Township and Community: the corporate life of Caolas
Crofting encouraged the growth of individualism by giving each family its own house, garden ground and land for arable and grazing purposes. Each croft too, whether with direct access to the shoreline or situated some distance inland, had its own stretch of shore for the harvesting of seaweed. Rough grazing was generally held in common, and the corporate life of the community was particularly evident in that context, as groups of crofters shared the common ground, and operated through a 'Grazings Committee'. In some localities, there were sheep clubs, which allowed crofters to hold a share of a flock, rather than own an individual flock (in circumstances in which a croft might not be able to sustain sheep, or at least a viable number thereof). In this way, individualism was balanced by a practical understanding that co-operation within the wider township, or a segment of that township, was an easier and more productive way to proceed. Indeed, a co-operative policy was frequently essential to the maintenance of township life by pooling and sharing wider (and often scarce) resources, including 'person power'.
Such sharing was obvious at times of seasonal labour, for example, in harvesting crops, planting potatoes, sheering and dipping sheep. The organising, 'digging' and unloading of the puffer or 'coal-boat' was another occasion calling for a communal approach. Building and launching a wooden boat for family use offered opportunities for a series of interlocking contributions from the community, with a sense of celebration when the boat embarked on its maiden voyage. The community also 'pitched in' when there were difficulties within a family, as I well recollect when my father had his serious tractor accident in February 1973 (see Chapter 6).
Such interaction existed in a wider context of family links and relationships, through direct blood lines and also through marriage. Families maintained very careful records of consanguinity, as this was essential not only as a safeguard on the health of the people themselves, but also as an index of who was to be invited to such events as funerals, which were likewise communal happenings. 'Maintaining the relationship' through frequent visits to relatives in the community, but now living in other townships, or originally domiciled in these other townships, was an indispensable part of the social 'glue'. Fourth and fifth cousins were remembered, and the genealogies recited and discussed on regular occasions, including old-style 'ceilidhs'. Sometimes these links extended as far as the 'other end' (the west end) of Tiree, and even to other islands, such as Coll and Mull.
In addition to such networks, there were overarching events which embraced the entirety of the island and its various townships. These included markets for animals, cattle shows, sports' days and entertainment centred on the island's 'community hall'. As the earlier locality-based sense of community declined, these 'island-embracing' events came to assume ever greater significance.
As I was growing up in Tiree in the 1950s and 1960s, I was well aware of these conventions, and this chapter will consider various aspects of the theme of 'township and community'.
Launching a boat