Talking to myself

Feels kind of weird, all alone here in my little blog, posting posts that nobody reads…. The site is starting to come together, although I’m feeling a bit hesitant about putting down the actual history. I mean, I’m not a historian, nor am I an expert on Gigha, Tarbert or anywhere else in Scotland. So it is a strange notepad for writing what was intended to be a chapter in a book for my descendents!

Creating Order…

I had intended to use this burst of energy to complete a chapter for “Agnes’ Story”, but it looks like what I’m really doing is using this blog to get organised. In many ways I am sort of doing the appendices of a book, filling in references and links, cataloging images and getting my thoughts in order. I am still trying to work out how the family tale will take shape. Having an illegitimate great granny helps keep it simple, one less branch in a tree to worry about.

The structure of a website lends so much scope for a project like this.

Where to start?

There’s something necessarily messy about genealogies and family history. Which is why I don’t know if and where to start.

Years ago, I needed to answer a burning question, am I Celtic? I felt Celtic (whatever that is), I have fairish skin, I’m Scottish and I have a strong desire to be in Scotland, most of the time. So I decided to ask my grandmother about her life and my ancestry, not the family tree, just our background. I gave her a tape recorder and a list of questions and left her to it. I later typed the transcript of the tape, had it spiral bound and put it in a drawer. We pulled it out 10 years later and continued our journey….


This is the story of my Gigha connection.

Isabella McDonald was born in Gigha in 1850. Her family lived in the little clachan, or farm village of Ardelay, now a bleak hillside dotted with the tumbled ruins and stones of the old crofts. She is the last of of my ancestors born in Gigha, a woman about whom we know little, but whose journey from a remote, beautiful island in the west of Scotland, to Australia 60 years later echoed the transformation the whole world experienced in that time. In leaving the simple, rural island life, which must have been harsh and filled with daily struggles, she embarked on a journey which took her to mainland Tarbert, Argyll, then Edinburgh and finally, in her twighlight years, Sydney Australia, where she died in 1933.

Isabella is just one person to whom I owe my existence. In this blog, I pay homage to her and my McDonald and Galbraith forebearers of Gigha, for it is through them that I feel the spiritual connection of my Celtic heritage.

I visited Gigha in 2008, my mother and her mother before her have also visited. We go not as tourists, but rather as pilgrims, enjoying its wild and unsurpassed beauty, meeting with cousins and old friends, making new friends, of course, but mainly to connect with something quite intangible that we  find only here, in Gigha.

Gigha is many stories for me. The Galbraiths: the harper poets of Gigha, the last custodians of the Great Well, farmers of Drumeonmore, my ancestral mothers. The McDonalds:  the McDonald brothers who gave the legendary Flora McDonald safe passage to Cara perhaps the same brothers who came from Islay and settled in Ardelay, John McDonald the weaver, who married Isobel Glabraith at Leim and Granny McDonald (Margaret Galbraith) who smoked a corn pipe. The McNeills, our Gigha cousins, Agnes and Betty and endless cups of tea,  Katy McNeill who fascinated my Granny as she removed her dentures to eat! The ferry. I hope to visit some of these tales here.