Sunday, 15 October 2006

Clearances in Lewis

Heard the other day that Lewis was thought to be less affected by the 18th and 19th century clearances than other islands in the Hebrides. Fewer people were shunted off overseas, as those that were cleared from land were relocated elsewhere in the island.

I cannot agree with the sentiment behind that assertion. Clearances still took place in Lewis, right throughout the 19th century. The district of Eishken was cleared in the 1820s, with its villagers moved to Lemreway and other places in Lochs, if not elsewhere in the island. Being forced, at a moment's notice, to quit home and hearth is at best a distressing experience. Sometimes machinations would be put in place to make it impossible for tenants to hold on to their land, such as an extortionate rent increase. The torch to the thatch is a potent symbol too.

Those that so wish can debate the point at the annual Angus "Ease" MacLeod memorial lecture in Gravir School on October 24th (2006). I'm not at all sure whether Angus would have liked to see the Clearances in Lewis belittled like this.

Thursday, 17 August 2006

North Rona

Map courtesy
Rona (or Rònaidh in Gaelic) is a remote Scottish island in the North Atlantic. Rona is often referred to as North Rona in order to distinguish it from South Rona, which lies north of Raasay, off Skye.

The island lies 71 km (44 miles) north north east of Butt of Lewis and 16 km (10 miles) east of Sula Sgeir at Grid reference HW812324. More isolated than St Kilda, it is the remotest island in the British Isles to have ever been permanently inhabited.

Rona is said to have been the residence of Saint Ronan in the eighth century. The island continued to be inhabited for many hundreds of years. However the entire population died in 1680 after rats reached the island, and a ship raided their food stocks. It was resettled, but again depopulated by around 1695 in some sort of boating tragedy, after which it remained home to a shepherd and family until 1844 when it was deserted.

Sir James Matheson, who bought Lewis in 1844, once offered the island to the Government for use as a penal settlement. The offer was refused.

The island still boasts the Celtic ruins of St Ronan's Chapel. It is owned by Scottish Natural Heritage, and managed as a nature reserve, for its important grey seal and seabird colonies.

Image courtesy

(Information: Wikipedia Online)

Friday, 11 August 2006


Lewis is full of ancient monuments, some older than others. I have visited the majority of the better known ones, such as Calanais. Everybody that visits Lewis * HAS * to visit Callanish. As I've explained quite some time ago, Callanish does not just consist of the one large monument on the top of the hill; there are about 20 associated sites within a 3 mile radius, some on the other side of the water to the west.
Callanish Stones
Another stone circle is at Garynahine / Gearraidh na h-Aibhne along the B8011 road to Uig and Bernera. What puzzles me is a stone circle east of Achamor, because I find it extremely hard to tell the difference between stones making up the monument and stray boulders.
Carloway Broch
Second on the list is the Carloway Broch, 7 miles north of Callanish, conspicuous to all who drive up from the south as that broken-off tooth on the skyline above Doune Carloway. It is an impressive monument and a tribute to those that built it, 2,100 years ago. The nearby visitor centre deserve a mention as well, because a valiant effort has been made to recreate life in the Broch as it happened all those centuries ago.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village
Four miles to the north stands the Blackhouse Village of Gearrannan, which was restored about 10 years ago. One of the houses was reinstated in the way it was in the 1950s; others have been kitted out to modern day specifications for self-catering lets.
Norse Mill and Kiln
Moving round the coast the Norse Mill is quite a demure affair, sitting in the valley of a river, flowing down to Loch na Muilne just outside Shawbost. The mill, powered by water, was in use not that long ago; 1950s I believe. People would come from nearby Shawbost to grind their corn &c. Nowadays, the mill is not in working order, but you can go into the building (bring a torch) to view its workings.

The next village, Bragar, has what's called Dun in the loch at South Bragar. These are fairly common in Northern Scotland. A Dun is a fort, sitting on an island in the loch, linked to the shore by means of a causeway, which is partially submerged and not lying in a straight line. Strangers would have great difficulty negotiated this wobbly path.

I nearly omitted the Arnol Blackhouse, north of Arnol proper, which shows life in the blackhouse as it used to be, quite some time ago. The peat fire smoking in the centre of the living area makes it a rather smokey experience.

