Uig is the southwestern part of the Isle of Lewis. Before the Clearances it was well populated, hardly anything of the settlements is left. Mealasta’s ruins at the end of the road remain unvisited by the tourist crowd. There’s not much to be seen but a few old walls. But these walls tell a story.
A long time ago, men from Mealasta (Mealastadh) went to collect wood; they took their boat to Gairloch where they had permission to collect the valuable timber. Bad weather made their return home difficult, navigation was nearby impossible. The boat ended up on the other side of the island, in the Park peninsula of Lewis. The men were neraly frozen to death, it was bitterly cold and they were weak from the exhausting journey as they landed in the bay. The Park men saw easy prey and seized the opportunity, wood being a rare commodity in Lewis. The Park men killed the Mealasta men, one by one with a stone.
The women of Mealasta were waiting. Days, weeks, months, their husbands would not return. Finally one year had passed without the men returning as one of the young women had a dream. In that her husband appeared and explained to her what had happened with a song: Bàgh Ciarach, Killer Bay.
The words and the tune of the song remained in the young woman’s head and she sang it to the people of the Uig peninsula, where she lived. On market day, she saw a stranger in a group of people from the Park peninsula, wearing the jumper she had knitted for her missing lover. Now she new he was dead.
It is not known if justice was ever served or where the bodies of the Mealasta men were disposed of, most likely the sea.
Mealasta itself mourned but all the widows could do, was stare out towards the horizon from where their men would never return.
Local tradition has it, that this was once a nunnery. There are no medieval records that prove the existence of a female order in Mealasta , only the name: Tigh na Cailleachan Dubha is commonly translated as the ‘house of the black women’. The thought that this refers to women wearing the black habit of the nuns is conclusive, the Dominican’s wore black. But when there is no other proof than the stories told by the old, it remains a tale. So does the story of the murdered Mealasta men.
Who knows, maybe these black women were not nuns but the widows of the murdered men of Mealasta.
sources and further reading:
Donald MacDonald: Tales and Traditions of The Lews. Edinburgh, Birlinn, 2009