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The Highland Ceilidh
By Alastair Og

This is taken from the Celtic Magazine volumes 1 - 4. The following will serve as an introduction and then we'll make available 3 pdf files where you can read the rest of this story.  We might note that part of this story is only in the Gaelic language but some such also have English translations.

WE are in a west coast village or township, cut off from all communication with the outer world, without Steamers, Railways, or even Roads. We grow our own corn, and produce our beef, our mutton, our butter, our cheese, and our wool. We do our own carding, our spining, and our weaving. We marry and are taken in marriage by, and among, our own kith and kin. In short, we are almost entirely independent of the more civilized and more favoured south. The few articles we do not produce tobacco and tea, our local merchant, the only one in a district about forty square miles in extent, carries on his back, once a month or so, from the Capital of the Highlands. We occasionally indulge in a little whisky at Christmas and the New Year, at our weddings and our balls. We make it too, and we make it well. The Salmon Fishery Acts are, as yet, not strictly enforced, and we can occasionally shoot sometimes even in our gardens and carry home, without fear of serious molestation, the monarch of the forest. We are not overworked. We live plainly but well, on fresh fish, potatoes and herring, porridge and milk, beef and mutton, eggs, butter, and cheese. Modern pickles and spices are as unknown as they are unnecessary. True, our houses are built not according to the most modern principles of architecture. They are, in most cases, built of undressed stone and moss (coinneach), thatched with turf or divots, generally covered over with straw or ferns held on by a covering of old herring nets, straw, and rope, or siaman.

The houses are usually divided into three apartments one door in the byre end leading to the whole. Immediately we enter we find ourselves among the cattle. A stone wall, or sometimes a partition of clay and straw separates the byre from the kitchen. Another partition, usually of a more elegant description, separates the latter from the Culaist or sleeping apartment. In the centre of the kitchen a pavement of three or four feet in diameter is laid, slightly raised towards the middle, on which is placed the peat fire. The smoke, by a kind of instinct peculiar to peat smoke, finds its way to a hole in the roof called the falas, and makes its escape. The fire in the centre of the room was almost a necessity of the good old Ceilidh days. When the people congregated in the evening, the circle could be extended to the full capacity of the room, and occasionally it became necessary to have a circle within a circle. A few extra peats on the fire would, at any time, by the additional heat produced, cause an extension of the circle, and at the same time send its warming influences to the utmost recesses of the apartment. The circle became extended by merely pushing back the seats, and this arrangement became absolutely necessary in the houses which were most celebrated as the great Ceilidh centres of the district.

The Ceilidh rendezvous is the house in which all the Folk-lore of the country, all the old sgeulaclulan or stories, the ancient poetry known to the bards or Seanachaidfiean, and old riddles and proverbs are recited from night to night by old and young. All who took an interest in such questions congregated in the evening in these centres of song and story. They were also great centres of local industry. Net-making the staple occupation, at which the younger members of the circle had to take a spell in turn. Five or six nets were attached in different corners of the apartment to a chair, a bedstead or post set up for the purpose, and an equal number of young gossippers nimbly plied their fingers at the rate of a pound of yarn a day. Thus, a large number of nets were turned out during the winter months, the proceeds of which, when the nets were not made for the members of the household, went to pay for tobacco and other luxuries for the older and most necessitous members of the circle.

With these preliminary remarks we shall now introduce the readers of the Celtic Magazine to the most famous Ceilidh house in the district, and ask them to follow us from month to month while we introduce the principal members of the celebrated circle.

Chapter 1  |  Chapter 2  |  Chapter 3

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