209 comments on “Perpetuating some myths of the Highland Clearances

  1. Thank God you’ve cleared that one up! I cannot understand why these nice landlords were ever criticised. Yon Dukey Sutherland should have put up a far, far bigger statue of himself. He deserves it! Some folk are just so ungrateful.

    • Hello, Roddy, just dropped by to thank everyone for this fascinating discussion on how history and mythology are made i this context. I was trying to figure out who or what was at the bottom of the Clearances after seeing some inflammatory stuff which seemed more informed by emotion than anything. It is actually much more involved and interesting than that, it seems.

  2. Why, if I stopped paying my dig money, I’d be loaded onto a leaky boat and taken thousands of miles away to be dumped on some godforsaken place with no pubs or off-licenses. There, of course, I would give thanks to my betters for not removing my testicles before loading my onto the leaky boat. Hotboy p.s. How did these nice landlord folk get to own this land anyway?

  3. A fictitious modern-day scenario involving Hotboy.

    Hotboy comes to me, as an e-aquaintance of some years, and asks if he can build a hut on my very small croft in Brora. In fact, the croft is no more than two fields (one quite boggy) with a few stones remaining from a ruin that was inhabited centuries ago. But it suits Hotboy’s purposes, so he goes ahead and builds a hut. The hut is not much, but he seems quite happy there, and he pays me a nominal rent of £10 per year.

    Hotboy lives there for many years. He spends most of his time meditating in his hut, and sometimes getting pissed on the home brew he makes. He grows enough vegetables beside his hut to survive on, and makes a bit on the side selling excess home brew to the locals. With this excess, he manages to pay me the nominal rent each year.

    For Hotboy, it is quite a blissful existence as he has few concerns and no responsibilities, even though to the rest of us his hut seems very basic, and his lifestyle very limited.

    But then, things start to go badly. The local offy starts selling cheap collapso for £1.70 a bottle, and no-one wants to buy Hotboy’s home brew anymore. Worse still – a plague hits his vegetable plot, and most of his harvest is lost. He comes to me and says:

    “Rods. Ah’m skint. I cannae pay yez ra rent this year.”

    Of course, I let him off. But next year he comes to me again and says:

    “Rods. Ah’m still skint. Ra tatties are a’ drookit. Ah cannae pays yez ra rent again. An cuid yez sub me ’til next harvest?”

    So, I let him off again, and I sub him. But in return we agree that he’ll repair the fence round the croft, which he does.

    But the next year it is little different. Not only that, but having followed the England cricket team round the world, I don’t have much money left myself. So I say to Hotboy that it can’t go on like this. I’ve had an offer from the local farmer to graze some sheep on the croft, and the farmer has said that he’ll pay me £100 a year. This will be enough for me to get a ticket for the Saturday of the Edgbaston Test. I give Hotboy another year in the hut, but tell him that things can’t continue the way they have been unless he pays the nominal rent.

    Sadly, next year, it’s even worse for Hotboy. His vegetable patch is a complete disaster, and he’s hasn’t even been able to make any home brew. He’s no money left at all.

    I’m forced to put him on the bus to Glasgow, where the rest of his family have been living in prosperity for some time, and I rent the croft to the farmer.

  4. Where did Hotboy get the malt for his home brew? Or perhaps it was potato beer. PS I suppose the modern meaning of “home brew” is rent allowance from the social security.

    As a student I had to write an essay on the clearances. In those days I think victimhood was the accepted wisdom.

    • The jeely was your mistake then, a bourgeois luxury. Albert says Bellshillbillies are used to malt extract pieces.

  5. So, Hotboy is no sooner back in Glasgow than he’s down the Byers Road, and into Jinty Mcguinty’s. Shortly after, someone fleeces him of his tackies. The next day he tells his wein “Ah’m tae auld fer tae help on ra Barras” and he starts to badmouth me. “If only Rodz hidnae cleared ma aff his land. And he’s goan an torched ma hut as weel.” This is how a myth is started about the Baddie o’ Badnellan..

  6. The change over from a clan based (amount of fighting men you could get out to fight for you) and an encroaching capitalist system was the reason the Gaelic world was upset so much. Their entire world order changed after Culloden. The people were made to make way for sheep and put on deliberately small holdings (crofts). The Gaelic middle classes got out and Gaeldom became pauperized. You are misrepresenting the book you have read. It is no myth that Gaeldom was colonised and conditions gave a lot of people no recourse but to ‘choose’ to leave. As far as victim culture goes that is a misrepresentation brought from outside to rubbish the internal story of the Gael.
    There may have been over population but this was not helped by the fact that people were moved on to tiny crofts along the coastlines deliberately so they would have to get involved with kelp and fishing (and the cash economy) which led them to experience the changing fortunes of the global economy. When Kelp and fishing didn’t work out they were left on small holdings with potatoes to feed them. Potato blight came and they were made to work for food relief sometimes given to them every 2 weeks instead of daily to instill prudence amongst what was seen as the racially inferior Gaels.
    Why don’t you read The Making of the Modern Scottish Highlands 1939-1965, John A. Burnett. An honest account of the story is provided that is aware of the outside and inside telling of the story. It is written by a Gael academic and is well aware of the different historocities and historographies out there.
    Go on MacLeod you might actually learn something.

  7. Hi Dubh,

    Thank you for your comment. I agree with some of the things you say, and not with some other things.

    Yes, the clan system gradually broke down after Culloden. However, most of the clearances happened 70 years or so after Culloden. On a smaller scale, there were some clearances before the main clearances.

    Yes, the new plots offered to many of those cleared were deliberately made small. The idea was to allow some land for crops, but not enough to live off entirely, and the hope was that this would encourage the growth of industry – kelp/fishing/coal/woolens/tanning/etc. When kelp took a downturn, things got hard.

    I’d be interested to know what proportion of those receiving poor relief were people in the ‘new’ crofts, and what proportion came from the glens. I don’t know the figure myself.

    Yes, many/some of the ‘middle classes’ got out. Many of the people who left for other countries were not the poorest people. In some cases, such as Skye, some who left were very poor, and their passages were sometimes paid for by the landowners.

    I hope that I’m not misrepresenting Richards’ book. I read it carefully and agree with him. I certainly was not saying that Richards was perpetuating myths. Prof Devine’s book is also very good http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/7324903/to-the-ends-of-the-earth-by-tm-devine.thtml I’ve also enjoyed his lectures.

    I don’t really agree with the word ‘colonised’ because many of the people organising the clearances were Scots and ‘colonisation’ to me at least implies another race doing the colonisation. Maybe my interpretation of that word is wrong, though. Some of those doing the clearances were the traditional chiefs. Some were from Aberdeen. Some were lowlanders. Often, it was bureaucrats in Edinburgh who were managing bankrupt estates previously owned by the chiefs. Sometimes it was people who’d made money from industrialisation in England who bought the estates and changed, or tried to change, the economic structure.

    Today, we look at what happened as being very harsh. In the early 19th century much of life was harsher than today, and some of the new estate owners, who had invested heavily were perplexed by the bad press they received. Some of them believed that, just as parts of England had become industrialised, similar economic changes could occur in the Highlands.

    The ‘victim culture’ I feel is a more modern thing. This is where the myths come in.

    The book you mention sounds interesting from the review http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/1238 I will check it out.

    Please see also https://roddymacleod.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/general-malaise/


    • It matters not one jot if the colonisers were Scottish, Anglicised Clan Chiefs or English industrialists the normal people were colonised and the middle classes were disenfranchised as the new money based system took over. I came to this conclusion while reading a book called Decolonizing Methodologies by Linda Tuhiwai Smith who is a Maori discussing colonialism generally. Looking at it from the Gaels point of view their culture was colonised, as was the land under a foreign system. Have you heard of Duthchas?
      Also, you say it was 70 years after Culloden that most of the Clearances happened. I don’t see what relevance that has. I don’t see the change of one ancient cultures system over to another as a series of unconnected events. This is the problem with the modernist view point when looking at sources. The potential plight of Gaelic culture seems always to be inevitable.
      You talk about ‘real history’ but how do you quantify that? Can you tell me what is actually going on in any given political situation today (will you rely on one interpretation or will you be relying on different perceptions?). When will you be able to tell me the truth?
      A lot of the popular historical discourse seems to surround the idea of whether the Highlands has a ‘victim culture’ because of the clearances or not and whether this is an earned perception. Pointing to economics and overpopulation, a case is made that conditions left landowners no choice. That the inevitability of modernism is excuse for their capitalistic actions and that their actions should be considered guilt free and more important that Gaelic victim culture should cease. However, this neglects the other side of the story.
      One told from inside the culture that looks to how the people had been abandoned and betrayed by their own kind(often schooled in English public schools [another method of colonisation]) and left to the mercy of a new foreign system were worth was measured differently.

      “Through crofterization the Gaels witnessed the destruction of a natural economy and the reorganization of the pattern of settlement and of the relations of production. This led to the diminution of the Gael, and Gaeldom itself, to a redundant and impoverished peasantry.” (Burnett)

      Whether people meant good for the people or not is beside the point. I agree with you that Sutherland may have thought he was doing the best for the people, but I say that the ‘improvement’ was entirely an enlightenment construct and so a foreign theory imposed.

      Enclosure in England was similarly viewed with horror at the time, and now. Can you tell me what is the difference? I think it is just that British views were changing and that the Clearance story survives above others because of the change in attitude to the crofters and the Irish peasants late 19th Century.

      I find that when people say ‘victim culture’ they seem to be telling me that the status and hardships of the Gaels is down to their own self pity. However, I say the Gaels feel proud of the concessions they won in the crofter’s struggles through the 19th and 20th centuries and I know there is a lot of good work going on in the land buy outs. In Harris they have been able to progress forward to supply housing land and jobs to the people (where successive central governments have been helpless). This is now possible because they have access to the land for the first time.
      This is all political and it is not something that happened in the past but is happening now.
      I am from Dunvegan by the way and wonder (you being a MacLeod) if you have any connections to the area?

  8. Hi Dubh,

    I think that to most people the word colonise has overtones that make it not the best word to use in the context of the Clearances, however, in terms of what happened to the Gael culture, it may well be appropriate.

    I have a problem with connecting Culloden with the Clearances, because of the time between the two – two or three generations, in those days. Once again, however, in terms of change in culture, it was part of an ongoing process, so I don’t disagree with you on that.

    Did I talk about ‘real history’? I can’t find those words in my post.

    WRT victim culture, I see that as a modern thing – looking for something external to blame things on.

    I hope I didn’t give the impression of implying that anything was ‘guilt free’.

    When a landowner became bankrupt, there were few options for him/her (mostly him, of course).

    “Enclosure in England was similarly viewed with horror at the time, and now. Can you tell me what is the difference? I think it is just that British views were changing and that the Clearance story survives above others because of the change in attitude to the crofters and the Irish peasants late 19th Century.” Much of that is very true, however clearances in England happened some time before the clearances in Scotland. By the time of the Highland Clearances, more people could read, the media was more powerful, and since that time there has been the myth that it was entirely inflicted by the English.

    Yes, there is a lot of good work going on in the land buy outs. If that might have been an option in the early 19th century then things would have been very different.

    I can trace my ancestors back to Tain in early 19th Century. Before that, possibly from Assynt. We go to Dunvegan fairly often. My father is on a list near the entrance.


    • Entirely inflicted by the English may be inaccurate but it is not an argument I hear from within the Gaeltachd very often. I hear more that the Church of Scotland ministers got big manses and told the people to do as the landowner told them etc. Not English so much as miorun mor nan Gall – the great hatred of the lowlander.
      Also, pretty quickly the local chiefs were largely replaced by people from outside.
      On another related note you should look to “To the Ends of the Earth by T.M. Devine who discusses the racialist view of many of those giving food aid. As ideas of race and Darwinism became part of early anthropology and books like The Races of Men became popular racist views of Teutonic superiority became common. The Gaels were seen as lazy and uncouth etc. They were given food for quite pointless work programs and often given food every 2 weeks instead of when they needed it to instill prudence that their race was seen as lacking in. So, improvement for the people. I see any blame towards the English as being the Highland reaction to the other Scottish people thinking of themselves as Anglo Saxon or otherwise Teutonic at the time. Blaming the English is natural in this sense as the rest of the Scottish saw themselves as English and the Gaels only saw galls (foreigners). As we now know most people (of longstanding Uk extraction) in whatever part of the UK are of mostly Celtic DNA. So all this racial fighting has been ill informed nonsense.
      In other words a large part of the animosity between Scotland and England has nothing to do with the Highland people’s views and is early medieval at least. The Lords of the Isles were a threat because they may have sided with England against the Scottish Kings. I don’t think the Gaels ever thought it was the English but rather the foreign culture and system that wished them to become integrated and forget their old culture.

      I will use colonialism along side what happened elsewhere as the blame for the Jacobite cause was left with the Highlanders and after that the area was mapped, militarised, pacified and the land cleared of what the colonised people had been using it for and used for the economic or sporting interests of the new ruling culture (whether made up of newly accultarised Chiefs or not). Land was forfeited and the symbols of Gaelic culture banned. What exactly are you looking for when you find it hard to call colonialism? A large scale genocide? Is Ethnocide not enough? Is approporiation of land into an outside socio-economic system leaving a people disenfranchised not enough?

      When I said ‘true history’ I was referring to something you said in the other blog link you sent me.
      I think you have been reading too much Fry as I imagine that is where you get the Taliban reference from (if not where?). You do know he is a supporter of independence?

  9. A few ministers stood up for those cleared, a few more helped them out, and some didn’t want to see violence. I expect that they were influenced by the local landowners a lot as well.

    WRT food aid, those in Glasgow, etc where money was often raised got weary of the constant call on their pockets. They supported a different long term solution.

    As I think you are saying, there was a divide – those in the central belt and borders seeing the Highlanders as uncouth. Then, in later Victorian times, the Highlanders were romanticised. That aspect remains today, especially abroad.

    Devine met people in America who were so disappointed to realise that as their ancestors came from Bellhill, they really had very little in common with the cleared Highlanders.

    Not all poor relief was pointless. There were many roads built through it, in Sutherland.

    I’m more interested in the blame as apportioned today.

    The Lords of the Isles were previously seen as a threat because they often sided with the French. Everything changed after Waterloo. As did the demand for beef for the army, which reduced. This had a further negative effect on the Highland economy.

    If I understand it correctly, the differences between Scots Law, retained after 1707, and English law, gave the locals less rights towards the land in Scotland.

    I’ve never read Fry. The clash of cultures idea still seems to me to have resonance with the Taliban.


    • They were very often related to the Chief and they did the landowners bidding and told the people that it was there proper place. Evangelicals and the Free Church enabled the people a voice that was anti landlord. It gave the people a democratic (yes with faults) way of worshiping (local elders) while allowing these sentiments a voice. Some ministers were active leaders in the land movement.
      The romantic movement was far reaching and Bonnie prince Charlie was using the Highlanders and tartan as romantic propaganda when he landed. Later 19th Century romantics may have developed things to quite a ridiculous (to us) degree but the romantic movement was antithetical to the industrial and pragmatic movement. We owe a lot to it today though it has become a word used to discount anything as flawed or fanciful.
      I can’t really believe you are suggesting that the starving Highlanders should have been put to work for their famine food grain. A lot of the work was meaningless and the idea that some races were superior to others was a reality. Can you imagine the same happening today? The Red Cross putting famine victims to work? It was an undeserving poor thing.
      Also, I don’t know what you are suggesting that Highlander’s should have welcomed dispossessed onto their already meagre land? Why because they were supposed to be the goodies?
      I also think there is too much trust in written sources (as if it was gospel) from within the debate. Just because someone said they were a good guy doing what they could for the people (while moving them from the only lives the knew out of the way on to the coasts) it doesn’t mean we should believe them. It seems to me that some would have it that the Highland clearances never happened and that landowners only did their best by the people. It would be a first where a ruling economic class didn’t take advantage of those without legal recourse. It would have been the only European enclosure movement that hadn’t caused considerable hardship.
      If they were only thinking of the people why did they pass law to stop them emigrating when they wanted to retain them for work (kelp, fishing etc.)? The landowners were also in the parliament and they had control over these things. When the economy changed all of a sudden no kelp needed and emigration heavily encouraged.

      People were being pressured off their land onto other communities. I know this because I have been researching what happened in Glendale. The factor who was a law unto himself was continually putting pressure on people as well as outright clearing them. People in Glendale had people from elsewhere on Skye put onto them and meanwhile the shepherds were encroaching on their land with their animals. It was sustained pressure but had it not been for the insurrection there the only record of this would have been in the oral tradition (which is largely ignored as a source regardless of the strong oral tradition). The factor of course denied this ill treatment.

      This was a result of being put into a different economic-agrarian system and being in the position where if the landowner no longer wanted you they could raise the rent or move you. The Crofter’s Act is responsible for allowing the people to stay under a fixed rent. Outside the Crofting Counties they didn’t get this protection.
      “Unlike most of the rest of the Highlands, Aberdeenshire was never included within the scope of the Crofters’ Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886 because the powerful lowland landowners refused to countenance such a move. As a consequence, vast swathes of the Highlands in the non-crofting counties have lost their people, their language and their culture as the tenants of the land were never more than one year away from eviction.” Andy Wightman, The poor had No Lawyers.

    • The Highland way of life was severely damaged by the government response to the Jacobite Rebellions and the removal of local administration of land.
      Once gifted to remote landlords who had no respect or understanding of the region, the mess was inevitable.
      Many of the people forced to the coasts had to make their own homes.
      They had no boats and thus began their new circumstances in debt to buy necessary equipment.

      After Victoria ran away from London, her servants and visitors in Deside invented a new set of so called ”Highland” traditions and cultures to keep her amused and these perpetuate a new set of myths.

      The discovery of the potential of Hydro electric power in the 20th century caused many rivers to be dammed, flooding some glens; after the inhabitants were moved out of course.

      • Thanks for that comment, John. I agree that the Highland way of life was very much changed after Culloden. Land had traditionally been ‘gifted’ to people for many centuries, for reward or loyalty, etc. I don’t know specific cases of “no respect or understanding of the region” in that respect, maybe you can enlarge on that one. Some people ended up on the coasts, some (a few) were provided with houses (examples in Brora). Some may well have become in debt to get access to boats. A bit like https://roddymacleod.wordpress.com/2015/08/16/africa-in-transition/ The romanticisation of the noble highlander wasn’t dependent only on Queen Victoria, but she certainly had a role in that process. By the time hydro electric schemes came along the glens were certainly less populated. Few examples in Scotland similar to the Volta.

  10. A further interesting point was the amount of localised movement in the Highlands. In times of hunger, some folk moved to the towns, or to areas in Wick, etc, often of their own accord (looking for work or food). These folk were sometimes seen as squatters, even by the folk who suffered clearance.

  11. You’re assuming a few things which I haven’t said, BTW.

    I was interested in the place of the Nabobs in the Clearances. Many were Scots, 2nd or 3rd sons, schooled in Scotland, made money in India and China, came back, invested their money sometimes in estates or parts of estates. Sometimes they just built a fancy lodge, sometimes they got involved in economic changes, sometimes they used agents. These were largely ‘self-made’ men, though they wouldn’t have come from the poorest classes. They were looked down upon by the longer standing landed classes in England.

    In Glendale, Skye, the local people would have been, as they still are there, pretty independent. How long had the tenants who they were trying to evict not paid any rent for?

    Aberdeenshire is far more fertile than the west.

  12. From the little that I know about the later period, big changes resulted from both the Education Act Scotland of 1872 – so by that time I’d assume that many more (most?) people in Skye could read – and the coming of the railways. Better transportation and education change things. By 1880 this is now 135 years after Culloden and more than a generation after the main Clearances. Even allowing for things going more slowly in Skye, there must have been more going on than simply an extension of what had happened previously in the main Clearances. The Battle of the Braes seems to have started about grazing rights. Is this simply an extension of enclosure that had happened elsewhere a long time previously.

    • Toremore clerared Ramasaig which was once a township of Glendale (no one there now and it has wild status).
      There were two main clearances and apart from that plenty going on in between (obviously not so much when they wanted people for labour or a military campaign).
      In Braes they reclaimed the grazing they felt had been taken from them. In Glendale they had their own grazing encroached by the factors shepherds animals as well as people from other cleared areas animals. The factors animals had been put on when the men were of at sea. They had been there for just under 20 years even though the people complained. The factor did nothing so the people eventually reacted. It was about grazing but also about creating crofts (the factor was trying to crowd everyone out to get money from the shepherds). One of the first things the people of Glendale did after they agreed to buy the land was create new crofts.
      Enclosure in England saw the landed classes claim what was common lands and start to fence everything off. They claimed ownership over the wild animals and virtually robbed the rural population of free movement and access to a lot of their food. The same happened in Scotland and now Feudal ownership in Scotland is some of the least equitable in the world.

      The Clan system relied on people. The feudal system allied to the emergent capitalist system and ‘improvement’ farming meant landowners didn’t want people they wanted them out of the way and used the laws and lawyers they had control over to disenfranchise the people.

      Have you read Andy Wightmans work?

