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Gaelic Song From The Isle Of Lewis - An Sgoth 1994

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The Sgoth ("An Sgoth Niseach" in Gaelic) is a traditional fishing skiff with a dipping-lug rig and a lateen sail. It is particularly associated with the district of Ness on the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. The Sgoth is a large open boat, typically around 33 feet long, although smaller sizes were also made. It is clinker built and, like the Yoles and Sexerns of the Northern Isles (Orkney and Shetland), is descended from Norse designs. The last full-sized boat was built in 1918, although smaller ones were launched up until the 1930s.

In 1994, Sam Maynard of the television production company Eolas, launched a year-long project to construct a new Sgoth, recording its manufacture on video for the benefit future generations. The finished boat was to be owned by a trust.

The man employed to do the building was master boat-builder John Murdo MacLeod. He was uniquely suited to the task at hand, being the son and grandson of some of the last great Ness boat-builders - and was probably also the last man qualified, through traditional handed-down experience, to do the job. He was aided in the task by an assistant - Angus Smith.

The project involved all stages of construction - right from harvesting the larch trees for the planking on the Cawdor Estate near Inverness to sailing the finished boat.

The project was a huge success, and is documented in the television program "An Sgoth." The boat is a testament to the skill of humans to take basic materials and fashion them into a thing of beauty - a living, working, piece of art. It was named "An Sulaire" (which is the Gaelic for The Gannet) and given the designation SY456.

A number of other, older, Sgoths also exist. These include the Jubilee (SY 233) - a three-quarters sized boat, built by John Murdo's father in 1935. A half-sized boat called "bluebird," and another three-quarter boat called "Oigh Niseach" which is in private hands, on the Isle of Raasay, are also sailing. These craft represent a continuous tradition of boat-building, harking back to ancient Birlinns of the sea-clans.

The song is a tribute to the Beauty of the Sgoth and of the skill on John Murdo and Angus in bring her to life (and the foresight of Sam Maynard to facilitate this). It was intended to be sung similarly to a traditional "Puirt a Beul" type song.

The photographs show some of the general traffic around Stornoway harbour as well as the Sgothan and other traditional boats.

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