the monastery and against this back wall. Artair see if you can
climb to where the Lady Chapel may have been and poke around for a tomb,
possibly beneath the chapel floor on another level.”
was young and strong and easily climbed up and removed the rubble that at one
time had been elements of a chapel. After heaving heavy sculpted stones aside,
it was obvious that he needed help, so Seamus, Adamh and I climbed up to help.
Soon, we had moved aside the ruins of the Lady Chapel sufficient to peer down
through the floor to see if there were another level and sure enough there was.
hole then would have to be crated large enough for Seamus, Adamh, Artair, and
myself to drop down to a sub-level. Old Caleb insisted on resting outside the
monastery wall, his interest having turned to the scrap of vellum with the
cipher etched along side the symbol of the setting sun. “It must be important,”
finally breached the stone floor of the chapel and climbed on down. What we
discovered was what appeared to be a crypt and occupying this crypt was a
single tomb, “It’s the tomb of St. Fennich!” Seamus hollered out, his voice
bouncing off walls of the crypt. We were all excited beyond measure.
must have stood before the tomb for half hour realizing that no one had
probably seen this tomb for hundreds of years. The location of the tomb was
cleverly hidden beneath the Lady Chapel.
should have been content to have found the tomb, but then there was the
treasure that intrigued me. Exiting the crypt, I left Artair, Seamus and Adamh
to poke about to determine if there were other things in the crypt that could
be of interest.
we gathered outside the monastery and Adamh brought up an interesting prospect.
“I believe we should some day dignify the tomb with a stone structure, possibly
a proper monument to honor the memory of St. Fennich” We all agreed.
Calum sat with us, but by this time, he could no longer keep still regarding
the cipher on the small scrap of vellum that he held in his hand. “Find this
cipher and I believe we’ve got a clue as to where his treasures are.” he
was all we could accomplish in one day, so the next day we arose early and
despite of the poor daylight in the gloaming, we the returned to the monastery
with the goal this time of finding that cipher. Logically, we surmised, it
would be on the sarcophagus
enough there on the front of the stone slab constituting St. Fennich’s tomb,
the symbol was clearly rendered; “But what now?” Seamus blurted out.
Calem was busy studying the scroll work while the rest of us stood in total
confusion as to what we found.
you see what these fancy scrolls on the top of the tomb represent? They’re not
only artistic sculptor’s artful play but if you stare long enough at them you
can see words,” Old Calem said calmly.
drew out from my pouch a paper I use to write my journal entries. Carefully I
sketched what I could interpret of the words that had been worked into fanciful
scroll work. Eventually I could make out twelve words. They occupied all four
sides of the sarcophagus. What’s more, the words were in Latin. As closely as I
could make them out, they were: sephus,
umbnra, saxum, albus, turris, venture, amnis, collis, caelum, lepus, sangris and
a not clear quercu. Time had obscured some of the
letters. After a moment I stated, “The words bear some importance. They aren’t
holy words interestingly but names of common ordinary things, except that
there’s a curious portrayal of an Abbot’s crozier after the final word.
for now,” I announced and the four of us, thankful for relief, exited the crypt
going our separate ways home to ponder what it all meant.
night was characterized by deep sleep interrupted by dreams of the Roman
monuments that I had visited in my travels. Many had Latin inscriptions on them
and many had extended texts with messages for the commoners who might come and
contemplate the stone figures and their messages.
my dreams began to twist the words on St. Fennich’s tomb and suddenly all the
words began to render themselves in Gaelic and then into English. In my fitful
sleep, I could see that a preponderance of the Latin words had a Gaelic
translation ending in “-ic”. Awakened by this revelation, I thought that this
could not be an accident. There had to be a meaning to the words ending in
“-ic”, and the result could be a a
message. What’s more the words could explain why a crozier is pictured among
“ic” words translated into English were the following: stone, tower, cup,
oak, knoll, hare.
awake now, I worked the words around until I came up with a reasonable message,
a message that made the crozier fit into the context. And of greater
importance, I surmised that the words tell where St. Fennich’s treasures are. “They’re
in the odd tower located on a hill
just behind the monastery!” I cried out. I knew there were oak carvings in
the tower and I recalled that one carving was of a
hare holding a cup. The hare rests upon a stone slightly protruding from the
rest of the oak carvings. “It’s there!” I cried out again this time even
louder. “The holy treasure is there. That’s the purpose for the crozier.”
didn’t wait to tell the others. I ran to the tower and scurried over to the oak
carving of a hare holding a cup. It was easily within reach. Not only that, the
whole thing could just as easily be manipulated. Gripping the stone on which
the hare rested I yanked on it until it was finally free revealing a vast
cavity behind it.
this time from the monastery, the others saw me in the tower and knew that
something meaningful was happening. They too ran over to the tower just as I
was thrusting my hand in the cavity behind what was a large oak-carved shield.
make a long story short, the treasures amounted to objects St.
