Great Tapestry of Scotland goes on show

Part of one of Scotland’s most popular artworks will be on display in Benbecula during November and December.

In partnership with Museum nan Eilean, 30 panels from the Great Tapestry of Scotland will be on display at Sgoil Lionacleit from Saturday 14 November to Tuesday December 22. A number of events for all ages will be held at the exhibition.

The 142 metre tapestry, which is the brainchild of bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, depicts the history of Scotland from the landscape’s geological formation to the reconvening of the Scottish Parliament in 1999.

The story is told in 159 boldly designed and intricately stitched panels that are the work of over 1,000 stitchers of all ages and both sexes from across Scotland. It is one of the nation’s largest community arts projects and 30 of these unique panels will be on display in Sgoil Lionacleit.

Since its debut exhibition at the Scottish Parliament in September 2013, the Great Tapestry of Scotland has been taken to the hearts of Scottish communities. Over 325,000 visitors from all over the world have visited tapestry exhibitions there and at other venues including Stirling Castle, Paisley Thread Mill, New Lanark, Aberdeen Art Gallery, and Ayr Town Hall.

Visitors have been amazed over by the tapestry’s epic scope and fascinated by the details of its stitching.

Mr McCall Smith, who spoke at an unrelated event in Lochmaddy earlier this year, said: “I am delighted that The Great Tapestry of Scotland is coming to the Western Isles. The Western Isles have made a great contribution to the history of Scotland and this is reflected in a number of the tapestry’s panels. I hope that as many people as possible will take the chance to see this magnificent and moving work of art.”

The project’s co-chairman and historian, Alistair Moffat, said: “This is a history of all of Scotland, and one that attempts to compass not only the whole nation but also all of its people as it tells the stories of shepherds, weavers, ploughmen, crofters, fishermen and all of the people who made our story come alive. Kings, queens and other powerful people have their place, but this is a unique way of telling our history – because it was made by the people of Scotland, a thousand stitchers, from Berwickshire to the Butt of Lewis.”

Trish Campbell Botten, Principal Officer Libraries & Heritage with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said, “We are delighted to welcome the Great Tapestry of Scotland to the Outer Hebrides in our council museum space in Benbecula. This is a wonderful opportunity to see such an impressive piece of art and history on our own doorsteps and to see the work created by local stitchers.”

Five of the tapestry’s stitchers are residents of the Western Isles. Margaret Macleod and Mary Macleod, the Lewis Stitchers, combined to make an early panel representing the visit of the Greek traveller Pytheas, who took a reading of latitude at Calanais in the fourth century BC. A stitching group who named themselves ‘The Sea-Mistresses’ worked on the panel depicting the loss of HMY Iolaire in 1919. This group consisted of Tracey MacLeod and Gillian Scott-Forest from Harris and Moira Macpherson from South Uist. Over the months of winter stitching, this group sent their panel back and forth to each other via the Leverburgh-Berneray ferry.


November opening hours: Tues, Wed, Fri, Sat 10am-1pm & 2-5pm; Thur 10am-1pm & 2pm-7pm; Closed Sun & Mon.

December opening hours: Tues, Wed, Thurs, Sat 10am-1pm & 2-5pm; Fri 10am-1pm & 2pm-7pm; Closed Sun & Mon.

FREE ADMISSION; Tapestry merchandise is available, payment by cash or cheque only


