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 History and information / Eachdraidh agus fiosrachadh


Swainbost (Gaelic: Suaineabost) comes from the 'bost' suffix found in many place names in the Western Isles. The 'bost' comes from the Norse for farm and is a legacy left by the Vikings.


Swainbost has one of Ness’ two local shops – originally known as ‘Bùth Mhurchaidh Dhòmhnaill Iain Òig’ (Murdo Macleod). This was a grocery/general shop and a branch of the business. This is still open and now owned by Maclean, Mair, Nicolson & Co. and managed by William Maitland. It is the only place in Ness to provide petrol/diesel.


The first known cluster of houses of sufficient number to be thought of as a village and bearing the name Suaineabost consisted of little more than a dozen habitations strung out alongside Druim Mòr ridge south west of the present Swainbost farmhouse.


The little stream known as Allt Chramanais runs through the dunes to the shore by the rocky outcrop called ‘A Stioghaidh’. Tradition depicts Cramanas as an unruly, ill-tempered man who, either by choice or because he had been expelled from the village, lived apart on his own near the streamlet which still bears his name.


Around 1840, 17 cleared families from Uig arrived at Swainbost and were met by a virtual wasteland in which they struggled to survive. After some time, the area was re-apportioned into 40 new lots, usually of around 6 or 7 acres and incorporating the existing 13 holdings. In the early 20th century, following the construction of Cross Skigersta Road, over 10 new plots termed ‘fisherman’s holdings' were detached from the common grazings.


The remains of the church of Saint Peter are located north of Swainbost. The building was the parish church of Ness but became a ruin in 1829.














Tha an t-ainm Suaineabost a’ gabhail a-steach an iar-leasachain ‘bost’ a gheibhear ann an iomadh ainm-àite anns na h-Eileanan Siar. Tha ‘bost’ a’ tighinn on fhacal Lochlannais airson tuathanas agus seo eisimpleir gu math follaiseach de bhuaidh nan Lochlannach.


Tha aon de na bùthan ann an Nis suidhichte ann an Suaineabost – bha e aithnichte o thùs mar ‘Bùth Mhurchaidh Dhòmhnaill Iain Òig’ (Murchadh MacLeòid). B’ e grosair a bh’ ann agus bha e na phàirt den ghnìomhachas ann an Eòrapaidh. Tha e fhathast fosgailte agus a’ buntainn do Maclean, Mair, Nicolson & Co., air a stiùireadh le William Maitland. ’S e seo an aon àite ann an Nis far am faighear peatral no dìosal.


Bha a’ chiad tuineachadh le taighean gu leòr gus a bhith aithnichte mar bhaile, agus air an robh Suaineabost, a’ gabhail a-steach beagan is dusan dachaighean. Bha iad air an sgaoileadh a-mach feadh an droma ‘Druim Mòr’, gu iar-dheas air taigh-fearainn Shuaineaboist.


Tha an abhainn bheag air a bheil Allt Chramanais a’ ruith tro nam bacann chun traigh, ri taobh nan creagan a thathar ag aithneachadh mar ‘A Stioghaidh’. Ann am beul-aithris, ’s e duine greannach, neo-rianail a bh’ ann an Cramanas, a bha a' fuireach na aonar faisg air an t-sruthan a tha fhathast a’ gabhail ainm. Chan eil fhios an robh e ann air sgàth ’s gun deach e fhogradh bhon bhaile no dhe a thoil fhèin.


Mu thuairmse 1840, ràinig 17 teaghlaichean a chaidh am fuadach bho Ùige ann an Suaineabost agus lorg iad àite a bha mar thalamh fàs. Bha e na dhùbhlan dhaibh a bhith beò anns an àrainneachd a bha ann. An-dèidh greis, chaidh an sgìre a bhriseadh suas gu 40 lot ùr a bha, mar as trice, 6 no 7 acraichean ann am farsaingeachd agus a bha a’ gabhail a-steach na 13 lotaichean a bha ann roimhe. Tràth san fhicheadamh linn, an dèidh togalachd Rathaid Chrois-Sgiogarstaigh, chaidh barrachd air 10 lot ùr a dhealachadh bhon fheurach coitcheann agus ’s e ‘fisherman’s holdings’ a bh’ orra.


Tha tobhtaichean Eaglais Naoimh Pheadair, “Teampall Pheadair”, suidhichte gu tuath air Suaineabost. Bha an togalach na eaglais paraiste airson Nis ach bha e na thobhta ro 1829.


Swainbost currently has a shop but previously had 4 more:


Bùth Iain MhicIomhair - John Maciver, early half of this century. Grocer/general merchant shop.

Bùth Shuileabhain - Angus Graham , a small grocery in a wooden shed in front of house.

Bùth Ailean Bhig Ailein Chaluim - Allan Macleod. Grocery/general merchants. Good drapery business.

Bùth a' Bhocsair - Angus Campbell, circa 1932. Grocer/general merchant. Later known as Bùth a' Phuilean - Angus Campbell. 


As with nearly all Hebridean place names, the name Swainbost, meaning Swein’s steading, is of Viking derivation.


Swein Asleifson, a resident of Orkney, was a high-born, noted sea raider of the 12th century who kept a summer house in Swainbost which would also have served as a strategic staging post on his seasonal forays to the south. It was during one such raid on Dublin that he met his death. It is worth noting that Swein’s sister, Ragnhilda, became the wife of Somerled, the overlord of Argyll and from this marriage the powerful Lord of the Isles dynasty evolved.