Fennich had hurriedly collected together and placed in this hold, a hold that
survived the ravages of time.
A large cross of gold that could have adorned an altar A jeweled crozier of enameled silver,
shaped like a shepherd’s crook such that an abbot would carry in a procession Several ancient gold coins that may
been a pilgrim’s offering (some relief from penance thereby granted) A gold ornamented cameo brooch surrounded
with pearls A sizeable emerald possibly an offering by a pilgrim Several drinking
vessels of pewter, most of which had turned to white powder Three brass cups which might have been placed upon
the altar and used during a service An impressively large silver chalice
is the feast of St. Michael, the Archangel. It is celebrated on the 29th
of September and in the northern hemisphere is considered the beginning of
in Pennygown, 1761
I visited the shoreline
recently thinking that I could find items of value coughed up by the sea. The ferocious storms of late had churned the waters
with such force that they actually change the appearance of all the beaches on the west of the island. Huge heaps of seaweed
are draped along the rocky shore in such quantities that surely they must draw the inhabitants of Pennygown to the sea in
order to harvest it and in turn it into kelp. Sure enough along the dry sun-baked land away from the shore, there were several
of the village people digging trenches and filling them with seaweed, a first stage in turning seaweed into kelp by burning
it into an ashen state.
“How do you
manage?’ I asked Clive of Will o’wold who appeared to be in an awful state.
“This is my
third year and I’m in terrible shape. All of us are developing crippling rheumatism,” he said. “We have
to take our boats out in freezing weather onto those devil waves and drag the heavy seaweed on board. Some actually wade out
into the freezing cold sea in order to drag the seaweed to the shore. Then we have to load our creels with the stuff and carry
it to these trenches. It’s awful back-breaking work in the worst weather, but we have to do it in order to get a little
money to help us survive. It takes 20 tons of seaweed to get one ton of kelp. Can you imagine 20 tons? We all work at it, but it comes at a cost. Besides making us physical wrecks, it takes time and strength
away from dunging our fields, something we must do in order to get a corn crop this year.”
“What do they
do with it?” I asked.
of value to the laird, I guess. They make soap with it and glass from what I hear. The laird makes huge profits while we get
next to nothing. He has it figured out. By raising our rents, we’re forced to work to produce kelp in order to survive.
We’re slaves I’d say.”
I watched amazed
as cold water was poured on the slag thereby cracking it and producing small chunks of kelp which then could be hauled away.
“What an industry,” I said to a farmer I recognized from the pub the night before. He didn’t have the strength
This is the time
for predicting the weather. I suppose it has to do with the land and working it as soon as possible. I always heard that a
fair February brings a boisterous March and that’s exactly what we’ve had of late—fair weather, and the
farmers aren’t happy about it. Some say a bad weather in March brings a bad fish year. Each day is observed up to this
point in the year starting in December under the assumption that they forecast what things will be like in the next 30 days.
On the positive side, Kenneth reports to have seen the tender leaves of the nettle outside Dougal’s mill. That’s
the first sign that spring is near and St. Patrick’s Day will be upon us soon. Ploughs will be out in a matter of days
The lads are playing football on Sundays almost as if to say that they aren’t going to let winter
spoil their fun. They play in the cemetery aside the ruin of St. Failan’s church. The tombstones don’t seem to
matter to them. Lads from the neighboring villages of Krionoh and St. Fennich show up sometimes. The hoots and hollers lend
a little cheer to the season.
Is there to be a
wedding in April? Catriona claims she saw Thomas and Tibbie join hands through the holed stone over at St. Christopher’s
kirk. All of us know that such an act seals a promise of marriage. Soon we should know for sure.