  13. OK. Read that with interest.

    Andy Wightman writes about Trump a lot. Trump seems very petulant. A strange man, with his hair on backwards.

    I think we’ve got enough golf courses. Some are, in fact, closing.

    • He is that. Seems like he is used to getting his own way so I guess he must have insisted on the hair.
      I have enjoyed chatting with you. I have a dissertation to finish in 2 weeks about Glendale and North Harris so this has been a nice distraction.

  14. Roddy & Dubh,
    As a Scot ex-pat living in coastal Oregon, USA, I’ve enjoyed the hx lesson. Especially since I play pipes & attempt to keep piobaireachd alive as best I can. I’m particularly interested in how Piping changed with the “Act of Proscription,” subsequent Sir Walter Scott/Victorian romanization of piping, the MacPherson/Cameron divide, Aonghas MacAoidh & staff notation, etc. thanks again.
    Cheers from Brookings Oregon,
    Keir Todd

  15. High Keir,

    Thanks for your comment. I don’t know much at all about that side of things. Perhaps some other people who view this post will be able to help. The romanticising of the highlands in Victorian times changed many people’s perspectives.

    • Makes me think of Bill Cody’s Wild West, in the romanticizing of the the recently destroyed Native American horse culture, via outright warfare, forced evacuations, destruction of livestock and agriculture; finalized by the fencing in of previously common range lands.
      Once a sufficient number were relocated, imprisoned or killed, Native Americans were quickly rendered quaint cultural oddities.

      • Hi Scott. An interesting thing is that the romanticising of the Highlander, and the romanticising of the Native American happened soon after the periods in which parts of their culture were being changed. I wonder whether the romancing of the Highlander was restricted mostly to images of Highland chiefs, and of the mountains and straths.

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  20. I actually think John Prebble is worth the read. Just because the man was not a historian by trade does not mean he should be dismissed out of hand as ‘rubbish’.

    Otherwise I find this article interesting since one of my modules is about emigration from the Highlands and Islands and I’m currently looking for primary sources regarding the Church’s reaction to the clearances, be it Presbyterian, Roman Catholic or Episcopilian. Any help on this will be greatly appreciated!

  21. Hi Margaret-Ann,

    Thank you for your comment. Prebble’s books make good reading – i.e. he knows how to keep the reader interested. Unfortunately his conclusions often ignore the available evidence, and often even the evidence he himself provides.

    Some of the books I mention include details of responses from church people. Those being cleared sometimes went to churches, as they had nowhere else to go, and sometimes they received support from the church. I’m afarid I don’t know of any specific resources. Here’s an interesting new paper http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/berghahn/ajec/2013/00000022/00000001/art00005 Another interesting paper http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1045235402001910 Neither really on your subject, but how about http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1525/aa.1990.92.2.02a00020/abstract perhaps this http://library.la84.org/SportsLibrary/JSH/JSH1998/JSH2503/jsh2503c.pdf perhaps http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi= and http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023/A:1021949701139

    Hope this helps

  22. Taken from letters of the time and evidence of court proceedings – The Duchess of Sutherland, on seeing the starving tenants on her husband’s estate, remarked in a letter to a friend in England, “Scotch people are of happier constitution and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals.”[11] Patrick Sellar, employed by the duke to organise the removals, in person threw people out if they showed any reluctance to go, and burned down their crofts to make sure they never came back. Two old people Sellar evicted were too ill to go far. He left them exposed to the chill northern air and they died. He was acquitted on a charge of manslaughter, but the duke’s wife wrote: “The more I hear and see of Sellar the more I am convinced that he is not to be trusted more than he is at present. He is so exceedingly greedy and harsh with the people, there are very heavy complaints against him from Strathnaver.” In due course Sellar was sacked.

    Perhaps these books brush over some of the details of The Sutherlands, and this might explain some of the bad press.
    Though with information of this sort you really have to be careful and avoid being sucked into one account of the events. There are many conflicting documentations of the clearances and I would be wary to suggest any of them have it completely right. There will likely be truth in many accounts, but there will of course be underestimates and gross exaggerations.

    • Thanks for that comment, Andy. It is important that motives for writing something, either at the time or much later, are taken into account. For example, the Vikings got a very ‘bad press’ at the time of their ‘excursions’ but who was writing most of these reports? The clerics. Further investigations now appears to reveal that whilst there was much conflict, there was also peaceful trade, etc.

  23. These native Scots should never have been subservient to the Sutherlands in the first place. The land which they had farmed fro generations was stolen by the British Crown and handed out to the buddies of the King of England. If the British legal system was not prone to the old boy factor, the land would have been returned to the original folks who inhabited it with title. This Is what has happened in Canada with the recent Supreme Court decision regarding native Canadians.

    As far as being burned out, yes at the end of leases many people were burned out. This is well documented.

    The stolen land should be returned to the Highlanders descendants.

    • Thank you for your comment, Charles. Yes, some houses were set on fire in some of the straths. Often long after the leases had run out and usually after there was no chance of arreers of rent being paid. The reason they were set on fire was to ensure that the houses were not habitable. Sometimes the people were offered alternate accommodation, in the new villages such as Brora, and sometimes they were not, and effectively became destitute. I don’t think the ‘old boy factor’ in the British legal system played much of a role, because, of course, Scots law was different. It was under Scots law that the people had no legal rights to the land they had previously occupied. The Lowland Clearances https://roddymacleod.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/the-lowland-clearances/ are also interesting.

      • The Earldom of Sutherland was created by Alexander II of Scotland in 1230 so it isn’t correct to say that their land was stolen by the British Crown and handed out to the buddies of the King of England.

      • The British Government pillaged the Highlands after Culloden through Cumberland. They forced the Highland Chiefs to send their sons to be educated in English speakig schools in the Sout under pain of forfeiture of their lands and they effecively broke the old clan system and its laws. They replaced the clan system with the British feudal system and began the process of colonising the Highlands. Colonial techniques like forcing the chiefs heirs to be educated from within the British establishment were designed to break the bond the chiefs had with the clansfolk. They also forced a more capitalistic viewpoint through which led to Chiefs heirs trying to emulate landowners in the South were they had been schooled. Very quickly most of the native chiefs were replaced with new industrialists etc from the south. The Duke of Sutherland was a Yorkshire man for instance. “Duke of Sutherland is a title in the Peerage of the United Kingdom held by the head of the Leveson-Gower family. It was created by William IV in 1833 for George Leveson-Gower, 2nd Marquess of Stafford. A series of marriages to heiresses by members of the Leveson-Gower family made the Dukes of Sutherland one of the richest landowning families in the United Kingdom.” Wiki
        So, it is not in fact as simple as you keep trying to paint it and there is actually some truth behind what Charles said. As for your certain knowledge of why and when houses were burnt….what are your sources for this and why do you blindly believe them given the sensitivity of what went on and the tendency for factors to act as ‘a law unto themselves’ and of course give a palatable story afterwards??

      • Also, lets not forget that the peasants in the Highlands at the time of the clearances were the least protected legislatively in Europe. The Landlords were usually either in Parliament or connected to it and they had the establishment firmly on their side so gunships and marines and the millitary generally were often used against peasants.
        Tey had to rise up to egt basic rights over tenancies. Implying they basically didn’t pay rent so deserved it is simplistic and neglects the history that got them to that point.
        This whole thing has been considered for too long by historians who only look at things from a British historian perspective. This is a post colonial situation and the sooner historians and those commenting on this realise that the better we will all be for it.

  24. Just to let you know i am Dubh from the start of this thread I appear to have changed my name at some point on a Google account (didn’t want to appear like I was being tricky or anything).

  25. Hi Donald. Yes, some of what you say is correct. The 1st Duke married into the rather ancient family. Wiki (The Leveson-Gower family owned extensive lands in Staffordshire, Shropshire and Yorkshire.) etc. His considerable wealth was fortunate, in some respects, for Sutherland, as the estates there at times could be a drain on resources. Have you driven the backroads of Sutherland? There are many wee roads going up into the straths. A number of these were built at the expense of the Duke – it helped to provide employment for local people. He and his wife also invested in the development of some of the towns in Sutherland – build up the towns, as alternatives for some of the people from the straths, and try to assist and encourage people in those towns to develop various industries. In theory, everyone would benefit, and some did for a while at least. Some of these sort of developments were seen, at the time, as the very latest in economic theory and a way to change the economy of the highlands. You are also correct in that there were deliberate efforts to break down the feudal clan system after Culloden. But remember that news of Cumberland’s victory was cheered in many of the pubs in Glasgow, and also (Wiki: The British Government (Hanoverian loyalist) forces were mostly English, along with a significant number of Scottish Lowlanders and Highlanders, a battalion of Ulstermen and some Hessians from Germany) . So the divide, if you can call it that, was between some (but not all) parts of the Highlands, and elsewhere. There had been various invasions or attempted invasions (often the French were involved) plus Highland risings for 50 years before Culloden (1689, 1708, 1715, 1719, 1745 etc). A way to finally stop this sort of thing was to break down the feudal system. WRT sources, some are mentioned here http://www.sutherlandestates.com/sutherland_estate_history.pdf

    • The first thing we should get straight is that it doesn’t matter a jot to me that one side was English or Scottish or whatever. I see the Hanovernians as British and those in the South of Scotland as British too (as will become clear later). Nor does it matter to me that a lot of Scots cheered the Jacobite failure. This is unimportant. The various Jacobite wars you mention were a part of a much longer British civil war. The Jacobite wars were merely the end of what was started with the English Civil War (actualoly started in Scotland). There were Jacobites all over the UK and to ntry and suggest it was Gaeldoms fault and they needed to be repressed is I am afraid ill informed nonsense. The Gaels were singled out and made an example of simply because they had become the symbol of the Jacobites. Tartan was worn by Jacobites and Bonny Prince Charlie was well aware of the potential of Highlanders as a symbol. The pillaging of the Highlands happened no matter what side you were on. They sought to break the culture as an act of symbolism rather than something that actually had to be done. Don’t forget that the Jacobites were also strongly anti Union (they had anti union slogans engraved on their weapons and all the propaganda pamhlets at the time were full of this anti Union message) and the people of Scotland had rioted after the 1707 union. This is important because the situation you describe where people in Edinburgh and Glasgow cheered was not an especially old or general one. The whole situation was far more complex than you try and paint.

      When you talk about all these wee roads etc. to keep people in employment you say it as if they should have been grateful. As if the collapse of their old agricultural system was okay because they were given new tasks and roles by improvers. The improvers didn’t give a dam about the people/peasants and that was the main difference between the older clan system and the new feudal/capitalist system. The older Clan system was necessarily based on retaining a population as healthily as you could manage and the old bardic system ensured chiefs looked after their people properly because if you didn’t the bards would make your name mud. Once these systems were broken down by the pressures from the British systems the cracks started to appear.

      Forcing people into other industries like kelp and fishing were also not done out of the goodness of the landlords hearts. They were making improvements yes but improvements for who? The whisky industry is a good case. This is largely undiscussed because it was an illegal trade so a lot of the sources that British historians traditionally like are missing. Whisky was big business and a lot of people were making it. What do we have now? Big distilleries run by rich men. The Highland economy was a lot more diverse than is let on in most of the official sources but estimations at the size of these homespun industries can be made.

      The Landlords were able and did make changes to the emigration laws (as they held places in or were influential in Parliament) that meant they basically forced people to stay when they wanted them there for the Kelp industry (miserable and low paid work) and basically they pushed them off the land and made emigration easy when the kelp industry collapsed after the Napoleonic wars. They forced people to the coasts and gave them crofts too small to support them properly so they would have to do other work.
      One of the most important issues here is though that what happened to the Highlands was largely a racism This is for two reasons. Firstly when the Stewarts decided they wanted the Gaels considered as a threat to the rest of Scotland (basic propaganda) they merely lifted the old propagnda technique the Normans had used against the Irish. The Irish were a very learned people during the Norman invasions but the Normans had it that they were stupid, ate raw flesh and went about in loin coloths. Some of this propaganda still exists in the way people speak about the Irish. This propaganda was directed at the Gaels when the Stewarts decided the Gaels were a threat (up unitl that time animosity between Gael and scot was minimal). Gaelic went from being called Scottis to Erse and all the characteristics of the Irish were given to the Gaels. Not only this but the ideas about barbaric Scots that teh English had developed were transplanted onto the Gaels by the Scots.
      That was the first racist interlude then came the second following Darwins work. This was what is termed pseudo scientific racism (basically the same concepts as the nazis). This suggested that there were superior and inferior races and that there should be an order to these based on survival of the fittest. In my opinion you can still see echoes of this in the way people think English is a superior language and Gaelic some kind of throwback[have you noticed that the great languages of the world are also the imperial ones? Chinese, English, French, Spanish, German etc.). Anyway, books were out in the 18th century like ‘The Races of Men’ etc. that set up this kind of thinking in a pseudo scientific way. This led to most people from outside the Highlands as denying any Celtic ancestory (because this was seen as inferior to Teutonic peoples) So most peole thought of themselves as Anglo saxons and the Gaels as an inferior race tyo be got rid of. The Scotsman, Herald and even Inverness Courier shared this view. So did Treveyalyn who was in charge of emigration and the Irish famine reilef. He thought the Celts were a miserable race and his policies reflect this. If you think this is leftfield then I got this originally from Tom Devine and there is plenty of supporting evidence once you are aware of it. Patrick Sellar himself thought like this and though he was of the lower orders he despised it and tbelieved in bettering especially because he was.

      Now because the Gaels were described as lazy and feckless etc. they were given poor relief during the famines etc. but they wwere expected to work for it. Starving people were set to building walls and roads just so they wouldn’t be getting something for nothing (sound familiar). Is this slave labour??? Now I don’t know enough about the roads etc, you talk of but as this was a practice wide spread across the Highlands are you sure what you deem to be a paternalistic and caring attitude to the peasants in givng them work through building walls and roads was not just part of this.? At bthe very least it doesn’t really explain why a people moved from their land onto marginal land and were used to subsistence living had to do such work.

      Michael Newton writes some excellent things on these subjects.

      I think you perhaps have been sold this old chestnut of ‘Progress’ where we are all supposedly getting better all the time and moving towards an ever greater future. Where somehow the good and great always win and anything that has been sidelined probably deserved it. Perhaps I am wrong but it seems that way to me.

      Also the Clan system was replaced by the British feudal system. The feudal system still exists (or did legally as little as 10 years ago now seen off through land reform) and we still have the legacy where we subsidise a few wealthy families to own half the land and do nothing productive with it. In the early 1700s half of Scotland spoke Gaelic now it is 1%.

      You should look uop the Community Land Scotland website and look for the recent report looking at how the new community buyoputs are doing far better than the old estates. Why subsidise the old estates that give back very little when we can move on and bring some life back to the place? There have even been a few landlords in the Western Isles who have agreed and ‘gifted’ the land back to the communities.

      • Hi Donald. I’m afraid that you are reading FAR too much into what I have previously written, e.g in terms of suggesting ‘fault’ etc. But as you have written a long Comment I will hope to get back to some of your points soon.

  26. Hello again, Dubh. “Tey had to rise up to egt basic rights over tenancies.” – I think that that statement rather ignores much of what the Jacobites were about, but maybe you are talking about later times. Ah yes – I see that you are talking about the later period.

  27. One other thing I forgot to add was that rents were continually being used to get rid of people. The people had the worst rights in Europe and the landlords could do what they wanted. That was why when the people revolted in the 19th Century one of the main things they bwere after and got was fair rents. You say at the top of this page ‘what would happen if you stopped paying your rent’ but that is a nonsense. If you had no rights as a tenant and were being continually moved around and at the mercy of some improver who thought of you as coming from an inferior and potentially diseased race (as in they wanted to get rid of the ‘diseased’ part of the population [actual words used by the Scotsman]), you had been removed from your traditonal way of life and knowledge of skills that suited itand the landlord could decide to charge you whatever he wanted basically -well that is getting closer. No one in Europe lives like that anymore and haven’t since the Crofter’s won rights for themselves. If the landlords were all so decent why where there wide spread revolts in the first place?

    I am sorry but your continued insistence on stating that the people hadn’t paid the rent merely suggests you buy into the feckless Gael propagnda.

    • Yes, the people had few if any rights, thanks mainly to Scots law. No, the landlords could not do anything they wanted. Yes, it took a long time for fair rents to be sorted and become fair. Yes, sometimes, I’m sure, the people who were moved were very much looked down upon. Sometimes the rents had not changed for long periods, but even those rents could at times not be paid when income went down. The economy of parts of the Highlands had, after all, been largely been based upon a family selling a cow each year. Often that was the only cash income. There was no ‘safety net’. Something had to change. Previously, in the case of the lowland clearances, the changes to the economy had been more successful. More fertile land helped.

      • The factors could have peopel removed from an entire area and if you went up against them you didn’t stand a chance. My own great great grandfather was threatened with being removed from the whole of Skye because he questioned the factor. This is documented. There was no real recourse to law and my great great grandfather who spoke English well because he had been a hero of the Crimea used to have to help others who were being victimised and couldn’t write or understand letters that where being sent to them. In other words the Landlords largekly did what they wanted. If the people got uppity they sent in marines and gunboats (their friends at Parliament got that seen to easily enough). The thing that finally wqent against them was an eventually orchestrated land revolt that won the eventual sympathies of the lowland people and the lowland press. Largely because attitudes were starting to change and the radicals were prominent and the idea that people had rights (the vote for all men came in around that time) and the Liberal Govt and the press portraying the crofters with sympathy finally got them listened to. Up till that point they did what they wanted. What else do you call changing the law to keep people and make emigration next to impossible then changing it again when you wanted rid of people.
        As for it being Scots law so what? The real mdifference as I have explained is that Gaelic law and custom had been overhauled and there was nothing left of it that might protect anyone. The British elites made land grabs on England and Southern Scotland earlier through their feudalism. They removed/stole the common land (land legally held by the people commonly) and they stopped people from hunting etc. This is a very British style of land grab and Britain and specifically Scotland is left with the legacy and there never having been any putting right of this situation as was done across Europe centuries ago.
        The people weren’t just looked down upon they were seen as racially inferior. In much the same way as the Gypsies or Jews were in nazi Germany. Do you know there were even plans to replace the Gaels with German peasants? The state of the Highlands was blamed on the Gaels you see and it was thought some nice teutonic people would be able to do something with the place. A bit similar to what the ridiculous Michael Fry implies in his book ‘Wild Scots’. If you haven’t read it do yourself a favour – don’t bother.
        You see there are historians around who will try and deny that the clearances were anything other than simple capitalism at work. This is such a simplistic view. It completely ignores what went on before, during and after and the wider context. They rely on rich peoples sources and nothing much else. Basically the colonisers view of history.
        Also, as I said the beconomy of the Highlands was far more complex than is ever let on. Whisky for instance was a big industry before the pacification brought in the policing of the area with customs and excise etc. This lead to the rich people being the only ones licensed etc. People hunted, were mercanaries people worked all over the world.
        When I was doing research on the clearances in Glendale the people were talking of how most of the men were working right across the world in different jobs. People were moving away for part of the year much as the oil rig workers do now (though it wasn’t month on month off obviously as now). The Highlands was one of the most militarised areas in the world and Scotland was probably the most militarised counry in the world in the Napoleonic era. That means men were fighting while their families were getting cleared.
        During the first world war the veterans were promised land on their return, weren’t given it and had to land raid to get it. There was land raids in Raasay as late as the 1940’s.
        the idea that something had to give is rubbish as well. This is a basic tale of land grabs by the elites. The Gaelic elites were undermined and replaced for the most part within a generation. those that didn’t go bankrupt in this strange new world became part of the English speaking. English accented elite just like they were anywhere in the UK. That is what has lead to the perception by some people that it was the English that were to blame for the clearances.
        The facts are that still in the 21st Century these elites have monopolised the land and keep it largely to themselves. They are making no good use of it and it is used as status symbol or as a way to claim subsidies from the UK tax payer while also being somewhere you can hide your money (they set up a trust and hide it that way). So these people have not only stolen all the common land but we are now subsidisng them for it. There is no list of who actually owns what. They don’t even have to legally tell us who we are subsidisng. The public have apparently no right to know. This is the Great British private property ownership they bang on about.
        The clearances were a land grab where what was land that was held commonly was taken away from people through a process of colonisation by the British state, feudal system, law, army what have you. The landlords weeen’t trying to find economic answers for the people if they were trying to do that why didn’t they just give them enough land to survive on? Why were they all moved to the coasts?
        Make excusue for it all you want but surely the fact they sent marines against a peasant population (many of whom were war heroes for the British Empire) because they wanted rights to their land must tell you something about what was going on.
        I don’t think these people saw themselves as the baddies and they made lots of excuses and told themselves all sorts of stories to suggest they were actually trying to do good. They probably believed it really and truly. The facts remain though. They were largely racist and they made and perpetuated land grabs from the common people. In fact they set up the means to use them as cheap labour or remove them all together.
        The idea that the improvers just came in and tried to save this destitute place from itself (for who exactly?) but were unable to because the land was so poor is just nonsense. Land can be improved if managed properly. They weren’t interested in that they wanted to farm for profit or cut down trees and have deer and grouse moors. Large areas of woodland were cut down for these purposes. Improvements?? For who??

