Carters and horses

Carters and Their Horses

Way back in my boyhood, in the years just before and after the first World War, I estimate that, give or take a hoof or two, there would be a legion of about forty horses in Tolsta, all colours, all sizes, some active, some lazy, some gentle, some bad tempered; the latter two characteristics shared by their owners.

Most were owned by the croft owners, i.e. the men who held the NUMBER. If he gifted for use by a younger brother, or other deserving relatives, part of the croft, he naturally kept the larger part to himself and this enabled him to keep a horse, which needed extra pasturage and hay to keep him in working trim. The relative would have to be content with keeping a cow and not aspire to the prestige of a horse.

There were many more croft numbers than there were horses, for firstly, some number holders could not be bothered to keep one and some crofts e.g. the moine were a bit short of roads or some like New Street, with the crofts on both sides and sloping gently downhill, had to rely on the creel power of the women folk to get the tothair ‘scrìobwards'.

Some other ‘number' holders, ex fishermen, skippers of note, probably thought it beneath their dignity to steer a horse with us faladair to hand.

My grandfather fell into both categories, an ex-fisherman of note with a ‘near-the-house' croft, Macleòid of No.6 would probably have hoisted a sail, one for the cart and one for the horse so rested on his mariner's dignity and refrained. So did Sgodaidh Maclennan of New Street and Aonghais 'An Bhàin of No 35 and Frank Campbell of 62 New Street.

Those who did have horses may have divided into two classes, those who kept one mainly for croft work, and secondly, those who trekked as carriers to and from Stornoway bringing necessary stuff, meal, barrels or half barrels of herring and right down to tacks for boots or bottles of castor oil. The village could not have done without them.

On the latter class were:
Donald Mackay (the Oladh ), whose name is on the birth certificate of Annabella Lordaidh ; for the carriers did all sorts of jobs in Stornoway for folks who were not keen to travel all the way to town and back if the carrier could do it.
Alex Maciver (the Gliogan ) of No.15 trekked all the way for Bean Mhastair of No.72 because Master himself was first away in the war and secondly not in good health.

I think Iain Ruairidh was carter to Dòmhnall Aonghais Saighdeir , who had his shop near the school and needed to be on the spot for business.

John Murray (Searagain) of No. 30 was, one would think, capable of going round the world sitting at the back of his horse and cart, up and down to Stornoway umpteen times a week.

After the Iolaire and demob Donald Murray (37) tried his hand at the Tolsta–Stornoway trade, but was never really at home away from the sea so, as soon as possible, he made a Comrade of a fishing boat instead of a horse – not that he got rid of the horse until the latter had worn out all the pages in his pension book.

Further north there were two stalwarts, one of whom, my uncle Donald Morrison Daol of No.46, would on my own biased opinion take the gold medal for the Tolsta–Stornoway run. One strange thing about him was that he travelled in a rainless vacuum for, however hard it was pelting down in Tolsta, he always maintained that there had not been a drop from Ceann-a-Bhàigh to Blàr na Fala.

At No.43 was Shonsaidh who was to horse and cart what his brother Iomhar (Fortaidh ) was to a bus. Had there been eight days in the week and no Sabbath, Shonshaidh would be up and away at the crack of dawn everyday. He was good tempered and seemed to think what the horse was thinking, like Lester Piggott.

Other horse owners sometimes went to town on some special business of their own, but the carriers battled through all weather, though the Sneachda Mòr of spring 1919 (I think) had them stuck for a while.