Lo and behold who
should I meet at the Fox and Hen but the Druid who’d taken up residence in Blind Rory’s underground cavern. He
was with Finlay the Forester who can always be counted on to talk at length about the old Pagan gods. The man I call the Druid
is actually a highly educated scholar but practices Druidism in order to restore his ability to read the “signs”,
thereby allowing him to predict events. I asked him if human sacrifice was in his “bag of tricks” He said, “No,
but clouds reveal a great deal and the glow of a banked fire speaks to me.” He claims to be able to identify people
who posses the evil-eye, or who have second sight. Without any effort he can spot a changeling and confirmed that neighbor
gaunt Fergus was one.
“Why did you
come here,” I asked him.
been traveling for years and finally arrived here on the edge of the Isles. Having arrived on this island, I found out somehow
that the cavern your curious Blind Rory uncovered in my estimation was at one time the home of a community of the wee folk.
I intend to stay in the cavern until I know for sure. If it was, I will try and lure some in the invisible kingdom to return
to the cavern. Perhaps we’ll have a new home some day for that fast disappearing race right here in Pennygown.”
Did you know that
on St. Kessoch’s day all eels are pregnant?
Onset of Winter in Pennygown, 1760
Eve or by its old name Samhain has passed and St. Martin’s day is upon us. It’s windy today as I write so it looks like we’ll
get heavy winds all winter. Rents from the tenants and other debts are due on this day. Another practice on this day is to
put on the heavy coarse woolen shirts that will keep us warm all winter.
With regard to All
Hallow’s Eve, nothing particularly upsetting occurred. This was not always the case. Old Calum remembers when the village
stayed up at the All Hallow’s Eve bonfires and not only were unusual sounds to be heard but sights as well. “It
is a fearsome time a’ year,” Bridhe reminds us. “What you hear are the sounds of our ancestors. The veil
between this world and the “otherworld” is the thinnest now. The dead, they walk among us on this day.”
The bonfires are
brightest on our own Beann Dubhmoor. All the lads of Pennygown and neighboring Krionach and St. Fennich gather everything
they can find to burn in anticipation of that last glimmer of daylight that means that Samhain has arrived. This neid fire
is then ignited in the customary way by means of friction of dry wood creating enough heat to ignite a fire. It’s then
maintained in a crafty manner by two old hands--Alastair and Jeb. A curious sight is to witness is the farmers bringing their
cows to the site in order to sain them with fire, ammonia, water, and salt. This serves to protect the cattle from evil forces
and some say that it increases fertility in the stock. Meanwhile, we all watch this and other customs such as the young people
dancing and leaping about the fire. Eventually they run off with torches with which they circle the fields and eventually
light fires in their own hearths. All of this is for good luck for some or fertility to others.
In the village old
dames burn rowan tree branches to keep the witches at bay, they assert. On a lighter note, on All Hallows Eve, young maids
pull kailstocks from their gardens and place them under their pillows. During the night, they’ll dream of their future
husbands. Lads steal eggs and crack them over a basin. Their future wives will be revealed in the pattern the egg whites take.
Old superstitions linger, I was told that the fairies hate blackberries. It’s good to keep some on hand.
outdoors must be completed. Winter is around the corner. On the mainland and close-in islands, I recall lads this time of
year asking at the alehouses if they could glimpse some of the cattle thereabouts. Drovers, they were called. They’d
pay a handsome price for the hardiest and drive them to markets in the south. Here in Pennygown, farm animals must be thinned
in number although few can keep heads of cattle. Most are slaughtered and the meat salted. There is no one in the village
that is accustomed to meat, however, thus villagers don’t eat it. In the dead of winter, some take to bleeding the cows
that they’ve kept alive and blood pudding is made from it. This sustains a number of villagers through the lean months.
But for the moment we have oatmeal, cheese, butter and still have garden stuff
Speaking of work,
threshing has been completed while we had the advantage of strong winds and moderately warm days. Most of the corn keeps better
Blind Rory recently
stopped me on my way to the alehouse (the Fox and Hen) to tell me that he was bringing someone to look at the underground
chambers he discovered. He described the person as a Druid and the only thing that came to my mind was a wizard of sorts making
pronouncements at human sacrifices. When the Druid arrived, I could see that instead of wearing a gaudy multicolored robe
and holding a wand, he was a wizened old man, stooped by advancing years and unable to walk more than a step or two. He carried
a heavy sack which must have contained all of his earthly belongings. Blind Rory told me that in the old days, they would
buy a kindling called a holy fire from a Druid. Such kindling could be used to light the neid fire on All Hallowsday
me, the Druid grabbed me by the shoulders, looked into my eyes and declared me to be trustworthy. Then he looked up into the
sky and made a note of a cloud formation. Calling out “clundeter!” he took a stick and etched a shape resembling
a shellfish on the earth before us. He then fell to the ground putting his ear atop the form he’d etched as if listening
for a sound coming up from below. Springing up onto his feet he gestured and instructed us to find the underground cavern
that Rory had found. Once there the Druid entered the cave, put down his sack, and found a place to lie down. Making himself
as comfortable as conditions would allow, he proceeded to fall asleep. Hours later, Rory and I could wait no longer for him
to emerge and returned to our homes.