      • Bravo! When I read Roddys original reply to this issue I thought I was on the Sutherlands website.
        I even thought for a moment that I was wrong, so I went back and checked with our family historian about the rent. She said she did not have the receipts, but our family were tacksmen in the Sutherlandshire, and paid up to 1828. She sent me the translation of the letters from my great great great grandfather to Mr and Mrs Sutherland regarding the takeover. These were not illiterate people. They were well written and had served in the 92nd regiment as officers. Our ancestors came across with William the Conquerer, So we have a very long history on the land, and had farmed this particular
        land for many generations.

        The factors operating on behalf of the Sutherlands were no more than goons.

        The Sutherlands had no plan of relocation. It was simply a relocation by force.

        They took the improved lands, much which had been reclaimed, and gave no compensation to the

        And Roddy they did burn out my forebears. They had a wooden house, paid for by my relatives
        at great expense. And when they asked that it be spared because of the cost incurred there was
        no sympathy.

        Land reform in Scotland is a huge issue. Too much is vested with too few.

        This issue was raised by Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and now Alex Salmond.

        And much of it was stolen from the tenants who have farmed it for years.

        It is amazing that after 200 years the clearances still upset highlanders.

  28. I haven’t responded to your previous comment yet, but will, eventually. Throughout the period in question, sympathies, as you point out, were changing, and this is quite interesting. Romanticism of the highlander, the ‘wild’ highlands seen in a different light, etc, and Queen Victoria had an influence on this, whether she meant to or not. More people better educated, and reading the press more. These were some trends. Money raised in the lowland areas to help out people in the north, etc, though after a period a certain amount of weariness might set in.

    Things could vary from place to place, though. Things were not uniform. Think of the differences that might occur where a landlord was in situ, rather than an absentee landlord or the lands being run from an office in Edinburgh. The thing about Scots law was that it specifically gave fewer rights.

    You are correct in that a surprising number of people returned home from overseas at one time or another, and of course there was temporary work in other parts of the country.

    I know nothing about the promises of land on return after WWI that you mention – my family members who fought were not promised land.

    The idea that something had to give is certainly NOT rubbish. Even without rents, hungry people, growing population, regular famines, smaller plots, and little basis for the economy, and where they contributed to providing poor relief, not unlimited pockets of those who did. Have you actually visited some of the straths in question?

    You ask why some were moved to the coast. Some people were moved to the coast and provided with new housing, often with no rent for a period, and sometimes given tools, etc to help them get started, because they had very little to start with. The gardens of these houses were designed to allow some growing of food but not enough food to survive on. The incentive was to work in the ‘new’ industries – e.g. coal in Brora, woolen mills, kelp, fishing, etc, from which, potentially, everyone would benefit – the local economy would gain, the people with jobs would have an income, and they would also be able to pay their rents.

    • Roddy people were moved away from the land they had been farming to the coats. They ahds communal farms inland. They were moved to the coasts to get them out of the way.
      The economy of nowhere ever has been based on “a family selling a cow each year”. This is a fiction, based on the ignorance of colonialist historians with zero understanding of relative worth or the practical realities of agrarian/pastoral societies (societies like that which invented the concept of oikonume, a society as close to this ridiculous stereotype as any other!) It’s no-one’s job to educate people past that stage of credulity about their inherent ‘superiority’ – just bear in mind that it’s the equivalent of someone in 200 years saying “The economy of parts of the Ukingdom had, after all, largely been based upon a family’s worship of the great god Footsie, who answered the prayers of the righteous with what was called the ‘divi-dend’. There was no ‘safety net’. Something had to change” etc. etc.

      The era under discussion is one in which landlords made vast profits from these lands. These profits were both direct (through using rack-renting as a way to extract serf-labour from their tenants, while also enjoying ordinary rentiers profits; profiting from monopolies of all those ways to generate cash to pay rents; profiting from keeping the population in conditions where they had no choice but to serve in regiments to their landlord’s political gain; profiting by charging for the sporting pleasure of exterminating or virtually exterminating various species; profiting by clearing people from productive land, re-renting it as farms, while still charging the cleared population as much as before to live on the sea-shore (where they were sometimes not allowed to collect shellfish off the shore); profiting from transportation, and from the rents and labour of their tenants in the new world; and so on) and indirect, through destroying the ability of the area to compete in marketing commodities the landlords produced elsewhere, including store animals, fisheries, timber, spirits, and so forth. If it was capitalism, it was the worst kind of hostile ‘merger and acquisition’.

      Remember: the ability of any population to generate a living depends upon their access to resources (which landlords controlled totally, and changed at whim) but the ability of a population to generate revenue depends utterly upon their access to markets. There is no other way to get money! The destruction of Scotland’s maritime trade in the 1600s was an act of war between nations, leading directly to the Act of Union, at which point that trade was reconstituted as a monopoly of complaisant landlords. People in the post-revolution Highlands were not poor because their lands, seas, and hands had suddenly ceased to produce stuff. They were cash-poor because they were subject to monopolies in which landlords (and merchants who paid them for the privilege) set all prices on their goods, their labour, and controlled the prices of all imports. While the stated rationale for all this was capitalist, its function (cui bono) was socio-political – clearing the population decimated the mercenary trade to Britain’s enemies, broke the back of the nation’s military potential, provided cheap labour to Lowland industry and agriculture, plus cheap and willing experts (maritime, military and academic) to the Empire, and rewarded loyal aristocrats (in time-honoured fashion) with vast estates filled with people it was both legal and fashionable to treat as slaves (even if they were no longer allowed to formally sell them after the 1830s).

      And unless one has personally gone to the primary sources on this, one is dependent entirely on history as written by the families of the people who benefited: 432 of whom still own 50% of Scotland. That sort of landownership situation does not continue (has no-where else in Europe continued) without a massive, systematic, politically-motivated abuse of power. It is equally visible today in the massive tax losses to government represented by these estates, not to mention their almost total monopoly of EU agricultural subsidy.

      • This is getting a bit silly, because even a cursory knowledge of the economy of parts of the Highlands recognises the importance of the trade in cattle, over the space of a couple of centuries, especially in terms of providing cash to those who often had little else to sell. You state “The era under discussion is one in which landlords made vast profits from these lands. ” A very incorrect general statement, during the period I have beeen talking about anyway. Some may have made profits. Some did not. Quite a number went bankrupt. ‘Sporting pleasures’ came much later than the period I have been discussing.

  29. I must admit to becoming a bit confused as to who is commenting on what comment in this thread, which originally started Jan 2012. Sometimes my own comments are also appearing out of order. But I intend to get back, sometime soon, to the comment starting “The first thing we should get straight is that it doesn’t matter a jot to me that one side was English or Scottish or whatever…”

    It would also help, I think, if those commenting could definitely read the initial blog post, and perhaps not infer things that I am not inferring, or at least not intending to infer. I am really not understanding where some of the inferences are coming from.

  30. You may know nothing about land promised aftre world war one but it is a well known piece of the land struggle history. Do you think the UK Government would have been able to persuade people to join up just after the land wars and clearances while so many still had so little?? No they needed the men and they of course promised those who needed it that the large farms that had been created during the clearances would be broken up and people would get croft land. The Land Settlement Scotland Act. When the Government dragged their feet and people came back to nothing they took the land themselves.

  31. As for have I visited some of the Straths in question …yes I live in one. I know about the history from several sources. I have seen first hand accounts of what happened when the two sides came into conflict. I have been all over the Highlands and seen similar places. There are areas of land round me where there used to be forests. These were cut down so that the romantics could have their deer and grouse moors and imagine they were in an Ossianic wilderness.
    Land was being farmed inland and people were raising cattle. The landlords wanted more so the people had to go. They never had these peoples best interests at heart any more than modern estate owners have the interests of the locals as any great concern (with the few exceptions who have ‘gifted’ the land back to communities). Do you believe these modern day leaches have the Highlanders best interests at heart?? I bet they would say they do but you know actions speak louder than words and all I see is people monopolising everything for themselves and closing ranks.

  32. Look up the act it existed and has been much written about. Just because your ancestors in Sutherland weren’t affected doesn’t mean I am making it up. Land raids were happenning in the 20th century in the Western isles etc. and into the 1940s. Did you read the Newton link I posted earlier??

  33. Perhaps your ancestors had land? They weren’t just promising land per se to anyone that fought. They were offering land to people that were landless or effectively landless. Why do youy think if it didn’t apply to your own families experience it didn’t happen or wasn’t important. I suggest you do some research with an open mind from the point of view of those that were affected by the land wars. A lot of this stuff happened a relatively short time ago you see and it is much harder for historians to come in and paper over the cracks and act like the rich guys were all salt of the earth types and the peasants weren’t actually exploited they were just feckless and a bit rubbish and only rich people could make a living on the land. It is being utterly disproved now. Did you go to the Community Land Scotland website and look at the economic analysis of the new community estates compared to the traditional estates?? Worth a look. It seems the land can be put to good/much better use by the general rabble.

    • My great uncle had no land. He was so keen to sign up he lied about his age! But, once again I will say that I am not so interested in this period. My original post was about the period of the clearances, and not about the later period. Your own interest seems to be a bit more in the later period.

    • The clearances were happenning mere decades before that and the land struggle still went on. That is the legacy of the clearances was still very raw and people were landless because of them. When do you think the clearances ended? Why are you uninterested in the after effects?? You don’t ebven attempt to understand this era from anything other than your stance that the landlords were decent types. Of course a lot went bankrupt but that was because they had outrageous lifestyles and were just no good and handling money. To suggest that the landlord class in the Highlands were not rich at the time of the clearances is obscene.
      All you need to do is look at all the big houses and big manses to see how false this is.

      As for the act do you want me to find a link or can you do that yourself?

      I think I understand why you are coming out with this kind of apologist revision of the clearances. Is it because you don’t like it when people blame the English for the clearances andf you have a tendency to believe any history that not only proves this but that disputes the clearances ever really happened? Do you really believe the elite class in the Highlands treated the peasants well and only had their best interests at heart? Really?
      Why are you so convinced that none of this happened? I have a direct transcript of my great great grandfather relaying exactly the treatment being doled out to people by the factor Toremore. Toremore acted like judge, jury and executioner and cleared people from all over Skye to line his own pockets. It would be very strange indeed if this was an isolated incident wouldn’t it. A great coincidence that this bullying and violent harrassment just happens to comply with the wider experience as relayed by people from all over the Highlands. Why did the people revolt if the landlords had their best interests at heart? Why did they pass legislation making emigration near impossible when they need them for the Kelp industry? The people were slaves. Some people prefer to believe the records of the rich. Just don’t call it good history.
      My Great great Grandfather even said in his testimony that “I thought it is said that Britons are not slaves (they were forced as part of their rent to work for the landlord as well), the officer said ‘you are not slaves’ My GGGrndfather said ‘the people of Glendale have been slaves since ever I was born’ He also said ‘the last thing I had exspected to see was the Unio0n Jack coming over that hill to arrest the people of Glendale’. So ther you go from the horses mouth. This is from the marines coming ashore to arrest the Glendale martyrs.

      My interest is in the whole period. I don’t cut out a little period as if it isn’t affected by anything else. I am interested in the whole range of history and particularly Highland history. It is a bit t=rendy at the moment for somke British historians to try and suggest the clearances never happened or that it wasn’t as bad as people say. Rather hilariously they rely on the records of the elite and their compliant infrastructure.
      Like I said this is a post colonial situation and until historians start treating (as some do) all the sources with the proper respect or suspicion that they would of other colonial situations they will get nowhere. In fact it is arguable that historians coming at this from the British tradition will ever get beyond a surface understanding.

  34. Quick google Land Settlement Scotland Act and


    Yeah lots of Gaels signed up like that but it was beggining to wear thin. They had sent marines out against these people a couple of decades before. It was becoming obvious that relying on people that were being treated so badly was a bit risky and unpopular with the country.

  35. Summary:

    I will certainly look up some of the references that have been cited in the various comments above, when I have more time.

    In the above many comments there have been all sorts of opinions, new and old facts, some very sweeping and sometimes obviously inaccurate statements, some relevant points, some (to me) very strange asssumptions as to what others think my standpoint is, some interesting points especially about what happened after the Clearances, and so on.

    But to get back to my starting point, which was about the perpetuation of certain myths about the Clearances (and is specifically expanded upon in the original post), little that has been said, to my mind at least, in the above comments, either adds a great deal or refutes my original points.

    I hate to repeat things, but in that original post I said that whilst there were certainly instances of persecution (and I gave specific examples of a few), there were not tens of thousands of persecuted Highlanders who had their houses brutally torched and who were then forced to flee to Canada, Australia and elsewhere. I also said that the vast majority of those who emigrated from the Highlands in the 18th and 19th centuries did so under their own steam, in response to worsening economic conditions. Much of the land and economic conditions at the time simply could not support the increased population numbers. Under Scots law the tenants had not acquired the right to the hereditary tenure of a farm similar to the copyhold system in England. Many of the traditional landlords were struggling. A number went bankrupt due to the cost of supplying support (food) for tenants. In some cases, landlords paid the emigration costs simply to be rid of unproductive tenants. Conditions and ‘solutions’ varied from place to place and the responses of both those who were cleared or emigrated under their own steam, and the landlords, was varied. During a specific period, the Sutherland policy was to resettle the people on the coast, and not to evict or encourage emigration. In the longer run, various planned processes were far less successful economically than had been hoped for and did not, as had been expected, replicate the economic transformation that had happened in the south of Scotland and in England. And I would finish by re-quoting Richards: “The role of posterity has been to exaggerate and polarise the account and to diminish the underlying economic dilemma of everyone in the region. The exceptionalism of the Highlands has been over-rated at the expense of the significance of the Clearances as a well-documented exemplar of the perils facing a poor society located on the edge of industrialisation.”

    • Thats all very well Roddy if you are going to look at it from a purely economic point of view and totally ignore the cultural and social transformation that the Highlands was enduring (from one very different cultural system to another) then you could argue there was nothing exceptional about the Highlands. However, your arguments ignore some totally fundamental points. The people were still removed in England and the South of Scotland. The very same forces were at play. Somrein England may have got a better deal out of ti but the vast majority did not and became factory fodder.
      You also totally ignore my points which are well documented elsewhere that the Landlords wouldn’t allow people to emigrate when they wanted them for the virtual slave labour of the kelp industry. You see there were several industries taking off and all of this could have been hadled in a much more equitable way. It wasn’t.
      The tradirtional landlords struggled because they had this new economic, social and cultural world forced on them. They either sought to ape their new southern richer friends and became bankrupt through trying to emulate the lavish lifestyle or they tried to resist it and became bankrupt because trying to resist colnistaion is an impossible task.
      That meant that very quickly most of the landlords were not Clan chiefs or if they were they were not recognisable as such (they didn’t follow the same customs or laws or even speak the same language). This did not happen in England or the South of Scotland. England and the South of Scotland hadn’t been millitarily pillaged then occupied and ringed with massive forts and filled with barracks. Nor did their oppressors speak a different language and come from a different culture. They didn’t think of their peasants as coming from an inferior race. I notice you have not ebven attempted to tackle any of these issues concerning race. Do you defend the colonial situation as experienced in Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Africa etc.?? Do you think the natives were treated fairly by the British in these countries. This is fundamental to this argument. If you believe the British Empire was just a force of good and it ‘civilised’ these places then there is no point in this argument continuing because you nare obviously of a reactionary type mindset.
      You can’t ignore these aspects and that is the problem with people like Richardson. They don’t even attempt to come at this from the Gaels wider perspective. They instead use only the sources available to them and state that all these bad things never happened. Well of course there are few records. Who records this kind of abuse of power? The official records will be as sparse as any group carrying out these abuses today would be. There are other sources if you look hard enough though. They can’t be discounted just because they don’t fit standard British models of sources. Standard British models use whatever is written down and as we know from what is going on in this refereendum campaign whatever is written down isn’t allways accurate or the full story. Should we look to the oppressors records in any given situation to try and clarify what went on in remote glens etc.?
      Of course there have been exaggerations etc. within the oral sources but that doesn’t mean they can be discounted. There were no houses being burnt out in Glendale (which I studied in detail) there was however relentless pressure put on people. If we just went by the official records of the landlords it would appear there was nothing wrong and the factors behaved impeccably. We know that not to be the case though because other records became available at the time (people started to record the encounters betwee officials and the crofters) as the crofters gained political support from elsewhere. They pretty much tell the same stories as the oral sources and not the same as the landlord and police might record.
      This idea that the Highlands is land poor is the biggest load of cods wallop. A lot can be done with land to make it better. Besides the seas were teaming with fish etc. They wanted the inland glens that had been farmed for a very long time for the profit of a singole man or his family. You keep going on about landlords being able to afford to run estates by why should they have been ab;e to do that in the first place. Why did the emphasis move so firmly from one to the other.
      You asked me if I had been to these straths and I ask you have you had a drive around and a look at all the massive houses and large manses??
      You have a Highland name and UI think it is disgusting that you don’t see that there was a racist drive to all this. It is well documented as I have stated above by historians like Tom Devine and Michael Newton. That makes this situation very different.
      As for people emigrating under their own steam yes of course there was a degree of this as there is now. However, for the most part don’t you think that most people were trying to escape the conditions they had been placed under? The worst tenancy rights in Europe and basically being looked at as an inferior race. A diseased people only fit for emigration?

      Pseudo Scientific Racism
      “With the development of pseudoscientific racist ideas from about 1850, the Clearances were at times supported by belief that the Celtic “race” was inferior to the Anglo Saxon “race”.[31] George Combe’s popular and influential The Constitution of Man, published in 1828, provided a framework which would be used by some to support theories of racial superiority. In 1850 Robert Knox published “The Races of Men” which asserted the inferiority of the Celt compared to the Anglo Saxon and Nordic races.

      The view that the economic failures of the Highlands were due to the shortcomings of the Celtic race was shared and expressed by the two most important Scottish newspapers, The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald – and even the more northerly Inverness Courier.[31]

      In 1851 The Scotsman wrote that

      “Collective emigration is, therefore, the removal of a diseased and damaged part of our population. It is a relief to the rest of the population to be rid of this part.”[32]

      Similar views were held by senior public officials. Sir Charles Trevelyan was co-founder with Sir John McNeill of the Highland and Island Emigration Society. In a letter to McNeill in 1852 he wrote that

      “A national effort” would now be necessary in order to rid the land of “the surviving Irish and Scotch Celts”. The exodus would then allow for the settlement of a racially superior people of Teutonic stock. He welcomed “the prospects of flights of Germans settling here in increasing numbers – an orderly, moral, industrious and frugal people, less foreign to us than the Irish or Scotch Celt, a congenial element which will readily assimilate with our body politic.”[33]

      (The “flights of Germans” in the above quotation may relate to significant emigration from Germany in the years that followed the failure of the German March Revolution of 1848)”
      from Wiki Highland Clearances (there is plenty of good work done on this to back it up)”

      Besides Highlanders of all classes had been emigrating because they knew this onslaught was coming. Place is very important within Gaelic culture. To any peasant people at that time leaving their homeland was usually a last resort. To suggest these people all went willingly is simplistic nonsense. You only have to look at the Gaelic poetry and song from this time to see the overwhelming sentiment expressed. What gauge do you have of peoples reasons for emigrating?? How do you know they went willingly??
      Did you know they used to strip the bark from around Scots Pines so the trees would die. this was to deforest the area for deer forests. They were obviously not even bothering harvesting a lot of these tress. Some of these trees survived the ring bark stripping and you can see them today. Stripping forest away (good agricultural land under forests with good fertile soil) so they could create deer and grouse moors was not a good use of land. Neither was putting sheep on most of it. It provided for the one person or family.

      That is where the real problem with your economic model comes in. I have tried to explain this to you in a number of ways but you fail to see. The old system whatever its faults aimed to support a large population on the land. Improvement could have come in and aided this. It didn’t. It had no interest in trying. They sought only to remove the people to make profits for one family and perhaps some staff/factors and southern shepherds.

      You say at one point the Sutherland thing was not to clear people but to resettlte them on the coasts to be put into other industries. Exactly can’t you see that this was them trying to squee=ze more out of them. They should have just let them emigrate but they passed actual legilslation to make this near impossible. They didn’t have the people’s best interest at heart. Of course they explained it that way as they often did with the natives. This paternalistic exploitation.

      Open your eyes.

  36. You seem to think it was inevitable that the people of the Highlands would be moved on in this way. I agree but not because the land was unexploitable and the people were not good for much but because they fully intended to exploit both land an people for the ends of a few. This model is still present.

  37. “I also said that the vast majority of those who emigrated from the Highlands in the 18th and 19th centuries did so under their own steam, in response to worsening economic conditions. Much of the land and economic conditions at the time simply could not support the increased population numbers.”

