"Two cats are to marry in the village of Shawbost". This was the headline in the Stornoway Gazette, and if Donnie Large had not written the article, people would have taken this as some sort of April Fool, even in mid July. "Could this be true," people asked, " and if it is, God help us all. Can you imagine what the Daily Express will make of this ?" " Well," said Catriona Bheag, "the Express features the adventures of a walking, talking bear called Rupert, who wears a 'guernsey dearg agus briogais buidhe', and yet everyone I know thinks nothing of it. Two of his friends are Bill Badger and Edward Trunk; so if you can believe in a bear, who lives in a cottage with his mother and father, and travels to fantastic places around the world with a badger and an elephant, then why are you so surprised at two young Lewis cats getting married ?" Everyone agreed loudly with Catriona, ( they usually did) and wished the couple a happy life together.
Of course, every cat ( dog and bird too) on the West Side knew of the forthcoming wedding between Eilidh (Helen) and Uisdean (Hugh), two of the nicest cats one could ever know. Many of them had attended the "reitich" (betrothal) the previous year in Shawbost, and that was a night to remember. " O, A' Bhalaich", said Donnachadh Bronach, " Poor Uisdean will need all of his nine lives from now on." With the withering look on Catriona Bheag's face, Duncan was quick to point out that it was joke ( "A joke, Kate, a joke, for goodness sake !") Kate smiled. "You seemed to have forgotten, Duncan, that Helen too has nine lives, and, I'd wager, a few more more besides." Those from the mainland might have been surprised that the Leodhaisaich and the Lewis born animals were so good "aig A' bheurla" (at speaking English). People in Shawbost were nowadays very much at ease with English. The bilingual programme had been a great success in this district. A facility with English, and particularly as it related to the finer points of bureaucracy, was well established, and thoroughly rehearsed in the popular evening classes. Photocopies of blank forms relating to grants and subsidies were issued repeatedly, and the class required to fill in the appropriate answers in English, until all were word perfect. Carloway had mastered the nicities of "the English", a long time ago,
The day of the wedding had arrived, and the "Dalmore Crew", all of whom had been invited, were getting themselves washed and spruced up, over at Taigh Glass, with Dolly and Shonnie in attendance. Washing, drying, brushing and combing were the order of the day. Victoria, our recently crowned beauty queen, was carefully brushed and her "fur coat" sprinkled with Lily of the Valley talcum powder. A little pink bow was attached on top of her head, between her ears. She looked a picture ! The three lady dogs were thoroughly washed down at the Allt. After a good shake, and a dry-out in the wind and sun, Stowlia, Fancy and Jura went up to the house, where Dolly gently brushed their coats. There was a sheen on Soho's beautifully black coat, like a panther in miniature. Guinness and Rupie were attended to, and were now eager to make their way to Shawbost. Down from the hills came Kenny Iceland and Tom Warrener, our two rabbit hunters, who normally shied away from crowds, but who now craved the company of their own kind. They had come "down from the creeks" , and were happy to make the acquaintance of some old friends. Seoras (George Macleod) had offered to transport them all to the wedding in his dinky little Austin van.
They were singing" puirt- a- beul" on the way to Shawbost. Tom Warrener was up on his hind legs doing a hornpipe, holding his front spogs high enough in the air to touch the roof of the van. What happy times this brought to mind, the times he danced on the mess table to entertain the sailors during the war. Kenny Iceland wondered what had possessed his pal, Tom. Perhaps he had descended from the hills too quickly- "the bends", so to speak. As they approached Shawbost, there were white flags to be seen, all along the sides of the road. The crowds of animals were growing apace; They were in the main cats and dogs, but there were some sheep and lambs, and a fair number of birds. Mrs Tunnag from Dalmore was quacking loudly, and presumably happily, as she waddled down the road past Loch Grinabhat, with her ducklings in tow. While Helen and Hugh's wedding did not quite have the cache' of a Burton-Taylor extravaganza, there is no doubt that it would be the largest "latha posadh" ever seen on Lewis. To say that this wedding was unique in the annals of the animal world, did not quite do justice to this marvellous event. But the national press and television companies knew that this was a story that would run, and run. The Stornoway hotels were full. Journalists like Mary Marquis, Magnus Magnusson and Ludovic Kennedy were translated to Stornoway to cover the big show in Shawbost. David Attenborough was there to interview the young feline newlyweds, from the mammalian perspective, of course. They were to be married in the Avian Free Church at Fibhig in Shawbost, because it was a huge building and because it was the only animal church in Helen's village. The Dog and Cat Church was too far away in Doune. The service was to be conducted jointly by the Reverend MacCraw of the Shawbost Free and The Right Reverend MacCollie of the Established Church in Doune.
