Any new marriage on the Isle of Raasay today is a special day of celebration for the community. But back in the day it seems the bride and groom didn’t get much of the day – or even the night – to themselves. Needless to say, whisky helped keep the love flowing! Thanks to the memoirs of the aptly named Belgian visitor M D’amour we can revisit those wedding traditions.
Many are familiar with Boswell and Johnson’s account of their short visit to Raasay in 1773. But less well known is the memoir of the itinerant Belgian professional manservant Matthius D’amour published in 1833. Matthius spent a year at Raasay House in service to the Macleod household and recorded his detailed observations of traditional life on the island towards the end of the Macleod clan’s ownership.
Fishing for love
The day before a wedding all the young single women of the township would gather with the bride around a tub filled with water. They took turns to wash the bride’s dirty feet. When all had taken part a wedding ring from a happily-married woman was thrown into the murky, dirty washing water. Watched by the young men the girls – and women – would splash and stramash to be first to find the ring and fish it out. The prize at stake of course lay in the tradition that she who scooped the ring out first was next in line to marry! Unfortunately, this fine tradition has faded away as the girls on Raasay started regularly washing their feet so the ring became too easy to spot in clean water.
After the marriage ceremony in the kirk, the couple would lead the procession to the barn or house to commence the wedding feast. As they reached the entrance the bride would be showered, not with confetti, but with a sieve-full of crumbed shortbread! – A biscuity blessing signifying a life of plenty wished for the couple.
Drams at bedtime
It was the bride’s place to sit at the head of the long wedding feast table as the groom walked the floor, ensuring the wedding guest’s broth bowls were kept full. The feast ended when the bagpipes struck up, signalling time to put the table away. The groom would then ceremonially go round the room filling the raised glasses with bumper drams to get the full-blown wedding ceilidh and dancing started. As the evening wore on, at the appointed hour and unnoticed, the bride would secretly slip away followed shortly after by the groom.
A Dram From The Groom
The wedding ceilidh was halted when an elder called out to the revelling wedding party, summoning them to follow him out to the couple’s home. Arriving at the newlyweds’ house the company were led directly into the bedroom where they’d find the couple, undressed, sitting up in bed. The merry company stood round the bed and once again the whisky was passed around as the elder toasted the couple with the ceremonial ‘Sgailc-nid ‘, the dram of the nest’. The final wedding dram was then poured and ceremonially thrown in the face of each of the bride and groom to the cheers of the onlookers as they withdrew to allow the couple their own well-earned wedding night reverie.