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16 October 2014
Scottish Roots - Searching for your family history in Scotland

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The Real Kidnapped!
An island tale passed down from generation to generation.

Paraig an Oir

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.

The surnames 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".

Peter’s 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."

Next in the Histories series here.

Thanks to Edinburgh University Press - all rights reserved

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