Shooting through Barvas, the next village is Baile an Truseil, Village of the Stone. It is a monolith, standing totally isolated on the southern edge of the village, all of 20 ft high.
Steinacleit Homestead
One river further up lies Shader, which also has a monument, the Steinacleit homestead. This is very ancient, going back 1,500 to 1,800 years BC. It is thought to be a burial mound, surrounded by a large oval ring of stones. In common with the Carloway Broch, it has a commanding position on a hilltop, overlooking Loch an Duine (like Bragar, it has a Dun in it).

Monday, 7 August 2006

Park Raiders Memorial

The monument to the Park Raiders stands just west of Balallan, along the road to Tarbert. The text below is taken from the explanatory plaques in and below the monument.

This monument was erected in memory of the people of Lochs who challenged the authority of the state in order to focus public attention on the poverty and injustice they suffered under the oppression of heartless landlords who dispossessed their forebears from over thirty villages in Park.

Their inspiration was Donald MacRae, schoolmaster at Balallan, who committed his life to the Higland Land Law Reform movement and to the emancipation of the oppressed crofters and landless cottars.

Over a long period of time, Lady Matheson, the proprietrix of Lewis, ignored numerous pleas from landless families throughout Lochs for permission to return to some of the former villages in Park from which their forefathers had been evicted. Instead she converted the former 42,000 acre Park sheepfarm into a sporting deer forest in 1886.

On 22 November 1887, crofters and cottars from Lochs, having made their intentions public, marched into the Park deer forest, led by pipers and carrying flags. They confront Mrs Platt, the lessee, and her gamekeeper at Seaforth Head and continued past them into the deer forest.

The authorities reacted quickly, sending to Lewis a detachment of the Royal Scots and some Naval ships carrying marines. The raiders made their camp at Airidh Dhomhnaill Chaim by the shore of Loch Seaforth, where they assuaged their hunger on roasted and boiled venison.

Sheriff Fraser read the Riot Act at Ruadh Chleit, explaining its significance in Gaelic. By then the raiders felt that they had made their point and they began to disperse, having killed a large number of deer.

Six of the leaders of the raid were committed for trial at the High Court in Edinburgh. They were:

Donald MacRae, school master in Balallan
Roderick MacKenzie, 46 Balallan
Murdo MacDonald, 61 Balallan
John Matheson, 13 Gravir
Malcolm MacKenzie, 26 Crossbost
Donald MacMillan, 6 Crossbost

In January 1888, they were all acquitted of charges of mobbing, rioting and break the law of trespass.

The three entranes to this memorial Cairn symbolise the three communities that participated in the Deer Raid, Kinloch, North Lochs and Pairc.

The three projecting stones around the top of the memorial symbolise the three prominent events in the Pairc Deer Raid.

The eight points of the compass were taken from the homes of the six land raiders who were acquitted in the High Court in Edinburgh in 1888 as well as a stone from both the site of the reading of the Riot Act at RUADH CHLEIT and the raiders’ camp site at AIRIDH DHOMHNAILL CHAIM.

That so the race which was to come
Might well them learn and know
And sons unborn who should arise
Might to their sons them show
(Psalm 78)

Monday, 19 June 2006


Just west of Lewis lies the island of Great Bernera, not to be confused with the island of Berneray off North Uist. On its northern end lies the beach of Bostadh [Bosta]. This area is uninhabited, but in years gone by people did live there. Nowadays, there is only a cemetery.

Bosta Beach, looking north towards Old Hill
In 1992, a violent storm shifted the sands on the beach and the adjacent hillside to reveal the remains of an iron-age house. Little is known about it or the people that lived there some 2,000 years ago, but a valiant effort has been made to recreate the Iron Age House.

The Iron Age House, as seen from the approach path

Below is copied the information from the plaque at the house:

This house is a reconstruction based upon the late Iron Age "jelly baby" houses excavated nearby. It was built using the techniques that were available at that time. No physical evidence of roofing survived on the archeological site; the design of this roof was dictated by the shape and strength of the walls; the dividing walls between the two cells are too weak to support a superstructure. The ridged roof is a major departure from the circular roofs of the wheelhouses and brochs of the earlier Iron Age, and a precursor of the traditional blackhouse roof.