The crow family were gathering in numbers, as were many species of sea birds. Dogs and cats of every description and from every place were heading for the Shawbost Avian Church. The wee birds like the wrens and sparrows had flown in early for front row seats. Gilleasbuig Mor, the golden eagle from Beinn Bhragair appeared, out of the blue, so to speak, with his wife and her brother, the Kaiser from Harris. O, Man- What a sight that was, as they appeared out the mist like three massive Vulcan bombers. The Dalmore group were by now very excited as they entered the church. There was a capacity congregation, and anybody who arrived now would need to take a pew outside on the "creagan"(no pun intended). The ushers at the church were a group of very cool rooks , in their shiny black attire, collectively known as the "Blues Brothers", and inside, on either side of the pulpit sat a dozen carrion crow, elders of the Shawbost Avian Free Church. You could not say that these lads were "cool". There would be no organ nor hymns, only the Psalms of David, precented by that Nightingale from Ness, Kate Mhor, sister of the bride.
Eilidh and Uisdean made a fine couple as they took their vows in front of the two reverend gentlemen, and as they walked out the church as a married couple of cats, a ripple of applause spread through the church, which actually brought a smile to the faces of the two ministers - in a Free Church, mind you !
Press and television were there in numbers, but Donnie Large was the first to interview Eilidh and Uisdean for the "Casette". They were all there, the BBC in Stornoway with Neen Mackay, BBC Scotland with Mary Marquis and Ludo Kennedy for the "Tonight" programme in London. The Sasunnaich found this story hard to swallow - Imagine! Iain Shoudie did well as interpreter for the animals, who were constantly interviewed by the media scrum. Doing his " Dolittle" job, Iain was making a "packet" of money - "torr airgead, a' bhalaich, torr airgead". He spent some of it(most, actually) with his brother, Murdo down at Doune, in the company of Fyfe Robertson and Ludovic Kennedy. Iain did enjoy this kind of attention.
The wedding dinner was al fresco (a new departure), and to accommodate the vast number of guests, multiple sittings were required, right into the night. Helen and Hugh attended each sitting, seated at either end of a long white sheet. People came forward and placed their gifts in front of Helen. Of course, the married couple did not eat at all the sittings. The food was excellent and the entertainment and dance would be remembered for a long time to come. Everything prepared for that day and everyone who attended, were testament to the love the people had for Eilidh and Uisdean
Our little friends from Dalmore arrived back home in the early hours, exhausted but elated. The electric light(the only one in the house) was still on in Taigh Shoudie, and from the music and laughter, one might think that the wedding ceilidh had shifted from Fibhig over the beinn to Dalmore.
No one could say when this ceilidh would end.
1. guernsey dearg agus briogais buidhe...... red jumper and yellow trousers
2. O, a' bhalaich ..... O, boy!
3. Donnachadh bronach ..... Duncan, sad and mournful
4. Leodhaisaich .... Lewis people
5. puirt a' beul .... mouth music, when there are no musical instuments
6. latha posadh .... wedding day
7. creagan .... hillock
8. torr airgead, a' bhalaich .... lots of money, boy
9. Sasunnaich .... English people