    Of course the conditions had worsened they had been kicked off their farmed land and to the coast/marginal land. They didn’t have control over the entire economic model or even access to a decent bit of land that would support them. To say the general area was too poor to support them is a nonsense. Some people were supported very lavishly and used the land very poorly.
    Of course increased population couldn’t be supported when people were removed from their farms. Population would have been a problem and some emigration would have been needed as it ewas elsewhere yes. But this could have all been sorted out differently. There was no need to empty nearly the entire interior. Now there are nearly only villages along coasts.
    Why if land was so useless and unproductive was there such a hunger for it from the people. They weren’t allowed enough land to support them. This is why they emigrated not because the land was poor.
    The real missue here is that people had no rights and were bullied by many different means into emigrating. Denying people enough land to support them is forcing them to emigrate so is the constant threat of removal. Everybody was scared to improve the land they did have because a factor would just take it off them. This is the relentless pressure that was applied. This may have not been exclusive to the Highlands but it does not mean it did not matter or that it wasn’t force.

    Another point in the whole Highlands episode and what makes it exceptional was the timing. It had happened everywhere else before that. Different ideas had started to nfly about and this action against a people of the British Isles who became such a strong part of the backbone of the British military started to grate with people. Also, there was the rise of the radicals and the kind of thinking in Britain where perhaps the peasants shouldn’t be exploited in these ways. This mixture of romanticism, racism, radicalism and the begginnings of a different type of social conscious left a heavy scar in the psyche of not just the Gaels but the British themselves. Some things may have been exaggerated within the popular consciousness but that does nothing to dispel the facts that this was for several different reasons a chapter of severe oppression.

  38. Hi Roddy I have made an attempt to try and get what I think is st the essence of this argument across to you. I spent some time on this so I really hope you try at least try and take in the essence of my arguments. You can no more state that there is no economic alternative in the Highlands today to the huge grouse and deer estates than you could then.

    This “the significance of the Clearances as a well-documented exemplar of the perils facing a poor society located on the edge of industrialisation” is itself an exceptionalist argument, and both you Roddy and Richard’s failure to spot this is characteristic of the genre. Societies ‘located on the edge of industrialisation’ were obviously all ‘poor’ in an industrialised sense – and were deliberately kept so, in order to increase industrial profits through the supply of low-cost destitute labour to industry elsewhere (also maximising the profits of supplying industrial pre-conditions – food and raw materials – from periphery to centre). The perception of resource (as opposed to cash) poverty is simply the result of past and present economic illiteracy. Cash-poverty is a consequence of monopolies over access to markets, and no-one disputes the exercise of such in the period (or indeed, today in the developing world).

    Although the focus of myths of the Clearances is on emigration, the process – in defiance of any logic of ‘inability of the land to support’ (in real terms, see above re cash terms) – was one of removing improvers-of-the-land from the land they had improved, to satisfy market demand for that ‘poor’ land. The fact that ‘rational capitalist’ landlords repeatedly proved themselves incompetent (kelp, fishing, sheep – all unsustainable short-term profit-offers) should not be confused with the land being ‘poor’: only the shoddy workman blames his tools! The Highlands had fed the UK on meat for centuries (and continues to provide the vast majority of store livestock). That landlords found it difficult to support tenants from whom they had removed the means of support, is hardly surprising – or evidence of the tenants’ incompetence. Communities were ‘farmed’ in the Clearances: removed multiple times within their areas, to break new ground while paying for the privilege. That many tired of this, and sought security of tenure elsewhere, is neither surprising, nor contrary evidence of anything. This fact, however, means that the actual figures and acts of Clearance are vastly under-represented by ships’ manifests.

    As for ‘not hundreds of thousands’ a quick look at the map, and the pre/post population figures would dispel that claim, if anyone who made it cared to do so: the reasons they do not are obvious. The focus on ‘burning out’ is not sentimental victim-culture: it accurately records the nexus of economic oppression. (The Highlands having been aggressively de-forested for – naval and then iron-working – timber profits, tenants’ main possessions were was the roof-beams which made local housing possible. To burn this was not just intimidation: it enforced homelessness, wherever the tenant was shifted to.)

    The inescapable conclusion about economic incompetence in the Clearances is clearly visible today. Which population gets multi-million-£ subsidies and tax-breaks? Crofters or landlords? Which population is more economically active – a community of unusually well-educated people, or a flock of hill-sheep? Which land is more valuable per acre: that in a serviced community, or that in a cleared strath? The rich write history, whose point is always ‘how were we to know that x would run out?’ And the rest of us (still) pay for their expensive, ideological, ill-considered risk-taking.

  39. A problem with someone who makes sweeping, and incorrect, statements including such as “The era under discussion is one in which landlords made vast profits from these lands. ” is that it can make one doubt anything else they say.

    With respect to those particular landlords who, as has been documented, went bankrupt, those bankruptcies could have a considerable knock-on effect. i.e. a landlord could have had considerable ties with the local people, over many generations. Friendships, marriages, blood and clan ties, etc. Then, for whatever reason, be it mishap, mismanagement, changing economic conditions, or whatever, they go bankrupt and are forced to sell up. The new owners could be investors in Edinburgh or Glasgow, for example, who have no ties whatsoever with the local area, and who want, quite naturally, to see a return on their investment. They might well employ a third party, who again has no local ties, to facilitate changes to the estate (and that word ‘facilitate’ might encompasses nastyness, or other better intended things). And also there are documented cases of lands changing hands several times during the period, thus potentially cutting residual ties, loyalties, etc. And as you rightly point out above: “That meant that very quickly most of the landlords were not Clan chiefs or if they were they were not recognisable as such (they didn’t follow the same customs or laws or even speak the same language). This did not happen in England or the South of Scotland.”

    This sort of attention to detail, for me, is very important, because it is the process of understanding what actually happened, and in particular the ‘cultural and social transformation’ process that you actually accuse me above of ignoring. Such detail can also get lost amongst over generalisations and sweeping grand statements.

    But, to be honest, there are so many things in the above various comments that it will take me some time to read and digest, and at the present time I have some other things to attend to.

    • Well Roddy if vast profits were not made by the Landlords through the Kelp, wool and fishing industries what was all the displacing of people for? Where did the big houses come from? If it was merely an exercise in them playing at social engineering and ‘improvement’ farming it kind of makes it worse in a way. I think you will find vast profits were made (though I suppose it depends on what you mean by vast).

      As for attention to detail none of what you have written gives me any confidence you are doing this. You just keep bleating on about how the landlords tried to help but the economic suituation was so desire that all the locals wanted to leave despite the kindly landlords best efforts. It is laughable and your own sweeping statements that most left of their own accord and not because of the brutality of their situation is utterly unfounded. What evidence do you have for the statement ” On the other hand, however, the vast majority of those who emigrated from the Highlands in the 18th and 19th centuries did so under their own steam, in response to worsening economic conditions.” What evidence do you have that they left because of worsening economic conditions (is there a survey from the time that supports this and whose economy are we talking about local/national?)and not that they were left virtually landless (assetless). What is it exactly that makes you think that it wasn’t the continued moving and harrassment and no hope of things getting better (land they could hope to develop without threat of being moved on) that made people want to go and not the economic situation?? Besides what created the bworsening economic conditions? Being cleared didn’t just mean being cleared to the colonies. Being cleared also meant being moved to the coasts and made to adopt a foreign lifestyle against your wishes. Being cleared meant being harrassed and moved to neighbouring districts.

      You have no attention to detail if you stick strictly to one era and totally ignore the various levels and eras of racism and colonisation that took place.

      This sweeping generalisation is even worse

      “That myth seems to be part of an ongoing ‘victim culture’ that attempts to place the blame for some perceived Scottish ills on outsiders. Some modern day political campaigns continue to be couched in terms of these inaccurate historical misconceptions.”

      This is your strawman building and it reveals you have a political attitude to this question. Strawman building because you identify those who have it wrong in your eyes and then you go on to suggect a victim culture that is politically motivated. I can aim the same argument at you can’t I. You are guilty of myth building and of only paying attention to the facts that suit your perception (how else do you explain the sweeping and quite shallow statement that most left because they wanted to because economic conditions were bad without any further explanation). You are also guilty of suggesting that people think this was something perertrated on Scots by outsiders (the English?). While some ignorant people may think this it just shows up your own ignorance of the situation that you think this is the only other side to the debate. It shows that you have a firmly central belt perception of this. Of course Highlanders felt they were being changed from outside because it was obvious they were. What else do you call passing legislation to ban various Highland customs and over turning its social, economic and cultural world deliberately, by force and legislation. What else do you call the well documented racist views and policies of those overseeing emigration (the quotes of which I supplied above). What else do you call the building of big fancy 18/19th Century Castles and big houses in mostly completeely foreign styles? What else do you call the incoming ideas of nimprovement and enclosure that were totally foreign in every respect and favoured the landlord only. You may have the luxury of sitting back and digesting your history in palatable chunks but for those that saw it as an ongoing struggle they saw it as all being connected. That is an attention to detail that you are totally missing.

      Your paragraph about chiefs not being in connection to their people is meaningless. Of course they weren’t it was designed that way. What other reason was their for the UK Government enforcing the earlier law from the statutes of Iona that forced chiefs to educate their sons in within the British bosom??? It is a colonial technique the British used everywhere with one purpose in mind. They wanted to crush Gaelic culture in every way they could. This is not victim culture it is demonstrably true. Supremacist attitudes to those who were being colonised, changing their culture through indocrination of the elites children, redirecting the martial energy of the colonised etc. Just because it took a while for some of the Clan chiefs to emigrate or become indocrinated means little. It happened because of a full scale hostile take over.

      This is obviously all about the referendum for you. I have to say that I have not heard much argument put forward for the YES side that deals with the clearances. Nor do I see much ‘victim culture’ among modern Gaels. People trying to stand up for themselves yes but not victim culture.

      Today Highlanders are still trying to get land to work for themselves and their communities. They are trying to do this still against a backdrop of Scotland having the most concentrated land ownership patterns in the developed world (and much of the undeveloped world). They are starting to win out in the Western Isles and the new land reform study that took place looks very promising. You only have to look at the different ways that other European countries dealt with their peasant marginal land problems to know that this insistence that there was no other way is nonsens. The whole episode came down to one thing and that was a monopolisation of the land by the elite.
      Crofting gets the worst agricultural subsidies in the EU. This is despite the fact that it is basically the model of small, part time and open to diversification, biodiversity/environment friendly farming they are desperately teying to promote. Instead the large scale farmers with less desirable farming methods get all the subsidies. This again isn’t such a problem in other European countries that had better and more equitable land solutions worked out a long time ago.

      Land is still monopolised and still Highlanders have to leave for better opportunities elsewhere. However, in the community buyouts populations are rising and not everybody feels they have to leave. They are able to pursue their own developments. The Western Isles is one of the best educated areas in Britiain (more people from there have post grads than just about anywhere else). How fitting they can at last start to mould their own way with fair access to the land. If you ever get a chance to read the recent report on the Community Land Scotland site you might see that the people with the money and how they have developed the land are not really what we should be estimating the potential of the land on and never was.

  40. Alwyn Edgar http://highlandclearances.net/ recently posted the following comment on my blog’s About page, but I think it is more appropriate for it to be posted here. So here’s a copy.

    Though I am English, I’ve always been interested in the Scottish Highland Clearances. In fact I’ve just finished a five-volume, nearly two-million word account: the first volume, “Clans and Clearance”, should be out as an e-book within the next month. Having read all these contributions, I’m tempted to mention many topics: but of course there wouldn’t be room. So I’ll simply write about the “unparalleled, prodigious, stupendous” etc “population explosion” which modern experts tell us took place in the Highlands from 1750 to 1800 (others say 1750-1850 – footnote one). I realize that the rest of us have usually simply to take on trust what the historians tell us; if they all say the Battle of Bannockburn was in 1314, we have to accept that – not having months of spare time to look up all the local witnesses, chroniclers, official documents etc. It’s the same with this Highland “population explosion”; the ordinary reader doesn’t have time to work out whether the allegation is right or wrong.
    So much for the historians; now for the facts of history. To start with, I had to decide where the Highlands actually were (strange that so many writers never define what they are writing about. I had to go through all the 900 parishes of Scotland, and decide which of them were in the Highlands. Others may disagree; but if the Highlands are (a) the mountainous area of northern Scotland, and (b) the area where people spoke Gaelic in 1750, & indeed much later (as it happens, almost everywhere the two areas are much the same) then the Highlands must be the four old Scottish counties of Sutherland, Ross & Cromarty, Inverness-shire, and Argyllshire, plus part of ten other old counties – most of Buteshire (i.e. Arran and Bute), half of Perthshire and half of Caithness, plu smaller parts of Dumbartonshire (or Dunbartonshire), Stirlingshire, Angus, Aberdeenshire, Banffshire, Moray and Nairnshire. Altogether it appeared that the Highlands had 162 parishes; ao I then had to add up all the parish population figures found by Dr Webster (who made an amateur count in the 1740s & 1750s), then those made by the ministers of the “Old Statistical account” in the early 1790s, ,and then by the census-takers of 1801 and each ten years thereafter – a laborious business (no wonder history professors avoid doing it), but essential to find out if the Highland population was rising or falling. There are half-a-dozen reasons (given in my book) why Dr Webster may have underestimated the numbers – the Highland population in 1750 was probably 320,000, 330,000 or more – but taking Webster’s total at their face value, these were the result for the 162 Highland parishes – Webster 295,566: O.S.A. 325,355. This so-called “population explosion” produced an extra 29,789 people, an increase of 10.08%. It is true the O.S.A. figures would have been higher but for the emigrations from the Highlands in 1750-1800; but it is equally true that they would have been lower but for the thousands of Lowlanders (sheep-farmers, shepherds, factors, lawyers, workmen etc) who had come to live in the Lowlands during those years. The many Lowland immigrants are frequently mentioned in contemporary sources (footnote two), but appear in very few modern accounts. (Now why is that?) It is also true that different parishes showed different trends: under the impact of the “improvements”, some parish populations went up sharply, others went down sharply, while others changed (up or down) more moderately. So if you merely producing propaganda, rather than history, you can quote one or two exceptional parish increases, and imply that the same thing happened everywhere.
    Since the Highlands contained about 16,300 square miles by my calculation, these extra inhabitants (between Webster and the O.S.A.) amounted to two per square mile – one extra person in each 320 acres. And it is clear from the reports in the O.S.A. that the food production of the Highlands had gone up considerably more than that. So why do experts talk about a “population explosion”? It looks as if they wanted something, anything, on which to blame the poverty, the descent into crofting, and the emigrations, rather than have to admit that it was the doing of the small group of people who now owned and dominated the Highlands.
    Let us consider the figures right up to 1831/1841 (the figures at those two censuses were almost the same), when the Highland population reached its peak. The 162-parish Highland totals at successive decennial censuses were: 1801, 331,235; 1811, 347,359; 1821, 386,038; 1831, 405,733; 1841, 405,924. (After that the Highland population, despite all the appreciable Lowland immigration, declined each ten years.) In other words – ignoring Webster’s probable underestimation of the numbers – from say 1751 to 1841 the Highland population increased by 110,358, or 37.34%in ninety years, that is an undramatic o.41% per year. That means that in 1841, at the very highest point the Highland population ever reached, there were still more than twenty-five acres for each Highlander (or over 150 acres for each family of six). But writers still quote abnormal figures from particular parishes, and imply that they are “typical”. While the population between the 1750s and 1841 rose by more than a third, the food production in the Highlands doubled; so there was considerably more food produced per head. In some parts there was a greater still increase of production. In South Uist, said the parish minister in the “New Statistical Account”, “the produce has been more than tripled since 1796” (footnote three). I have often read in history books that by 1840 the population of South Uist had more than doubled since the O.S.A.; I cannot remember ever reading in a history book that the produce of South Uist had more than tripled, so that other things being equal) everyone there must have had about fifty per cent more food. It is uncanny that the one fact should be ubiquitous, and the other unmentionable.
    To say that a population where there were at the maximum only twenty-five people for each square mile is “congested”, so that the people must be driven away, is surely to do violence to the English language.

    footnote one: “torrential growth” – Dr Richard Muir, “Lost Villages of Britain, 1985, p. 161
    “stupendous growth” – Professor Henry Hamilton, “Industrial Revolution in Scotland”, 1966, p. 73
    “unparalleled population explosion” – Sir Iain Moncreiffe of Moncreiffe, 1967, p. 35
    “prodigious ‘population explosion’ ” – Earl of Dundee, 1985 memorandum, Moncreiffe 1967, p. 251
    “population explosion” – John A. Lister “The Scottish Highlands”, 1978, p. 19
    “enormous population explosion” – Jamie McGrigor (Highlands & Islands, Con), Scots Parliament,
    27th November 2000
    “explosive population growth” – Professor E. Richards, “The Highland Clearances”, 2002, p. 46
    (Dozens more similar quotations in “Clans and Clearance”)

    footnote two: E.g. “Old Statistical Account” 1791, I 274 (Kiltearn, Ross-shire); J. Loch, “Improvements on the Estate of the Marquis of Stafford”, 1820, Appendix, p. 61; A. Sutherland,
    “A Summer Ramble in the North Highlands” 1825, p. 98

    footnote three: “New Statistical Account”, 1845, volume XIV, p. 197 (South Uist, Inverness-shire)

  41. Thanks for some great reference material Roddy and Gordon! Conscious this is a blog and not an academic library however I am trying to establish when/why my ancestors moved from Finzean, Aberdeenshire to the Scottish Lowlands (sometime between 1827 and 1852). In doing so all sources are greatly appreciated, so please do keep up the good work and I for one will continue follow with interest.

  42. Pingback: Bibliography | Alex Ference's Socials Journal

  43. I am interested in a remark regarding easing of the bans on marriage which I found on a scottish history page regarding the clearances . Was this a loosening of the church ban on cousins marrying, or were there bans on marrying without the Lairds consent, which were eased so as to send married couples to other countries?

  44. My family were evicted to Canada in 1851.I know the brutality they suffered in Scotland .We have nothing but Clearance-denial historians spewing their Anglicised anti-Highlander bile. This to exonerate the action of the Anglicised clan chiefs, the aristocrats and the British government. The Clearances was the longest period of ethnic cleansing in Europe lasting 126 years. You will not find this information in any Scottish history book. The Highlands and Islands is the largest man made desert in Europe. The empty glens are cenotaphs to the murdered, evicted and dispossessed. The people were replaced by sheep or sporting estates resulting in many communities losing their history, language and culture. Whilst the Highlanders were being evicted their sons were used as cannon fodder by the imperialistic Brit establishment to conquer an Empire for England. Scots know nothing about the Clearances as the true history of the Clearances has been more or less cleansed from Scottish school history lessons. There is no record of the number evicted. However, the Napier Commission accepted that over 37,000 were evicted from the Isle of Skye in 40 years in the 19th century. Can you find this is any Scottish history book? No. The Highlands have now been colonised by outsiders, many from England and the Scottish Lowlands. The ethnic Highlanders are not in Scotland but in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, U.S.A., South Africa and some in South America – Argentina – I believe J. Peron’s great grandmother was a MacKenzie, I believe, possibly a descendant of evicted Highlanders. The Clearances were as short-sighted as they were selfish and unjust,.The unrelenting avarice of Brit imperialists.

    • Donald – With respect to your comment, if it offered any evidence whatsoever, rather than the bile you accuse proper historians of writing, I would deem it worthy of a more detailed reply.

  45. Great battle this. Well done Roddy on keeping your head. I don’t think you are the only one with a ‘political attitude’ on this. Everything can be filtered through a marxist sieve as dubh knows (or through donald mcleod’s fuckwit glasses), ie so what if the people of the western isles have more post grads, arent higher education degrees just a colonial, capitalist structure imposed to create competition between the masses which favour the middle and upper classes directly while claiming to be a neutral and independent measure of intellect?

    Exactly, it’s simplistic bullshit.

    • Ches – Thanks for your comment. Yes, it doesn’t take many brain cells to interpret history in terms of ‘them’ and ‘us’. ‘Them’ are always the baddies, ‘us’ are always the goodies, with either a racist or marxist theory behind it all. It is troubling to think that, often, the same people seem to see modern life in a similar way. For my own part, I try to see the various trends in history, plus understand sometimes the greed, sometimes the misplaced intentions, etc.

      • Ches the point I am making about the people of the Western Isles being well educated is that they are now able to use that education to make proper inroads into using the land for its optimum social and economic potential. Look at this report summary http://www.communitylandscotland.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/FINAL-CLS-Economic-Data-Study-2-Page-Summary-140414-For-Release.pdf It is your own lazy prejudice that is trying to interpret what I said along some kind of marxist lines. I am merely making the unradical point that the UKs land owning system is archaic, economically unproductive and has not changed much since the clearances and before. The new land reform coming in will just be a start to getting Scotland to the point that all other European nations and all other developed countries are at. Scotland has the most concentrated land ownership patterns in the developed world and everyone else sorted this out poltically a long time ago. It is not marxism it is coming into line with the rest f the capitalist world and leaving the feudal one behind. There does not need to be any ‘land grabs’ a few tweaks to the law will see land being broken up into smaller more usable portions and it being put to more productive use. Your argument is the simplistic one.
        Roddy do you think those that were getting evicted or arrested and sent to court during the clearances thought of it as them and us? You are making a few classic mistakes the amateur makes when looking at history. First you try and look at it from a ‘fair’ point of view looking at the sources. In the classic British interpretation of history any written sources are always given more importance (left over from an obsession with the ancients). This is a very stupid thing to do when dealing with a peasant population who were not writing much down and a ruling land owning class. Of course they had different interests. Of course there as a them and us.One side was getting evicted and had the worst property rights in Europe and the other wasn’t. People at the time all over the UK came to see the injustice themselves. This is why the land wars were won by that peasant class. They had popular support through the press and public opinion was changed. That definitely suggests there was a strong them and us. Not just well meaning landlords who got few things wrong as you try and depict.

