The creel

The Creel

The creel was once the Swiss Army knife of village life. It was an all purpose basket used for carrying everything from fish to peats, manure, stones and potatoes.

The creel had many uses as George Morrison The Breve wrote in his book 'One Man’s Lewis.

He wrote: "The creel was not so much a gadget or article of furniture as a symbol and a way of life.

"Young men newly married got a creel for the wife along with a new spade for the spring work.  If he could make it himself from native willow so much the better and he made it proportionate to the wife’s size, the bigger the creel the bigger the boast about his wife’s traction power. The most considerate bodachs always were decent enough to load the creel for the wife at manure-time and some rascals even stamped down the stuff when she wasn’t looking."

Potatoes were measured by creels, probably because you thus got a bigger number than measuring them in bags and it was a test of integrity how near the top you heaped the spuds in case your neighbour should have a higher total.

The Breve added: "Only rarely did women carry stones in the creel and to do so was the acme of hard work, hence the semi-proverb for a distasteful task – 'B’fhearr leam a bhi fo’n chliabh-chlach'."

The crown of work in the science of creeling was, however, undoubtedly peat-work.  In this branch men excelled themselves in loading.  They built with all the skill of the Egyptians who built the pyramids, each peat laid with scientific precision and the interstices filled with caorans.  Thereupon the two-legged mule backed in towards the burden and grasped the iorais.  The hard-wrought man gave an upward heave, his help-meet pulled upwards on the iorais and in no time the monstrous pile, like the leaning tower of Pisa, without the lean, was resting on her dronnag.  Out came the “stocking” or “geansaidh” for knitting on the way; the man got his pipe lit, put his hands in his pockets and maintained a comradely conversation with the wife.  Men were curiously uninterested in creels and vice-versa, but they could at least keep in step with the wife’s rhythmic swing over puddles and bruggans and stones on the winding trail home.

A good creelwoman needed no assistance to unload the peats at the end of the trail, for the dronnag rose up like a hydraulic jack and with a sideways flick of the iorais the good lady tipped the peats into a stack or cuil-mhonach without one going astray.

On the shore, as the proud wives waited for the fishermen to return, they sat each on her creel comfortably knitting.  Aye ‘twas a couch fit for a queen when upturned, especially such as were upholstered outside with a meretricious bit of sacking.