The entrance passage was curved to break the strength of any high winds and sloped from ground level to the interior floor level. The purpose of the small chamber in this passage is unknown. The main room may have been subdivided into living and sleeping areas. The use of the space in the roof is conjectural, we have indicated a sleeping area. The small chamber was possibly used by the women for their work. The artefacts represent those discovered on the original site. The central hearth is aligned north to south. This may have been for practical of ritual reason. We do not know if there was any artificial or indeed natural lighting. Perhaps a piece of the thatch was removed when practicable.

Many questions that arose from the excavations were answered by a practical exercise such as this, and much has been learnt that aids interpretation of future excavations at similar sites. It is hoped that the reconstruction will also help visitors to the site to have a more complex and realistic experience of the reality of living in this type of dwelling.

Saturday, 17 June 2006

Kinloch Castle and Lews Castle

Kinloch Castle from the ferry. Picture courtesy KCFA
The Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles. has visited the Isle of Rum, south of Skye, to see what needs to be done to preserve Kinloch Castle. This red sandstone edifice, erected in 1897, was put up with no expenses spared by an industrialist from Accrington, Lancashire. George Bullough had accumulated great wealth through the Globe textile works. These have since closed.

Kinloch Castle in its heyday, before the First World War, was built and fitted out to make your jaw drop. It had heated conservatories and heated pools, in which tropical creatures swam. When guests were shown into the place, the first room, the ballroom, was an image of opulence. A grand piano stands on a tigerskin. Vases from Japan, up to 8 feet tall, stand in the gallery upstairs. A monkey eagle, capable of taking apes, rears up in a frightening pose. A huge orchestrian can blast out any tune that is available on the requisite roll, much like a piano roll. A bathroom with (I think) 14 different types of showers and douches.

Kinloch Castle, picture courtesy KCFA
After the First World War, the Castle fell into decline. The heating was switched off, and the tropical creatures died or were released into the chilly Hebridean waters. The castle was a private residence until 1957, when the last surviving Bullough, Lady Monica, died. She, and other members of her family, are interred in the family mausoleum at Harris, 8 miles away on the southwestern face of the island. It takes 3 hours to walk there, and it takes almost as long to drive there. Doing up the road is virtually impossible, as the vehicles needed for the job cannot negotiate the "road".

Kinloch Castle was handed over, with the rest of the island, to (what is now) Scottish Natural Heritage. In 1996, Kinloch Castle Friends Association was formed to help preserve the castle in its former glory. Dampness and the harsh Hebridean climate are doing their worst. In 2003, the BBC's Restoration programme featured Kinloch, and it nearly won the £3m top prize. Fortunately, the Phoenix Trust (patronized by the Duke of Rothesay, Prince Charles) has taken an interest, and the Prince's visit is to underline his interest and see for himself the magnitude of the work required. A sum of £5 million has been mooted.

Lews Castle
In Lewis, we have a castle too. Lews Castle. Please note there is NO letter i in the name of the place. This was built by Sir James Matheson in the 19th century, allegedly on the riches of the opium trade. After the Stornoway Trust took over management of this section of the island, the castle was in use as a college (among other things), until its deterioration made it no longer possible to be used for anything. I have seen the original plans, as drawn up by the Glasgow architect Wilson, and they show an equally magnificent building. Lews Castle too needs a lot of money investing in it. Although the background may be resented by some, it is an integral part of Lewis history. Plans are continually drawn up - and continually put in the drawer.

Perhaps the Duke of Rothesay could wind his way to the heart of the Hebrides and take a look round Lews Castle. It would be a huge shame if the building just fell down.

Note: I am NOT begrudging Kinloch Castle the attentions of its royal visitor, on the contrary. It is a magnificent place and a folly if ever I saw one. It deserves all the attention it can get; as does Lews Castle.

Wednesday, 24 May 2006

Iolaire - feedback

A few months ago, I wrote about a list of names of people who were involved in the Iolaire Disaster of New Year's Day 1919. In that incident, 205 island men drowned within sight of Stornoway on their return from the Great War. The exact circumstances have never really been cleared up; a formal inquiry did not take place until 1972. It is one of the worst maritime disasters of peacetime, but hardly known outside the islands. It is as little known as the sinking of the Norge, a Norwegian emigrant ship that foundered at Rockall in 1904, leaving hundreds dead.

