Rain, rain don’t go away
until May 29th…
You may recall a similar rhyme that April showers bring May flowers, but how about photos for this month’s blogging challenge?
I’ve had some photo opps ruined by rain but this view on Scotland’s northern coast is befitting of the intense heartbreaks felt in the building in the background which is now the Strathnaver Museum.
Once the Parish Church of St. Columba in Bettyhill, Scotland, this museum still contains the pulpit where thousands of names were read during the Scottish Clearances.
While specific records are scant and nonuniform, the Clearances were essentially 100 years (anywhere from 1750 to 1881) of forcibly evicting residents from their homes (mostly to make way for more profitable sheep farming).
According to Rev. Donald Sage on the last Sabbath before the burnings, “…All lifted up their voices and wept, mingling their tears together. It was indeed the place of parting, and the hour. The greater number parted never again to behold each other in the land of the living.”
In addition to exhibits on the crofting life (form of land tenure), and the Clan Mackay (ancient Highland clan of the Strathnaver region), the museum portrays the year of the burnings (1819) where nearly 1,300 people were cleared just from Strathnaver.
In 1819, resident Donald MacLeod witnessed “250 blazing houses (in Strathnaver). Many of the owners were my relatives and all of whom I personally knew; but whose present condition, whether in or out of the flames, I could not tell. The fire lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins.”
The hill grazing areas were also burned to eliminate food for the tenant’s cattle, thereby forcing people to leave.
According to one elderly crofter, “Most of our cattle died the first winter, as we had no provision for them. We got no compensation for our burnt houses, not any aid to build new ones, or trench land.”
Another man recalls the horror of seeing a house set ablaze while an elderly man laid in bed. (The tragedy hastened his demise even though friends rushed to his rescue.)
Some of the cleared residents were told they would have a new home downstream once they placed all of their belongings on a raft but the raft was then burned too. Many residents starved and froze to death huddled in the ruins of their former homes while still others were seized, shackled, and loaded onto ships for America.
An aging crofter, William Mackay recounts the anguish, “I may state that I have travelled a large portion of the four quarters of the globe, lived among heathens and barbarians where I saw many cruel scenes, but never witnessed such revolting cruelty as I did on Strathnaver, except one case in the rebellion of Canada. I knew Donald Macleod, the author of The Gloomy Memoirs of Sutherland, to be honest and truthful, and what I read in this book was nothing but the simple truth.”
During the peak of the Clearances, as many as 2,000 crofts a day were burned to the ground – some of which had been inhabited by the same families for as long as 500 years. It’s estimated that there were actually many more than the documented 170,571 Highlanders ejected from their homeland between 1783 and 1881.
The tragic stories within the museum elicited tears of sorrow while the blustery, pounding rain mirrored the brutal energy of Strathnaver’s history that encased my heart throughout the day. It was an inescapable feeling — like the nearly invisible pollen that smothers one’s being in the spring. Sadly, cruelties such as this span the globe and time.
Perhaps you have some rainy photos, narrative or music to share too. It’s easy to join in. Just add Changing Focus blogging challenge as a tag in your response (by May 29th) and provide the link to it in a comment on this post.
Once the rain has soaked into the ground,
you’ll be changing focus
to flowers abound.
The featured image was taken inside a Scottish cafe while waiting (hoping) the rain would slow down.