When writer and ecologist Alastair McIntosh ordered a second hand book on eBay recently, he was thrilled to get a first edition with the dust cover still intact.
However, he was less impressed to find that the volume that had cost him £7.49 had within its covers a Western Isles Libraries stamp. There was no official stamp to say that it had been withdrawn. On enquiring with the library, he found the book was down as long overdue.
“I hugely value the library’s collection and the helpfulness of its staff,” he said. “Like many people, I rely on that oasis of learning in the heart of Stornoway for my research as a writer. I am therefore very glad to be able to see this copy returned.”
Alastair was brought up in Leurbost and is married to Vérène Nicolas. He is involved with Scottish land reform especially on Eigg and campaigned against the superquarry in Lingerbay. In 2006 he was appointed to the honorary position of Visiting Professor of Human Ecology at the University of Strathclyde (Department of Geography & Sociology) - the first such post in Human Ecology in a Scottish university.
The library book is called Father Allan’s Island by Amy Murray. Alastair describes it as “an elegant and elegiac account of life on the Isle of Eriskay in 1905.” Its author, Amy Murray, was a young American musicologist. She had visited the island for a summer, and recorded village life as it surrounded Fr. Allan McDonald, the renowned parish priest.
In 2002, the Gaelic scholar Ronald Black published a bilingual collection, The Poems of Fr Allan McDonald (Mungo Books, Glasgow). Black describes Murray as having been “a competent and sensitive transcriber of folk music” (p. 508). She is not to be confused with another visitor, Miss Ada Goodrich Freer, who, in 1894-5 had also visited the Hebrides. She milked Fr Allan of his stories of the second sight, but failed adequately to attribute them to him. That debacle, including the original case studies from Fr Allan’s notebooks, is documented in a book by John Lorne Campbell and Trevor H. Hall called Strange Things: The Story of Fr Allan McDonald, Ada Goodrich Freer, and the Society for Psychical Research’s Enquiry into Highland Second Sight (reprinted by Birlinn, 2006).
Remarking on his chance recovery of Murray’s book, Alastair McIntosh pointed out that it had not necessarily been stolen. It could simply have been a case of somebody who had passed away and their belongings, library books and all, being cleared by dealers.
But he added: “In school days, the fine for being overdue at Stornoway library was tuppence a day. Were that to be collected now, after so many years, and with interest compounded, it would give the library staff a happy day.”