The Real Kidnapped! An island tale passed down from generation to generation.
In this extract
from Iona, the Living Memory of a Crofting Community by
Mairi MacArthur, we highlight the oral tradition.
"Tales of sailing, emigrating and making a fortune are curiously
blended in the tradition of Paraig an Oir (Peter of the Gold). It was
a well-known story in Iona, told in various versions, one of which was
published by John MacCormick under the title Calum an Oir.
The basic thread was the kidnapping of an Iona fisherman, Paraig, by a
passing ship, ostensibly to navigate her through the treacherous rocks
at the south end of the Ross of Mull. He was held on board, made to work
without reward and abandoned at their destination in America, or, in one
version, Spain. Eventually, with the help of other sailors, the captain
was forced to recompense him with a bag of gold pieces and Paraig made
his way back to Iona, by which time there was dent in his shoulder from
the weight of his spoils.
attributed to him most commonly were MacArthur or MacInnes. In 1985 American
descendants of a James and Catherine MacArthur, who had emigrated in 1847,
visited Iona. Through official and family records they had reconstructed
their links to a branch of MacArthurs of whom no trace had remained in
the island itself. In Canada they had become connected through marriage
with a MacInnes family, also from Iona. A brother of Catherine, Peter
MacArthur, had gone first to Canada then to Australia for a year, to work
in the gold mines. He returned to Iona in the mid-1850s and married Mary
MacDonald, a sister of Archibald MacDonald, of Martyrs Bay croft. (The
ruins of that house were often pointed out to one informant by her mother
as the spot where the kidnapped Paraig an Oir of her story had lived).
Peter emigrated a second and final time, with Mary, in 1859. His descendants
in the USA have always known him as "Peter the Gold".
Peters exploits may have been elaborated through storytelling over
the years after his departure. Or it could be that the nickname was transferred
to him. Whatever the origins of the nickname, its independent survival
on both sides of the Atlantic bears witness to the enduring character
of the oral tradition."
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