The Bicentenary of the Strathnaver Clearances is supported by the local Highland Councillors and has received funding through the Ward Discretionary Budget.
Strathnaver Museum’s programme of events to commemorate the infamous Clearances of Strathnaver commenced in Bettyhill on Saturday night with a Bicentennial Ceilidh in the Public Hall. Fear an tigh at the event was Iain Mackay, better known as Ian Inshlampie, a highly appropriate choice given that he is the son of the first, and only, shepherd to be employed on the Rhifail Sheep Stock Club, established by the Congested Districts Board in relation to the resettlement of Strathnaver by its native people. Topping the bill were the young musicians of Feis air an Oir, ably assisted by the All Welcome Ceilidh Band, whose core membership were the children of Janette Mackay of Strathy, with anyone welcome to join. Some did, including David Macleod of Achuvoldarch, who ordinarily plays with the Melness Band, and Shona Munro of Bettyhill who also opened the event on her pipes. Brother and sister Duncan and Rhona Macleod, of Bonar Bridge, also direct descendants of the dispossessed of Strathnaver, demonstrated their musical virtuosity, as did some impromptu contributors, including Lisa Macdonald of Helmsdale, with her rendering of ‘The Rose’ and Janette Mackay herself, who led community singing well in to the night.
On Sunday afternoon, the corrugated iron church at Syre was crowded for a special service. Though constructed in 1890, many years after the clearances, to serve the tiny population of shepherds and estate employees then living in the Strath, this was a very appropriate place for commemoration. A few yards away, at Langdale, the Reverend Donald Sage, then minister at Achness further up the Strath, preached what has become immortalised as ‘the last sermon in Strathnaver’ to his parishioners on the point of their eviction and wrote a moving record of that day, and the events that followed, in ‘Memorabilia Domestica’, an account of his own various ministries, and those of his father and grandfather, which was first published in 1889, twenty years after his death and almost fifty years after he completed the manuscript.
A brief outline of the background to the Strathnaver Clearances was given by local historian, Elliot Rudie, and the service itself was conducted by the Reverend Leslie Goskirk, himself a descendent of tenants evicted elsewhere in Sutherland, who took as his text the same verses from the Book of Revelation used by Sage on that fateful day. To mark the fact that, in the pre-Clearance Strath, the language of the entire population was Gaelic, there was also a selection of readings of psalms from the Gaelic Bible from Christine Stokes of Tongue and the Melvich Gaelic Choir, together with a contingent from the Lairg Choir, led by Raymond Bremner of Thurso and Graham Campbell of Halladale, contributed three songs on relevant themes in the authentic tongue of the Gael. Where singing in English was concerned, this was done in the style once common throughout Scotland, and dating from before universal literacy, with a precentor, Richard Bradley, ‘taking out the line’.
All of which added up to a moving and memorable introduction to the Museum’s commemorative programme which continues this week and next with a varied series of events along the North Coast culminating on the evening of Wednesday the 6th August with a lecture at the Farr Edge in Bettyhill by Dr. Elizabeth Ritchie of the University of the Highlands and Islands entitled ‘Why did the Clearances happen?’
Strathnaver Museum was established by historian Dr Ian Grimble and a group of dedicated local volunteers who wished to preserve and protect their local heritage. We opened our doors to the public on the first of April 1976 and to this day the Museum remains a volunteer led organisation. Our volunteers are our greatest asset and through their combined and extensive knowledge the Museum explores the Highland Clearances, the story of the Clan Mackay and the agricultural story of the area.
As you can imagine we were delighted to be told last month that our application to the Voluntary Action Fund for a Volunteer Support Grant was successful! Our grant will enable us to develop more opportunities for volunteering through creating exciting outreach projects across the whole of Mackay Country. We know that it can be difficult to find the time to do all the things people want to do but we will create flexible and worthwhile volunteering opportunities for everyone.
People volunteer their time for lots of different reasons from getting out and meeting people, expanding their skills and experience, to look good on a CV or for their own personal interest. So if you are interested in volunteering at the Strathnaver Museum, for whatever reason, we would love to hear from you!
To find out more drop Fiona a email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In 2014 we will be talking mostly about the Strathnaver Clearances. In fact we will be talking about the Strathnaver Clearances an awful lot as this year marks 200 years since that most brutal episode in our history. How can you get involved? Easy. We will have events and activities for everyone to take part in, just keep an eye out for our updates on this blog, Facebook, Twitter or sign up for our Newsletter to make sure you don’t miss a thing!
First let me tell you about our Needed on a Journey project which everyone can get involved in, even if you are a thousand miles away from Bettyhill! How? Let me explain. Last week our volunteers’ got started on the preparations for the Needed on a Journey exhibition with project Curator Alison Boyle which will be launched on the 17 May and will feature Clearance era objects from the Museum and objects loaned from local people. Take part or come along and see the exhibition during the year!
But what about those of you whose ancestors left these shores many years ago? What did your ancestors take with them? Often they boarded a boat with few physical objects, what was important they carried in their heads. Their memories of the country they were leaving behind. The stories they were told as children. The songs they learnt from their fathers. The recipes they learnt from their mothers. What they carried with them was their heritage and culture. We want to hear from our cousins abroad and share YOUR family story. What has your ancestors given to you of their Scottish heritage and culture? Perhaps you have some photographs of your ancestors? If you can’t visit us we would still love to hear from you!
For more information about the project or to send us your story please email us at email@example.com.
The Needed on a Journey project is part of My Heart’s in the Highlands Highland Homecoming 2014 Initiative and lots of events and activities are planned across Highland and Moray during the year. To find out about the project and the iphone App which will list all events have a look at the website.
Strathnaver Museum is an independent museum located in Bettyhill on the north coast of Scotland. The Museum explores life in the ancient province of Strathnaver from pre-historic to modern times.
One of the main themes that the Museum explores is the 19th Century Clearances which saw thousands of Highlanders removed forcibly from their homes. These many thousands left the land which had sustained their families for countless generations to begin new lives on the coast, in the industrial south or on far and unfamiliar shores.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the Strathnaver Clearances that saw the glens emptied of people to be replaced with sheep. We will be commemorating these events throughout 2014 with a series of exhibitions and events remembering the past and looking towards the future as we welcome the world to our beautiful part of Scotland during Homecoming 2014.