That’s it. More news from Pennygown soon.
son Muirdoch and other young people returned from the shielings with the cattle, fattened by having grazed on the green grass
of the hills. I believe Muirdoch’s a head taller than when he left at Beltane. There are no pregnancies this year, but
then it might be too early to tell. Joccles’ wife Peigi greeted the youth with food she gleaned from her store of greens
that she keeps hidden somewhere. Molly made sure the lads and lasses consumed her famous bannochs ’til they like to
burst and there was a wee bit of cheese left over from Beltane to go with them. Muirdoch’s return along with the others
means that they’ll be available to help with the harvest. Plus the return of the cattle back to their summer pasturage
assures that there’ll be cows to sell off. This benefits all of us. There’ll be food on the table and provisions
over the winter this year, including potatoes lifted from beds that the farmers such as Eimod have dug. Maybe that’ll
call for another supper to be held in Anna Morrison’s big house.
Old Calum remembers
when the young lads of the village were called to the side of the Jacobites in battle and many never returned. As a result,
there were few able hands to harvest the barley and the corn. This was in addition to the disaster at sea, when two fishing
boats capsized in a storm. All Calum’s sons were lost. The village took an awful blow and many were reduced to starvation
over the winter for lack of food.
Harvest is a grueling
time, when all hands must stoop for hours to cut the oats and bind them into
is pulled up by the roots. Hay is cut even to the extent of gleaning the hay amidst the machair grasses that line the island.
Reaping is a lot of work, but at the end of it all, food and ale will be eagerly consumed by the residents of the village.
Grey-beardie, the three gallon jug of whisky will magically show up - we hope.
Fishermen, too, will share in the bounty. Who will be the first farmer who will bring in his share of the harvest? Who’ll
be the last to bring in the last sheaf of corn, for all the farmers compete and it’s a disgrace to be last. What lassie
will craft the corn dolly from the last sheaf. Annie fashioned the dolly last
year but not without a little disagreement with Mahreen, my landlady. The dolly is displayed proudly on the door of Annie’s
small but and ben.
I see that Thomas Mackenzie, the laird’s ground officer has been courting Tibbie MacDonald. The two
ride over to the Bay of Tathe and sit for hours watching the
waves dash against the shore. This in itself is not newsworthy except that Fergus, son of Seamus and Marie Morrison is also
interested in Tibbie. The concern here is that Fergus has the features of a changeling and others are put off by his looks.
The gossip I heard was that Marie was not churched promptly after the wee bairn was born, and it was snatched by fairies leaving
Fergus in its place. Yes, the people of Pennygown still believe in fairies. It’s said that the fairies make a powerful
liquor right about now from grain they feel they’re entitled to.
I must stop. I agreed
to help my host Eimod with the thatching of the roof and with the repair of some dykes. They didn’t feel it was right
to ask me to help haul away (to be used on the fields in the spring) the muck from the barnyard. Thank the good lord.
This, then, is Pennygown,
blessed by fertile soil, proximity to the sea, a moderate climate, people banded together into a village and because of changing
times, able to work their own plot of land. Villagers are still tenants but our new tacksman, Rovie MacLeod and the laird’s
ground officer, Thomas Mackenzie, the same Thomas who’s courting Tibbie, give us a lot of say over the products of our
There is as always the necessity of putting food on the table, not only for
the bairn, but the laborers who work the fields. Weeding is the backbreaking chore at present for men and the women who must
also attend to the dairy and household chores. But then, young sprouts are beginning to appear. I long for the oats that will come in soon. Still, I can scrape up enough oat meal for my breakfast. Porridge
is the only way to start the day.
These are not the desperate times our relatives faced although they could have
enjoyed a better climate. Things seem to have turned colder. Winters are harsher. Dig more peat, Jud says. This is summer,
though, and soon it’ll be harvest time and the jollity that comes with it.
