Around the Peat Fire

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The year was 1912; the date the twenty-ninth of May. In a little geo at the village of Shawbost on the Atlantic coast of Lewis in the Western Isles, a group of crofter women were gathering seaweed. The inward surge of an ataireachd bhuan (‘the everlasting swell’) swirled up to their feet. Beneath the outward heave of the receding water the shingle grumbled. It was on this day that Calum Smith was born, and his mother was one of those working on the beach. While his childhood was a happy one, it was one of very considerable poverty, and his story gives a unique insight into life on Lewis through the First World War and to the opening of the Second. Full of humour and life, his memoirs are a celebration of a still largely Gaelic culture and society in the throes of great change. His boyhood and education took place in and around Stornoway (at Shawbost and Laxdale) and the book is peopled with characters and families well known in Lewis to this day. It is also the story of an island and community at a time now at the edge of memory and about which little is written. This extended anthology edition has been supplemented with numerous articles by Calum Smith, making it the definitive collection of his work.

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