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Herring Bonanza in Loch Erisort
Herring Bonanza in Loch Erisort
An account of an unexpected catch in Loch Erisort
A rare sight these days is boats returning from fishing trips laden down with boxes of herring. Indeed, to catch herring in Loch Erisort or even the Minch is no mean feat nowadays.
But, in 1926 an extraordinary phenomenon occurred in the Parish of Lochs that would leave the waters of Loch Erisort congested with herring and the shores littered with the 'Silver Darlings'.
In many of the villages around the Loch, it was the family cats which gave the first indication of the unusual events taking place on the shore yards from the houses. In Laxay, Hector Macdonald 'Eachain an Eachain' was sitting by the fire in his father-in-laws blackhouse, reading the Bible. The children were tucked up in bed and he was waiting for his wife to return from church when he noticed the cat scampering in through the open door and diving under the bed! After this happened three times, Hector decided it was time to investigate. To his surprise, he found three live herring flicking their tails under his bed! With impatience he waited for his wife's' return so he could explore.
When he arrived at the shore, what he found was to astound him and the whole Parish. The shore was literally teeming with fish. He raced back up the croft to tell the other villagers. After midnight, the men folk got their herring-nets ready and so was to begin a spell of profitable fishing.
Meanwhile, in the neighbouring village of Balallan, 16-year-old Hector Macaulay was at his next-door neighbours house in amongst a gathering of people of all ages. Laughter flowed from the house and could be heard from the road as the old bodachs kept the youngsters captivated with their story telling. Sitting in the main room of the blackhouse, one had difficulty focusing on the person telling the yarn because of the smoke that surged from the peat fire in the centre of the room. Suddenly, and without warning one of the neighbours burst in declaring that the herring was coming ashore. Hector recalls
"All the men raced to the shore. One man, who always liked to be the leader of the gang, took control and raced ahead of us. One minute he was in front of us, and the next his legs were up in the air as he slipped on a skate, which had been forced on to land
"There had been a solid wall of herring and all the fish in the Loch were forced up onto the shore. One of the rocks in the Loch had herring piled so high on top of it that when the tide subsided, it resembled a haystack. Every morning I'd go down to the shore with a pail to collect fish for the day."
The place was inundated.
Isa Macaulay, Keose, remembers it vividly despite being a young child at the time.
"The shore was full of herring down at the Pol Gorm. They had come in with the tide. At night Loch Erisort was lit up as though streetlights had been placed on it with all the drifters side by side. The boats came from the East Coast and the buyers had come over from Stornoway. Bha a' muir a'goil le sgadan." (The water was boiling with herring).
Many debates have occurred as people try to explain the unusual events of 1926. One explanation was that a coal strike during the year precluded the drifters from getting to sea, and so gave the shoals from the Minches free passage to the lochs. Other, more spiritually minded people declared that Providence had intervened at a time when the lot of the people in this part of the Island was going through a lean patch. Whatever the reason, it occurred again 20 yearslater but not on the mammoth scale experienced in the 1920s.
See also the Stornoway Gazette report.
Kinloch Historical Society