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A Family History from Gravir

A Family History from Gravir

by Christina Chisholm

My parents - Malcolm Chisholm and Johan MacPhail - were both born and brought up in Gravir at numbers 29 and 19 respectively. They didn't meet until they were both working in Edinburgh, as my father left Gravir when he was 16 and my mother was just five years old then. My mother worked for a doctor and my father was a piper stationed with the Cameron Highlanders at Edinburgh Castle.

When Dad left Gravir, he first of all served (although under age) with the Seaforth Highlanders' Militia and later transferred to the Camerons. He served in various parts of the Empire, including India and then fought in the South African War, where he was awarded Campaign Medals. One of the sets of pipes he gave my brothers was, he said, the set he had played at the Battle of Atbara, in the Sudan in 1898, when the Camerons and Seaforths combined and charged the Mahdi's dervishes in the heat of the battle. After that campaign, where he had been wounded in the chin, he was posted to Edinburgh Castle and was in popular demand for playing at concerts, etc. in the City.

My mother's employer was Dr. Keith Norman MacDonald, who had been a Surgeon in the Indian Army. He was of the MacDonalds of Ord in Sleat, Isle of Skye, and was very much involved in piping circles. His maternal grandfather was MacLeod of Gesto, Skye, famous for his collection of piobareachd and Dr. MacDonald, himself, published the Gesto Collection of pipe music. It was thus through her employer's interest in piping that my mother met my father, as dad used to be asked to the house for piping recitals.

Mum told me that Scott Skinner, the famous Aberdeenshire fiddler, was a frequent visitor to her employer's house and I have often heard the tune he composed being played by Scottish dance bands. It is called "Scott Skinner's Compliments to Dr. MacDonald". Mum said that when Skinner discovered that she came from the Islands, he used to make her sit in a corner on a chair saying to her "Sing me a Gaelic song, Johan", so perhaps some of his slow airs evolved from the Highland melodies he heard my mother sing!

When my father received a posting to Cameron Barracks, Inverness, he and my mother were married in St. Giles and then set up home in the Married Quarters at the Barracks where the older members of our family were born. After the end of the First World War, my dad retired from the Army and worked in the Railway Offices in Inverness and we moved to a house in the Town where the rest of the family were born and brought up.

There were ten of us in the family - seven boys and three girls - and I was in the middle, being the middle girl and the sixth eldest and fifth youngest. My father taught his seven sons to play the bagpipes by music and the oral method of Canntaireachd (and I can sometimes hear the echo of his voice saying "It's not "boparaha" - it's "boheelichum"). As a Pipe Major, my father had to be able to teach Highland dancing and he taught his eldest son and daughter to dance and they passed on their skills to us.

The photograph is one taken on the day before my oldest brother - the late Major Angus Chisholm - was to travel to India with the Cameron Highlanders in 1929. My parents wanted to have a family group taken before their family started to "fly the nest". My dad is wearing the uniform of the Inverness British Legion and Angus is the only one not wearing the kilt.

The photographer (Andrew Paterson who won many awards in photography) had a studio opposite Inverness Railway Station with a lane leading into it where he usually had photographs on display. A local newspaper reporter saw our group and asked permission from my parents to print it in his newspaper. I can't remember which paper it was but I remember the caption being "A Real Highland Family". Then it went on to state that every member of the family could play the pipes and perform Highland dancing. This wasn't strictly true as, although the boys could do both, we girls couldn't and didn't want to play the bagpipes, even if we loved to hear them played. My dad didn't really approve of women bagpipers, although he taught one or two in his classes.

My parents were very proud of their roots in Lewis and tried to keep up the traditions. We were all given family names. My eldest brother was called after my mother's father, my next brother was called after my father's father and my elder sister was called after my father's mother, who was one of the Torquils from Ranish. I was called after my mother's mother and her MacAskill granny who was born one of the Morrisions of the same branch as my husband (the "Moyles").

I don't think my father would subscribe to the present notion that the Gravir Chisholm's progenitor was a servant at the Manse in Keose, as he used to say that one of our Chisholms was involved in the great raid by Uisdean MacGillesbeag a' Chleric centuries before the Minister came to Keose and I, myself, in researching the registers at Register House, Edinburgh, came across entries relating to other Chisholms - one described as a "Tailer from Elgin" and another as a "Sailor from Gairloch" - so not all the Chisholms of Lewis are of the same branch. My dad maintained that we were of the Chisholms of Strathglass and he had a Pipe Banner (now in the possession of one of my nephews) which belonged to Roderick Donald Matheson Chisholm, The Chisholm of Chisholm, 28th Chief of the Clan Chisholm, who died in 1887 without issue, had some delusions of grandeur when he said he felt he was more entitled to the Chiefship than someone descended through the female line. In any case, there are now few Chisholms in Strathglass and the present Chief has no land or buildings there and farms in Suffolk.

We all agree that we had a very happy upbringing and owe a lot to our Gravir parents, who saw to it that, even as babe in arms, I had a holiday every year in Gravir where we met with a welcome and kindness wherever we went. I think our parents' generation were experts in parenting and most of their friends were equally caring and concerned about their children's welfare and seemed to have more time to listen to their children.


Title: A Family History from Gravir
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Story
Date: October 1995
Record Maintained By: CEP
Subject Id: 354