Forging allies on Eigg
In March 2017, author James Crawford spent two nights in Sweeney’s Bothy as part of his research for the new book Who Built Scotland: 25 Journeys in Search of a Nation. James, along with four other contributors (the novelists Alexander McCall Smith and James Robertson, the poet and essayist Kathleen Jamie, and the historian Alistair Moffat) picked five buildings each from throughout Scotland’s history, using them to explore wider themes about art, politics, society and culture. Sweeney’s Bothy was the final building of the 25. In the spirit of the Bothy Project’s aim to offer spaces for exploring artistic craft, James’s intention was to write as much as he could of this final chapter during the course of his stay. The text below, taken as an extract from Who Built Scotland, was written during his time in Sweeney’s.
When writing about Eigg, the lure of words like ‘magical’, ‘dream-like’ and ‘fairytale-esque’ is difficult to resist. By the end of my week there, my refrain became that I was sick of rainbows. Sick of them! Everywhere I looked I was confronted with another glorious technicolour arch: over my shoulder, out of the window, in the reflection of a teapot, in the bottom of my hiking boot. If I reached into my pocket for a cigarette, I would probably pull out a rainbow.
An Island Estate
In these crannies of the mountains, the mode of supplying elemental needs is still slow, laborious, personal… There is a deep pervasive satisfaction in these simple acts. Whether you give it conscious thought or not, you are touching life, and something within you knows it (p.82)
My ongoing research is writing about the early women film-makers and photographers who were documenting Scottish Highlands & Islands life in the 1920s’ and 30s’. A visit last year to Mary Ethel Muir Donaldson’s photographic collection at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery archives showed that she had made a series on Eigg. Her photographs illustrated her travel guide ‘Wanderings in the Western Highlands and Islands‘ (1921). Whilst I had been able to spend time in the places that other photographers or film-makers had lived, such as Jenny Gilbertson (1902-1990) on Shetland, and Margaret Fay Shaw (1903-2004), who stayed on South Uist and Canna, I had not yet been able to travel to experience any of the key locations that Donaldson (1876-1958) had photographed. The weeklong residency on Isle of Eigg gave me the invaluable opportunity to pinpoint then visit the locations in the photographs, taken 1918-1936. The week also allowed the chance to find out more about a second Scottish photographer, Violet Banks  and her photographs of Eigg from her tour of the Western Hebrides c. 1920s & 30s’.
I was at Inshriach Bothy when October turned to November, just after the trees had turned to gold, yellow and copper, and as I was turning away from a Southern hemisphere spring towards a Northern hemisphere autumn. It was so still. So quiet. I’m used to the movement and stage whispers of the sea and didn’t quite know what to make of the quiet and the still. So for the first day or so I just stood inside it. I stood in the birch trees with their veils of gold leaves, looking through them to the purple Cairngorms and felt like I was inside a Gustav Klimt painting. Sometimes a breeze would drift through the veils, and the gold brushstrokes would detach and drift and build up on the ground instead. Nature animating art. I climbed up behind the Bothy and stood still and –twice – an owl flew past, low, fluid and almost silent.