Tuesday, 24 July 2007

This statue, entitled Exiles, was unveiled by First Minister Alex Salmond yesterday, at Helmsdale on the east Sutherland coast. It shows a family, leaving their homes for a new life overseas. Helmsdale lies at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan, one of many valleys in Sutherland cleared of their residents in the 19th century. The full background story can be read here.

Whilst I applaud the efforts of Mr Macleod (who initiated the project) to keep the memory of the Clearances alive, I somehow find the positive gloss being cast on this appalling episode in Scotland’s history very, very difficult to stomach. Particularly, bearing in mind Mr Salmond’s political hue, I would have expected to hear rather stronger language than “deplorable”.

Thousands of people were forced by means fair and foul to leave their homes - the practice of burning the thatch over people’s heads is well documented. The Isle of Skye, 35 miles south of here, has been the scene of some atrocious evictions. Late last year, the assertion was being made that the Isle of Lewis had suffered relatively lightly under the Clearances. Well, I couldn’t disagree more.

The below map shows the district of Eishken and the 27 villages which used to be there until 1820.

They were all cleared, mostly to other places within Lewis. But still a forcible eviction.
I agree that the people who were cleared out of northern Scotland did make a contribution in the areas where they settled. But I think it is a stinging indictment that their contribution was not appreciated in their homecountry, and I am waiting for the First Minister to say something about that too.

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