Writer Alastair McIntosh with the Stornoway Library book
When Scottish writer, academic and activist 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There was no official stamp to say that it had been withdrawn; and, on enquiring with the library, he found the book was down as long overdue.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,” Alastair 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.”
The book – ‘Father Allan’s Island’ - is by Amy Murray; and described by Alastair as “an elegant and elegiac account of life on the Isle of Eriskay in 1905.”
Its author, Amy Murray, was a young American musicologist who 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), where he describes Amy as having been “a competent and sensitive transcriber of folk music.”
She is however not to be confused with another visitor, Miss Ada Goodrich Freer, who in 1894-5 had also travelled to the Hebrides where 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 Amy 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.”