Fàilte! (Welcome!)

Fàilte! (Welcome!)
This blog is the result of my ongoing research into the people, places and events that have shaped the Western Isles of Scotland and, in particular, the 'Siamese-twins' of Harris and Lewis.
My interest stems from the fact that my Grandfather was a Stornowegian and, until about four years ago, that was the sum total of my knowledge, both of him and of the land of his birth.
I cannot guarantee the accuracy of everything that I have written (not least because parts are, perhaps, pioneering) but I have done my best to check for any errors.
My family mainly lived along the shore of the Sound of Harris, from An-t-Ob and Srannda to Roghadal, but one family 'moved' to Direcleit in the Baighs...

©Copyright 2011 Peter Kerr All rights reserved

Monday, 17 May 2010

'I will tell you how Rodel was cleared.'

It is presumed that the clearance was that of 1818 and the 'young Macleod' was Alexander Norman Macleod who had inherited Harris from his father, Alexander Hume Macleod, in 1811.
There were 150 hearths in Rodel.
150 hearths (note that is the warm heart of the home that he uses to count the households) and the 1841 census records less than 15. If we allow an average of 5 people per hearth, which I think is a reasonable figure for the time, then some 750 people were made homeless in this single Clearance.
Forty of these paid rent.
Forty paying rent tells us that the remaining 110 were either landless Cottars or, perhaps, farm workers etc whose salary was partly paid in the form of rent-free accomodation.
When young Macleod came home with his newly-married wife to Rodel he went away to show his wife the place, and twenty of the women of Rodel came and met them and danced a reel before them, so glad were they to see them. By the time the year was out,—twelve months from that day, these twenty women were weeping and wailing; their houses being unroofed and their fires quenched by the orders of the estate.
A poignant passage-imagine the scene of the Commissioners sitting and hearing those words spoken for the very first time, the images evoked, the way a soulless word' cleared' becomes a very human tragedy. All from a 'Crofter and Fisherman' from Scalpay, not a Barrister from Edinburgh!
I could not say who was to blame, but before the year was out 150 fires were quenched.
This hints that, rather than Macleod himself, it may have been the Factor's fault?
Some of the more capable of these tenants were sent to Bernera, and others were crowded into the Bays on the east side of Harris—small places that kept three families in comfort where now there are eight.
Interesting, and perhaps a tad unfortunate?, that he uses the phrase 'more capable' in this context but perhaps he was merely reflecting the manner by which they had been selected some 65 years before this day in Tarbert?
Some of the cottars that were among these 150 were for a whole twelve months in the shielings before they were able to provide themselves with permanent residences.
I cannot begin to imagine how a family faced with the prospect of spending a whole year in the simple shelter of a shieling in the Summer pastures managed to survive. No doubt many members, particularly amongst the youngest and eldest, did not.
Others of them got, through the favour of Mrs Campbell of Strond, the site of a house upon the sea-shore upon places reclaimed by themselves.
Mrs Campbell was the 'tackswomen' of Strond and I am wondering whether this explains the ruins near Borrisdale that I think were the 'Farm of Strond, Port Esgein' of the later census but 'upon the sea-shore upon places reclaimed by themselves' is too ambiguous for me to be sure.
JOHN M'DIARMID, formerly Crofter and Fisherman, Scalpa (88)
Evidence to the Highlands and Islands Commission.
TARBERT, HARRIS, WEDNESDAY, JUNE 13, 1883.

Although this is one of the oft-quoted pieces of evidence that the Commission received, I felt it worth a little more examination, not least because it might well explain how elements of my own ancestry came to be born in Strond and Direcleit (but not in 'Bernera'!) in the following few years.

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