I see from my window the cows grazing in the nearby pasture, so I’m assured
we can have milk and butter. The MacLeods are truly blessed. There are shell fish from the bay, and there’s the early
harvest of bere from which the wives of the village make a bread of sorts. Or they may make coarse bread of barley flour.
Fish are possible to obtain, but very occasionally. Herring, ling or cod can be gotten off the boats docked at the harbor
in exchange for some bread, milk, or whisky. This has to be done secretively. The penalty for being caught is severe. All
fish must go to markets elsewhere.
We had a visitor a fortnight ago in the person of a tinker and storyteller.
He had lots of gossip and in exchange, we supplied him with some gossip. All this took place around Shearer Morrisons’
large hearth. What we had to say was most interesting to the traveler. For example, a blush on the skin that we see in some
of the lasses may be caused by skinlark due to eating berries of the ghostflower bush according to Marie Ross. She reported
that it can be cured by rubbing the red areas with the unwashed wool of a newly shorn sheep. The traveler was appreciative
of the advice and shared with us the fact that a pox in other isles he’s been on has sickened some so beware. Never,
never eat the root of the prickly pepperplant.
I feel duty bound to reveal Blind
Rory’s latest finds. He has now uncovered some boulders that were moved at one time to create a dyke, but they obviously
had served another function. The stones could have formed a circle around an underground tomb according to Rory. Auld Bridhe
says that such plots of earth are sacred and shouldn’t be tampered with. She contends that anyone digging in sacred
ground will bring upon himself a curse. Rachel, her sister, was cursed she said and went around the village ever after swooning
and carrying a dead black rooster she said had been placed in the ground to protect her household. No longer buried, it no
longer protects. Auld Clootie and his horde of devils residing in the dark recesses of this island are on alert, claims Bridhe.
Aben MacDusey, the tacksman for the lands immediately north of Pennygown has deposited a young lad at the door of Andrew Mackenzie and his guidwife to be fostered until the lad reaches the age when
he can be educated properly. He hales from somewhere in the east, probably Edinburgh. Aben reports that the lad refuses to learn Gaelic
and is a nasty sort. The other children are bent on making sport of him. This will not set well with the laird.
I must close. I can see the fires of midsummer on the horizon.
This means that there is the flax in the garden needing my care. Working at soaking and beating the fibrous plant as a stage
in producing good linen is all I can do to compensate my kind landlords for my stay.
I even have some experience combing the fibers in preparation for spinning. All of this requires some hard work. The
MacLeods are counting on my handiwork. I’ve promised that the linen will buy them a fine cupboard for their dinner ware
some day. The one they have is terribly old.
This is the second
entry in my diary for the Pennygown we know of today. We are well into the period known as Beltane, the second of the seasonal
festivals, the other being Samhain. It is spring and the farmers are already pulling up the poor barley that comes early and
finds itself in bere bannocks and bere porridge that substitutes in the diet for oats. Oats will come along soon. The potato is what we all look forward to as farmers try to cultivate the growing of the crop here on the
For the most part,
however, people are celebrating this Beltane period with festivities that begin on the eve of the 1st of May. At
a particular moment when a great deal of light has been lost, a bonfire of immense proportions is set afire by first creating
the need fire worked into a flame usually by Cuss Calum, Farmer Jock, and some
others from Krionach Village. This flame is introduced to the considerable collection of branches and tree limbs that has
been accumulating for weeks in preparation for the event.
On this occasion
which just passed, I took part in the singing and dancing around the fire. Then hours later at daybreak, all of us who were
able climbed Beann Balamnan to watch for the first glimmer of sunlight. In days gone by, people attributed that gleam of sunlight
to the god Michael. The last burning embers of the fire were divided and the next day, cattle were driven between the divided
fires. This is a blessing of sorts to assure health and fertility to the cows.
Molly, a superb
baker, insisted on choosing the King of the May by the time-honored method of presenting unmarried lads of the village with
bannocks she bakes composed of many knobs. This year was no exception.
The knob on one
of Molly’s bannocks is by custom--black. The lads, eyes covered, made a selection. In this instance, Allan, Alastair’s
oldest son, selected the black knob and thus became the King of the May. Later, he was persuaded to leap over the fire--perhaps
to re-enact a sacrifice of the king--an ancient custom. Allan was a magnificent King as he chose Morag to be his queen. The
two reigned over the May festivities for days to come.
