Thursday, 12 September 2019


Sitting with a glass of wine, enjoying the warmth of our blackhouse cast iron fireplace and listening to the wind howl outside, my thoughts are tied up with events past and present which have impacted these precious Outer Hebrides and also Scotland. That’s my problem when I learn just enough of local history, it makes me too sensitive.

As with Ireland, Scotland and the Outer Hebrides suffered “The Clearances” at the hands of the English. Repugnantly, English land owners viewing high and mountainous pastures as more profitable if under sheep rather than people, evicted their tenants, condemning them to a life of extreme poverty or forced emigration to Australia or the Americas. 

In the amazing little Uig museum, I was moved by the following writing. I was born in Uig and I was upon two occasions deprived of my possessions.....we were deprived of the hill pasture which was given to the neighbouring tack and then our stock was taken from us. We were obliged to subsist as best we could on the crofts. Subsequently we were summoned out of our parish altogether and deprived of everything we possessed - cattle, sheep and everything else. The people asked the Chamberlain at the time what he was then going to do when there were no homes, and he pointed to the sea, and told us our home was there.

A witness to the Clearances wrote, .......were hounded away to Australia and America and I think I can hear the cry of the children to this day.

In World War I, of more than 6,500 men from Lewis, an Isle with a total population of less than 30,000 at that time, 1,151 were killed in action. Lewis’ list of dead in action was one of the highest proportions of any UK community. Tragically, it gets worse.  

On December 31, 1918, English War Office bureaucrats crowded 264 returning WWI Hebridean survivors onto a seconded pleasure yacht, the Iolaire, with rated capacity for 100 including crew, with lifesaving capacity for only 100, and with an understaffed crew commanded by a inebriated English captain. Imagine the excitement of these WWI vets to be returning home alive to the Outer Hebrides in time for New Year’s Day. At 2:00am in stormy weather, the Iolaire ran aground on infamous rocks, The Beasts of Holm, in the mouth of Stornoway Harbour. 201 men drowned in what remains Britain’s biggest peacetime disaster at sea since the loss of the Titanic. The loss devastated the Isle of Lewis and scarred a generation. The irony was that half the ratings on the Iolaire were local fisherman and could have told the captain or the helmsman, if asked, that they were on a dangerous incorrect course.

And now my undisciplined mind brings me to today. In a resoundingly high referendum turnout, Scotland voted 62% to remain in the European Union. The Scottish government has continued to air ads telling Europeans that they are open for business. Multiple businesses and the fishing industry have published pro-EU articles. Speak to a local and the majority wish to stay. Here we go again......a nation’s desires will likely be overrriden by English policy.

I know! I know! I am too simplistic and emotional in my thoughts. I’m siding with a nation I have learned over the years to respect and love. Sorry, but I just can’t stop asking, How much do you take before you say ‘enough’?

No comments:

Post a Comment