A REMARKABLE new book will be published next month which details life on a Hebridean island in the early 1970s.

Bearnaraigh na Hearadh, or ’Tis 50 Years Since – a Study of Life in a Hebridean Island Community has been written by Susanne Barding (below), a Danish anthropologist now living in the Faroe Islands, who undertook research in Berneray as a young woman during 1970-72.

The book is a substantial and comprehensive account running to some 600 pages and containing more than 100 contemporary black and white photographs of one particular community at one unique point in time.

Published by the Islands Book Trust (IBT), it will be launched on Berneray (Bearnaraigh na Hearadh) in the Sound of Harris, now joined by causeway to North Uist, on September 29.

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The book includes the life histories of three siblings – John Ferguson, Rebecca Ferguson, and Mary MacAskill – as related to Barding in the 1970s, together with many stories and anecdotes gathered from the community.

Life on Berneray in the early 1970s was far removed from the romantic rural idyll imagined by many from the outside.

It was dominated by hard work and economic necessity on the croft and at sea, by a difficult and unforgiving climate and by social conventions which were sometimes restrictive but which helped the community to survive and underpinned a rich and distinctive Gaelic culture.

The book records in meticulous detail how the crofting community operated, for example, the use of the inbye land and common grazings; the seasonal movement of livestock to and from offshore islands; fishing; peat-cutting; domestic life; Gaelic traditions, the church; and the role of men and women, young and old, in their interactions, personal challenges and social life.

The National: Berneray resident John MacDonald baiting a creelBerneray resident John MacDonald baiting a creel (Image: .)

Chapter headings include: History of Berneray; Life Histories; Stories; Population; Crofting; Lobster Fishing; Wool; Men, Women and Work; Networks; Values and Social Control; Identity; Ceilidh and Visit; Summer Dance; and New Year Traditions.

An Index of People lists more than 300 men and women, mainly from Berneray, who are mentioned in the book, along with their dates of birth and death – a valuable social document in its own right.

The author has also been able to place her precise and insightful observations of 1970s Berneray within a much wider context, both in the geographical sense of other island communities – not only in the Hebrides but also in the Northern Isles of Scotland and the Faroes – and in terms of changes over time, taking account of the influences which have driven economic and social trends throughout Europe, including Scottish islands, over the last half century.

The National: Annie Ferguson at the croft where she grew upAnnie Ferguson at the croft where she grew up (Image: .)

The subtitle of the book deliberately echoes Walter Scott’s ground-breaking and most successful historical novel Waverley or ’Tis Sixty Years Since, written 60 years after the period of the 1745 Rising in which its action is set.

Barding will return to Berneray for the first time in 50 years for the launch, which will be followed by a community ceilidh.

She has lived in the Faroe Islands since 1974, working on books and as a teacher, and only since retirement has she had the opportunity to write up all the material she collected on Berneray all those years ago.

The result is an amazing book, combining intimate life histories and personal stories with her professional insights.

Priced £20 (ISBN 978-1-907443-83-1), Bearnaraigh na Hearadh, or ’Tis 50 Years Since – a Study of Life in a Hebridean Island Community is available from www.islandsbooktrust.org or bookshops throughout the Outer Hebrides and beyond. For more details, contact John Randall at john673randall@btinternet.com or phone IBT on 07930 801899