Viking incursions had steadily increased since the 9th century until the Scottish islands had been so completely over-run that they were officially ceded to Norway in 1107.


The sparse population would have been unable to offer much resistance and may to some extent have escaped to brutal despoliation and mass slaughter usually meted out by these heathen invaders. Perhaps recognising the potential for colonisation compared with their own mountainous homeland, it would have made sense to spare at least the more able bodied for employment as "scalags", virtual slave labourers in settling the land. In time these stark social divisions would become less rigid through the process of intermarriage as the two sides gradually integrated.


When the islands reverted to Scottish sovereignty following the Battle of Largs in 1263, it would appear that most of the incomers in the Ness area opted to stay on, judging by the high numbers of blond, Nordic types still evident within the population.


An Seana Bhaile – The Old Village


To the seaward side stretches a half mile broad strip of machair created by the process of blown sand neutralising the blanket of acid peat. This lush pasture of over fifty acres could support a considerable number of livestock as the main basis of the economy. The slopes adjoining the river on each side were given over to agriculture by forming "feannags" manured with seaweed. These broad ridges, inaptly names lazy beds, as the labour involved what must have been back-breaking work with the use of only primitive hand tools, were used to grow mainly oats and barley. The outlines of those "feannags" still stand out strongly together with the shapes of what appears to have been cattle enclosures.


East of the village, the removal of the overlying peat for fuel gradually opened up further opportunity for land reclamation and filling, albeit through painstakingly hard work.


The Story of Cramanas


A pregnant woman from Uig set out for Ness to stay with her married sister who had agreed to look after her during her confinement. The weather had deteriorated and as she hurried along the coats in the gathering dark, her contractions began. In order to seek help, she headed for the nearest light which was Cramanas bothy but the wretch refused to let her in and chased her away. Not much further along, she had to lay down on the grass where she remained all night after giving birth. By morning she had recovered sufficiently to proceed to her destination with her baby son.


In due course, the boy was told of the circumstance of his birth and during stormy weather, his mother would often say, "pity whoever goes to Cramanas' door tonight".


The lad grew up to become one of the large contingent of Uigeachs to enlist in the Seaforth Highlanders regiment, first raised in 1778. Back home after a tour of duty whilst on his way to Ness to visit his relatives, he decided to teach Cramanas a lesson. With this in mind he picked from the shore a stout piece of tangle with which he gave the rascal a thrashing. Whether or not this was the intention Cramanas, now well on in years, died as a result.


Although this happened only over 200 years ago, the total lack of local annals makes it impossible to give names or precise details and verbal accounts do tend to get distorted with each telling. For instance, an alternative and possibly more credible version of events tells us that the incident took place at the time before the young lad joined the army.


Whatever the truth, the tradition and folk-memory are so strong in this case that the core elements of the story much surely be true.


The arrival of the Uigeachs


Around 1840, a number of small villages in the Ardroil area were summarily cleared to make room for a farm. Houses were felled with no offer of alternative occupance and livestock compulsorily sold off for a fraction of its true value. Only after things had turned nasty did the factor, the notorious Donald Munro, consent to let the 20 or so destitute families take possession of the vacant land in the village of Swainbost.


This entailed an arduous 50 mile trek to the north, carrying only care rations and young children in creels. Implements and cooking utensils were ferried along the coast in two boats. A few found suitable unoccupied land en route and after several days the remaining 17 families reached Swainbost.


What they found on arrival was a virtual wasteland, mostly of heathery scrubs and clayey soil exposed by peat cutting and as a first priority, turf bothies had to be hastily built for shelter. The measures taken to survive the hardships of these early days must have been indeed desperate.


After some time, the area was re-apportioned into 40 new lots, usually of around 6 or 7 acres and incorporating the existing 13 holdings. 2 rows of new houses were built, outward facing on both sides of what was to become the main road and backing on to the crofts. A cart track running from the peatlands to the machair bisected the village into 2 roughly equal areas known as An Leth Siar and An Leth Sear. This remained the basic layout of the village into the early 20th century when following its construction of Cross Skigersta Road, over 10 new plots termed ‘fisherman's holdings' were detached from the common grazings.


The ongoing task of improving fertility and the constant need to bring more of the poor soil under cultivation, in order to sustain large families, must have been disheartening. Matters were further exasperated by recurrent failure of the potato crop during this period.


To his credit the new proprietor, Sir James Matheson, gave some impetus to the development when he employed contractors to drain the low-lying boggy areas. However this gesture of liberality by the estate was all too rare. The much reviled Chamberlain, Munro, aided by local bully boy henchmen, set about securing extortionate levels of rent where failure to pay would result in summary eviction. This harsh regime continued for over 40 years until the crofters act of 1882 enforced sweeping changes for the better.


The incomers included a number of sub-clans of related families who were deemed to share marked characteristics and identified by nicknames such as follows:


Na Poloicheanan - MacLeans. Roly-polys with keen appetites and short fuses.

Na H-Olabharan - MacRitchies. Stroppy and good at looking after their own interests.


From all accounts, the shared hardship of those times bred strong community spirit and a high number of singular, indomitable characters, fondly recalled long after they had passed on.


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