We cannot go past 25th January without celebrating Robbie Burns, but as I’ve posted about him before ... I thought whisky galore might be another way of looking at the Scottish whisky legends.
So please enjoy your haggis ‘n neaps, cranachan dessert (oatmeal, raspberries, malt whisky, Scottish honey and double cream), toasts of whisky as the pipers pipe the Haggis to the table before serving.
While I remind you of Whisky Galore the book, the film and the Whisky; I’m not sure why Whisky Galore popped into my head, but it did ... and I then found this fascinating tale. (The book in the States was released as ‘Tight Little Island’). I’m sure many of you will have read Compton Mackenzie’s book and/or seen the Whisky Galore Film (1949).
|Eriskay is in the Hebrides|
Compton Mackenzie’s (1883 - 1972) fictional account based on a real-life incident that occurred in 1941 on the Hebridean island of Eriskay when the S.S. Politician ran aground, and how a group of local Scottish islanders raided a shipwreck for its consignment of whisky – which spawned the legend: Whisky Galore, (the genre for the book is ‘farce’).
Official files released by the National Archives perhaps 70 years after the event (purely deduced from the Article appearing in The Scotsman seventy years afterwards) ... noted that the cargo of the ship trading with Jamaica and the US via New Orleans contained ....
|Beautiful treacherous Eriskay|
.... cotton, stoves, cutlery, medicines, baths and biscuits. But that was not all she was carrying. Secured in hold number 5 were nearly three million pounds of Jamaican banknotes and 260,000 bottles of first class whisky. As the whisky was for the American market no duty had been paid. The cargo was expected to sell for nearly half a million pounds.
Some innovative and dynamic whisky experts have very cleverly formed themselves into the Whisky Galore Limited company – trading on the famous name.
|SS Politician Whisky|
Their website tells of the legend and shows pictures of the whiskies they have created for sale under their banner. As I mentioned above the official files released by the Public Records Office show that it was not just spirits that disappeared – but a substantial sum of hard cash.
The book encompassed the islanders’ story of how they were determined ‘to have’ the bottles of whisky before the sea swallowed them completely, or before the Excise men arrived to collect the duty.
The thirsty islanders had nearly run out of the “water of life” and saw the grounding of the cargo vessel as an unexpected godsend. They managed to salvage several hundred cases before Neptune gathered in his bounty.
Mackenzie’s prose captures the various accents of the area and also includes much common Gaelic that was in use at the time; while the book contains a useful glossary of both the meaning and approximately pronunciation of the language.
|Whiskies from Malts.com|
You can imagine the gloom descending on the disconsolate natives – no spiritual drink ... but hark, a loud thumping crash is carried with the stormy winds, jagged tearing noises rise above the waves – a ship is downed ... the departing crew allow a glint to the residents’ eyes.
Then of course the farce begins ... typical British Home Guard humour – this time the bumptious Cap’n orders the cargo confiscated ... the wily locals determined to outwit that righteous foreign English commander ..
... let ‘battle’ begin – bottles being smuggled away, hidden in crevices, in caves, buried in crypts ... everywhere ingenious hidey-holes being filled – guess who wins this skirmish ... well we know ... and no doubt many toasts with the golden spirit ensued.
The ship held an even greater treasure which 70 years on is known to us today ... eight cases of currency – in all there were nearly 290,000 ten shilling notes, which would be worth the equivalent of several million pounds today.
|Ten shilling note: Old Mauve Britannia|
notes were only issued in war time
Treasures St Andrews.co.uk
The Crown Agents thought the notes would not get into circulation – and to a degree they were correct, but for years they kept turning up at banks around the world.
The Crown Agents in 1941 also noted in a memorandum “the local police service is in no doubt on a very, very small scale but the nature of the place and its surrounds should tend to reduce the chances of serious loss through the notes being presented and paid.”
Even contraband notes can find their way around the world ... in 1941 one empty cash case was found abandoned ... by 1958, the Crown Agents reported that 211,267 notes had been recovered by the salvage company of Scottish police – and then had been destroyed.
2,638 notes had been presented in banks in England, Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, Malta, Canada, the United States and Jamaica, of which only 1,509 were thought to have been presented in good faith. But that leaves 76,404 notes which were never accounted for and whose fate remains unknown. I wonder when they will show up – and where they are hidden.
A map of the main taste variables in the vast and bewildering universe of uisge beatha. For further details please visit BigThink.com/ideas/41781 – it’s a wonderful map isn’t it?
So on this day of Burns’ Night – celebrate with a toast of whisky or other tipple to those smugglers, hoarders, escapaders, authors, script writers and film makers who give us these legends to draw images from for our future stories or blog posts ....
|Whisky Galore Fudge|
... the evening is traditionally brought to an end with a vote of thanks (perhaps some whisky fudge), after which everyone is asked to stand, join hands, and sing Auld Lang Syne ... and here endeth Burns Night for another year!
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