Digital Tradition Mirror

Shores of Sutherland

Shores of Sutherland
(Jim McLean)

Cold is the wind and wet
As we make our beds down on the sand
Scavenging gulls and clappidoos
Down on the shores of Sutherland
High on the hills our shielings
Are sheltering factors that robber band
Shepherds and sheep are asleep
While we die on the shores of Sutherland

Blood from our cows and meal
A nettle broth laid with barley bran
Banned from the beds of mussels
By dogs and their masters of Sutherland
Big are shellfish they're guarding
For fishers who come from some other land
Cockles are baiting their hooks
While we starve on the shores of Sutherland

Water and brose and milk
Salmon and deer and ptarmigan
Honey and bread and cheese
Was the food of the children of Sutherland
Now we are barred from our clachans
And hunted away from our motherland
Starved at the edge of the sea
By the Duke and the Duchess of Sutherland

 Mackie's History of Scotland has a rather starry-eyed view of the reasons behin
d the
 Clearances, at least in my 1972 edition:
 [1972:] The story of the Clearances is known to all; yet the Sutherland Clearan
ces were part of a policy of improvement undertaken between 1811 and 1820 by the
 Marquess of Stafford, who had married the Countess of Sutherland in 1785. Aware
 of the 'improvements' which were being undertaken in Moray and of the hardship
and famine which prevailed in his area, he called in experts from the south, and
 began to move his tenants from the upland glens to the coast in the belief that
 there they could supplement the crofts which he would supply by fishing.  At fi
rst he had some success when he moved people from Assynt to the west coast; but
later he met with opposition which was repressed by violence, all the more resen
ted when it was found that one of the factors employed, who was acquitted on a c
harge of homicide, himself entered into one of the sheep farms from which the ev
ictions took place. The burning of wretched houses and the eviction of helpless
people - some of them decrepit - aroused great condemnation, and the grievances
reached the House of Commons. There and elsewhere it was shown that the Marquis,
 besides getting nothing from his Sutherland estate between 1811 and 1833, had s
pent 60,000 of his own money; but the stigma was not removed.
[...] Between 1828 and 1851 some proprietors shipped surplus tenants overseas at
 their own expense; but in 1853 there occurred in Glengarry perhaps the most fer
ocious of the violent clearances; this was not a matter of shifting people to th
e coast; whole families were put into ships and sent across the ocean, a
ing of disease, and, with the introduction of the potato, better food, populatio
n was increasing to an extent which could not be supplied by the old economy. Th
ey did not realize - indeed, many of them may not have known - that money spent
by landlords or by charitable societies on palliatives was spent in vain. All th
ey saw was that land was being let to sheep-farmers who could pay three times th
e old rent and absorbed small crofts into bigger holdings. To them it seemed tha
t nowadays chiefs preferred sheep to men, to men whose ancestors had served thei
r ancestors for generations. (Mackie, Scotland 317f)

 I like this story:
 [1991:] In the whole shameful episode of the Highland Clearances, no district l
ost more of its people to America [than Sutherland], and by the beginning of the
 Crimean War there were precious few able-bodied men left there. When the Duke o
f Sutherland - whose family had been the most consistently ruthless of evictors
- stood up at a public meeting in 1854 to ask his tenantry f
ds than we have experienced at the hands of your family for the last fifty years
." (Notes Brian McNeill, 'The Back o' the North Wind')

 This is how the Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown puts it in his autobiography:
  [1997:] It is likely that [my mother's] near Mackay ancestors had had to endur
e the 'clearances' of the early nineteenth century, when whole communities of Ga
elic-speaking Highlanders were persuaded or driven out of the valleys where they
 had lived, a poor but free community under the chiefs of Mackay, for many centu
ries. Again, it was 'progress', that religion of nineteenth-century man - that i
rresistible force - that destroyed and uprooted everything that
 seemed to stand in its way. Nothing was sacred or beautiful; only money and pro
fits counted. [...] The clan chief was no longer the clan's protector; he had lo
ng sided with the establishment, and sent his sons to English public schools and
 married among the English or Lowland aristocracy. And it had been pointed out t
o him that it
fishing, it was pointed out to them, was good. It is more than likely that hundr
eds of them had never even set eyes on the sea. Somehow they learned to be boatb
uilders and fishermen. Somehow they learned to read the ferocious and fruitful m
oods of the Pentland Firth. (George Mackay Brown, For the Islands I Sing 21f)

 More background in John Prebble, The Highland Clearances

Thanks to Mudcat for the Digital Tradition!

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