r2vyln3rdioj14u-rld0ska where mountains meet the sea: Old Highland woman

Old Highland woman

She sits all day by the fire.
How long is it since she opened the door
and stepped outside, confusing
the scuffling hens and the collie
dreaming of sheep?
Her walking days are over.

She has come here through centuries
of Gaelic labour and loves
and rainy funerals. Her people
are assembled in her bones.
She's their summation. Before her time
has almost no meaning.

When neighbours call
she laughs a wicked cackle
with love in it, as she listens
to the sly bristle of gossip,
relishing the life in it,
relishing the malice, with her hands
lying in her lap like holy psalms
that once had a meaning for her, that once
were noble with tunes
she used to sing long ago.

Norman MacCaig

The modern clearances which took place within the last quarter of a century in Guisachan, Strathglass, by Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, have been described in all their phases before a Committee of the House of Commons in 1872. The Inspector of Poor for the parish of Kiltarlity wrote a letter which was brought before the Committee, with a statement from another source that, "in 1855, there were 16 farmers on the estate; the number of cows they had was 62, and horses, 24; the principal farmer had 2000 sheep, the next 1000, and the rest between them 1200, giving a total of 4200. Now (1873) there is but one farmer, and he leaves at Whitsunday; all these farmers lost the holdings on which they ever lived in competency; indeed, it is well known that some of them were able to lay by some money. They have been sent to the four quarters of the globe, or to vegetate in Sir Dudley's dandy cottages at Tomich, made more for show than convenience, where they have to depend on his employment or charity. To prove that all this is true, take at random, the smith, the shoemaker, or the tailor, and say whether the poverty and starvation were then or now? For instance, under the old regime, the smith farmed a piece of land which supplied the wants of his family with meal and potatoes; he had two cows, a horse, and a score or two of sheep on the hill; he paid £7 of yearly rent; he now has nothing but the bare walls of his cottage and smithy, for which he pays £10. Of course he had his trade then as he has now. Will he live more comfortably now than he did then? "It was stated, at the same time, that, when Sir Dudley Marjoribanks bought the property, there was a population of 235 souls upon it, and Sir Dudley, in his examination, though he threw some doubt upon that statement, was quite unable to refute it. The proprietor, on being asked, said that he did not evict any of the people. But Mr. Macombie having said, "Then the tenants went away of their own free will," Sir Dudley replied, "I must not say so quite. I told them that when they had found other places to go to, I wished to have their farms."

They were, in point of fact, evicted as much as any others of the ancient tenantry in the Highlands, though it is but fair to say that the same harsh cruelty was not applied in their case as in many of the others recorded in these pages. Those who had been allowed to remain in the new cottages, are without cow or sheep, or an inch of land, while those alive of those sent off are spread over the wide world, like those sent, as already described, from other places.
from The History of The Highland Clearances by Alexander MacKenzie


A Scattering said...

I found your blog via bittersweet accident this morning while visiting Neil Tasker's sad post. I will be back, your blog and photos are lovely. Greetings from Canada.

Elizabeth said...

I love how much there is to learn by reading your blog :)

Patty said...

I came here via my friend's site. This post was just lovely. I also enjoyed your photos.

I can't leave without mentioning your cat. Skipper is Gray's friend. So we will have to add one more member to cat club. Skipper lives in Maryland.

Helen McGinn said...

Consider the Lilies by Ian Crichton Smith was the book of choice by our school to teach us about the Highland Clearances. I still get angry thinking about it.

Great post, as usual. x