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Interview with Florrie Phee Born 1883

Perhaps I'm in a nostalgic phase at the moment or maybe it's because autumn has started and the leaves are falling from the trees, who knows, but today I have another dosis of nostalgia for you, although the following story isn't just nostalgic, it's a bit sad as well, and it shows how hard life was in those days. The story reminded me a bit of my wife's grandfather, he is 97, basically a happy men, worked hard all his life, but lonely as well since all his close friends and most of his relatives are dead now. The story below was published in the Ileach newspaper of 26 September and gives an interesting account of someone who was born in the year 1883. The interview was done by two school pupils in about 1976 and published in the school magazine.

Interviewers: Joyce Graham, 5A Chrissie Ferguson, 2A School Pupils, published in a school magazine in about 1976, provided by Isabel Woodrow, Bowmore. Better known in Islay as Florrie Phee, Miss McPhee, now resident in the Eventide Home, is an interesting and energetic lady of 93. Her working life was spent out-of-doors on farms, where she did a man’s job, working with horses, ploughing and reaping, showing great competitiveness and independence of spirit in an age when women were expected to conform. She is surely Islay’s best and earliest example of a liberated woman... Continue reading....

When and where were you born?
I was born on 12th September, 1883, at Cragabus in the Oa.
Where did you go to school?
I was in the Oa first. I was there ten years. Then I came to live with my grandmother in Bowmore.
Did you walk to school?
Yes, even through deep snow. There was nothing for it but to walk miles. . .
What was the Oa school like in those days?
There was just one room. There was over 60 in it. There were some families with ten in them. Our teacher used to stay in Ardbeg - Katie MacDougall was her name.
What was Bowmore School like?
There was only four rooms in Bowmore at that time. The 1st and 2nd class in one room, the 3rd and 4th in another, and Mr MacBean took the 5th and 6th class. When I was in Bowmore School, Mr Bryce was the headmaster.

What did you do when you left school?
Once I left the school, I went to work on the farms, ploughing and sowing, reaping and all kinds of farm work.
Are there many left alive today that were in Sehool with you?
In Bowmore there’s Bobby Barr, and Bella Shaw (now Mrs MacKerrell) who is in the hospital. I don’t think there’s any more. They’re all gone.
What was Cragabus like when you were young?
There’s only two living there now. There were over twenty when I was young. There were three dwellings there. One family had seven children and another had ten. And there were other crofters there; it was five minutes walk out to the house. My grandfather was there - my mother’s father. There’s no-one there now; the places are in ruins.
Do you see many places in ruins now, that were lived in in your days?
Yes, look at all the places all over the island. There’s hardly any of the old natives left. It’s only incomers and young people. There were over a hundred people in the Oa in my young days.
How long was your working life?
I worked till just before I came into the Eventide Home, about three years ago in October. I worked three years with George Boyd at Clachan, fifteen years at Bolsay, starting in 1904, Lorgba 21 years and I worked at Carn for 12 years and for 5 at Tormisdale. I was at Lossit with Mr Cunninghame for 12 years, and I got a hut at Tormisdale.
Did you have to work long hours?
We sometimes got up at 5 o’clock in the morning, especially in the summer time, and you would need to work till 8 o’clock at night, feeding the horses and doing all the jobs. During the harvest time, you would be working day and night, out in the moon bringing in the com, and then you would need to do the horses when you came in. That’s the way it was.

Did you get holidays?
You wouldn’t get many holidays. If you wanted a weekend off, they would say. Where are you going? What are you going to do? Oh, they wouldn’t let you out of the place if they could manage it! They would keep you in. Work even on Sunday, and all Sunday.
Did you walk to the Oa to visit your aunt?
Yes, I used to walk from Clachan. I would walk over to Cragabus on Sunday morning, and be back at night, over ten miles there and back.
Did you win a lot of prizes at the ploughing matches?
Yes, I won a lot. I won four prizes when I was eighteen, and was at Bolsay. I enjoyed ploughing. I had some life, when there were thirty teams of horses, and I was the only woman taking part among a whole lot of men. There was some life in me at that time !
Did you like working with horses?
Yes, I was always working with horses, ploughing and sowing, drilling and mowing. I was very fond of the horses.
Did you go to the sales?
Yes, sometimes. You had to walk from the Rhinns round to Bowmore and back again. There used to be markets selling and buying horses in February, August and November; three times a year. You had to walk to the sale in Bridgend with the beasts, back and forward. You started walking with them at 5 o’clock in the morning, to be up at Bridgend when the sale started, and if you didn’t sell them, you had to walk back with them again.

What do you think about cars today?
They won’t go anywhere nowadays without a car ! If there was a road up to the lavatory, they’d take a car !
How did folk spend the winter night in the old days?
You were always that busy, you were glad to get to your bed at night. You couldn’t go anywhere, because you were always kept going. A lot of places I was in, you wouldn’t be finished till about 6 o’clock. But when I came to Tormisdale first, there were a whole lot of people there, and I was playing the bagpipes and they used to be dancing in the barn at night.
How do you like living in the Eventide Home?
I just go about the place, in and out as I like. I was never down the village since the day I came in here. I don’t know many other people, you see. I see a lot of visitors in here. There’s so much change, everybody that I used to know has gone - they’re all away now.


Tag: history oa bowmore interview

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