Barvas, 1791-1799

Any observations made about this parish are limited in scope. It measures 24 miles east to west and 9 miles across. The coastline is some 30 miles long with a tremendous surf in a west or northwesterly wind.  There is not a single harbour and only a few inlets for boats to land.

There are a few hills, far from the sea, and a few small valleys. In places, there is so much stone that the ground cannot be ploughed. The district of Ness has better soil which yields reasonable crops.

There is less rain here than in the mainland or adjacent parishes, due to the remoteness from any high hills. Frost and snow are not as severe as elsewhere. The air is moist, giving rise to much rheumatism. Fevers are common, and many infants die of a disease on the 5th night of their life.

The whole parish is devoid of trees or brushwood. Although there are some lakes and streams, none of the latter merit the description of a river. Fishing comprises cod, ling, haddock, but mainly dogfish. These yield oil, of which 8832 Scotch pints (1104 Scotch gallons or 3319 Imperial gallons, or 15,000 litres) are manufactured and sold at 6d to 8d per pint. Few accidents occur, in spite of the state of the sea and the coastline. 42 boats, measuring 16 to 19 feet keel with 6 or 8 oars are involved, only using a handline with two large hooks.

The parish has 90 ploughs, pulled by four horses who are led by the halter by a'driver', walking ahead. Only the minister has a cart. The most commonly used fertiliser is cow-dung and seaware as well as soot from the blackhouses. Crops are black oats, beer and potatoes, grown between April / May and September / October. There are some 1050 horses, 2670 black cattle, 3392 sheep. All these are smaller than found elsewhere. The sheep's wool is literally pulled off the animal's back. Horses sell at £2 10s, cows at £2 5s and sheep at 3s each.

The exact population in the past is not known, since no records have ever been kept.

There are 439 families with 2006 souls, 914 male and 1092 female.
Aged under 6, 334;
Between 6 and 14, 407
Between 14 and 60, 1067
Above 60, 198.
Two women are aged 100 or over.

The population in 1755 was 1995

14 weavers,
5 tailors
7 blacksmiths
340 fishers
1 miller
NO shoemakers; people make their own footwear
All the craftsmen also have farms

The inhabitants are all of the Established Church of Scotland. There are two churches, one, near the manse, is a ruin. The other is a Catholic Church in Ness. The parish rent is £900, besides kelp, which the shores will yield 60 tons in 3 years. The stipend was only 1000 merks Scots, and £5 for the glebe, to which the proprietor added £20. The present incumbent is Donald Macdonald, who settled here in 1790. The manse is small, was built 28 years ago. There is no parochial school, although efforts to build one are underway. There is a charity school in Ness, run by the Honourable Society. People are said to have a lamentable lack of taste for education. Only 20 scholars attend. In the absence of the minister, the schoolmaster takes over in catechising and reading to the people on the Lord's Day.
Two spinning schools were built by the proprietor's wife, with a salary of £6 to each of the mistresses. The Honourable Society pays half of the salaries. The girls are not charged for their education, and are paid 10d for each spindle spun, with their wheels at a low rate, the poorest getting them free. 2 lb of coarse lint are given to begin with and competitions are held as an incentive.

There are 80 on the poor roll, who support themselves by begging. Support from the kirk session is insufficient. £4 (from collections &c) is distributed among the poor annually, with 5 guineas from the proprietor's wife. In addition, she gives 3 bolls of meal annually as well as grain and feed . 

There are several Catholic chapels or churches in the parish. The largest is St Mulvay's [St Moluag's] at Eoropie in Ness. It is 50 ft long, 24 broad and 16 ft in the side walls. A little north of it was St Ronan's. Others include:

St Peter's, Habost
St Thomas's, Swainbost
St Clement's, North Dell
Holy Cross, South Galson
St Bridget, Borve
St Peter's, Lower Strather [Shader]
St Mary's, Upper Barvas
St John the Baptist's, Bragir

A large dun or Danish fort stands between Borve and Galson on a small eminence near the sea. A similar but smaller edifice sits in a lake, Loch Duin at Bragir. Three sit in three small lakes between Strather and Borve, with a causeway leading to each of them which is visible in dry weather. A large standing stone, Clach i Drushel, stands 18 feet tall and 14 feet in circumference between Barvas and Strather. The vulgar tradition concern it is too absurd and superstitious to deserve any notice.

North Rona
The island of Rona, 16 leagues from Eorapie Point or the Butt of Lewis, the furthest point northwest in Europe, is part of this parish. The island contains a temple dedicated to St Ronan. The island is rented by one of the Ness tacksmen at £4 per annum. Every year, he sends a boat with corn, butter, cheese, a few sheep, a cow, some wildfowl and feathers. There used to be 5 families in Rona, but nowadays there is only one, who are servants.

Sulisker lies 4 leagues east of Rona, and some people from Ness go there to take birds, which are so tame that they can be knocked down with sticks. Feathers sell at Stornoway at 9 to 10s per stone.

Other notes
No moles, frogs, foxes, weasels or (until recently) hares. Pleny of pigeons, plover, shipe and a large variety of wild geese and ducks. Swan, woodcock and green plover appear seasonally. Eagles, corbies and crows are plentiful, and are harmful to young lambs. The parish is suffering from a lack of roads. The 12 to 18 miles from Stornoway lead across a broken, swampy moor, which people have to cross on foot, with their goods on their backs. The proprietor has built about 5 miles of road. Only one tryst is held across the whole of the island each year, and until the situation of roads is improved, the parish will be held back.
However, there is a lot of peats near the houses, and plenty of fish. Not much snow falls or lies long. There is far more uncultivated land than cultivated. The common language is Gaelic, but the placenames derived from the Norwegian.

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