Berneray to Barra: Archives in the Southern Isles

On 7 May 2011, the Tasglann hosted a one day event for the Comainn Eachdraidh of Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay and Barra to come together and discuss their archive collections and experiences.  This was a relaxed and enjoyable day that allowed a networking opportunity for the historical societies and gave a chance for them to find out what one another were up to.  Some members of Lewis-based projects were also in attendance. The day consisted of presentations, break out sessions and an opportunity to view some original archives. 

Cladh Hallan project

Sandy Stephens presented an overview of this project which links up GPS plotting of burials in the grave yard near Daliburgh, digital images and transcriptions on the headstones and links this to burial register and lair register data and obituaries. http://www.hallancemeterysouthuist.co.uk/

Tasglann nan Eilean Siar: Progress to date

David Powell gave an overview of the Tasglann project’s main aims and objectives, progress to date and the potential for working in collaboration with various heritage partners. 


Of particular note was the offer of training to the Comainn Eachdraidh on archival arrangement and cataloguing to be delivered at the Societies own premises using their own collections. 

Dìleab Bheàrnaraigh, Guthan Bheàrnaraigh agus proiseactan eile

Alison Dix gave a presentation about the Berneray Voices project which has looked to preserve Berneray Gaelic song and promote Gaelic learning.  Following several successful ceilidhs to capture information, and to which the community all contributed, recordings have been made available at http://www.guthan.wordpress.com and will later be added to the historical societies own website as a resource. See www.isleofberneray.com and soon-to-be-launched website www.bernerayhistorical.com

Their newest project is Bringing Our History Home.  This concentrates on capturing the influence of Berneray emigrants on their new communities and will culminate in a 2012 conference, education packs with Lionacleit School and 1 part-time employee to oversee the work.

Workshop sessions

After lunch three short workshops were held involving original archive records.  David Powell gave an overview of the three main types of Poor Law record, following the story of a Barra resident through the records.  Katie Anne hosted a quiz where attendees had to guess the damage done to various archives including rusting staples, badly packaged photographs and mould damage.  Donna hosted a table with a display of local government records relating to the Uists and Barra held by the Comhairle.

Hebridean Connections

Donnie Morrison, chair of Hebridean Connections, gave an introduction to the website initially set up by four Lewis-based Comainn Eachdraidh to provide access to their genealogical data, place data, photographs and artefacts.  This sophisticated site links these different data streams seamlessly so from a genealogical record you can link to related photographs, croft histories, boats, artefacts and other related data. Donnie presented user feedback that had been received on the site and the level of detailed data users were willing to provide on individuals mentioned within it that otherwise would never have been captured. He also talked about how working with other Comainn Eachdraidh on the project has illuminated links between their collections that they otherwise would never have known about.

The site is entering a new phase of development with Aberdeen University looking to move the databases that run the site to open-source solutions and funding being sought to launch a phase two of the project.  Donnie extended an invitation to all Comainn Eachdraidh across the Western Isles to consider joining in the next stage of the project.  http://www.hebrideanconnections.com/

An Caidreachas – What’s happening in Lewis & Harris

Angus Macleod, Chair, and Annie Macsween, secretary, discussed the role and function of An Caidreachas, the federation of historical societies in Lewis and Harris. It was stressed how important the individual societies were but that by coming together occasionally through An Caidreachas there was a stronger voice and strength in numbers. An important part of their role is to have strong and consistent dialogue and representation with the Comhairle and this is better achieved by a unified approach, but there is also a benefit in sharing information on activities and plans amongst the Comainn Eachdraidh in Lewis and Harris.

Summing up

In summing up the day it was noted that:

  • there appears to be a desire for more networking within the Comainn Eachdraidh represented
  • that networking needs to be both formal and informal
  • the infrastructure of such networks is important and requires support both from the voluntary sector and the Comhairle
  • There is a desire for training across the Comainn Eachdraidh, be this “bought in” or provided by the museum or Tasglann services
  • There is a desire to work more closely together




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