        The other mistake you make is you politicise it and you look at it through an anti SNP/nationalist lens. I have seen a lot of this. You assume you know the real history and that everything else is just the shrieking hyperbole of the peasants at the time or nationalists now. That is to ignore the facts I have presented you with (I notice you never did get back and refute my points).

        Thirdly you try and suggest it is me that is confusing how people think today with how they thought at the time. I have first had statements of what was said at the time by the crofters. I have records of what crofters said in negotiations with officials pre Napier Commission. Have you seen these? You have seen someone elses interpretation of the sources. How do you regard Gaelic sources? Do you think they are all nonsense because most are not written down? Gaelic oral sources can remain virtually unchanged for centuries but people from a non oral society write them off. I suggest you try looking at other historians for balance like Michael Newton.

        As far as your stating their was no racist theory behind it what can you say to the evidence? T.M. Devine has talked about this racism. Are you going to tell me he isn’t a proper historian? “With the development of pseudoscientific racist ideas from about 1850, the Clearances were at times supported by belief that the Celtic “race” was inferior to the Anglo Saxon “race”.[31] George Combe’s popular and influential The Constitution of Man, published in 1828, provided a framework which would be used by some to support theories of racial superiority. In 1850 Robert Knox published The Races of Men which asserted the inferiority of the Celt compared to the Anglo Saxon and Nordic races.

        The view that the economic failures of the Highlands were due to the shortcomings of the Celtic race was shared and expressed by the two most important Scottish newspapers, The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald – and even the more northerly Inverness Courier.[31]

        In 1851 The Scotsman wrote that

        “Collective emigration is, therefore, the removal of a diseased and damaged part of our population. It is a relief to the rest of the population to be rid of this part.”[32]

        Similar views were held by senior public officials. Sir Charles Trevelyan was co-founder with Sir John McNeill of the Highland and Island Emigration Society. In a letter to McNeill in 1852 he wrote that

        “A national effort” would now be necessary in order to rid the land of “the surviving Irish and Scotch Celts”. The exodus would then allow for the settlement of a racially superior people of Teutonic stock. He welcomed “the prospects of flights of Germans settling here in increasing numbers – an orderly, moral, industrious and frugal people, less foreign to us than the Irish or Scotch Celt, a congenial element which will readily assimilate with our body politic.”[33][34]

        (The “flights of Germans” in the above quotation may relate to significant emigration from Germany in the years that followed the failure of the German March Revolution of 1848.)” Wiki

        Charles Trevelyan for christ sake he was in charge of emigration. There are lots of examples in the sources of this racism and it is used to excuse the treatment of the people. Starving people were set to wrk on building walls and roads bcause it was felt the Celts were lazy and needed this encouragement (just as they did for blacks in other places). To say racism did not exist and did not shape people’s actions is not god history. If you cannot refute the evidence I have shown you how can you possibly say racism was not behind a lot of the treatment of the people? Just your political will to excuse people and paint the clearances as a non event …not good history.

        As far as marxism goes I am not a marxist and this is your own silly prejudice shining through. You do not have to be a marxist to see wrong in the actions of greedy and powerful people and the attempted extermination of an entire culture. Nor do yo need to be a blood and soil nationalist.

  46. I spent a week or so in one part of Scotland not long ago and saw a situation which would seem to support Dubh’s comments. Applecross – mostly owned by one person, who happens to not go there very often, and who seems to want to keep the area pristine, with the result that local developments of most kinds are very difficult to get off the ground. There will be other cases similar to this, but there will also be diverse other situations. For example, redevelopment of Broadford airport – what is stopping this? Not the local landowners. The proposed development in An Camas Mor – proposed by the local estate. Etc. Therefore there is not one size fits all. I don’t want to go over some of Dugh’s other points again, already answered here or elsewhere, but of course good historians take into account the survival of only some documents which will also tend to originate from the establishment. Have you read my post about the Lowland Clearances? Interesting because the process was fairly similar to the Highland Clearances, yet there is very little tradition of protest, very little by way of empathy for those cleared, as there is for the Highland Clearances – and my post looks at why this is, which in turn throws some light on the Highland Clearances and the tradition of protest (if that is the right term, which I think it is). My goodness – your point about the SNP – see https://roddymacleod.wordpress.com/2012/01/29/general-malaise/ for details of some of their past shenanigans, which of course continue today. Continuing from your comment above, my point about racist viewpoints in my previous comment was actually targeting Donald J who seems so extremely anti-British/English as to be racist, and so nothing to do with several of your offered points. Devine – extremely good historian, IMHO. Even though he came out in support of a Yes vote 🙂 I didn’t know that about Trevelyan. When talking about marxist interpretations of history I am often meaning the opposite of a Namierite.

    • Just to add a point – Of course I think that, for example, a lot of the Victorian justifications for doing certain things that they did, was essentially racist. Surprisingly, in that light, it was sometimes the same Victorians who also ended up romanticising the highlands.

    • Fair enough Roddy. However, still have very many problems with the link to a past blog you supplied. Some of it points to truth (anti Englishness isnt good history) but I feel it is too simplistic and loaded to be good history ether. Of course there was an anglicisation process going on across Scotland (most often by Scots themselves) and of course this process included de Gaelicisation of the leaders. In other words they actively set out to destroy the culture (loads of sources back this including direct legislation). This of course was reflected in how land was thought of and how contemporary Gaelic sources reflected their feelings about this invading culture that sought to destroy it. I feel we have been over this though. I will just mention the Sutherland Clearances briefly though. The clearances had considerable bad effects on a lot of people Of that there is no doubt. Your claim that because locals didn’t want it removed somehow makes a statement that hey didn’t think the Sutherland clearances happened or that thy were not negative (or that they didn’t view it as the SNP members did) is a wrong one. I have met many who want the statue to stay so that it acts s a reminder of the misuses of power and wealth. Alongside the fairy tale type castle it does make quite a statement.

      The Jacobite Rebellion led to the end of the Clan system. This allowed the final victory of the British feudal and capitalist model (as opposed to the kin based feudal type system) to infiltrate the Highlands (though it would have likely happened in some other way as this is what the British Crown and Government wanted). This had a direct effect on how the clan system worked and the relationship between Clan chiefs and the clans people and in who owned the land and what their outlooks were. This led to the clearances. To suggest otherwise takes a bit of a leap of the imagination and ignores a lot of sources and a lot of Gaelic sources.

      The use of history and even biased interpretations are in no way an SNP only fault. Just think how much bull history we were asked to go through from Cameron our PM. He tried to state that the British needed to stay in political union because we fought together a hundred years ago in a world war. The clue is in the name. Lots of people fought together without the need for political union. This was of course an implication that others took further. One MP (can’t remember who off the top of my head) stated that independence supporters are dishonouring the dead. Claiming to speak for the dead and state what their political intentions are/were is what is dishonourable of course. The fact that independence and home rule where on the political stage at that time completely ignored.

      History will always be used by politicians as who ever writes the history has control of the present. This does not all go one way. The Clearances have been a subject that was glossed over for a very long time. It was only given the British establishment voice. This only started to change in the 20th Century. Some may have taken it too far but there is no point in merely aping them and playing the whole thing down again.

      The reason the lowland clearances don’t get the same interest is first of all because the same cultural differences and cultural oppression wasn’t going on and secondly because there was not a wider peasant type/landed revolt going on elsewhere (changed public opinion and the wider movement in Ireland etc.). The Highland clearances stand out because the and reformers won a small victory in the Crofting counties. Because of them the culture has held on and the alternative history has a voice. In other areas that didn’t have the land rights such as rural Perthshire, Aberdeenshire etc. the people and culture where moved out. The last speaker of Perthshire Gaelic was only there because her family had owned a small bit of land.

      It is also in the consicousness because of when it happened. Attitudes where changing. It was becoming unacceptable to treat people in this way. The clearances happened in many places. They didn’t often happen so fast at such a scale and with the same kind of racist underpinning.

      • Dubh – Here is the link https://roddymacleod.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/the-lowland-clearances/ to my post on the Lowland Clearances. It gives better reasons for there not being the same interest in those lowland clearances than lack of cultural oppression. Also, in the intervening years (between the lowland and highland clearances) there was a general growth in education and literacy, growth of pamphlet reading, etc, enabling the gradual rise of what we now regard as public opinion. Yes, completely agree with your last para above.

      • What you miss out is the fact that lowland farms were made larger and people were kicked off their land. The people became farm workers not farmers for themselves. They might be given access to some small garden or something but really they were just paid workers often moving around. Big farms didn’t happen much in the Highlands. The land was used for sheep (a few shepherds usually from the south) or deer a few gillies (boy in Gaelic how demeaning).

        I also think you are under estimating the extent to which people could move around and take jobs elsewhere.

        The Highland Clearances were stopped by a popular political movement. The lowland clearances were not. This process has been going on all over and enclosure in England was the same thing. With enclosure the aristocrats decided they now wanted the land that the common people lived off (farmed and hunted on). What was once common land became the elites. They divided up the land and this caused a great deal of bad feeling and even a lot of suicides apparently. This was a hugely different and confusing world brought on by those with power.

        I think the reason the lowland clearances didn’t get the same attention as it was a continuation of what was happening in the same, or a very similar, culture in England. In that sense it was just called improvement. There was no popular political movement that won the day and the greater population did not react to it in the same way.

        I definitely don’t think Gaels suffer from a victim mentality and that is all there is to it, as some try and suggest. The facts are Gaels feel they have won against the odds. They won their rights (although they should have gone further) and saved their culture. They sing Mhairi Mor songs and tell stories about these times to this day. A lot have seen this as ongoing and there were land raids in Raasay as late as the 1940s.

        Land reform now is part of the same process. Times have changed and it is a different struggle but one with the same roots.

        There are now a couple of good landlords who have gifted their land to communities. This is not the norm though. Most landowners look at the land reforms with terror or suspicion (even though only really bad landlords should fear hostile buyouts). They too claim that their estates are the best use of the land going. They claim the land is not good for anything other than Grouse or Deer moors and that they alone understand how to make them productive. The lie is being exposed for all to see (as the link to Community Land Scotland I provided earlier shows). A great deal of Scotland is used for the very rich to hide their money offshore. They get subsidised by us tax payers but give little back. All because they are the best to own the land and they have the people who live on their estates best interests at heart. Land owners always have good lawyers and people to spin for them. So much so they start to believe it themselves I think.

  47. Dealing with the Us and Them question. Some of those who emigrated, having heard from their returning kinfolk (numerous emigrants returned, often but not always to emigrate once again) about opportunities in far off lands, would have been only too delighted to leave behind their barely subsistence existence for pastures new. Others would have been sad to leave, but tempted by the free passage (paid by landlords or societies set up to provide passage) and the gift of boots and tools, would have seen it as a fate better than staying behind. Others, the poorest with no support, often evicted with no help whatsoever, would have seen/be given no alternative. Others who stayed in the country moved to new houses away from the straths and to new jobs (in the new towns such as Brora, etc). Others moved to Glasgow/Edinburgh/etc. Therefore, not homogeneous experiences. Same with the folk who owned the land, who might be individuals, or those acting on behalf of bankrupted landowners, etc – some evicted without much thought and no assistance for those evicted; others gave financial enouragement in the belief that this would be less costly than continued payments to the poor; others saw the process as something which could be beneficial for the majority (i.e. build new towns, create new jobs, regenerate the local economy), but in the knowledge that this would only work if the local population in various ways decreased. Once again, not homogeneous experiences. Therefore, overall, not them and us. To look back and see it otherwise is naive.

    • What are you basing any of his on Roddy? How do you know how people felt? What are your sources? Of course there were different experiences but at no point do you mention Gaelic culture and the importance of land and kin within it. No peasant culture gladly leaves the land they worked and lived in. To leave your own culture entirely in those days was no small thing. The truth is the people were moved off the good land and land they had worked before they emigrated. They were moved to the coasts and the laws on emigration were relaxed or strengthened as the people were needed either for kelp, war or fishing. They were put into situations were any improvements they made would get them evicted all the sooner.
      Of course there were different experiences and some people might have left with a swing in the heart and not a thought as to what they left behind but you stating that this was just how it was is just nonsense.

      I have first hand recorded evidence of people not feeling this way. I have evidence of my Great Grandfathers where he says the people have been treated as slaves from before he was born (reference to having no rights yet expected to work for the Laird for no pay for part of the year). The factor threatened to have anybody who dis agreed removed from Skye (as he would speak to other factors).

      If emigration was mostly voluntary why the need to loosen and tighten controls on it? How can you say an area is crowded when people are confined to a small minority of that area?

      Did the land owning classes and their factors fear eviction and being moved from one area to another or completely removed? Did they have the worst rental rights in Europe? Where they put on marginal land? Where their lives planned for them right down to giving them not enough land so they would be forced to do a stinking filthy back braking job in kelp or risk their lives at sea to make the landowners profits? Them and us is not naive and anyone familiar with the full range of sources wouldn’t think so.

      You are the one that is being naive. Naive and ill informed. How much Gaelic material have you looked at? Have you read any of Michael Newton’s books about the Gaelic world? You haven’t once mentioned a Gaelic source. Funny that given you have a blog about the clearances.

      I am sure if you asked around the world today at area being cleared for cash crops and forest burnt down with the removal of people who had lived and worked there for generations that the developers have their best interests at heart. They will be better off in the slums in the city. They will be better off migrating to Europe etc. Well the truth is they don’t have any choice.

      Look at what happened in the areas that didn’t get the protection of the crofters Act (btw in your blog you say this was granted like it was some great gift of benevolence not something people put their lives and freedom (not being in jail) and threat of eviction to win). These areas lost all their people and their culture and their language. It is no coincidence that the crofting areas are where the language survives. The clearances continued elsewhere and the result was nobody buut a skeleton staff to work the estates (a lot of those from outside) were allowed to stay.

      Suggesting that people left voluntary when their bad conditions had been engineered to give them as little choice as possible is what is naive.

      • You’ve mostly missed my point (which was that it was a mixed and not-uniform experience). No peasant culture gladly leaves the land they worked and lived in – apart from those who do so willingly and who subsequently thrive, and even those will often look back with rosey glasses.

        But Palleeese! “moved off the good land” ! Some of the people reading these comments won’t have walked these lands like you and I have. And I’ve been to some God-foresaken hillsides to see ruins where there once lived Gaels, where nowadays even a few sheep can barely survive. Much land was of poor quality. But as usual, it was not a uniform experience, and this is not to say that, sometimes, people were not cleared off good land.

        There’s no point in answering your points where you have mis-quoted or misinterpreted what I’ve been saying.

      • God forsaken hillsides?? Those hillsides supported communities of happy people. Have you ever seen what commentators from outside had to say about the Gaels. they of course pointed to their poverty (how much of this was merely the same attitude that made them say the same things about people that did not follow their ideas about how to live?) but what they said far more often than not was they were a happy people. Not that bothered by their poverty. This was taken as just what the ‘lazy’ celts were like but was it really. People had access to hunting and fishing as well as their agriculture. They also had access to jobs outside the Highlands and to the illicit whisky industry that was of course later outlawed and put in the hands of …yep you guessed it the oligarchs.

        You see propaganda and misunderstanding was rife.

        Also, to answer the point you made about goodies and baddies earlier I will direct you to this article (I may have done so before but it is worth another read).


        I don’t think there were goodies and baddies but I do believe some bad fundamental decisions have been made in the past that have not neccessarily left us in a great place. Resource exploitation by those with only shareholders to answer too and everything of course kept in the abstract so people don’t start to worry too much is not a great progressive journey. This doesn’t make me a socialist or a marxist or anything else it makes me someone who tries to learn from history. Not someone who just tries to justify petty political squabbling over what myths nations tell themselves (they all do…even, perhaps especially the British). You seem to talk about the French and Spanish etc. as if they were of course the side that must be defeated. Again you bring your British nationalism into it.

        Did you know that what upset the English oligarchy so much was the Jacobite king trying to stop the going too far as they brought in their enclosure. There were peasants sleeping in ditches and he said too far. They said get lost and the rest is history.

  48. WRT Dubh’s statement “This allowed the final victory of the British feudal and capitalist model (as opposed to the kin based feudal type system) to infiltrate the Highlands (though it would have likely happened in some other way as this is what the British Crown and Government wanted).” I am currently reading an interesting book: Africa in Transition, by George Coulter. Amongst other things he looks at the breakdown of local culture in Ghana resulting from changes to local fishing practises, in the 1950s and 1960s (he worked in fishing in Ghana in the years concerned). The old fishing system (in many ways akin in this respect to the feudal system before the Clearances) was family based. A family would own a boat, man it with kin, and the fish would be sorted/sold onshore by the women of the family. The family structure was strong and everyone involved worked together for the benefit of the family. Then, through population growth/desire for modern products, the old ways begin to break down. Larger boats, with engines, get bigger catches of fish, but to afford a larger boat someone needs to take a loan. The person with the loan needs to repay the loan, and can’t afford to share the catch equally so much with family, and employs non-family people on a wage because this can be cheaper. The larger catch needs better processing, fridges, etc, so the women lose their traditional role. The local economy is transformed. Many peoplle leave and go to Accra, and other large places, thus changing the economies of those places as well. Non of this is down to what the government wanted, which in any case was an independent government of Ghana (rather than the British government). In other words, its another case of what happens when an economy changes, or is forced to change because of other economic circumstances. Very interesting book, BTW.

    • So what you are saying is Gaelic culture was just in need of entering the modern world? That the once great culture of Gaelic was just over. An anachronism? In short it is nonsense. It is propaganda.

      The idea that the British were bringing an unstoppable modernisation to the world is so 19th Century. It makes me cringe when I hear or see this attitude still going on strongly. The idea that we civilised the world and they should actually be grateful for their own cultures debasement and colonialism.

      Besides what you are talking about happened here postwar. That was when people started leaving the crofting system and branching out in that sense. I have a good book I will look out on the affect of this on rural Ireland in the 1950s. The process was far more complicated and involved the break down of people able to get married. This led to the experience felt in other peasant cultures of old bachelors with land but struggling to find a wife (they all left to find husbands when they were young and young girls don’t want to marry old men either). Also a good book.

      Gaelic culture was always a culture that worked, fought etc. all over the world. During the clearances the men were often away fighting or working. In my own research I found people talking about the men being away and that people had jobs all over sending money home. The idea that the clearances was just some modernisation process is more for your comfort than anything else. People were exposed to and took advantage of a global workplace and what that could give them. If things weren’t so bad for them at home a lot more could have made a go of it.

      Besides, when I said the British Government and Crown wanted it I was talking about the debate that went on pre 1745. Some thought the Chiefs could be negotiated round and would accept the ways of the British state eventually. Some thought they should militarily occupy and build big forts and military roads. Guess what they went with? After the 45 the British Army went about the Highlands and acted despicably to those on both sides. They stole cattle and other property and acted with complete impunity to make their point.

      On another point you made the Highlanders had given quarter in their battles. They were under orders to. To suggest they wouldn’t have has no basis in fact. It is merely your own assertion. That they gave quarter in other battles suggests they would have carried this on.

      What I would like to know is why you think a peasant class that was moved off their land, put onto marginal land, had the worst rights in Europe and had emigration restricted or made easy at the will of the landed classes were not exploited? Do you think people being moved off their land for farming or wildlife parks etc. are all having this done for their own goods too? Would the developers say they didn’t care for these people and their profit is what is important or would they make some spin to make out they were doing the people they cleared a favour?

      Should you go listen to the people who are being cleared now and look for similarities?

      • Of course the Clearances were in part a modernisation process! It may not have worked well for everyone. Looking back we might say there were alternative ways that could have been followed. And so on. I never said ‘the British were [bringing it]’ though in some cases they were the agents. Gaelic culture was not the anachronism. The traditional Gaelic life was not, however, sustainable – if it had been, there would not have been hunger, etc .

        The Battle of Blenheim 1704 was seen as a big watershed in England. No more, it was thought, would there be a threat from the traditional enemy of more than 100 years, France. Yet, again and again, the French got involved, bankrolled, and supported with armies and ships, the Jacobites in their repeated attempts to rebuild their control over the British Isles. Many battles, an invasion from the north to the south, nasty stuff done to those who opposed, etc. So of course, after Culloden, a very hard line with no quarter was taken. To stop these invasions once and for all.

  49. I have to add, Dubh, that anyone reading your comments can see that you are repeatedly misinterpreting much of what I have been saying. I only hope that you are better at interpreting other sources and writings.

