Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Clann Abhainn Cluaidh

the hand carved wooden cover to the manuscript

"Clann Abhainn Cluaidh" was our first project, put together in 1999, a modern illuminated manuscript printing some brief pieces of lesser known Inverclyde history, alongside the first of the stories we had been researching and collecting; the wooden cover was carved by Eddie O'Donnell at Neil Street Community Workshops, the illuminated borders were designed by pupils at two local Primary schools, the leather binding came from the tannery up by Bridge of Weir, and it was typed and printed by a local printing project working with adults with learning disabilities; none of it was planned out like that to "tick boxes", it's just how it naturally progressed. The book was then displayed at our local library for a month, before transferring for awhile to Cornalees Visitors Centre. It's been wrapped up safely in our archive since. It's a bit frayed around the edges, some of the binding is starting to give, but it still looks great. I'm hoping we can find it a new permanent home very soon. In the meantime, we'll run some of the wee snippets and poems that were included in this book, but never reprinted elsewhere.

Looking through the manuscript, and remembering the process got me to thinking, so please forgive me a wee indulgent moment here; heritage is a wonderful thing, but it is too often confused with history, it still amuses me to think of the stick we got from so many people locally for being in our early twenties and talking about stories and legends which had no basis in fact - as if only history mattered, as if we were too young to properly understand "The History of The Town". My all time favourite remains the time we were compared to holocaust deniers for defending the possibility that Captain Kidd may have come from Greenock- a comparison as abhorrent to us as it was ridiculous.

I love history, but it can be an academic pursuit, a game of interpretation or (as we frequently found) one-upmanship about who knows most about something; heritage...that belongs to everyone...and there's plenty folk still who don't like that. It's been years since we started collecting and reprinting / retelling stories, in that time, a lot has changed, but those same stories have been retold locally and at international storytelling festivals, recorded by schoolchildren for the BBC, animated online, Inverclyde now even has a Myths and Legends Festival each year...all good things and we are glad to have played a part in that. So, if you have a story to tell, we're still listening...

"The legends represent the imagination of the country, they are the kind of history which a nation desires to possess. They betray the ambitions and ideals of the people, and in this respect,  have a value far beyond the tale of actual events and duly recorded deeds  which are no more history, than a skeleton is a man."
Standish o'Grady 1832-1915

the manuscript frontispiece to our first folk tale

From Clann Abhainn Cluaidh - The Great Fire of Dock Lane

30 October 1863
About two in the morning, fire was discovered to have broken out in a second floor apartment, near the south west corner and above Mr Douglas's, Mr McAllister's and Mr Griffith's shops. The alarm spread rapidly, and Mr Calderwood with the fire brigade was soon on the spot with apparatus, but in spite of all their efforts, the fire continued to spread on both side with alarming rapidity. Immediately, at the centre of the block of buildings were stone gables, and it was hoped these would arrest the progress of the fire; and the firemen set to work from these extremities in order to secure that result. In two hours after the fire was discovered, the whole half of the square was enveloped in flames, rising to a great height, illuminating the town to a great distance, and alarming the inhabitants, who turned out of bed in great numbers to witness the imposing spectacle. From some of the shops and offices a little property was rescue, including the safes with their valuable contents in books and documents. By five o'clock the fire had nearly exhausted itself; it gradually got lower, and when day broke the half of the square was a mass of smouldering ruins, the twisted walls only remaining with a heap of smoking debris inside.

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