Women at war: the forgotten story

Joni Buchanan introduces Elisabeth Shipton, right

The first evening event to be held at the new Museum and Archive beside the newly restored Lews Castle in Stornoway on Saturday night (October 17th) was about the role of women in World War One.
This was a talk by Elisabeth Shipton , author of the groundbreaking book Female Tommies - the Frontline Women of the First World War, first published last year and already reprinted.
The brightly-lit meeting room beside the newly restored courtyard was full of members of the Islands Book Trust and other people interested in hearing about the vital role of women in the war effort, including the career of Flora Sandes who ended up as a fully-fledged frontline member of the Serbian army, on the southern front of the Allied campaign against Germany and Austria-Hungary.
The meeting was introduced by Joni Buchanan, from Uig, who spoke of various known examples of Island women who made major contributions during the world wars but whose role tended to be overlooked or forgotten in the main histories of the period.
Elisabeth Shipton - assisted by a series of contemporary images displayed on screen - then explained how the women's war effort fitted into the contemporary campaign to win women the right to vote, along with the developing role for women both in nursing, and in medical practice overall.  She highlighted how women fought battles with bureaucracy to get as close to the Front Line as possible, and how they found an almost total failure to provide care for the wounded brought away from the Trenches - at one stage, the wounded were simply tipped off the ambulance stretchers on the roadways of towns behind the Front Line and effectively left to die because provision had not been thought through.
Elisabeth Shipton pointed out that a lot of research had been done to expose the horrors inflicted on soldiers fight on the Front Lines, and a lot of research has looked at the changed roles of women on the Home Front, where they moved into jobs vacated by the men who were away fighting.  However, little had been done to look at the women "who blurred the boundaries between the gender division and the ones that wanted to go to the Front Line…they wanted to challenge the social parameters they faced at the time."
She explained her own interest was started by the stories of her grandmother Catherine O'Donnell who served in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force during World War Two.  When she started studying World War One, she originally assumed they would have been similar female auxiliary forces…but at the start of the war, that was not the case.  Around 200,000 women served with the armed forces, largely as nurses, during World War One - but the formal structures only came into existence towards the end of the war.
So women's involvement was largely through voluntary organisations that they set up and ran to provide hospitals and nursing services - one of the most influential of these was the Scottish Women's Hospital.   At the start of the war there were about 1,000 women qualified as doctors in the UK, with Scotland leading the way as it had two medical schools which admitted women.
Elisabeth Shipton said the campaign for women's right to vote had brought women together, got them used to organising movements, sharing experiences and creating institutions.  She highlighted how initial opposition to female involvement by the UK forces and government meant that the women's organisations often got the front-line having been sponsored by other governments, such as those of Belgium, Serbia and France.
Female Tommies - the Frontline Women of the First World War.  Elisabeth Shipton, the History Press, £18.99

Available as an e-book -





Open Day at Eaglais na h-Aoidhe

There will be an Open Day at Eaglais na h-Aoidhe on Point, Isle of Lewis, on Saturday 18th July, from 10am to 4pm.
Also known as St Columba’s Ui Church, this is a medieval ruined church located at the Point end of the Braighe overlooking Broad Bay.

It is one of the most important archaeological sites on Lewis.  It was the main church on the Island during the medieval period and is a burial place for Macleod chiefs until the 17th Century and the Mackenzies who controlled the island in later years.  It is one of the few and most complete remains of the medieval and post-medieval period on the Isle of Lewis.
The ancient ruins were very carefully consolidated and stabilised in 2012/13 after a long fundraising campaign.  However the severe storms of 2014 and 2015, coupled with exceptionally high tides earlier this year, took their toll on the sea defences near the Church.  The seawall was badly breached in several places and the church and graveyard were at risk from further storms.

Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (the charitable trust responsible for the church) got professional advice and funding to repair and strengthen the sea defences.  Sheet piles were very gently inserted between the church and the sea along the line of the eroded seawall.  Then the area was filled with stones and the level of the path was raised to nearer the base of the church.  A wooden rail finishes the top of the piles neatly.
The Open Day on Saturday 18th July, from 10.00am to 4.00pm is for people to come and see the work that has been done.  Several directors and an archaeologist will be there to answer questions and to listen to your ideas for the future.

There will be an opportunity to buy books about the church and other gifts and Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe are planning some activities for children.  You will also be able to see and contribute to the research we are doing on the graveyard.
"Everyone is welcome and we look forward to meeting you on the 18th, " say the organisers.