On a higher rung than common or garden carters, were the ‘Gig' owners such as Carnaidh (41) and Coinneach Red (38), the Camerons (68) and Coinneach Obhar of 56 New Street. The ‘gigs' had springs and so avoided the teeth – jarring bumping suffered by some sore–bottomed cart travellers.
The ‘gigs' were usually hired by telegram from someone who had done well at the herring fishing or by a young couple going up to town for the pressanan prior to a wedding. They would in lordly fashion pass and wave to cart people at Tong or Coll or Gress and think lordly thoughts.
Croft work for the ordinary stay–at–home horses, was seasonal as was the case with the Orduighean. Firstly, the spring quarter to transfer the accumulated todhar from byre or ocrach to the planting and sowing areas.
If the house had a toll innearach the loading of the cart was direct by gràpa power backed by sweat and muscle, mostly men's work. As most houses of the dubh variety did not have a toll innearach the loading was by creel i.e. carried out by the normal beasts of burden, i.e. the ladies, about eight creel loads made a cart-load. Sometimes it was alleged that slyly, creels had their load tamped down to get more into the cart-load. This practice if detected was frowned upon by both horse and carter.
In the summer season it was the peats being carted home – no tractors in there days – so over the village there sounded the jingle of harness and at the moor end the jolly badinage of the ‘crew' during loading, enlivened by an unuttered curse from folk doing the steidheadh up top, when an ill bred fad of moine dhubh fell foul of defenceless knuckles.
As the time taken at horse power from dun to home and back again could be quite considerable depending on the location of the blàr monach , there was plenty of time for assassination of character by the females, in which the men took little or no part. Total result of operation Toirt Dhachaidh na Monach - a beautiful symmetrical stack destined to mock at winters of snow and ice.
Having now got through two thirds of the year's work the horses sleek and fat were harnessed for the final chore, viz. bringing home the sheaves to the iodhlann and after that the potatoes to the cùil bhuntata, where rats and mice licked their chops and marvelled at the kindliness of humans in their minding with Christian charity of the four-footed beady-eyed friends in barn and stack.
An iodhlann with some half dozen well made cruachan was a delight to the eyes of man and beast, a castle for rats and mice and of winter store for cattle and horses.
During the non-working periods, horses lived the life of Reilly, nothing to do and all day to do it in. They galloped about all over the place in squadrons or battalions. Now and again with a leader like the Great Train Robbers, they would breach the village wall, Garadh a'Bhaile , when barley and oats were there to be raided and the dread cry would go up here and there “Na h-eiche as a chorc.” There followed a helter skelter of men, women, children and dogs till peace was restored. Not a single robber horse showed any shame any more than the chief train robber in South America.
However much they transgressed in season they were always pampered beasts, at which ever house they were working inviting buckets or miodars of bran, third or Indian meal were both expected and forthcoming.
Of all the household they had a place of their own, a stàbull, while humans, cows, sheep and hens had to live cheek by jowl without privacy to lay an egg.
Oh me!! The day came when only three horses lingered on, their diminished youth and strength gone and kept from gun or knackers yard only by sentiment. I am not quite sure which was the last to go, maybe that of Dòmhnall Brus, that great lover of animals. What the late Fortaidh called ‘peetrol' had taken over and now tractors and lorries and cars rule supreme needing neither bran nor barley.
No sitrich , no ruisg , no adag , no geum ba , no calgan , no ath , no toll fhasgain , no criathar , but take heart there are still fences for rabbits to tunnel under like prisoners of war from a stalag .
Seoras Iag, The Breve
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