Past & Present
Beside the old Manish Primary School school, which is now a private residence, a branch road leads to the left towards Ardslave. Only four houses down here, but well worth a visit for a view of the narrow inlet from the sea which leads into the landlocked bay at Manish.
Manish (Photo: James Smith)
Continuing along the main road and reaching near its highest point is the best view-point in the whole of the Bays area. In good visibility you can see the Scottish mainland mountains from Sutherland and Wester Ross, the Isle of Skye and the Cuillins, and right down through the Outer Hebrides to South Uist and Barra. At all times there are some very large ships and smaller fishing boats to be seen in this narrowest part of the Minch. Looking inland the whole of the spinal ridge of South Harris from Udramul all the way to Roineaval is clearly seen, and where there are interesting hill walks for the more active. Immediately below is the township of Manish nestled around the bay where many ruins of former homes are evident. To the left with its rusty corrugated iron roof is the old Post Office where at one time there was the only telephone in the area. Just a few yards upstream from here going in the direction of the school is the remains of Mairi Liath’s shebeen. Airidh Chreagan must have been a very popular venue in times past!
At the end of the branch road and just to the right of the last of the older houses is a small stone building with a rusty tin roof, this is where the famous Donald’s Window can be seen in the gable wall. Cleverly made from old glass bottles and jars, it must have been the first ever time that double glazing and recycling techniques were successfully combined and tested. It has lasted for over fifty years, and is immortalised in song in ‘An Uinneag a Rinn Domhnall’.
<Donald’s Window Photo: Maggie Smith>
Looking beyond, to the left of the large ruin, is another old house with a tin roof, which was the home of Anna Eoghainn, Annie MacDonald, one time house keeper in the White House in Washington; it was strange for us to hear her talking Gaidhlig with an American accent.
On the headland beyond can be seen two stone cairns, navigational marks created by the Norse settlers of a thousand years ago. They are still used to this day by local fishermen.
Some fine examples of ‘lazybeds’ can still be seen in Manish, but they are only used for grazing by sheep now.
Half a mile on and you reach the road to Manish Church of Scotland which branches to the left at an orange shed. This is the church which was established through the supreme efforts of Iain Gobha, John Morison, the famous Harris blacksmith turned evangelist. He was a direct descendant of Gobha Mor Stangigearraidh who was armourer to the MacLeods of Harris. John Morison made use of a schooner called ‘Breadalbane’ she was a mission ship belonging to the Free Church of Scotland, to travel to central Scotland where he persuaded many wealthy merchants and business people to contribute money toward the building of a new church and manse. This was achieved in 1849 and the first minister, Rev Alexander Davidson, was ordained and admitted to this charge in 1852, the same year that John Morison died. There was also a small school on the road down to the church which is now a private residence, also a small shop, of which there is no trace now.
Back on the main road and looking down to the upper end of the creek can be seen the remains of an ancient caraidh, a fish trap formed by a stone wall across the river mouth behind which when the tide receded any fish that ventured this far were trapped. This remained in use by local people up to around 1950. Where the road curves at the head of the creek at Ceann an t-Saile is an old stone building with a rusting roof. This was the Free Presbyterian Mission House which was in use up to the late 50’s, and served the whole of the southern part of the Bays from Liceasto to Lingerbay, and where everybody walked to there and back every Sunday. If you venture upstream from here you can see the remains of the original mission house, and past that continue to Loch a Chlachain and its rocky landscape.
Alternatively, take a walk from directly behind the mission house following the fence for about a quarter of a mile towards another stream where you will come to a partly collapsed stone bridge leading across to Cro nan Gobhar. This is reputed to be the site of an ancient illicit still, and you can clearly see why.
By John MacAulayNext Section