Since publishing the names on the web (visit this link), I have had a trickle of feedback, which gives a window of insight to some of the underlying stories.

(1) A gentleman emailed me from southwest Scotland, saying: "I knew nothing of the Iolaire Disaster [...]. Very moving but tragic that more people don't know more about a large group of young men taken in such tragic circumstances. To have survived a war and then die within sight of home is beyond belief." Others expressed similar sadness.

(2) One lady contacted me from Ontario, Canada. Her ancestors came from Marvig (South Lochs). She gave me permission to reproduce their story.
"My grampa's younger brother, Donald MacLeod (7 Marbhig, then Stornoway), died coming into harbour on the Iolaire. From the memorial in South Lochs I think two of my greatgrandparents' brothers were killed in the war, as well as losing Donald. My grandfather Alasdair was forbidden from fishing anymore for fear he'd drown too, after his family's losses. A torment for him, as he loved the sea and fishing. He drove for Lord Leverhulme then went to the shipyards in Glasgow to make some money. Her returned to Stornoway for a short time then came to Canada on one of the two ships for which there were no passenger lists. Settled in our praries for a time (no water at all) then went west to Vancouver Island for the remainder of his lifetime... built himself a little boat and enjoyed it to the end in 1980. So fortunate I visited Stornoway last summer and saw for myself why Alaisdair chose looked so like Stornoway... His mother I think suffered too much heartbreak for it all and was a lost soul in the sanatorium for the rest of her life. And oddly, when I've
written lyrics all through my life they have been laden with images of water, and the sea...long before I knew of this event in my family's history. Funny how these things can follow you. I'd not be at all if it weren't for the Iolaire disaster...a ponderous thought, that."

(3) One correspondent mentioned that her ancestors came from Harris, but wondered whether any had been on the Iolaire.

(4) Another reaction bears out the extreme distress that the Iolaire Disaster caused within the islands: "I only found that my grandfather's first cousin [...] was lost on the Iolaire when I looked up his death certificate. The family had never mentioned or talked of him. I go to Harris and will post a photo of his headstone after my next visit. I only learned of how he died after my last trip to the island."

Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Culloden and Arnish

The inscription reads: HRH Prince Charles Edward with three attendants landed in Loch Seaforth 4 May 1746 and walking all night reached Arnish Loch at noon 5 May. In the evening he was received at Kildun House, Arnish, by the Lady Kildun (MacKenzie). Early in 6 May, he left Kildun in a boat and landed in Eilean Iubhard (Loch Shell) and remained there until 10 May and sailed thence to South Uist and Skye. [inscription obliterated] "Deoch Slainte an Righ" [inscription obliterated].

A few geographical and historical notes about the inscription. Kildun House no longer exists. By my information, it was destroyed by fire in 1975, prior to the construction of the present Arnish Yard. The hill on which it stood was bulldozed to make way for buildings for the yard. Eilean Iubhard can be seen from Lemreway, South Lochs, about 30 miles south of Stornoway (by road). I do not know what the inscriptions used to read that were rendered illegible.

I should make it perfectly clear that I have very little time for Prince Charles Edward, otherwise known as the Young Pretender or Bonnie Prince Charlie. His hare-brained idea to "raise the clans" in 1745 for a march on London was ill-thought through, and by no means received full backing from all the clans in Western Scotland. Because those with brains saw him for what he was. A fool, being used as a figurehead. He was no creditable tactician on the field of battle, allowing his advance to outrun his supply-train on the daring march on Derby. The rout all the way back to Culloden, near Inverness, was a disgrace. And at the end of the day, it was this silly enterprise that gave Scotland's enemies the pretext they needed to subjugate the country fully, after the 1707 Union. To try to destroy the culture and language, and impose their own values on the Highlands and Islands. Far from being the prosaic saviour of the West, I rate Bonnie Prince Charlie as the fool that brought on the destruction of the West of Scotland.

His flight through the islands, dressed as a woman for goodness' sakes, says it all. Poor old Flora MacDonald, she gave him succour and shelter, and got clapped in jail for all her bother. The stay at Kildun tells us that although the Stornoway worthies were not prepared to turn Charlie in (he had a prize on his head), they were not prepared to put him up either, being a liability. At the end of the day, Charles was a coward, used more to the comforts of the drawingroom and the bottle. He will have been happy when he finally boarded the French vessel L'Heureux (sic), bound for France.