    • Roddy don’t worry about me I have done my time. I have been given the best marks time and again at different universities by many different academics. I don’t like to be boastful but I also don’t think I should put up with being challenged on this by someone with such an obviously biased interpretation of history. Also, I have looked at the sources directly. You read some books and apparently only take inn what accords with your world view. That is a belief in a type of manifest destiny. A march towards the modern and progress that only ever brings good in the end. It is quite obvious from what you say. If I am reading you wrong then argue your point. Where have I misrepresented what you have said?
      I have been trying to tease out what I think lies beneath your bias but if anything I have said is untrue tell me. You see you just keep coming out with the same old stuff. You say I have misrepresented you then you start saying things like what happened during the Clearances ‘seems positively enlightened’. I know you were comparing something from another situation but there was nothing enlightened abut it. The houses and towns were not built for the good of the people. How naive can you be. They were set up as money makers for the landlords.
      Also, you say traditional Gaelic life needed to change because there was hunger at times. This was due to crops failing. The way you deal with that is more diverse crops etc. The incoming ‘improvements’ tried to deal with it by replacing everything with potatoes. They gave people just enough land to not quite feed themselves.
      You cannot make an argument that there were too many people and the land couldn’t support it (you do know that the runrig system is being looked at and used again because its ability to grow crops from even unfertile ground stands out as a good use of land?) if they were just moved off the land. If you hav been to all these hillsides you must have seen the lazy beds. People had grazing and access to growing. They had developed these townships and they worked as long as people were not asked to pay too much rent. They were not perfect but neither was the system that simply moved everyone off these townships, too the coasts and into the hands of people who would experiment with them to see if they could be made to bring in more profit.
      What replaced it was an oligarchy. That was what the Highlands became. It became an oligarchy to the system from the south. Chiefs sons were sent away (on pain of confiscation of lands if they were not sent) to be educated in this other culture and to want its trappings. You stated at one point that these were Highlanders doing this. They were not Gaels. Gaelic is a culture. To be a Gael is not a blood thing but a culture thing. If you are not a Gaelic speaking person who takes part in Gaelic culture you are not a Gael. The Chiefs were increasingly English/lowland sounding and acting (as they are today).
      This was the ‘progress’ land that could support far fewer people. The houses of the Chiefs became larger as the people were moved incessantly around while their fates were experimented with.

      • Dubh, you say “The houses and towns were not built for the good of the people. How naive can you be. They were set up as money makers for the landlords.” Well – no-one is going to build a new town with new houses and then give them away, are they? If so, let me know where this happens. Of course the building of houses in Brora and elsewhere was supposed to bring an eventual return on investment, even though the rents charged at first were below the going rate (to allow for a gradual improvement). Everyone benefits. The laird doesn’t have to continue to pay out poor relief, instead there is an ROI on a new investment, the new industries employ the people in the new houses who are thus able to pay rent. The local economy improves. And everyone benefits! This is very basic. And somehow you appear to interpret this process as a deliberate crushing of Gael society!

        You say “They gave people just enough land to not quite feed themselves.” Yes, this is true, as I’m sure I’ve already pointed out, the gardens were to provide a supplement, and thus to encourage them to work in the new industries being encouraged and invested in, which in turn would bring new money to the local economy, so that it would not be 100% dependent on local food crops which could fail. To therefore change the economy.

        The alternative – to continue to live in the straths on subsistence levels, and to hope/expect in hard times poor relief from the lairds and from those in the industrialising south (who repeatedly sent money, but who obviously became weary of this) would have resulted in far more hardship in the longer term.

      • How naive can I be?? What a laugh. Oh they built these towns for the good of the people did they? Why did they need to push the people int a different lifestyle by giving them less. This is social engineering. You right wingers say you don’t like it but wen it is the ‘great and the good’ doing it you don’t mind do you? On rule for them etc.

        Move people off the land and mess with their systems of agriculture and of course you will need famine relief. Your solution to support the Lairds so that their income allowed them to build grand houses? Allow them to socially engineer the people pushing them towards starvation to do this. To set up towns for some profit (you already said many of these failed) and to clear everyone else.

        Just because there were solutions to problems needed does not mean the people should have been cleared in the way they were for the benefit of a small oligarchy.

        I ask again what measure dom you have for success inthe Highlands. An area supporting a fairly large population (people could emigrate as they were doing elsewhere) with agricultural improvements supporting the many or what actually happened. The removal of people from their traditional lands.

        You are an apologist for the greed of an oligarchy. In terms of evidence the big fancy castles being built at the same time should really give some kind of clue.

  50. For a bit more on Culloden, see https://roddymacleod.wordpress.com/2013/11/12/cycling-without-fat-mac/

    Dubh’s point about clearances elsewhere in the world is interesting. We have the example of the Amazon area, where it would seem that unbridled greed is resulting in encroachment on traditional lifestyles. Also there is the case of the Bushmen in Botswana, where an otherwise rather enlightened government has recently been trying to move people off their traditional lands in order to get at diamonds. The Bushmen used to roam all over that part of the world. In the 19th century, they were often shot as ‘vermin’ by marauding Boers. Other Bushmen and related tribes were subsumed into different groups. Later still, even extending into the 20th century, there was https://roddymacleod.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/the-kaisers-holocaust/ in what became Namibia. These experiences are not uniform, though there are some patterns. In the light of some of these clashes of culture/ clashes between the ‘feudal’ and the modern world, what happened in SOME instances of the Highland Clearances (modern houses being built for some more fortunate displaced, new industries being created, etc) seems positively enlightened.

    • What you have around the world is the same oligarchy system. Third World Countries are expected to pay all they make in debt payments. When they can’t pay anymore they have to sign away their natural resources. This happened across South America and is happening in Africa etc. as well. All oil, gold, trees, water etc. becomes the property of the bankers. They are only interested in the bottom line. The governments of these countries are full of people with their fingers in the pie. Any type of popular uprising will be resisted by the Governments of countries like the USA. Even when the bankers of the world pushed it too far it was the people and the states of the world that stepped in to save them. They carry on getting richer. It is an oligarchy. They will keep onm wrecking the economy and having it stood behind by the people and state (isn’t that more like communism than capitalism?).

      Did you know that every ancient civilisation before the Roman Empire had a system where debt would be cancelled out. That is a point would be reached and they would say right that is it all debts cancelled and start again. The Romans were the first not to. They used to have a system where the common people had land in common and then the Oligarchs decided it was all for them. They never cancelled the debts so they kept growing. The rich just got richer and took everything. Once they had done this to Italy they needed to do it to everyone else so they kept invading everybody and taking all their stuff. And I mean all their stuff. Everything. All their gold from the walls of their temples, their public buildings the lot.They wrecked Italy ecologically speaking. It was a dusty old desert. It took until the medieval period to recover. There are more ways to run the economies of the world and writing of debts would be one with a long history. However we fetishise the Romans for some reason.

      All civilisations that had oligarchies that took off the land, built themselves separate buildings (gated communities?) and kept themselves away from the common people while taking everything they had have failed. South American jungles are full of them.

      What happened to the Chiefs who took up the new system? They tried to ape the ways of their southern counterparts because they were told that was modern and progressive. They got into debt that could only be paid by exploiting their land and people. The oligarchy got sucked in and spat out b the oligarchy that was seeking to control them.

      By what measure did the changes made to the Highlands represent progress? Far less people supported. The worst tenant rights in Europe despite being part of the richest country in the world and playing a very major part in its military. Basically the reason people were kept on the land was for the military or for whatever new endeavor the Lairds thought they could make money from.

      To suggest there could have been only one way is totally unimaginative. To suggest that what won the day was right (as you clearly do with your biased appraisal of the Jacobites) is not good history. You are only toeing the line. There was no ‘right’ or only outcome.

      You should read ‘Debt: the first 5000 years’ for a background to how there are more than one ways of doing things.

      • Oh here we go. The Gaels were uniquely war like etc. More old propaganda with a racist history. Did violence only occur in the Highlands? Didn’t the Lords of the Isles rule over a fairly peaceful Highlands and didn’t the age of feuds really develop with the ending of the Lords of the Isles and repeated deliberate Government interference? Giving two clans title to the same bit of land etc.

        Clans feuded and so did nobles and people with power, countries etc. elsewhere. To suggest this was uniquely Highland or Gael oor that the British didn’t have anything to do with it is just ignorant.

      • Oh a great reply Roddy! What did the Romans ever do for us (they mostly knicked their ideas from others anyway) Well how about the quote commonly attributed to the first Caledonian in history (actually a slight misquote of Tacitus) “They create a desert and they call it peace”.

        Did you know that the first thing to disappear when the Romans left (archaeologists can tell this) was their circuses. The place where they demonstrated their brutality and what they would do to people if they didn’t toe the line. These were always the fist to go even if people held onto the other Roman things. Rome was built on oppression and fear. It fell as all other civilisations that allow oligarchies to suck them dry do. It was a bad idea. Some good multi culuralideas came out of it but who is to say they wouldn’t have and that better ideas may not have developed if Rome hadn’t set about destroying all other civilisations.

  51. Above, on August 13, 2015 at 11:33 am you said (I can’t reply inline, as WordPress has run out of Reply options), ” You seem to talk about the French and Spanish etc. as if they were of course the side that must be defeated.”

    Well, if your land is potentially/actually being invaded by folk who want to replace your increasingly stable and flourishing society with a divine right setup of a different religion – of course you will defend yourself!

    Also you say “Those hillsides supported communities of happy people.” Oh my! When they were not hungry, or raiding their neighbours, etc (see one-eyed link above, etc).

    • And there we have it ‘you’ would defend yourself from a different country etc. Not an unbiased look at the history at all. Your bias is all over what you write. You think the right people won and the right things then happened.

      Also, there were very many Jacobites still around (it didn’t end at Culloden either) and many especially in Scotland were not only on one side. You don’t look at history from an unbiased view point. I don’t think you look at anything with a particularly open mind.

      The naive poit…okay I make mistakes I shouldn’t really be doing this as |I am too busy. However that is hardly a good example of me misrepresenting you. Show me where I have.

      • Dubh – it woulld take a further 100 comments to point out all the misrepresentations!

        Not at all am I saying “the right people won and the right things then happened. ” but rather I am explaining the processes, in, I would add, an unbiased way (but I may be a bit biased in that particular statement, because I know what I’m trying to say).

        Dubh – you are busy. Get back to your other stuff. I also have lots of other things to do.

      • Well Roddy your piece on the Highland Clearances was full of opinion masquerading as fact. I am merely trying to show you that you do not know the one true history. That you haven;t even mentioned any Gaelic sources or points of view and this is a very strange thing to do given the subject matter (it is about the Gaelic world).

        I am merely pointing out that you misrepresent the history and claim that people felt certain ways and that it was all for their good. You give lots of value judgements without ever using any sources to back up your points.

        You do what you accuse others of doing and that is misrepresenting what you have read to drive your own political argument to do with nationalism. In your case the manifest destiny of British modernity. It is just nationalism in itself.

        You continually rubbish the one society while trying to suggest the other was better. How was it better? Did it support more people? Did it solve any problems? Or, did it create a desert!

    • Hungry or raiding their neighbours. More of the same. Many societies have cattle raiding etc. and though this seems strange and particularly uncivilised to you didn’t to them. You have absolutely none of the wider cultural awareness needed to look at these issues. I would also suggest you look into how there were other people going hungry in Britain and how stealing of your neighbours resources was in no way limited to the Highlands. It happens in many ways and just because cattle thievery is more obvious it does not mean that people were not stealing resources from each other.

      Have you read Andy Wightman’s The poor Had No Lawyers yet? Anyone writing about this subject needs to have an understanding about how land has been appropriated by the nobility etc.. It might even give you some fuel to attack some of those nationalists you think are so ignorant.

      Besides, the idea that the people were hungry and the answer was replacing farmed hill sides and Glens with a dessert (a desert is a place without human habitation) seems a little silly. How can creating a desert be the answer? Deserts are being created all over as people are being moved off the land and into the increasing slums. The land is destroyed through bad farming practices and resorts to dust bowl as water tables are redirected etc. All in the name of progress. It is all around you. The Highlands was just a quick example of how not to manage country for a number of people but for only a few. They now have the land as prestige and to avoid tax. They get rich people to hunt animals on land that has been virtually destroyed ecologically speaking.

      Great stuff. Well done. There was no other way!! There is no other way!!

      What happened to the Highlands was an economic, social and environmental, not mention cultural disaster. They cut rings around the trees in the ancient forests to extend the deer and grouse moors. Some surviving trees still have these rings (where obviously it didn’t work).

      What can we look back on and say was a success?

      • A bit surprised that you seem to think that thievery, raiding, and fighting makes for a happy bunch [Your words were: “Those hillsides supported communities of happy people.” ] but no wonder you have problems with a lot of the things I say.

      • As I mentioned before Cattle raiding was part of the culture. It did make for a happy bunch yes. Not all took part in it of course but those that did where doing it as part of an ancient lifestyle. You cannot put your outside value judgements onto it and decide it shows people were unhappy. Any good historian knows not to press one cultures values onto another. A school boy mistake.

        There were happy people. I am referring to many sources that say this (whereas you are merely stating an opinion as far as I can see). They mention the people’s love of singing and music and that they seem happy despite their material poverty (though again this is open to cultural misiterpretation…what can look like a lump of rubbish to one culture can be an important or even prestige thing to another). This is a wider peasant thing I think as well. Sometimes the poverty is overstated. Of course people went hungry at times but so did people in the slums in the cities. The only point this got better for people was when they won crofters rights.

        I also suggest you listen to my arguments. I sdasid the same thievery was going on else where under a different guise. Of course it was. It might have taken lawyers or police to do it but people across Britain never stopped stealing resources from others. To suggest it was a Highland only issue is bonkers.

        You continually do this. You continually state that one society had short comings implying the other didn’t. It is clearly nonsense. They both had good and bad points. The difference is one had been there for over a thousand years (okay it changed in that time but not all that much in some areas- dos that not show a certain degree of success?) and the other turned up and within a hundred or so years the place was empty. A few large houses remain and Scotland remains owned by an oligarchy who have monopolised all the land to use for direct drivers of personal wealth (and taking money out of the UK economy to hide offshore).

  52. Dubh, Look at your Comment: on August 13, 2015 at 11:48 am

    You will see that you are accusing me of calling you naive…

    But in the previous comment I am in fact quoting you calling me naive!!

    One of many of your misrepresentations (you previously asked for examples). Tighten up, Dubh. BTW, I’m enjoying reading about the goodies and baddies in The Virtual Gael.

  53. If anyone is trying to read any of this, and I doubt if there are many, you will have to try to read the comments as they have been written, rather than as WordPress lists them, but it is probably not worth your effort.

  54. Subsequent to all the various above comments, I’m very happy with every word of my original post which exposes some of the myths surrounding the Highland Clearances.

    • I am merely stating the truth. You have been unable to defend the misrepresentations you make. You offer opinion and call it fact. When challenged you do not make a convincing case. You do not have any facts to back anything up and you clearly make value judgements without any real factual backing.

      In other words you perpetuate the same old myths surrounding the Highland clearances. You even make the same mistake all other clueless British historians make by not including any sources from the culture you are actually discussing. Same old prejudice and ignorant remarks.

    • What a stupid thing to say. There is far more thievery,raiding and fighting nowadays Roddy. Have a look around you.

      What were the Highlanders used for Roddy? Oh that is right going all over the world and thumping the next poor buggers in line for take over and stealing their access to land and resources.

      You really are beyond help. I make a point about you making value judgements on other cultures that are inappropriate. I suggest this type of action happened everywhere and that it is just a misrepresentation of Highlanders as lawless and barbaric (propaganda of the time) and you merely keep repeating it.

      You are too stubborn to discuss with. You are not open to new/other ideas. You should not have set up a blog as people with different opinions will come and challenge yours. Especially if they are at best half baked.

  55. Yes – if only all of that raiding and fighting hadn’t come to an end, and all the buildings and roads hadn’t been built, and so on, Scotland could have been as nice today as…say…South Sudan.

    • Yes because Gaelic culture would have stood still in time. Or, it would have evolved like other cultures at its own speed.

      Your argument is completely puerile. It again suggests that there was only one way to evolve. that other cultures across Europe managed to evolve in different ways means nothing to you.

      I don’t mean to be rude but I really think yo need to do some wider reading and check your prejudices more often. You need to read up about the culture you denigrate and stop being such a lazy thinker.

      You mention South Sudan without a hint of irony. Absolutely astounding stuff.

      • I think that my irony at 1:57 was completely lost on you, as has been much else. I’ve been close by that area a couple of times. If you ignore the abject poverty, the massive continuing aid from outside, the violence and such like, it can look quite pretty, and of course the land there IS fertile (as well as having oil).

      • To tell the truth Ronny I don’t think I have missed anything you have said. You really have a limited understanding. Just how did South Sudan end up the way it did Roddy? Think about it Roddy.

        As I have said before a lot of Highland violence was orchestrated deliberately from outside. Pretty much in the same way as arms are sold to developing nations just as their resources are being stripped.

        You seem to be making a point along the lines of ‘if only these places embraced modernity’. The problem is Roddy they have. Colonialism and first world continued exploitation have left them in a right state. Rich for the pickings of those who are only interested in short term bottom line.

        Do you see a pattern??

    • Oh and Roddy next time you are up looking at god forsaken hillsides (or whatever it was- though try and think what they might have been like before sheep grazed everything down to heather shoots and not much else) try taking a wee trip to the Culloden museum. Spend a day there. The museum has been relatively newly redone to a high standard. It has two paths for both sides. Make sure you take both paths won’t you?

  56. Dubh – South Sudan has been that way for centuries (even long before guns got there via slavers, etc). See Colin Turnbull, etc. The fact that it is still in a terrible state, one might argue (although there are various factors), is because it was so impenetrable and there was never much of an outside presence (though it’s time as part of Anglo-Egyptian Sudan was pretty benign – at least the fighting stopped during that time), and is still as a result more or less feudal. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Anglo-Egyptian_Sudan though you may choke at some of “…southern Sudan’s remote and undeveloped provinces—Equatoria, Bahr al Ghazal, and Upper Nile—received little official attention until after World War I, except for efforts to suppress tribal warfare and the slave trade. The British justified this policy by claiming that the south was not ready for exposure to the modern world. To allow the south to develop along indigenous lines, the British, therefore, closed the region to outsiders. As a result, the south remained isolated…”

    • Are you trying to suggest that Gaeldom was isolated and not exposed to the modern world? Because why mention it if not?

      You fall into the same old lazy thinking. You just keep on doing it.

      So what is your point? What point are you trying to make?

      That the Brits are great and only ever help their colonised people’s? Or, that Gaels were warlike (racial profiling?) and would have ended up like South Sudan?

      It is hard to tell. Why did you mention South Sudan in the first place? With its history of slaving why does it bear any resemblance to the Highlands?

      You keep mentioning the Gaels in accordance with indigenous peoples. The Gaels as I have said repeatedly where an advanced European culture. They had far more in common with other advanced European cultures than indigenous groups world wide. They were not hunter gatherers, they had been in contact with Europe and the world for centuries.

      Your repeated appeals to some kind of manifest destiny of British colonialism and your continued ignorant comments and assessment of the Gaelic world do nothing for your case.

      Why would the Gaelic world have ended up like South Sudan? Please explain.

      • Dubh – you asked me how South Sudan ended up like it did. So I explained how. The fact that there was a period of benign British involvement shows how grand statements about imperialism such as in The Virtual Gael, which you cited, are often utter rubbish. South Sudan was brought up by me originally because it was an example of a place where people traditionally raided cattle, etc, similar in that respect to parts of Scotland in the past. South Sudan doesn’t have a particularly strong history of slaving. Neither has it a strong hunter gathering existence. Pay attention, Dubh!

      • Just what part is rubbish? Do you really think you can go up against an academic like Michael Newton? Really?

        This ought to be good. Why don’t you go on to his blog and challenge him then? Go on and challenge what he has written. Put your money where your mouth is.

      • You do realise the article was called divide and rule don’t you? You do realise just because soemeone calls it benign it doesn’t make it so. there are other opinions available. I forgot you only listen to the ones you like. Someone said benign so ignore the rest. The Brits were only in the region to better the lives fro the people they found there. Don’t make me laugh.

        Besides ytou haven’t told me why you started on about South Sudan in the first place. You were obviously trying to make a comparison so go on spell it out. There was, and still is, cattle and sheep raiding/rustling in the USA and UK. Your point is as always a weak incoherent one.

        Oh and please let me know when you plan to go and challenge Michael Newton. I will look forward to you calling his work rubbish to his face (so to speak).

    • “Thus, while the north developed economically and socially and became increasingly integrated with the wider Arab world culturally and politically, the south was steadily isolated, its economic and social progress retarded and its political and cultural development channelled to serve British “divide and rule ends” (Lobban 2010, 33). The rapid and ruthless suppression of the 1924 uprising quelled political aspirations amongst the members of educated urban elite in the north and cowered them into acceptance of the domination of the British and their traditionalist rural allies as indirect rule was rolled out, an attitude reinforced as they struggled to maintain themselves with the onset and progress of the Great Depression after late 1929 ”

      From the divide and rule article you go along with. It sounds like a really lovely and benign governance!

