In the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, a belief in apparitions and spectres ( Gael."tannaisg") was almost universal in the past, and it would be a brave soul who would rubbish these ghost stories, after leaving a black house on a moonless night to make his or her way home. Many of the stories told around the peat fire in that ceilidh house would send shivers up and down your spine. Rigid with fear, it was better to feign belief in ghosts till you reached home. A few people have always been endowed with the ability to see or hear these spirits , and of them, some failed to understand the torment of these tortured souls. It might take a hundred years or more , for another person to finally lay the spirit to rest. In Lewis there were people who were gifted( some might say cursed) in their ability to "see into the future". We call such a person a "seer", while in Gaelic he was known as "fear fiosaiche", literally "one who knows". The most celebrated Highland seer was reputedly born long ago in Baile na Cille, in the parish of Uig in Lewis. His name was Kenneth Mackenzie,"Coinneach Odhar" or "Coinneach Fiosaiche" ("odhar" - sallow complexion). I have known some people from our own district who, by repute, possessed this "gift".
There is another gift, and very rare it is, which is bestowed on some people. This is the ability to talk to animals, and to put themselves out there, to listen to them with the same patience and understanding which we proffer to our fellow man. From the days of St.Francis of Assisi, we harbour a deep desire to believe that animals can speak, and that there are people who can understand what the animals are saying, and so respond in kind. You can, if you like, call this anthropomorphism, where we attribute to animals the personality and feelings of mankind. But in truth, there are a rare few who can speak to the animals, people who can respond to a dog's bark, understand the insistent mews of a cat, or appreciate the whinny of the old grey mare.
As a young boy in Dalmore, a beautiful village on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, I was privileged to know one such "Dr.Dolittle", for the want of a better title. "Iain Shoudie", my uncle, John Maclennan was that man , truly gifted in the art of animal talk. His brother, Murdo ("Murchadh") had this power, but to a lesser extent. They lived at No.4 Dalmore, a "taigh dubh" (traditional thatched house) located high above the road, nestling under the "beinn" (hill). These two brothers were my father's older siblings, unhurried, unmarried and as happy as the day was long - no hurry, no worry. In harmony with each other (well,most of the time), they were at one with nature and in commune with their animals. As time goes by, we will be privy to the conversations and thoughts of So-Sally, Rupie, Stowlia and Kenny Iceland, just a few of the animals who shared "Taigh Shoudie" with the "boys".
Stay with us to hear what these animals and their friends had to share with Iain and Murdo. You might not believe it, but it is all true ('An 'Houdie told me so).