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Part One: Background

Map of the Scottish Highlands, click for larger image The story of the Scottish nation is ancient, intricate and complex, and often contradictory. To this day it is not fully explained or taught even in Scotland where the people surely have the right to know their own history. One dreadful episode in the history of the Scottish people is known simply as "The Clearances".

This series will attempt to explain in simple terms exactly what the Clearances were, how they were carried out, by whom and why. It is not intended to be a full and complete account of these complicated and inter-tangled events. It is amazing that this very nearly successful attempt at cultural genocide has not attracted more comment or criticism from society both within and without Scotland. But then, if nobody is told about it, nobody can complain about it.

Life in the Scottish Highlands and Isles

18th Century Clan Chief of the Clan Innis, click for larger image To understand the Clearances fully it is necessary to understand life as it used to be in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, home of the Gaels. The old Scottish clan society was a natural development of the earlier Celtic tribal society and proved to be a stable, lasting and fair way of living. Each clan had a chief to whom the people owed allegiance and he in turn could call on them to fight in his private army when necessary.

The chief controlled the land but leased it out to "tacksmen". They in turn rented the land to tenant farmers and they in turn employed farm labourers who were know as "cottars" to help with the day-to-day running of the farm. It was the chiefs' responsibility to ensure that all members of the clan had sufficient land to maintain him or her self. Under the clan system nobody owned the land. Everyone was free to farm and graze the land in order to survive. This equal and fair distribution of the land was honoured by all succeeding monarchs and clan chiefs.

This basic subsistence style of living had existed for countless centuries in the Scottish Highlands and Islands and had naturally developed and evolved its own culture, language, customs, sense of identity and unique character by those living it. The lowlands of Scotland had lost this simplistic lifestyle as early as the 12th century and had become very much and Anglicised people and community. Even one of Scotland's own monarchs, King James VI (who became James I of England upon the death of his cousin Elizabeth I in 1603), commented,

King James VI (Stuart) of Scotland  also known as King James I of England, click for larger image

"As for the Highlanders, I comprehend them all in two sorts of people: the one that dwelleth in our mainland that are barbarous, and yet mixed with some show of civility; the other that dwelleth in the Isles and are all utterly barbarous."

This view was the commonly held one throughout the rest of Britain. The popular image of the Highlander was that he was dirty, lazy, untrustworthy and without honour. Exactly the same misrepresentations which were circulated regarding the Irish, another Celtic and Gaelic speaking people.

Written and published by the Highland Clearances Memorial Fund

Back to Highland Clearances Memorial Fund Series Main Page

Part One: Background
Part Two: Highland Portrait
Part Three: Bonnie Prince Charlie
Part Four: The Clearances
Part Five: The Improvements
Part Six: The Sutherland Estate
Part Seven: The People and the Church
Part Eight: US Slave-Owners
Part Nine: Queen Victoria and Red Deer
Part Ten: 1840-1880 Eyewitness Accounts
Part Eleven: Famine!
Part Twelve: Famine Immigration
Part Thirteen: Forced Eviction to the Cities
Part Fourteen: Changing Ways
Part Fifteen: Things Change Yet Remain The Same
Appendix A: Highland Clearances, Dates & Places
Appendix B: Bibliography

Thursday, December 26th, 2019

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