In the morning of
May Day, I witnessed a surprising number of young maidens emerging from their humble houses in order to wash their faces with
May dew. Following this all the youths of the village frolicked together in on the hillside, flirting unabashedly. Later there
was a greeting of the May with a parade, then dancing around the May pole, Displays of flowers adorned every door in the village.
Even the cattle were bedecked with flowers and ribbons in the parade. I noticed Bridhe standing by her door gesturing to the
paraders that they should watch for the evil that’s rife during the gloaming later on. Shaking her head vigorously and
wagging her finger, the wise ones of the village knew what she was referring to.
Young maidens are
alert to the young lads that may have had their eyes on them. What all of the young people look forward to, however, is leading
the cattle up onto the sheilings where the hillsides are rich with new grass. The young people will remain up there for the
entire summer, and for them it’s a period of freedom and fun as they devote idle time to singing, playing their pipes,
whistles, and fiddles, and telling tales around the bonfire at night.
Blind Rory is still
carryin’ on about the stones at Beagmonthe bearing some inscriptions. He’s insisting that we dig up the ground
around the stones. “We’re going to have to remove them ‘cause they might be cursed,” he contends.
“Father Mack should take a look.” Father Mack has been dead for several decades, I should add. Rory may not be
able to see what we see but senses some things we should take a closer look at. He can also warn us of the visits of Ole Crooked
Grey who loves to steal into gardens and scare the wee ones. It is said that years ago he carried off Isabel McLeod who’d
fallen in love with him. She was never seen again. So they say.
After many years of wandering, observing village life elsewhere, listening to people along the way, sleeping and breaking
bread in their humble houses, and keeping careful note of their customs, I'm back here in Pennygown. Let me say that I slept
in many a farmstead, hovel and even numerous monasteries in my travels, so I have a lot to tell you.
As I traveled, I collected observations and some stories which I'm eager to tell if you'll supply the hearth and a blazing
fire. You'll also be interested in my observations regarding small things like tools and plenishings suitable for the kitchen.
Hear ye hear ye! Nails for your houses, I'm willing to give out freely. I carried them in my pack. Now I look about Pennygown,
and I'm amazed at the changes. What more could we have asked for than this sturdy land the sea has coughed up thereby restoring
what has become the new village of Pennygown?
I wish to report village news just as always. Of course, we're all older. I hear reports that Old Hamish has passed as
have Berla, Ewan MacLeod the elder and tragically his son, and even Seth the farmer and his wife Biddie have been taken. Perhaps
many more are gone as I will no doubt find out. In kirktown Krionach where many had moved after the great storm and many still
live, Tibbie the brewster has recently passed. Perhaps she should have been warned not to drink her own ale. Forgive me for
such a cruel thing to say. Regarding deaths, I don't know the state of the fishing village of Lollach yet.
Of note as I talk to the folk of Pennygown, tacksman Rovie MacLeod is strictly enforcing an order by the laird that all
farms must be mucked and fenced (with dykes) in ways that the new agriculture board has set forth. As far as I can tell, this
order is in force for the old farmers and the new. Alexander MacKenzie has passed so his heirs now make these demands on the
tenants and Rovie has no choice but to make sure they're followed. At no time in my memory has so much order been evident
in how we maintain our fields. I understand no new tacks will be available in Pennygown or Krionach. Incidentally, I see that
the land is being worked and even the poorest tenants are plowing the arable land with their foot plows. Not eagerly will
I describe plows being used elsewhere that make their foot plows so terribly primitive. To the west, oxen are pulling the
plow and parting the earth in neat tidy run rigs. This will come to Pennygown some day.
The first person I was to come upon when I returned to the village was blind Rory. He told me that where he was sitting
he could feel the tender leaves of nettles growing between the rocks at his side. He said this means that this small plot
of ground had been altered by humans, and it might be the remains of the church that had stood in Pennygown many years ago.
I will find this out as soon as I am able. By the way, Rory has an uncanny sense of things that are below the ground.
I must go now. I am staying with Sibeal, Ewan's widow. In return I agreed to rework her garden by planting some kail. She
also wants me to plant flax seed. "Will you be willing to supervise the cottars working Ewan's field," she asked me earlier
in the day. I will think about this. Thankfully, Sibeal will still take care of the dairy chores.
So scribes Seamus the Seannachie