Caught by the River

A Postcard From the Outer Hebrides: A long overdue update from Eriskay

John Maher | 30th January 2019

If you saw my last postcard from the Isle of Eriskay, you may remember I was asking for votes to help the island’s 150 inhabitants win the Woodland Trust’s Scottish Tree of the Year competition. Well, I’m delighted to report it paid off: Netty’s Tree topped the six Scottish entries and went on to represent Scotland in the UK Tree of the Year competition. Up against stiff competition from England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Netty’s Tree was pipped to the post by the similarly named Nellie’s Tree from Aberford in West Yorkshire. The people of Eriskay have asked me to pass on their heartfelt thanks to all the lovely Caught by the River fans who gave their support. And a big thank you from me too.

To celebrate Eriskay’s achievement, Anne MacIntyre (Netty’s daughter) and Eoina Wilson (also a native of Eriskay), were invited to a prize-giving ceremony at Holyrood. Anne was presented with the trophy. Eoina, who nominated her favourite tree for the prize, brought along her wee son Danny. I’m told he’s looking forward to continuing the tradition of children climbing Netty’s Tree.

While in Eriskay I visited a few other notable island locations. In 2015 FIFA, football’s international governing body, designated Eriskay FC’s ground one of the eight most remarkable places to play football in the world. A match played on the club’s pitch was filmed for screening in the football governing body’s brand new museum in Zurich, Switzerland. According to Eriskay FC’s manager: “The playing surface is well bumpy. It’s all over the place. One time we had five corners, now we are down to four. But it’s unique with its views of Eriskay. It’s a nice place.”

I took this picture of Eriskay FC’s ground when heading for the ferry departure point to Barra.

Somebody behind me was also admiring the view. A statue of Our Lady of Fatima sits inside a small but immaculately maintained garden, surrounded by a freshly painted white picket fence. The statue commemorates the site of the original Eriskay Church.

The island’s current church, St. Michael’s of the Sea, was completed in 1903. It was built by islanders under the guidance of Fr. Allan Macdonald, the same man who planted Netty’s Tree. St. Michael’s was built with local stone and timber salvaged from wrecks. The cement mortar was made from burnt shells and sand. The altar rests on the bow of a wooden lifeboat that was washed overboard from an aircraft carrier, HMS Hermes.

I mentioned the sinking of the SS Politician in my previous postcard, and how it inspired the classic Ealing comedy Whisky Galore. The island’s only pub (named in honour of the ship that made Eriskay famous) has a couple of those famous bottles of whisky on view behind the bar.

To finish, I’d like to raise a glass and say ‘Sláinte’ to fellow Caught by the River contributor Kevin Pearce for his tribute to Pete Shelley, my former band mate. Pete sadly passed away on December 6th, 2018.

R.I.P. Pete