  57. I’ve had an idea, Dubh. You could go and live on my croft. It consists, as it has for centuries, of two very small boggy fields in the middle of nowhere, and there’s even a bit of a ruin. It’s so unproductive that even the rabbits go hungry. But by the sounds of it, you would be as happy there as a Gael before the Clearances. You’d have to promise not to go raiding, though.

    • there are plenty who would love your croft I am sure. Why don’t you let someone else get use of it if you are not doing anything with it. There are loads of people keen to get access to crofts. Too many absentee people keeping them on but not using them.

      It just shows how out of touch you actually are. I guess you will have access to common grazings as well?

      • We couldn’t give it away in its present state. And to re-fence it would cost a fortune. Of course, someone sometimes puts a couple of sheep on it (poor sheep). But the hope is that planning permission will be gained for an abode which will make it saleable. I think that someone built houses on what were the common grazings.

    • Oh and Roddy. The Gaels before the clearances would not have been on marginal land too small to make a living off. that came with the clearances. Do try and keep up. The croft is very unlikely to have been there for centuries. You do know all about this though don’t you? Just another wee slip up I suppose?

      • Must have been an awful lot of houses. How many houses were built on the commonm grazings? There must be some left.
        If you give the use of it to someone else they will be able to get a grant to refence it. Then it could be put to productive use. Or, someone could use it for polytunnels or the like. There really is an awful lot can be done with even small bits of land.

        Or you could just sell another bit of for holiday homes. It really is a shame that the crofters were not given decent crofts at the time and still on the marginal land. It appears some didn’t get very much common grazings either. ; )

      • The croft was there before the clearances?? And you know this how? Crofting came about during the clearances so it is odd that your croft would predate the clearances. Crofting could mean simply small land holder of course. Was it a holding that predated the clearances?

        If so you should perhaps get it excavated you never know how people lived. Archaeologists are finding that life was not always as hard as has been painted. Here is an example. http://www.aocarchaeology.com/ldap/media/media-release-prosperity-on-a-pre-clearance-croft/

    • Come on Boys. No need to get angry about the past. For those of us who had relatives displaced
      by the powers that be generally the removal has turned out to be a good thing.

      When I read the letters that my great great Grandfather wrote to the Duke, they were quite polite, even though they were not having the lease renewed. And they had good right to be upset.

      I cannot imagine that getting burned out was particularly pleasing.

      The fifty acres in Canada that he was given for service to the crown, and I know this from working a farm, was a tough road to hoe so to speak. Without even a team of horses to help they carved out a new life.

      I cannot imagine why other than long term financial gain a person would want to own anything as big as some of these estates. Unless they are producing crops they are impossible to manage effectively.

      Which is why most of them are mere shadows of a by gone era.

      The past cannot be changed as we all know, and the current administration in Scotland may or may
      not be on the correct track to repair the damage.

      What is a bigger problem or one I guess that goes hand in glove is the tenancy issue. Perpetual
      renting of residential, commercial, or farm property is a huge drag on people. Tenants should be allowed to purchase the property they live in at some point.

      And funding should be readily available.

      I know this sounds a little left leaning, and I am in business, but too much property is owned by
      too few people.

      What I find interesting is that this subject, after 200 years is still a sore point with a lot of Scots.

      Lets hope people learned from the mistakes that were made.

      • Charles,

        There have been various voluntary and involuntary mass migrations of people over the past millennium. Most notable in terms of cruelty would obviously be slaves transported in their hundreds of thousands/millions from various parts of Africa to the Americas. The slavers were always keen to split up groups so that there were not enclaves of Africans with the same language in the new settlements. Huguenot émigrés ended up in various countries, with a large number going to the Cape Colony, where they were absorbed into the Afrikaner community and did not always stay in the same places. Criminals and those deemed undesirable were sent in their thousands to Australia, and woulld have little in common with each other. Examples of voluntary would include the ‘armies’ of settlers sent by Cromwell to the West Indies (many of whome died within a few years or who moved to other islands), the Ten Pound Poms (from various places in Britain to various places in Australia), and so on. With respect to Scotland, tens of thousands of people moved/were cleared from the Lowlands and ended up in the cities or in various parts of the new world. One big difference between all of these groups and those who moved/were cleared from the Highlands is that in many instances, the Highlanders stayed within their community group in their new settlements. Hence you get much more of a group experience with a communal group history, which is retained to some extent by the group’s descendents. I think this is one reason why it is, as you say, still a sore point. That, plus the fact that it is still used today in subtle ways for current political reasons. Your great great Grandfather was given 50 acres, which would almost certainly have been a much larger plot than he or his kin originated from (I don’t know how fertile the 50 acres was, and of course it had to be broken in – extremely hard work), so in the circumstances of the day, he probably did better than many. A surprising number of Highlanders returned to Scotland within ten or twenty years, and many of them then re-emigrated.

  58. Why is the croft vacant? The ones with even a small amount of ambition, not wanting to live in abject poverty, went, under their own steam to much better pastures elsewhere. A repeating story, therefore.

    • Ah some more casual bigotry. A lot who stayed fought for their land and were able to lead full and rich lives there. They were able to travel the world get good educations and now most crofters have several jobs.

      Your assertions again are just a silly perpetuation of the old prejudices. Now the Highlands are full of young people from all over the UK desperate for crofts.

      I would like to see you come up to a Highland pub and say the same thing. You do realise that now more and more young people are staying in the Highlands. How is this possible? Because some with the guts stayed and fought for better conditions. They were full of ambition. They got to realise their goals. Now their descendants are still there where in other areas they were all cleared.

      Some people don’t deserve a croft.

  59. polytunnels!! That made me laugh a lot. You haven’t seen the two foresaken windswept rocky and boggy fields in question, with fallen trees (Plant A Tree In ’73) everywhere. Even the trees gave up. Holiday homes? You’d go bankrupt, even if the Crofting Commission allowed them to be built, which they wouldn’t.

    • Well obviously I don’t know the croft in question. They have great polytunnels these days that people have had up in South Uist with no problems (gardening in their slippers in the middle of a storm apparently).

      Got to the keep the deer and sheep off for trees really. I have seen some really good wee forests now built on very bad ground originally. They took a while to grow but they look great now.

      Land cam be changed through different techniques. All things the crofters could do to get a living out of the land.

      • The wind did for the trees, not the deer or sheep. My point in this discussion is that compared to some of the places that folk were cleared from, the croft would have been a des res.

      • Yes, well most people were cleared at first to marginal land that wouldn’t meet their full needs first. The land they had developed was left behind. Then they were often moved around from one place to the next as each area they got moved to was taken over by shepherds. This is not what uniformly happened but a lot of tit happened in this way. By the time people did get sent abroad for instance they were mostly not on very good land at all. Afraid to develop it and make it more desirable as that would likely end in them losing it. The factor was the law. Go against him and get cleared.

        The idea that the Highlands did not have land for cattle and subsistence life styles is stupid. Most lifestyles elsewhere that were open to those that left were any better anyway.

        Back to your earlier point about everybody with any ambition leaving. You do realise that this is what is being pushed the world over don’t you. People are told continually through their education etc. that to leave for the city is the only worth while pursuit in life. That to stay in a rural lifestyle is to lack ambition. That community living is backwards and being a consumer and individual with stuff is better. The funny thing is the Highlands and other rural areas are filling up with people who want more from life than the city has to offer. People are now questioning the advice to leave for the cities like never before (on a global scale as people are now talking to each other like never before). What happens to most around the world (especially in developing countries) that leave for the cities and pursue education? They don’t end up in good jobs. They end up in service type jobs. It is all a myth. Without the right connections etc. there are not good enough jobs to go round.

        Now of course we have lots of people trying to escape the cities. they want more than the centrist life set out for them. The Highlands are full of them.

        What is it that people escaped to in the past when they left? What did they gain? Did they become happier? I find that those who stayed enjoyed the last of a really deep and rich culture. They stayed in a land they loved and they celebrated their life through song, poetry, dancing, music, storytelling etc. Of course life could be hard but it could be just as hard elsewhere.

        You try and paint everyone who stayed as some kind of under achiever. That is wrong and you are an idiot for saying it.

        I find that compared to you most Gaels are far more culturally aware. They realise there is more than one way to look at things. Living with two cultures will do this. I also find that those who dismiss Gaelic culture the most know the least about it. Those that try and bring Gaeldom into their narrow political argument, whatever side, (especially those that don’t even bother to quote any Gaelic voice) for their own ends tend to not have a clue as to what they are talking about.

  60. Dubh, “Uh no,the South is mentioned. Half of the first sentence I believe.” – the south – isolated, protected from outside, much less killing and raiding. The north – much more control, more direct intervention. It was only folk like Thesiger who would go to south Sudan in those days.

    • “…the south was steadily isolated, its economic and social progress retarded and its political and cultural development channelled to serve British “divide and rule ends” (Lobban 2010, 33”

  61. Dubh,

    Whilst there were some instances of people being moved around to different places, as you describe at 9:07 above, this obviously wasn’t the norm. I mean – why bother! Of course there was enough land for a cow or two – I didn’t say there wasn’t. In the summers, the weins would take the cows up to the top pastures. It was very much subsistence existing in many parts – and as we know the world over, subsistence farming is prone to periodic disaster.

    I was actually told the exact opposite of what you say, at school. There was always pressure to conform with local things.

    You should stop coming to this blog, and give everyone a rest. Your ideas of happy, idyllic Gaels bounding around the fertile mountains having a jolly good time (when they were not volunteering to be canon fodder for the imperialists), only for their wonderful existence to come to an end at the hands of the nasty, baddie, racist Brits from down south, aided by Gaels who became unGael at the first temptation, and so on, is laughable. And I have also had enough of your constant insults and misrepresentations. It hasn’t been worth the one or two good refs you have posted.

    • Subsistence farming has been quite the norm We also know that there is periodic disaster in non subsistence farming and even in national and world economies.

      Conform with local things? What does that even mean? Did they tell you that you should stay where you are and do local jobs? The only people they said that to when I was in school was those they didn’t think would get to university or college. Luckily these days people can stay put and do university and college. Either at the UHI or at other online courses at other universities.

      Also, they didn’t become non Gael at the first temptation. The legislation aimed at sending all chiefs sons to education outside the culture was in the Statutes of Iona. It was mostly ignored. Only when the British had a military grip on the place where people forced to comply.

      I have supplied you with evidence of psudeo scientific racism. You have been unable to refute it and you even seemed to accept it. Why then do you choose to act like it is of no consequence now? Racism in this instance suggests darker motives were often present. Your refusal to accept this speaks volumes.

      Just stick you fingers in your ears and shout lalalala.

  62. Dubh sent a further insulting comment here, which I have deleted. It’s the first time I’ve had to delete a non-spam comment, but even at a Kgotla, if people keep repeating themselves or become abusive, they are asked to stop.

  63. What was the further insulting comment? The other comments do not seem to be insulting. If you post the further insulting comment(s), we could have an insulting comments contest. (But no curse words!)

  64. Well, I have lived in highland for 25 years an as I am English and these slanders are clearly levelled against me I have taken some time to find out what it is about… The SNP that’s what, a deliberate attempt to change history and blame their political opponents for crimes that ( at least in the most cases did not take place. Catholics and presbyterians fought like cat and dog, England had little to do with it.
    What was it about…rats, famine, clean water that’s what.
    During the clearances there was plague, people mostly from Liverpool, Newcastle, Dundee and Glasgow fled the plague and headed for the highlands.
    In the highlands houses were built with rough stone in such a way that mice could and did and do to this day live in the walls.
    Every one wanted to live on the highest ground because sewage was open and people would contaminate water lower down..
    People were moved from the high ground.
    Milk and food was placed on the fire to attract mice and a ring of fire was set around the dwelling, and burned inwards. Toxic wood and leaves like ivy was put on the fire to create a toxic smoke enough to kill mice, rats and lice…this was standard practice throughout the British isles.
    The furniture was put on the field to be cleaned by the weather.
    Transport was by boat and places like Mull and Barra where crawling.
    The grand old duke of York … Put the sheep at the top of the hill, the troops in the middle and the people at the bottom, thereby outing wool on there backs, meat and milk in their belies, providing clean water and drastically reducing cholera.

    Sheep and rats don’t mix, rats don’t like open ground, ie lawn, they like shadows and thatched roofs.

    This highland clearance stuff is pure propaganda, designed to divide our island, and is being force fed to children by those who seek power.

  65. Great article. I began to see a pattern in the way Scottish history is falsely represented, when I went to New Lanark cotton mill. Here, we could see houses built for the workers that in some ways were better than the flat I first owned after University. And having been on a week long camp in a field that turned to mud, I could fully appreciate the cobbled stones and lack of cowshit (as would have been common in a croft where the cattle slept in the house).

    So, these were really really attractive places for people at the time. And I could fully appreciate why people left the country to come to places like New Lanark because it was just so much better than some hovel in the country.

    But all I could see was accounts trying to tell me how appalling the conditions were. It was a real insult to the industrialists who clearly provided some of the best working conditions at the time, for some idiot of a person today to claim that it was appalling … just because those industrialists gave us the wealth and prosperity so that we can now have a much better society today with even better standards for workers.

    And the same is true of the mythical “Highland Clearances”. In reality these appear to be more sympathetic versions of the English “Agricultural revolution” (note the difference in emphasis!). Personally, having read about Scotland, whilst the landlords appear to be more sympathetic to their tenants than the bastards down in England – the unfortunate result was that the Highland economy lagged behind – which in the end was the undoing of the Highlands.

    So, ironically, if the Highland landlords had been more like the English bastards who turfed out their tenants perhaps a century before the Scots (and lowlands), then the Highlands might today have a far more prosperous economy and far more people.

  66. Thank you Paul and SS for those comments. It was interesting that, at a recent talk that I attended, Rory Stewart was asked about what he thought about the current plight of dairy farmers. What I THINK his answer implied was that, in his constituency, the dairy farms were relatively small because their land rights had been protected more, under Englishh law, than their Scottish equivalents over the border had been under Scots law, and that the resulting larger farms in some parts of the borders were, nowadays, more economically viable as dairy units.

  67. The point I wish to make ( thanks for the platform Roddy) is…

    Years ago we used eat rats and mice, we didn’t have fridges, a mouse or two for breakfast was a valuable food source. You would have rats and mice whether you liked it or not.
    People would naturally fatten them up.
    Houses were built in such a way that mice could live in the walls, this practice was stopped when plague was associated with rats. Cholera was associated with sewage in drinking water, people fled the cities and headed for the hills. These people were given free passage to the new world, women and children first. Lots of people died, its a well documented fact, cholera was the killer not the govt as is being alleged by the SNP. People did not speak of plague as it would effect the price of goods and services, particularly meat.
    Sheep and turnips were supplied to the starving by the Duchess of Sutherland at a loss.
    In highland region sheep farmers talk of acres per sheep, as opposed to sheep per acre, this is a local exaggeration implying the land is not good farm land.
    The SNP is saying in school textbooks that the motivation for sheep and turnips was profit.
    This is fraud.
    Football songs are banned by law, these songs are a way of passing history from one generation to the next, the SNP is using tax payers money to convince people that the English and Scots have been enemies for generations which is not true.
    This highland clearances semi myth is being used to insight hatred.
    Salmonds monument to the clearances is of a fit Scotsman running away with the women and children, he would be hung for that.
    Women and children first was the rule.

    • High Paul. Lots of points there in your comment, several of which would be contentious, and too many to deal with altogether.

      In Malawi, where I used to live, mice are still seen as a food source. There is even a music band called The Mouse Boys, who are very good, BTW.

      It is more correct to say that Some people were given assisted passage abroad. Some paid their own way.

      I do agree that the highland clearances myth has been/is used to create division.

  68. At Culloden there were 2 sides, one Catholic and the other Presbyterian. The facts have been changed to Scotland against England.
    The same is probably true of Bannockburn and other battles.

    Scots are being put in a position where they must back the side which is reported to be Scottish, ie the Catholic side. Catholics complained of their unjust treatment during the highland clearances because those in control were Presbyterian. The documented complaints (some justified some not) are Catholic complaints.

    Until oil was discovered in the north sea, these facts were clearly understood and celebrated in song, these songs are now against the law at the direction of Salmond.
    Salmon’s has been busy with along with his supporters transferring old documents into digital copy… Or is it slightly changed copy? The books are now burned on Salmonds instruction.


    • Hi Paul. There was certainly a big religious element in the various rebellions of the first part of the 18th century. And, certainly, many Scots, including various Highlanders, faught against the Jacobites, so it certainly was not a case of Scotland against England. There were also Jacobite supporters in England.

  69. Those dubh comments such as ” idiot”seem insulting to me, they also seem to deviate from the subject. If you would like to put my last comments in the same box I don’t mind.
    Some people are interested in political gain as opposed to historic fact.

    If you want to do a slave trade blog let me know and I will comment on that too. There are political motives dictating our understanding of the slave trade too.

    If you try to change Wikipedia on the highland clearances it will not let you.
    The facts are hidden or lost, the myth is perpetuated for political gain.

    Once again … Thanks for this blog/platform, I will comment no more unless invited to do so again.

  70. Hi, Roddy, I tried searching slave but it wants me to sign up to your blog. I signed up for it before and it would not let me comment.
    I had to change my email address to comment.
    I think it is something to do with the hosting service for the blog. When I read it for the first time a day or two ago, I thought aha a blog, I have heard of those so started to sign up for my own blog, I read the terms and conditions and changed my mind, they can cancel this blog without notice. I am setting up a forum soon, which I will control.

    If you have a slave trade blog, please give me the search words so I can google it… Thanks.

  71. Do you mind if I comment here or not?
    I don’t want to put my foot in the door, however there are not many platforms where I can argue against the standard propaganda.

    I have looked up the Sutherland estate and notice several things.
    The Duke and dutchess bred sheep and sold or gave them to the poor at less than cost. This in my opinion is an act of humanity not some sales stunt as is alleged.
    The Sutherland’s had an English connection, hence the profile being so widely publicised by the SNP as bad.
    The dutchess was ordering more turnips when she said (in writing that she knew would be read by many) “The Scothc don’t fatten easily” she was trying to get turnips for them to eat at the time.
    The word “Scotch” has been used to sell whisky for hundreds of years,…

    English man ” Are you Scotch”
    Scotsman ” Scoch is a drink, I’m a Scotsman”
    English man “Sorry Jock can I gat you one…or its your round Jock”
    A bottle gets opened, one more sale.
    The duchess was aware of that.
    This one line statement is being used as propaganda to condem the honerable duchess of Sutherland.

    Sellar …well seller was found not guilty in a Scottish court, I have no reason to believe otherwise.

    A guy named MacLeod wrote of the Sutherland clearances, his writings are well publicised.

    He said the fire was burning for a week, the smoke was so dense as to cause a ship/boat to lose its way.
    This is because, the smoke and fuel for the fire was supplied by the black watch in order to kill mice rats and lice with which I suppose the settlement was infested. This is absolutely proven beyond doubt. There must have been lots of rats, they had no effective poison, lice and place were killers at that time.

    Ivey would be put on the fire to create the toxic smoke, without more fuel the fires would be out in a matter of hours.
    If you look at the propaganda online,you see pictures of houses with burning roofs…that is inaccurate.
    Firstly milk and food would be put on the cooking fire, the mice and rats would watch the fire in anticipation of food later that night. A ring of fire would be set around the dwelling, and burned inwards giving the rats/mice no chance of escape.
    This was common practice where plague and unknown death was found.
    Those evicted were given a sheet, a tarpaulin.

    I think mistletoe and nightshades were put on cloth, this was put over the nose and mouth of health workers dealing with plague. The tradition of kissing under the mistletoe is an offspring from that. It prevents the spread of germs.
    I think pine needles would be spread over the ashes to disinfect, another custom of pine trees in the house is continued to this day.

  72. Just to add a foot note.

    People were fleeing the cities, plague was very bad in particularly, Liverpool, Newcastle,Dundee, and Glasgow, people headed for the hills. Mull was full of scoucers as glasweagens. Sutherland home to Newcastleites and Dundonians.
    One way to prevent plague was to murder those suspected of having it,this was common practice.
    People formed colonies for safety.
    Of the potatoes famine, the opposite of a failure of the potatoes crop is true, although there were not enough potatoes to go round.
    Incomers, refugees from plague had to eat, they ( and others) stole anything that could be eaten,there were no cattle,no pigs, no sheep,and not many vegetables grew to maturity due to theft.
    Potatoes on the other hand are difficult to steal at night, the only thing on the menu if you were lucky was fish and potatoes.
    I once tried scrumping potatoes from a field in my youth, it is incredibly difficult to tell which are potatoes and which are stones.
    Hence the potatoes famine, and fish and chips as the national dish.
    Another myth explained.

    Thanks Roddy.

  73. Roddy, just came across this fascinating thread and wanted to thank you for keeping it up and giving food from thought. I’m from Ireland, so I hope I’m relatively neutral, visited Scotland last summer on my first British holiday. I loved it, and this discussion was raging.

