Monday, 6 June 2011

Shawbost Games.

Carloway could boast of its prestigious Agricultural Show, and lately its Football Team had achieved some success , under the inspired management of the "Bear". He had adopted the trainer's use of the wet sponge which at that time was looked on as the cure-all for all knocks, aches and pains. Massey and Tormod Nelson were among the first players to feel the cold of the wet sponge. The Bear also had a pail of orange juice, which immediatelyl conferred legitimacy on him as trainer/manager. If truth be told, some of the stalwards of Carloway F.C. actually came from Shawbost. Shawbost was a no-nonsense sort of a place with a secondary school, a large tweed mill and its highly esteemed Free Church. You will remember that Shawbost was also the location of the Avian Free Church, which was the largest animal church in the Isle of Lewis, possibly in all the Hebrides. So Shawbost had a lot going for it, and the residents, animal or otherwise, were rightly proud of their village. The Shawbost Sheepdog Trials, held each summer, were claimed to be second only to Stornoway's in the island's rankings. In the parallel world of the animals, this was always the day when competing cats, dogs and birds foregathered at "Creag an Fheidh" which is a flat plain between the north end of Beinn Bhragair and the hill known as Cleite Rathailt. This was a day of sports and celebration, when the most talented animals demonstrated their prowess and speed, or in other ways entertained the vast throng of spectators, out there on the moor behind Shawbost. The "games" were supported with subsidies and grants, in the acquisition of which the Reverend MacCraw of the local Avian Free Church was foremost . The large animal charities like SSPCA and the RSPB were quickly off the mark in supporting the games, which in their view were unique. (I'd say so). Coinneach Rodd, the local tweed mill owner, made a substantial donation. Some say that Torcuil, his magnificent Scottish deer hound, had a say in his master's benevolence. If truth be told, the animal "stadium" at Creag an Fheidh, was well appointed, with artificial tree stumps and cinder beds provided for the animals' comfort. No special arrangements were required for the birds. For them it was "take your ease where you please". Dogs, cats and birds made their way to Shawbost from every village in Lewis, and probably beyond. The dogs and cats had staggered arrival times, insisted on by the police, and nearer their venues, they were directed down different routes. The dogs posed one extra problem : dogs might be competing at the sheep dog trials, or simply heading for the "games". As Stowlia said, chasing sheep is not every dog's "thing" - why should it be ? The local constabulary were on top of all matters relating to crowd control. All birds, competing or otherwise, simply flew in to Creag an Fheidh, no policing required. The games were formally opened by the Reverend MacCraw, who surprised everyone with an uplifting speech and a short pithy prayer. The games had begun. There were no mixed events between the three species ( Three species because, remember, that dogs who didn't chase sheep could nevertheless enter for the FAC Games, the official designation of the Shawbost games)- F(feline), A(avian) and C(canine). Mr MacCraw thought they stood a better chance of a subsidy or grant if they adopted the impressive acronym, FAC. The running events mainly involved the dogs and cats, and it has to be said that the home grown "coin is cait" took the main honours. Big Torcuil, the Scottish deer hound, swept the boards at the canine cross-country and the Shorter Marathon ( from Creag an Fheidh to the nearest point of Loch Raoinabhat, and back). In the feline running events, there was an obvious correlation between youth, low body weight, and success. For some unfathomable reason, black cats predominated.The vast majority of animal competitors were lean and extremely fit, but one very large tabby cat from Bragair, I think, was referred to as 'obese', but no one understood this word, coming as it did from a teacher from the Nicolson, who was wont to using long or abstruse words. abstruse 'Obese' indeed !
The policing inside the stadium was not done by the local constabulary, but was handled by a team of around fifty members of the crow family. They were impressive, dressed as they were in black cotton blousons, orange berets and all wearing dark glasses in case the sun came out. They called themselves The West Side Crew. To our Dalmore "team", The West Side Crew could only be described as "annasach", an unusual concept in policing, whose members bore the word SECURITY on the back of their jackets. So-Sally and Rupie were fascinated with the crew, their demeanour and their language. They were doing an excellent job inside and outside the stadium. So-Sally recognised their" main man", who was constantly consulted by the other crows, and from whom all orders came. Whispering to Rupie from behind her spogs, she identified him as the crow they met on the road to Shawbost, when they attended the "reitich" of Eilidh (Helen) and Uisdean(Hugh) some time ago. He was the tall shiny crow who appeared from behind a "cruach", wearing a multi-segmented leather cap and a scarf of many colours. He spoke in a strange way, addressing them as "beeches" and asking them "what was going down". Well, here he was now, confidently in charge of fifty odd security crows, all of whom spoke the same patois as their boss, whom they always addressed as Daddyo. " I'm so happy for the lad. Something bad happened to him out in Glasgow, but now he seems fine", said Rupie. "Mo bheannachd air", added Soho. The big birds were now competing in the favourite event "Tossing the Haddock over the Bar" in which the last three surviving contestants were a golden eagle from Uig, a buzzard from Lochs and a giant gull from Five Penny, Ness. The contest was suddenly stopped when the Ness gull was eliminated for eating the haddock, after what was probably the winning throw - probably the excitement, they said. There were many heats before the feline sprint finals took place. Against expectations, Aonghais Ruadh's big ginger tom from Dalbeg tore through the field to lift two gold medals (gold foil, actually). The dogs taking part in the "maide leisg"were very competitive, even aggressive. Their spogs were often wrongly placed to gain an advantage over their opponent, but this was picked up by the referee, Tormod Laidir, who was a past champion in this ancient sport. Our friends from Dalmore were enjoying themselves immensely, and endeavoured to remain close to, and within earshot of the crows from The West Side Crew. The were bamboozled, yet fascinated by their strange talk. Daddyo asked Rupie, straight out, if she was a "square or a cool cat". How does a wee cat from Dalmore answer that ? Another Crew member was saying that Loch Raoinabhat would soon be where the action was at. " It's gonna be a blast over there, really far out." " It's going to be the coolest happening, man - let's split the scene here," said Daddyo, with the hint of a Lewis accent. Stowlia was puzzled, and asked So-Sally what these crows were talking about. Soho threw her spogs in the air, before replying, "A' ghraidh, Chan eil cail a dh'fhios agam." It transpired that the closing events of the games were about to take place over on Loch Raoinabhat. The vast crowds standing on the banks of the loch, were amazed at what they saw. Out on the loch were mallard ducks and Canada geese giving an amazing display of synchronised paddling. They would weave in and out of each other, and simultaneously would plunge their necks into the waters, leaving their rear-ends high in the air. shaking in unison. The final event involved a spectacular display of aerial manoeuvres from the birds of prey. Finally, everyone could see, rising above Dalbeg and coming in over the west end of the loch, a formation of eagles, buzzards and falcons, coming towards them at speed and just above the waves. In pole position, and slightly ahead of the others, was Gillesbuig, our local eagle from Beinn Bhragair. They didn't have this at the Carloway Show - did they ?
By the way, Tiger Navarre's dog Toss won the Sheep Dog Trials.

Glossary : Creag an Fheidh - Deer rock Coin is cait - dogs and cats
Coinneach Rodd - Kenneth Roderick( ? ) Macleod
Mo bheannachd air - Blessings on him
Maide leisg - "the lazy stick"
Tormod Laidir - Norman the Strong.
Chan eil cail a dh'fios agam - I haven't the faintest idea.