Oh, I forgot. Many readers will be familiar with the statue at Glenfinnan, 15 miles west of Fort William. The figure on the pillar at the head of Loch Shiel. It's not Bonnie Prince Charlie. It's "a Highlander". Because it was there that Charles landed to "raise the firey cross" which started the whole campaign.

Please forget the mystique around BPC. He has done Scotland no favours at all.

Saturday, 11 March 2006

Tragedy - South Lochs

In the 1960s, a boat left Stornoway bound for Marvig, 10 miles further south in the Lochs area of Lewis. It was carrying a large amount of timber. A young couple were going down to the village to build themselves a new home, and the young woman's uncle went along to steer the boat. Barely out of port, the engine failed and a storm blew up. It was some storm. They were unable to turn round, and gradually the boat was blown onto the reef of Sgeir Mhor, between Newton and Lower Sandwick. The uncle decided that he should jump overboard with a line, as this had been the way in which 75 people were saved on the Iolaire, in 1919. The other passengers thought the better of following him. Screams for help from the terrified woman could be heard in houses in Lower Sandwick. Finally, the lifeboat managed to come in and saved the couple by breecher's buoy.

The storm blew itself out, and the next morning the sea blinked innocently in the sunlight. The boat was sitting high and dry on the Sgeir Mhor. The body of the uncle was found on the shingle of the beach, in amongst all the timber. In the afternoon, people could walk out to the vessel as it sat on the reef. It was unbelievable that just 12 hours before a raging storm had made it impossible for any but the lifeboat to come near.
Sgeir Mhor and Arnish Light from Sandwick Bay
Forty years before, people from Marvig were involved in another tragedy, this time to the south of their village. Again, a young couple were taking the contents of their house and some timber around to Steimreway. This village was vacated in the Clearances of the 1830s, but they wanted to rebuild the houses. It is located along the coast, about 3 miles west of Lemreway, on the shore of Loch Shell. The boat was caught in a storm and foundered, drowning all on board. Although Steimreway was reoccupied between 1921 and 1945, this tragedy did little to inspire confidence. When central government refused to provide amenities like a school and a road, the villagers abandoned Steimreway for a final time at the end of the Second World War. You can still visit the site of the settlement by walking 2 miles across rough moorland from Orinsay. It is a very pretty location, but my attempts to reach it foundered in bad weather.

The story of Steimreway is told in an article on the Lochs Community website.

Monday, 20 February 2006


In remembrance of those lost on the Norge, 28 June 1904.

The sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters of the 20th century. Others have happened before and since, some of which have faded from memory. I have highlighted one other before, the sinking of the Iolaire on the Beasts of Holm, on 1st January 1919.

The story and images below are partly taken from
SS Norge
In 1904, the emigrant vessel Norge sank off Rockall, 200 miles west of here in the Atlantic. Rockall is a rock which juts out of the oceanfloor, and sticks some 70 feet above the waves. A nearby reef is partially submerged, Hazelwood Rock, and both constitute a danger to shipping.
On 28th June 1904, the SS Norge was heading from Norway to America, when she struck Rockall. Her bow became embedded in the rocks. Lifeboats were readied, but the captain ordered the engines in reverse to extricate his ship. Unfortunately, there was severe damage below the waterline, and the Norge sank, taking 700 emigrants with her to the bottom. A number of them were picked up by a British merchantman, the Cerwona. Some lifeboats made it to the Outer Hebrides, and were cared for in Stornoway. Nine of them succumbed to the effects of their ordeal and are buried in Sandwick Cemetery, near Stornoway.

This link leads to transcripts of newspaper articles about the disaster, as they were printed in 1904. A book has been written about the sinking of this ship, but otherwise the event seems to have faded from memory.

Thursday, 2 February 2006


In February 2006, I spent several hours in Stornoway library, looking up names. Names of men, who were lost in the Iolaire disaster, which I have mentioned before. It is one thing reading the dry factual details. Two hundred and five drowned. Their bodies washed ashore around Holm, Lower Sandwick and Stornoway. Seventy-five survived. Many bodies were never recovered.