    I don’t believe there is any real parallel between the experience of my country and the UK, but I wanted to ask your opinion: a famine destroyed Ireland in 1845, and more or less completely wiped out the culture and the Irish language in five short years. The reasons were complex, but everyone in my country beieves, and has always believed, that that destruction was not inevitable, even if that country is/was the greater part of a peripheral Atlantic rock. Being Irish, I suppose I have a natural sympathy for that view, but of course no-one can really know. But do you think (your personal view is what I’d love to hear) that the highland destruction (itself extremely complex) was so inevitable, and that we are all guilty of thinking like this after an event? I know I’m just repeating of Dubh already said so much better, but wanted to hear your own view.

    hope I’m not being an intrusive foreigner and best wishes to you all !

    • Hi tua_nua. Thanks for your comment. I don’t know too much about the Irish situation, but I would suggest the following. These are generalisations, and as we know, the situations were complex. As this blog post still gets lots of hits, I expect that someone will point out if I am not correct. My understandings are:

      The smallholders/crofters in Scotland had fewer rights under Scottish law than their English counterparts, and I’m assuming fewer rights in law than in Ireland. So therefore it was easier for them (Scottish smallholders/crofters) to be removed/cleared/resettled.

      Inheritance traditions in the highlands were different from in Ireland, where holdings were often subdivided again and again, leading to smaller plots. In Scotland, second sons etc might more often, for example, join the army. So, when the potato blight hit in, it’s consequences were more extreme in Ireland.

      As a result of the new towns in various parts of the north of Scotland, and the development of fishing, wool, kelp, etc, the economy was more diverse than in Ireland, and once again this meant that the effects of the blight were less extreme.

      As a result of the Lowland Clearances, farming in the lowlands became more productive and profitable.

      The industrialisation of towns such as Glasgow, Dundee, Edinburgh was more extreme than in Ireland. This meant that, especially in the Scottish lowlands, those leaving the land could more easily get jobs in the towns (or were at least attracted to those towns).

      By the time of the big famine in Ireland, many Scots had already left for new lives in Canada, etc, either under their own steam, or after being forced out.

      In Scotland, numbers of the traditional clan chiefs/landlords had been attracted to the, to them, modern lifestyles of Edinburgh and Glasgow. They had often lost their previously close connections to their traditional lands. Some had sold out. Some went bankrupt. The new owners, sometimes commercial companies, had fewer traditional ties with the people actually living on their lands. The new owners saw things on a commercial basis. I don’t know if there was an equivalent movement in Ireland.

      Money was sometimes available for commercial development of the highlands of Scotland through industrialists who had made fortunes in the industrial revolution further south. Again, I don’t know if this was mirrored in Ireland.

      So, I suggest that the above things show various differences between Scotland and Ireland in the period in question.

      When thinking about the reaction of the government to the famine in Ireland, we can today throw up our hands and say it was abysmal. Well, it was abysmal, but at the same time we should keep in mind that people travelled less in those days, they did not have easy access to facts and figures as we do today, news took longer to disseminate, and the less centralised government had far less of a tradition of looking after the welfare of the common people.

  74. Roddy, thanks for fleshing out your reply, I was away and didn’t get to a computer. It’s true that the changes are well documented and recorded but I’d wonder if they were inevitable.

    I admit I have a particular perspective, all foreigners (even people of Irish descent!) look at the history of my land, and say, of course considering its geography and economic development, it was a natural develoment that today it forms part of the anglosphere. But I think (like most my compatriots) that as the reasons for the destruction are better understood, the less inevitable it seems.

    In a sense I’m not trying to compare Scotland with Ireland, but rather I’m thinking that this is an argument of the present/future. Cultures are being eroded as we speak: Inuits, every Native American and Australian culture, possibly even the Bosnian muslims, the Syrian christians, the Palestinians etc, and we can and do find plausible and rational reasons for this destruction, but I wonder if it can give the full picture.

    True, the change in the Highlands seems mild (more like the Sorbs) compared to what is happening in Amazonia, but I’d still suggest they are connected by a collective resignation that says it’s a natural development – and that resignation is often a kind of tyranny.

    thanks 😉

    • Hi tua_nua. I’m not very keen on the term ‘inevitable’ in an historical context. If, for example, someone had discovered an easy cure for potato blight, things might have been very different.

      Yes, cultures are still being eroded, especially in today’s connected world. When two different cultures come together, often one wins out. However the processes vary. Bhutan, for example, is an interesting case. And might we say that, for example, new cultures can develop from old. I think we can say that, for example, Brazil now has a fairly distinct culture. Even in China, one of the most connected places, new things emerge. People practice dance in the parks. The Chinese internet is different from our own, etc. Where a feudal culture comes into contact with an industrial culture, on the other hand, drastic change usually results.

  75. Hi, what I am suggesting is that history has been writen by people who have a motivation to highlight minor events to prominence and and relegate major events to the trash file.
    For example, people in wars are motivated to hide weakness, when we look at the potatoes famine, the general propaganda of the day wrote of a lack of potatoes, potatoes where new to Ireland, what did the Irish eat before Raleigh?…
    I suggest the famine was real but that about the only thing which did not get stolen was potatoes… If you try filing a carrier bag with potatoes in a potatoe field at night with no candle or torch you will understand how difficult it is. All other food …live stock turnips etc had been eaten, there would be no point in a crofter growing turnips because they would be stolen, a dog was no option because it would be eaten first, hungry people would kill for a turnip let alone a dog, a rat was an option but plague was beginning to be associated with eating rats, perhaps the end of rat farming was the true source of hunger.
    The rat famine…
    This is the reason why it was called the potatoes famine… basically the press of the lied for military reasons…confuse and confound etc.
    When it comes to the highland clearances no mention of rats is made, we could prove the existence of large numbers on for example Mull at the time of the clearances but those in power and seeking more power prefer to highlight tabloid scandle and malicious comments of the two sides, presbetarian v catholic, these organisations seek to deceive historical accuracy.

    • Roddy, thanks. It has been said that the history of Ireland is a sequence of 4 simple steps:

      No Potatoes, Potatoes, No Potatoes, Potatoes.

      However, in that sequence lies an enormous story of the human experience. Probably the big difference with Scotland is that no-one, not even the British, imagined what the magnitude of what “No Potatoes” would bring in 5 short years. I suppose in this matter it was very different to Scotland, where steady processes over a century were already in place, where people had been voicing concerns for a long time.

      Can I ask you and Paul, and maybe it’s just me, but I have the impression that 30 years ago (pre-Thatcher), the Highland Clearances didn’t interest people very much? I remember then meeting Scottish people vigorously proclaiming their Frisian/German/Scandanavian identity (which is also how people from my land would generally view Scottish people).

      thanks 😉

      • Hi, tua_nua, I remember some years ago ( about 30 ) that Scottish people had not heard of the highland clearances, the Salmond propaganda machine then created the myths of which we hear in the mass media, I was a whiteness to the SNP suporters creating a reason to hate the English, myself being English I took an interest, although it says in print that the lowlanders did this and that, in the pub the word lowlanders is replaced with the word English.
        This is a political rouse, a fabrication based on some facts, those facts are largely thee fact of famine, plague and the tactics used to eradicate plague.
        How plague would be eradicated would be by encircling the effected area I fire and burning towards the centre, food would be put on the house fire to attract rats and mice to the usual food area and smoke would be created using … well holy, ivy, and pine needles are probable, history includes how these things where done.
        Sheep would be set to graze on the burned land to keep harass short and remove habitat from mice and rats.
        These facts have been changed to imply that peasants where burned from their houses by fat English land owners to make profit.
        1 the land owners where Scottish.
        2 the sheep where taken from areas where grazing was good to areas where bad.
        Not a good money making scheme.
        The Duchess of Sutherland is not only innocent of the crimes of which she is accused, but can be shown to be feeding many starving people at her own expense.
        30 years ago no one wanted to be associated with Jacobites, but now bony prince Charlie was a pro EU hero.
        His nick name the young pretender was due to his bluff, a proper Charlie he made of that Rangers several thousand and odd …Celtic 6 and bit.
        Salmond has taken written history and transfered it to digital copy, or is it slightly changed copy, he has burned the book so we will never know.
        I don’t know much about Ireland but I suspect that people had food to eat before the import of potatoes, and that although there was not enough potatoes there was nothing else either, potatoes could be grown when no other crops could be grown because a cabbage would be stolen at night but the potatoes would not.

  76. PS, I am a euro sceptic and would like to take this opertunity to invite Ireland into the Stirling economy.
    It seems to me that if Ireland was a part of Stirling as opposed to the funny money in circulation in Ireland at present, this would be middle ground politically and sectarian wise and of benefit to these isles.
    Take it or leave it Ireland but the offer is there ( unfortunately I am not the PM ) terms and conditions to be negotiated by respected govts.

  77. ”The problem with Culloden is not the portrayal of the battle, but that Prebble removes it from its correct historical context and inserts it into another, which encouraged the contemporary development of Scottish nationalism.”

    Copied from your link Roddy.

    The nationalist version of history is politically bias fiction, Salmond has and is burned and burning the books.
    Children are being taught a false history in SNP controlled schools, no school child would dare dispute the word of the SNP under threat of retribution.

  78. Yes, thanks for this blog Roddy, on most of these highland clearances sites they delete any comment other than the party line, this one is different and may well go down in history.
    I will shut up now, but might come back in a bit to fight my corner.


  79. Hi Paul and thanks for your reply! As a foreigner on a British board, I can’t really comment on the diference(s) between British people(s) 😉 Thanks for the invitation to join Sterling, the only problem of that proposition is that we are back to the inevitability thing: it was in the Sterling area, so it is natural it should bome back being part of “these islands”. As late-comers to your language and culture, from my land, a fuller union between the UK and the US/Canada, would seem more logical. If Brexit happens, the Irish have accepted that it will be difficult, but that they will stay in the Euro/E.U. There is no opinion in Ireland, anywhere, from the right to the left, that argues with that.

    Sorry Roddy, we’re a long way from the Highlands mentioning these things. I read the link, and thank you! Professional historians do not dispute anything about the Clearances, and perhaps 30 years ago people (in general) accepted their view. It is dagerous stuff, a triumph of ignorance: I have met a couple of Americans who said the US was created as a reaction to the persecution in the UK. Fortunately, these people are pretty scarce, people generally try to enjoy the life they have and get on with it. When I visited Scotland I noticed that this pathos was even present on Gaelic-language TV. I just feel they are letting themselves down and that the whole hype dumbs down the horror of the fewer people who were traumatised by the events.

  80. OK, I can’t resist a comment….

    Well the potatoes famine thing….
    I think…. I don’t know but am trying to i include in my assumptions that there are some things that do not get mentioned and are changed for various reasons such as economics and peace with the neibours.
    It is said that potatoe blight caused famine, I think this is false.
    People where starving, if you were to plant cabbage, some one could and would steal the cabbages, they would need to steal them before they were fully grown because otherwise some one else would get them…catch 22 in a famine. Potatoes are difficult to steal, one of the only things that could be successfully grown in a situation like that is potatoes, when this was discovered potatoes became the main crop. I am not suggesting Irish people are prone to steal, but in a famine people are known to kill let alone steal for food.
    People prefer to blame blight …. Accusing the neibours would not be the done thing.

    PS I think Brexit is more likely to win if Ireland is with us, I think currency union in Ireland might be a move to peace.
    Still I am not Irish I don’t want to insult or etc.
    As far as I am concerned you are invited, this would be economically advantageous to the people of thesei

  81. The purpose of enclosure was to prevent the movement of livestock due to the need to prevent the spread of disease. Just as in the foot and mouth outbreak and BSE, the movement of livestock was forbidden for the good of all.

    Once upon a time no noe owned land, all land was public land, people and livestock were free to roam.
    Then through necessity or greed the land was divided into plots, ruled over by lords ladies, kings and queens.
    This was popular with some and unpopular with others, the people who objected wanted the land to be returned to public ownership, the republican term was borne.
    The republican movement was opposed to the lords and has been ever since!

  82. Roddy, Paul, hello again!

    Roddy, as the quintessential Modern Highlander,
    can I ask you if you think there will be more changes (clearances, if you wil)?

    Basically, do you think that Brexit or Scottish Independence would be good or bad for the Highlands?

    Being a region, the Highlands cannot make these choices alone but of course, it will contribute to the final decision. What political future would you wish for the Highlands?

    Thanks, sorry for the questions, I’m just a curious type 😉

  83. Another option is Hebrides independence, I see my self as an islander, islands should be governed as such.

    So what is the scene in Ireland, as I understand, some want to be British governed and some Irish governed.
    Surely both would prefer to be governed as an island with no borders, it is simply governance that is the issue?

  84. Suppose we move the British parliament to somewhere else, not London.
    Options are numerous.
    Suppose we move it to Northern Ireland, and call it the government of the British/Irish isles.
    So from there we have a complete new set of options. Britain and Ireland unite in the £ stifling economy. Or we move the parliament to Glasgow or Manchester.

    How does that sound?

    We Britain and Ireland are better off trading with the English speaking world online, if we must trade in foreign languages let them be, Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Nepalese, Punjabi, Russian, etc.
    The EU market is flooded they don’t want to buy anything, Russia etc will buy anything….Tesco value produce in pretty Russian labels etc.

    How does that sound. Peace.

    • Hi Paul!
      About Ireland (and I’m talking about the EU state), well, there is no-one that wants to be British governed, it is not the policy of any political party and the feeling is that Ireland has, or is achieving, the relationship with the UK that it wants. Believe me, that is no small thing 😉 And of course, I’m not an islander as Ireland is not an island, it has 1,000 km land border with the UK. In the UK region of Northen Ireland, 60-80% self-identify as British, as you do, 20-40% self-identify as Irish, as I do ;). The ranges in percentages depends on how you head-count the two tribes. And in NI, Brexit is one of those subjects that more or less splits on the ethnic divide. But I think you already know this 😉

      Paul, as I mentioned above, wouldn’t it be better for you to seek out countries that are more sympathetic to your project such as Norway, Iceland, the Commonwealth realm, the US
      rather than Ireland (which is just a big piece of a small rock in the atlantic after all). I remember British historians discussing on an excellent BBC radio programme ‘called “What If”) some years ago, asking what would have happened if the UK had chosen not to join the EU in the 1975 referendum – they were unhesitating and unaminous: the British government would have immediately tried to open negotiations with the US for a free tade agreement and possibly more. Surely for Brexit supporters, something like this would be desirable?

      Roddy, sorry for hijacking the board. I shouldn’t have asked you my question in such a personal way, I was typing too quickly, but I’d love to hear what modern Highlanders think about Brexit/ devolution/ scottish independence etc. and their hopes for the future
      thanks 😉

      BTW I hope i haven’t offended anyone, it’s wonderful to engage with you both.

  85. I apologise for jumping in Roddy hope you are well.
    OK I am trying to get my head around the situation in Ireland, but It seems complicated.
    Most Irish trade is with Britain. As you say Ireland is divided. As far as I can tell, one side wants a united Ireland, and the other wants…well I am not too sure to be honest. As far as I can tell they want to be British, I am not sure if that means British governed or protected or …we don’t want anything to do with the other lot or what.
    Any way you Irish islanders are welcome in the stifling economy if you want to be, if not OK fair enough. ( I am not the PM so obviously…).
    It seems to me that an Irish currency would be advantageous if stifling is not acceptable, how ever I don’t see the lot who want to be British accepting that.
    It seems to me that if the island of Ireland was prepared to trade in stifling as the legal currency while remaining self governed, or governed by a new body under what ever terms the various parties were prepared to agree to, would be a move towards unity and continued peace.
    Some thing along those lines would be perhaps the centre ground and more profitable than the current situation.

    Now when you say highlands, the highlands are often referred to as highlands and islands.
    There being a considerable difference.

    The Hebrides for example might well be financially better off on their own in there own currency.
    Why should people in the Hebrides pay road tax, when the road does not go to the mainland?

    I wonder if Greece would like to sell any islands.

    How much does Spain want for Ibiza?

    Business is the internet these days, the market outside Europe is worth far more and can be expanded, the markets in Europe are flooded, they don’t want to buy anything.
    British/Irish …. British and Irish produce is exported on the same ferry.

    No offence intended, just trying to get my head arround it.

  86. Essentially, I think that larger political entities are probably better, even though they have their own issues. Some multinational companies have become extremely large, and I think you need large political organisations to counter this.

  87. WRT the land situation in Scotland, we are seeing the Land Reform Bill http://www.scotsman.com/news/environment/scottish-government-to-make-50-changes-to-land-reform-bill-1-4005892

    “If passed, the Bill will end business rate exemptions for shooting and deerstalking estates, give communities a right to buy land to help sustainable development and make information on who owns land and its value more readily available to the public.”

    As I understand it, there is concern because a few people/companies own a large proportion of the land in Scotland. I think we need to wait and see what happens.

    • Hello Roddy, I hope all is well. Many thanks for your link, I’ve just finished reading it and especially, the associated comments. I’m sure I’m not reading this perfectly, but I think I got the idea that people feel that a left of centre uban thinking party is not qualified/knowlegable to dictate a land ownership programme in an overwhelming rural area. I was shocked at how vigorous the views were. While divisions and polarized opinions are sad to see, somehow it’s heartening to see such love (sorry for my lack of a better word) for the Highlands and commitment to what is, a vulnerable area. Yes, the Scotsman readers on the link were from the Right, but not the hard core economic Right, and were defending a way of life. A lot of conflicting opinions from different lands have been placed on this blog, but I think you’ll agree that we all wish the Highlands the best, and your link shows, the landowners (big and small) do too.

      Thanks also for your enlightening comment that bigger politcal structures are probably inevitable in the present world. Whether those structures be in Independent Highlands, Scotland, UK, EU, World Government, I can’t of course say, but I wish you the best in your choice 😉

  88. I have been researching the 17th and 18th centuries in the Highlands (partially to work out when my own ancestors left) and appreciate reading a considered report such as yours. Trained as a scientist, I have been working as a research historian for some years now. I treat history like a scientific investigation, preferring fact to fiction, which means primary sources and not perpetuating myths. I am so tired of the Scots against the English story; the Lowland Scots and Scottish kings had been doing a pretty good job persecuting the ‘savages’ in the Highlands well before the Union and Culloden happened. For example, James V authorised the destruction of Clan Chattan with the exception of its women, children and priests who were to be deported and set ashore on the coasts of Shetland and Norway. Before the ’45, the old clan system was already failing; the aftermath of Culloden only sped up the process. The Clearances, too, are far more complex and I am grateful you are trying to explain this.

  89. Could I just ask where abouts in the Highlands your croft is Roddy? I would just like to know if it is remoteness, wild weather, poor quality community relations or what exactly are all the contributing reasons together that makes you think it has no value in an agricultural sense. if you explain to me what area or even township it would help me build up a picture so I can see what types of things might be putting some off Taking up active crofting or getting involved locally. I am doing some research (well a dissertation for college) into what the reasons are for some crofts being unused and any information you could give would be a real help. I will be looking at different areas so the location would be great so as I can then cross analyse my information.

    if you would rather not give it out on the blog I would understand and we could get in touch through email (same email as I used to sign in). Any help with this would be really greatly appreciated. IT is good for me to get people from avarice to of backgrounds and outlooks so your thoughts/reasons would be valued.

    • Rebecca,

      Sorry about the delay in responding. I co-own (with my sister) a very small croft a few miles from Brora. Two fields, essentially. One is boggy, and on the other one my Dad once planted some trees. The soil wasn’t deep enough, and all the trees have been blown down. The fences need mending. I live far away from the croft and don’t have the expertise or time to develop the croft. We are trying to sell it, with planning permission for a house.

  90. HEre is a book that relates to the subject of how Gaelic culture saw itself and what was happening to it. I doesn’t,t rely for the most part on the written testimony of those who may or may not of
    Been doing the exploiting, but on actual Gaelic sources (imagine that LoL). IT is called ‘Uneasy Subjects ..Postcolonialism and Scottish Gaelic Poetry’ by Silke Stroh. AN academic who is obviously not a Gael but then, helpfully, not just someone from an anglophone cultural perspective which can quite often make them see the world from quite a narrow viewpoint (for example that English hegemony and adoption of economic and feudal system were always desirable and inevitable). OR, that the fact that the ruling class was very often Scottish so the Gaidheals can have no complaint (completely ignoring the hegemony taking place and the fact that most lowland Scots would never have dared of calling themselves Celts, Gaels etc. And would have identified themselves as racially Teutonic).
    IT takes a look at whether we can call what happened in the Highlands colonialism and asks what features make up colonialism and whether you can say any situation in the world has had the same easily identifiable same experience of colonialism ( there has always been a degree of self colonialism or helping the colonists for example, so the fact that some people were of the same culture and adopted the ways of the colonisers does nothing to suggest what happened was not colonialism anyway).
    OH and it looks at the Gaels as uneasy subjects of both Scottish and British states so no simplistic or Anglophobe look at hegemony within that was to become the UK.

    • Thank you for pointing out that book. I have been using songs and poetry in my research, but hadn’t discovered this source. Unfortunately I cannot afford to buy the book, so will have to see about borrowing it.

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