Cuimnheach – Remembrance

It was mid November, and the Autumn Sun was shining on the Presbyterian Island of North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. There was a strange animation abroad that day. Men and women were gathering, dressed in black clothes which they usually wear on the Sabbath.

From all parts of the island the people came to converge on a little heather-clad knoll on which stands a memorial to the men and women from North Uist who gave their lives in the Great War. A Union Jack draped the memorial, which was a particularly beautiful one.

On the far-distant western horizon, faint and ethereal, the islands of St Kilda stood. Far to the South were the hills of Barra. North stood the Harris heights. East was the Isle of Skye, where once lived Cuchulainn, the Hound of Ulster and where his legend lives on.

Towards eleven o’clock the crowd had gathered round the memorial. From the neighbouring islands of Ballyshare, Grimsay and Benbecula some of them had journeyed, crossing the wide fords barefoot at ebb-tide. There were old men and women whose only speech was the homely soft Gaelic of the Isles, but also young people to whom the War was only a name.

Suddenly the slow, sad strains of a beautiful, almost magical, Gaelic Psalm were heard , carried on the breeze like the murmuring of waves on the distant shore . They sang brokenly, yet with great pride, with the absence of dear ones taken in the Great War. Then followed a Gaelic reading of scripture from the Holy Bible by the minister of the Isle and a fine oration. The names of the Fallen were read out one by one, and the pipers played the Flowers of the Forest.

On the heather, a little apart from the crowd, we stood in poignant grief. As the pipes were silent and the strains of the Last Post drifted across the moor, we witnessed the end of this wonderful ceremony. And as the people laid their poppy wreaths, our last lingering looks were directed towards the memorial , where the people were saying in the Gaelic, over and over again, the single Gaelic word Cuimhneach, which in the Burla, or English tongue, means everlasting Remembrance.

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