It becomes more alive, for want of a better word, once you start to browse through the Roll of Honour 1914-18. This always makes me sad. You see that some villages were very badly affected. Out of some families, one son would survive, but the other drowned. It became even more poignant when I came across the pictures. About 60 images are reproduced in the Roll of Honour.

Outside Lewis, this tragedy is little known, although it is one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters of the 20th century. The effect it had on Lewis was severe. Already, several hundred men had been lost in battle and on the high seas. The death toll was further augmented by this disaster, which meant that 1 in every 6 men who signed up at the start of or in the course of the First World War never returned home.

We should not forget them.

The list of names is published on this webpage. Any comments, additions etc. welcome.

Tuesday, 31 January 2006


Lewis War Memorial. A crowd has gathered for the 2005 Remembrance Sunday

So another two British soldiers have lain down their lives in the service of Queen and country in Iraq. You may well think "What on earth does that have anything to do with a Scottish island??" I'll explain.

In the First World War, 1,000 men from the Isle of Lewis alone perished. From a population of about 25,000, six thousand joined up for the armed forces. That's about HALF of all menfolk. Of those, 1 out of every 6 never came home again. 200 drowned within sight of home at the sinking of HMY Iolaire, on the Beasts of Holm, 2 miles south of Stornoway.

The First World War was a politicians' war, a conflict that had been brewing for a long time before the fuse was lit in Sarajevo, in 1914, when an Austro-Hungarian archduke was shot and killed in the street. A long litany of alliances between various European states then rolled into action, with war being declared in August 1914. I am convinced (personal opinion) that the man in the street at the time wasn't that fussed with a nobleman being assassinated in the street of some Balkan town. There had just been a bloody conflict there, again, only a year or so before. The story of the Christmas truce has surfaced increasingly frequently in recent years. It was touch and go whether the war would have fizzled out at that point. It was very, very near. But it didn't, and after a year of atrocities there was no truce at Christmas 1915.

Scotland generally and the islands in particular have always loyally provided cannon fodder for the forces. The economic situation in the islands was so dire that the honour, glory and payment associated with the colours was a powerful lure. Others joined the merchant navy, which suffered harshly under the U-boat campaign in the Atlantic. Naval reservists were called up and were transformed into foot soldiers under Winston Churchill, a pretty bad decision by all accounts. They were sent to defend Antwerp against the Germans, to no avail. I've described in a previous post that 100 Lewismen ended up in a Dutch internment camp for the rest of the war.

In 1914-18, people did not openly question the politicians' decisions about going to war. These days, we do.

Tuesday, 24 January 2006

Stornoway has got historical links with Holland. Its history as fishing port was given a boost when the Dutch discovered in 1637 that the herring were plentiful in these waters. The Earl of Seaforth, in charge of the island at that time, was more than happy to encourage them. Unfortunately, the King was not happy to see his rivals from across the North Sea gaining a foothold on his back doorstep, so he sent some armed men across to boot them out. Contrarily, at one stage, there was a possibility that the islands could have been ceded to Holland. However, one of the many wars between England and Holland, in 1652, put paid to any further cooperation. The herring fishery was firmly established though and Stornoway never looked back after that.

If you have a look round Stornoway, particularly along Cromwell Street, you'll see evidence of architecture that would not look out of place in Amsterdam. The pink facade of DD Morrison's shop (above), as well as the old Town House (below), now a Chinese restaurant, are both firmly reminiscent.

Further afield, Dutch fishermen were also involved in Lerwick (Shetland), and perhaps a Shetland blogger could pick up on that connection. Another Dutch connection, going back many many years can be found in a small island in Orkney. Papa Westray, famous for having the shortest scheduled airservice in the world (2 minutes to and from Westray) has a very ancient little church dedicated to St Boniface. He was an Englishman, who was charged with spreading Christianity round Northern Europe in the 8th century. He was murdered by robbers at the city of Dokkum, in northern Holland in 754. But not before he had established churches and missionaries all over northern Europe.

I'm aware that my comments about Orkney and Shetland are outside my remit as Lewis blogger, but I spent a month in Orkney and Shetland in September 2004, and found the wee kirk on Papay singularly appealing. Again, perhaps someone in Papa Westray itself could comment further.

