Maggie Ann Clouston
(Mrs Maggie Ann Clouston was for quite a few years Orkney’s oldest inhabitant, living to the age of 109. She was born at Claybank [on the bank of the burn almost opposite Vacquoy] in Rousay in 1880 into a large family*, in which everyone had to work from a young age, and all her life she enjoyed being active. Visiting her to record an interview when she was over 100 was a special pleasure. She would sit you down and make a cup of tea and cut a large slice of her birthday cake, and then gladly recall bygone days with great delight and good humour. This is part of a recording made on her 104th birthday with Kathryn Gourlay for Radio Orkney. (It is reproduced here with permission from the editors of The Orkney View, in which the article appeared.)
I was nineteen when I married and he was twelve years older than me – old men’s the best! Never marry a fisherman – it’s a hard life when they’re at sea and coarse weather comes and peedie boats: very, very worrying. Waiting for them all the time and hearing they’re coming in on a very coarse day and hauling their boat to a better piece and you hear them coming and you’re glad to see them.
He was not a very strong man, he didn’t last a long while – consumption was rife in those days but they can master it now. It was enormous, the number of folk that had consumption, and I was at the houses with it and I said I’m surely immune from it for I never took it, working so much among it, you see.
He went out every day; every morning he rose with the tide. When the tide was in they had to get up and go to sea, and they were small boats. We sold some of the fish and dried them on the dykes and pressed them, and we sold them in Kirkwall. Salted fish – the merchant bought them and sold them out of Kirkwall. Lobsters were very cheap in my young days. Lobsters were only a shilling, and they got eleven pence sometimes. That was the way we were kept down, you see. We could dress ourselves and go to kirk too, all the same.
We had a set of clothes we kept aside and only put on on a Sunday for going to the kirk. What a grand day we had – everybody was walking then. There were no cars or anything; everybody was walking. What a grand time we had on the road, all speaking together! Fourteen miles was the size of Rousay right round it, and I’ve been round it on a Sunday, every bit of it and at my auntie’s home at night for tea and milking the kye then. We’d go home at eight o’clock, running pieces of the road to get home on time then as well as now. Far better – dances at night, and all. And it was spoken about for a while. Now they never speak about a dance, it’s just that common.
My father was the only fiddler on Rousay for a great while, and he taught the other ones to play. He was a grand fiddler; he just fairly fitted into the dances and the time. Polkas and Schottisches and the Four-Couple Reel and the Flowers of Edinburgh. There were dances that came in and they learnt them from Kirkwall: Rory O’ More and Strip the Willow and the Queen Victoria.
We had a grand walk at our wedding, everybody went out with their partners and my father was there with the fiddle playing and played the whole road home and we were going with him – I suppose we did maybe fully two miles. We married in the house, decorated up for it. Plenty of whisky and plenty of ale and plenty of cakes and plum pudding and sweeties. We had our dance and we had our walk – the Quadrilles and the Lancers – that’s dancing! – and they take the sweep and everybody takes hands and they sweep in and that’s good dancing!
* Maggie Ann’s parents were Magnus Craigie and Ellen Cooper. Ellen’s parents were David Cooper and Douglas Craigie [Douglas being a popular female name in those days.] Ellen was born in 1859 when they were living at Sound in Egilsay, and was the eldest of their fourteen children.
Maggie Ann’s father Magnus married Ellen in 1879 and between 1880 and 1898 they had thirteen children. Magnus was the youngest of seven children born to Alexander Craigie of Whoam, later Falquoy, and Ann Murray, whose parents were Magnus Murray and Janet Robertson of Tofts, Quandale.
Maggie Ann married John Clouston, son of Magnus Clouston and Jane Craigie of Tou [later Shalter] in 1899 and they had two children, John and Maggie Jean.
Maggie Ann was born on 17 May 1880 - and passed away on 23 February 1989, just ten weeks or so short of her 109th birthday.