The ghaist lichts

Ma mither wis fae the North-East o Skye. A clachan cried Stenschol at Staffin. She aye mindit me o ae nicht in the 1930s, whan she wis a lass o mebbe 25. Her auld mither caad out tae her an the ither young fowk that war ben the hous that nicht: “’Mon ower an see this!” Her mither — ma grandmither — wis pyntin out the scullery windae.

The hous they bade intae leukit out ower the Trotternish ridge, a muckle formation o black craigs an braes o staney rickles that lours ower the north o Skye.

Doun the daurk face o Ben Edra, whaur naebody wad be in the nicht, wis a stream o lichts. Wee dottit ghaist lichts comin doun the side o the law. It wis like a fairy airmy wis on the mairch fae the glen tae the plains ablo.

Queer tho they maun seem, thae lichts war real eneuch. A wheen o Skeanachs saw thaim. Mony o thaim are alive tae this day. Gin ye’re in Staffin, speir efter Lachie Gillies. He’s lívin still, an he saw it aa.

In thae days, fowk creditit the tales o ghaists an siclike supernaitural things mair nor we dae the day. Fowk gied mair room in their herts an heids tae the naitural warld.

Aabody wis sayin efter the lichts war spottit: “Something’s gaun’ae happen. Thae lichts war a sign, or a warnin.” A sign o whit, naebody could claim tae ken.

A few weeks gang by and they appear again. “Come here till you see this,” says ma grandmither ance mair, an ance mair the bairns keek out the windae ontae the daurk Trotternish ridge. The ghaist lichts are back, streamin aff the law like a fiery flottila doun a mountain burn.

Time passed. The 1930s turned tae the 1940s. Fowk aye spak o the lichts, but the war in Europe cowpit the naitural runnin o things, an mair pressin maiters cam tae the fore.

But ae still nicht in 1945 nae far fae the end o the war, a course haar smuired the hale o the isle. The lift ower Skye had been chowkit outthrou the war years wi American planes fleein tae Europe, or back hame. An this nicht wis nae different.

Ma mither felt the plane gangin owerheid, an thocht tae hersel: jings, thon’s awfu low. It wis a plane stappit fu wi young Yankie pilots heidit tae Italy. She didna hear the explosion. She didna ken the plane had crashed on the Trotternish Ridge till she noticed the hale clachan in a rammy outside.

The plane didna hae the hicht tae mak it ower the ridge, which wis lost in the haar. The plane breenged intae the heid o Ben Edra. Aabody on board dee’d on impact.

Ma faither, wi mair nor a dozen ither chiels fae the district, went up wi the polis tae tak the corps aff the glen. The carnage, aa the body pairts strewen ower sic a dulesome airt, wis ower muckle for ony man tae thole. It affectit ma faither deeply.

Ah mind hou he telt us about ae American sodger laddie that dee’d. This puir craitur had a gowden locket about his thrapple. The heat aff the explosion had sort o meltit it intae his flesh abuin his breist. The whummle o the crash had garred the locket open. On the left side o the locket wis a photae o a bonnie lass — the deid sodger laddie’s wife. On the richt o the locket wis a photae o twa bairns. The twa newly orphaned bairns o this puir sodger.

Thon aye stuck wi ma faither.

The carnage wis sae hellish that it teuk the polis an the local chiels a hale day tae gaither thegither the bits o airmen. The gloamin wis upon thaim afore they war fínished.

The wifies doun in the clachan war fashed wi the days’ events an steyed watchin the muckle law as nicht fell, feart for their husbands an brithers an bairns awa up there in the daurk.

The menfowk made their dulesome wey doun the path o Ben Edra by torchlicht, humphin the bitties o deed airmen wi thaim. The torches they cairit war vísible fae the clachan ablo.

Aa the wifies watchin Ben Edra saw the same thing. They saw the black o the Trotternish Ridge daurk agin the sky. An they saw these torches as a trail o dottit lichts runnin doun the law. They war fleggit hauf out their minds: these war the ghaist lichts back ance mair!

Ma mither saw it aa an she garred me ken: the lichts this nicht buir by the menfowk war the same pattern, pace an nummer as the anes as she had seen a puckle year syne, whan her grandmither had caad her tae the windae tae see the inexplicable lichts on Ben Edra.

A wheen o Skeanachs buir witness tae these lichts. Ma grandmither saw it, wir neibours in the clachan saw it. Lachlan Gillies saw it. Tae this day fowk at Staffin still speak about the ghaist-lichts, an hou they predíctit the demise o thae puir American sodgers.

Telt by Alec MacDonald tae Alistair Heather.

Alistair HeatherAlistair Heather is the Scots Editor at Bella Caledonia. He studies History an French at Aiberdeen University, an wirks wi the Elphinstone Institute promotin the cultur o the North-East. Gie him yer chat @historic_ally on Twitter.

Glossar o key wirds

Scots English
ghaist spirit/phantom
law hill
clachan hamlet/village
muckle big
wee small
Skeanach (Gaelic) (somebody frae the Isle o Skye)
cheil man

Whit’s that wird?

Scots English
gang (pronounced ‘gang’ or ‘ging’)

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