Wednesday, 4 January 2006

Deserted villages

In Lewis, there are at least 30 of them, most of those thirty being in the district of Eishken. Since the early 19th century, this large chunk of the island has lain derelict. It was the old story that sheep made more money than people. Incidentally, during the Napoleonic wars, the landowners were more than happy to have people on their land. They could nicely rake in all the kelp, which was the base material for gunpowder in those days. Because of the blockade of Britain by Napoleon's fleet, imports of guano (bird droppings) were halted. An alternative source of nitrate had to be found, and burning kelp was found to be yielding nice quantities of potassium nitrate. But when the war was over, and ships were able to bring in guano again, there was no more need for kelp in the huge quantities that the war required. As stated above, sheep were found to be more profitable than the dirt poor cottars, so the lairds employed all sort of tactics, fair, foul and anything in between, to shift the people off their land. Most readers will have heard the stories of the ship in the bay, a party of men sent ashore to torch the houses and the residents told to board the ship. Others were sent packing to another part of the island.
Lewis has seen quite a lot of these tactics. From the west of the island come stories of people from Uig being shunted across Loch Roag to Carloway; Gearrannan residents moved to Dalmore, then to Dalbeg, then to Shawbost. And further north. One man who worked for the Mathesons in their day was rewarded for his loyalty by having his croft extended at the cost of a neighbour's, who was in arrears in rent. A chunk of the neighbour's croft was taken away and awarded to the loyal worker. Who subsequently couldn't show his face in the village again.

Returning to the southeast, Eishken was cleared of its 30 villages in the 1820s. I have tried to locate them, but the only decent 19th century map in Stornoway library is post-clearance and shows no traces of the old settlements. When people were moved to other areas in the island, this led to a degree of 'congestion'. There was not sufficient land to go round. In the history of the Highlands and Islands, the year 1886 is a red-letter year. This was the year when the Crofters' act came into force, which awarded security of tenure to crofters, and made it impossible for landowners to summarily evict people from their land. The following few years were very important in Lewis, as they were punctuated by civil disobedience if not uprisings. One such event focused on Eishken, and has become known as the Parc Raids. In 1887, a group of men, led by a Balallan schoolteacher, committed a mass trespass on the Eishken estate and helped themselves to deer. As they sat consuming the venison, the men were ordered off the land, which they refused to do. The sherriff had to come down and read the men the riot act. As there was no intention to stay for any length of time, the park raiders left Kinloch Shell and were arrested. They had made their point. A monument to the raid stands by the Stornoway to Tarbert road, at the junction of the 7 mile road to Eishken.

To this day, Eishken stands empty. It is the playground of the rich for shooting deer. There are plans, as I mentioned in an earlier post, to build a 133-turbine windfarm on the estate. It would mean the desecration of a magnificent mountain landscape, not just of Eishken itself (with Beinn Mhor up to 1900 ft), but also of the adjacent Harris hills. Instead of planting turbines, why not use that piece of legislation I heard about which requires landowners to allow people to resettle on derelict and unused land? Wouldn't it be nice if places like those listed below were repopulated?

The number after each name represents the Ordnance Survey national grid reference, which should be prefixed with the letters NB to obtain the full reference. There were reputedly 36 villages, 27 of which I have the names. The names of another 9 are unknown to me, the location of several known ones eludes me as yet. Further info welcome. Map reproduced with kind permission of HM Ordnance Survey of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Apologies for its quality.

1 Bhalamos Beag - 291010
2 Bhalamos Mor - 298016
3 Caolas an Eilean -
4 Bagh Ciarach - 251021
5 Ceannamhor - 223067
6 Scaladale Beag - 220100
7 Scaladale Mor - 218120
8 Stromas
9 Brinigil - 277159
10 Bagh Reimsabhaigh - 258025
11 Smosivig - 273049
12 Glean Claidh - 253066
13 Brollum - 322031
14 Ceann Chrionaig - 311055
15 Mol Truis - 359056
16 Mol Chadha Ghearraidh - 367066
17 Ailtenish - 368088
18 Budhanais - 332100
19 Ceann Loch Shealg - 294107
20 Eilean Iubhard - 380100
21 Isginn [Eishken] - 326119
22 Steimreway - 346116
23 Cuiriseal
24 Gearraidh Riasaidh
25 Bun Chorcabhig - 263033
26 Gilmhicphaic - 217083
27 Ceann Sifiord - 295163