The Laird O’Yarpha: Episode 2: Harray

Mind on: this was published by David Vedder in 1832

Harray, celebrated over the whole archipelago for the peculiarities of its inhabitants, their singular manners and customs, their uncouth appearance, and homely address. Being the most “landward” district in the large island of Pomona, and consequently having little intercourse with strangers, it has become the stronghold of ancient saws, superstitions, and habits. Modern innovation having pushed these from their pedestals in almost all other parts of the island.

Its form of government, too is mightily in favour of “auld use and wont”, as it is almost entirely divided amongst a class of men yclept petty, or pickie lairds; each ploughing his own fields and reaping his own crops, much in the same manner their great great grandfathers did in the days of Earl Patrick.

Improvement, with her strange dress and foreign accent, like Noah’s dove, has hitherto found no resting place for the sole of her foot. Such is their love for the wisdom of their ancestors, that many of them cast a lingering look, not unmixed with reverence , on certain spots held sacred by their Scandinavian ancestors.


The Odin Stone

When a vow takes place between two young people, it becomes tenfold more sacred if the parties repair to those gigantic Druidical stones, one of which is perforated, and grasp each other’s hand through the perforation, muttering some Runic rhyme, and interweaving each other’s fingers. This ceremony becomes binding with a vengeance, for no other person afterwards would become affianced to either of the parties, were our race to become extinct in consequence.

One of the most important personages in this parish was Magnus, a farmer of no mean repute, and, let me add, of no mean extraction. Mansie, for that is the provincial appellation, could boast of a pure Scandinavian descent, uncontaminated by either Gael or Saxon blood.  But Mansie had fallen on evil days and evil tongues.  

When his venerable father was carried to the “field of graves” ,he insisted strenuously that the corpse would be interred inside the church. This, however, was over ruled by the local authorities. Mansie protested stormed, fleeched, threatened, and entreated by turns; but the die was cast – the authorities were inexorable – the body was “yirded” among the ignoble dead; and seeing there was nothing to be made of disputing with the collective wisdom of the parish, like a true philosopher, he submitted; with this salvo, however, “Ye may just e’en do it this time, but **** me if ever ye do the like again”.

What a delightful treat it would have been to have seen him on a spring morning ploughing his fields dressed in a “sheep black” coat, waistcoat, and inexpressibles, bedizened over with large pewter buttons of his own casting – long,lank, sandy hair, issuing, unpruned, unshorn, from beneath his broad blue “bannet” – a long bare scraggy neck, bronzed with the suns of forty years – nose somewhat aquiline, with a brown aqueous substance pendant therefrom – upper lip begrimmed with a certain titillating powder, vulgarly ycleped “beggar’s snuff;” while his legs were completely enveloped in twisted straw, generally known by the name of “strae boots”.

From ‘Orcadian Sketches’ by David Vedder (1832)

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