WEEK FORTY-FOUR – St Kilda/Gruinard

>> St Kilda

Gruinard <<

st-kilda                                gruinard

Two islands represent two very different aspects of the country this week – one remote and often romanticised; the other in-shore and with associations that are more horrific – but both deserted by their original inhabitants, as is so much of rural Scotland. Almost as famous for its abandonment as for its remoteness, St Kilda – or Hirta in its native Gaelic – was, until 1930, the most remote inhabited island in the UK, being situated in the North Atlantic 41 miles west of the Outer Hebrides. Inhabited since prehistoric times, the island was largely self-sufficient until the early 20th century, but lack of communications and commercial impact on its traditional sustainability brought about the islanders’ decision to evacuate. Since 1957 the National Trust  has run St Kilda as a nature reserve, although the island is also the base for a Ministry of Defence radar tracking station. The MoD have also played a part in the history of our second island, infamous as the site for experiments with anthrax. Inhabited until the 1920s, Gruinard – or Eilean Ghruinneard – lies in the bay of the same name off the coast of Wester Ross only just over half a mile from shore. Despite its proximity to the mainland, in 1942 the island was requisitioned for the testing of germ warfare agents, being deemed far enough away from anywhere important to be so used. Only decontaminated in the 1980s, all access to the island was banned for nearly 50 years. Human footfall takes many forms, but few can be as chillingly extreme as an island rendered unfit for all forms of life and another abandoned through lack of support and disruption of ecological balance.


Guth ri Ràdh
by Rody Gorman

Ghlaoidheadh iad a-mach ann an Hiort:
Tha Goill air a’ Ghleann!
Agus thug iad an cnatan-mòr a-steach.

Agus nuair a dh’èirich a leithid dhaibh
Gus nach blaiseadh iad am beathachadh
Is nach fhaigheadh iad fàileadh ann

Is nach fhaiceadh is nach dùisgeadh ach air èiginn
Is nach cluinneadh is nan cante: Ciamar a tha sibh
A’ faireachdainn? ‘s gun canadh iad, mar a thuirt

Agus am bodach eile: Och, guth ri ràdh!
‘S e na dh’fhairich iad an uair sin
Ann an da-rìribh: Tha, dìreach a’ bàsachadh.


Nothing To Be Said
by Rody Gorman

They’d cry out in the Village in St. Kilda:
There are foreigners in the glen!
And they brought in the influenza.

And after they contracted it
And could no longer taste their food –
Fulmar, gannet, puffin – or smell anything

And couldn’t speak and couldn’t wake, even,
And couldn’t hear and if you asked
And how are you feeling?

And they’d say like they did
Och, nothing to be said!
Actually, Dying is what they really meant.


Gruinard Island
by Gerry Loose

what is the manner of sacrifice
a lamb born with blood on its ears
from a heaving heft-over ewe mother
born purple and yellow of caul
a suckling lamb nuzzling

what’s the nature of an offering
a tethered mother a ewe
in her body panting after labour
tonguing uterus blood lamb and faeces
we’ll gralloch her flense her

without the shedding of blood
there is no forgiveness
twelve times seven ewes
on a rock in the sea
hooded and tethered seven days

exploded from the gallows
Bacillus anthracis entering ewe breath
we’ll paunch and slice
a rite of our terror-dread
smear and smother bomb

four pound bombs in clusters
of one hundred and six
in two thousand seven hundred aircraft
each with forty thousand charnel-clusters of toxin
our benefaction to burn three million in six cities

how pleasing the aroma
each first lamb to each last lamb
each first bullock to each last bullock
each first born to each last born
each first nation to each last nation



rodygorman1Rody Gorman was born in Dublin in 1960 and lives in Skye. He has published a dozen collections of poetry.  Chernilo, his selected poems in Irish and Scottish Gaelic, was published by Coiscéim in 2006. 



Gerry Loose is a poet and artist who works primarily with the natural world, most specifically plants, as well as the world of geo-politics. His work is found inscribed and created in Parks, Botanic Gardens and in natural landscapes as well as in galleries and on the page. His most recent publications are fault line (Vagabond Voices) and An Oakwoods Almanac (Shearsman Books).



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