Closed Sunday

The Sabbath is still taken very seriously on the isle of Lewis in the Western Isles. There may be Sunday ferry sailings, but not much else.

Now I don’t care about not being able to shop one day a week, and I appreciate that if the swimming pool is open, then someone will have to work on Sundays (if they were getting paid double-time, like in the “old days”, that might be less of an issue …). There is a lot to be said for a day when work and consumption do not define us. I am hoping that the Sabbath also applies to “women’s work”, and that doesn’t mean that the housework just gets piled up on to Monday.

But playgrounds? Eric Liddell would not run on the Sabbath, putting God before country, but at least in the Chariots of Fire version of his life, he does play football with some young lads – not on the Sabbath – so they won’t think “God is a spoilsport”.

But today? Still? Banning children from playgrounds when they are trapped inside so much anyway? At least here there are plenty of other places where they can play.

This photograph was taken at Garrabost, on the An Rubha peninsula very close to Bayble where Iain Crichton Smith grew up. I think he should have the last word.

Nuair a bha sinn òg

Nuair a bha sinn òg bhiodh uisge ann,
is sinn a’ bualadh chlachan air na pòlaichean
telegraf gun stad.

Bhiodh aon each ’na sheasamh ri balla
’s am bùrn a’ drùdhadh air
’s a chraiceann sleamhainn leis a’ bhùrn ghlas.

Nuair a bha sinn òg bhiodh sinn a’ cluich
cèise-ball ’s a’ ghealach anns an adhar
mar chèise-ball de òr.

Nuair a bha sinn òg bhiodh cailleachan
ag ràdh ruinn: ‘Na dèan sud, dèan seo’,
air eagal na caillich-oidhche.

Nuair a bha sinn òg bha an t-adhar falamh
is dealbhan anns an leabhar, is talamh
uaine, fad às.

Nuair a bha sinn òg, bha breugan ann,
nuair a tha sinn aost’, ’s e ’bhreug a th’ ann
gu robh an òig’ gun smal.


When we were young

When we were young it rained and rained and rained.
We flung white stones at the telegraph poles
Again and again and again.

A horse stood snorting against a wall,
Jet-black back going grey or green with the rain
Sluicing down its flanks and shanks.

When we were young we went on and on
Taking our goal-kicks under that moon,
A sky-high football of gold.

When we were young old women told us
And told us, scared of the night witch, ‘Son,
‘Not that way. This way instead.’

When we were young there were clear horizons.
Pictures waited unseen in our books,
A green land, far, far away.

When we were young the lies began
And now we are old there is still the old lie:
When we were young we were spotless.

translated by Robert Crawford


from Dreuchd An Fhigheadair / The Weaver’s Task: a Gaelic Sampler, edited and introduced by Crìsdean MhicGhilleBhàin/Christopher Whyte (Scottish Poetry Library, 2007)