Friday, 23 September 2016

Mary's Path

A Vanished World

Change happens. Time doesn’t stand still. Worlds and ways of life vanish. History can be seen as the struggle between the desire to keep things as they are and forces who want their world to progress. But who defines progress? Who controls progress? What are the costs of progress? Nothing stays the same. Everything evolves. Change sometimes happens by imperceptible degrees and sometimes by convulsive upheavals.

Ethnic cleansing or economic progress?

Were the Highland Clearances I mentioned in my last blog an example of rich and greedy aristocrats evicting vulnerable communities to increase their own share of profit and power? Or was it the inevitable result of devastating weather conditions, poor harvests and the need to improve the economics of farming in the Highlands? Was it an attempt by the Westminster parliament (in collusion with the clan chiefs) to dismantle the clan system in Scotland by banning collective communities and their cultural symbols (tartan, kilts and the bagpipes, those “notorious instruments of war”?) Or is it better seen as part of the 18th and 19th century diaspora of Europeans which included many Irish people, Germans, Italians and Spaniards who also moved over to the New World to seek a better life? (Many Highlanders inevitably found their way to Canada and the state of Nova Scotia – New Scotland – Alba Nuadh.)
Scottish Clan Pride

Inniemore (Aoineadh Mor) and Mary’s Path

The abandoned town of Inniemore has haunted me since our visit there a short while ago. The derelict walls have largely been reclaimed by nature. Whatever the arguments for or against the Highland Clearances, the result is the same: land once populated by working self-sufficient communities (even if the life was hard) is now land for tourists to walk through and wonder. First hand accounts (from the viewpoint of the crofters) are rare, so the Scottish Forestry Commission’s audiopost reading by Anne Sinclair on the Ardtornish Estate is an important testament to the impact on an individual. Social history is always compelling, I find.
The "cleared" settlement of Aoineadh Mor (Inniemore) on the Ardtornish Estate

Mary Cameron’s story from Norman MacLeod’s 1863 Reminiscences of a Highland Parish in Gaelic

“That was the day of the sadness to many, the day on which Mac Cailein (the Duke of Argyll) parted with the estate of his ancestors in the place where I was reared. The people of Inniemore thought that the 'flitting' would not come upon them while they lived. As long as they paid the rent, and that was not difficult to do, anxiety did not come near them; and a lease they asked not.

“It was there that the friendly neighbourhood was, though now only one smoke is to be seen from the house of the Saxon shepherd. When we got the summons to quit, we thought it was only for getting an increase in rent and this we offered to give; but permission to stay we got not.
Thomas Faed's 1865 The Last of the Clan

Mary’s story continues – the bleat of the goats

“The small cattle were sold and at length it became necessary to part with the one cow. When shall I forget the plaintive wailing of the children deprived of the milk which was no more for them? When shall I forget the last sight of my pretty cluster of goats bleating on the lip of the rocks as if inviting me to milk them? But it was not allowed me  to put a pail under them.

“The day of the flitting came. The officers of the law came along with it and the shelter of a house for one night more was not to be got. It was necessary to depart. The hissing of the fire on the flag of the hearth as they were drowning it reached my heart. We could not get even a bothy in the country; therefore we had nothing for it but to face the land of strangers (the Lowlands).
Erskine Nicol's 1853 An Ejected Family

Mary’s story continues – James carries his mother out of the Glen in a basket

“The aged woman, the mother of my husband, was then alive, weak, and lame. James carried her on his back in a creel. I followed him with little John, an infant at my breast, thou who art no more, Donald beloved, a little toddler walking, with thy sister by my side. Our neighbours carried the little furniture that remained to us and showed every kindness which tender friend could show.

“On the day of our leaving Inniemore I thought my heart would break. I would feel right if my tears would flow; but no relief thus did I find. We sat for a time on Kioch nan carn (Hill of the Cairns) to take the last look at the place where we had been brought up. The houses were being already stripped….”
Late-Victorian photograph of a "clearance"