highland clearances

Scotland’s Missing Histories – Episode 2 – Mairi Mhor nan Oran (with Liz MacRae Shaw)

Maira_Mhor_nan_OranAnd when I am in the boards
my words will be a prophecy.
They will return, the stock of the crofters
Who were driven over the sea.

And the aristocratic ‘beggars’
will be routed as they (the crofters) were.
Deer and sheep will be carted away
and the glens will be tilled;

A time of sowing and a time of reaping,
and a time to reward the robbers.
And the cold ruined houses
will be built up by our kin

Over the years I have had many conversations in which there has been the complaint that large chunks of Scottish history, both events and people, have been left out of our education.

I therefore thought that, in addition to our other shows,  it was about time that some of these stories and people should get some more publicity, and so here is the second in a new series of podcasts- Scotland’s Missing Histories.

For the second episode I spoke with author Liz MacRae Shaw about the life of a woman so remarkable that they named her several times – Mairi Mhor nan Oran, Mairi Mhor, Big Mary of the Songs, Mary MacPherson and others.

Liz wrote a biography of a woman who lived through and fought against, and then to reverse the highland clearances. Mary also went to prison despite very possibly being innocent, and did something that Beyoncè et al tend to do these days long before it was normal, Mhairi’s was not a normal life.

Mairi Mhor 1

Hope you enjoy…

You can download here if you right click THIS LINK and “save as”

You can listen to the show online at its web page or you can subscribe with itunes. We can alse be found on youtube and on facebook too.

These podcasts are independently minded and independently funded, you can help to keep them going by making a donation.

If there is any story from Scottish history that you feel people need to know more about, leave a note in the comments or email me and I will try to put something together.

The Scottish Independence Podcast 57 – Land Reform

?????????????????????This is another one of those No comment, you’ll have to listen, episodes.

Hope you enjoy…

This is the direct download link (right click and save as)

You can listen to the show online at its web page

Or you can subscribe with itunes

We are also now to be found on youtube

P.S. If you’d like to help this and the other podcasts keep going, please go here.


Saturday Matinee 34 – The Cheviot The Stag & the Black Black Oil

I have to confess I had never even heard of this until recently, which is a shame because it appears I missed the unmissable.

I think if you make the time to watch this you’ll be stunned at how much of it is still relevant at this precise moment in time.

There’s also a rather interesting line in there about The Scotsman newspaper.


In the pub down the road from me ( the Lios Mor) , if you go to the toilet there are three names on the urinal. You are invited to show what you think of the people whose names are there by doing exactly what you normally do at a urinal.

There is an explanation of why they are there written on the urinal but as I didn’t particularly want to stand writing it down next to people doing their business I thought I would give you some other information about them…

Two of those names are Patrick Sellars and George Granville Leveson-Gower (the 1st duke of Sutherland).

This is to do with the highland clearances. For those not in the know about Scottish history, the highland clearances was the forced removal of the population of the Scottish highlands from their land to make way for grazing animals. This was done in a particularly brutal way. It was done at the behest of rich English and Scottish landowners.

Many of the displaced people moved to Glasgow or elsewhere in southern Scotland but many went abroad. If you are in the USA or Canada and have Scottish ancestry it is highly probable that your ancestors left Scotland because of the highland clearances.

 The duke is infamous for in large part initiating the highland clearances. Patrick Sellar was the butcher-in-chief. Of course, like most murderers and tyrants he claimed he was doing it in the name of civilisation…

… a man who became a byword for brutality and inhumanity while carrying out his instructions. That man was Patrick Sellar. He and his compatriot, James Loch were ruthless but efficient buisnessmen. The name of Patrick Sellar is perhaps the most hated name in this woeful tale. Sellar wrote of Lord and Lady Stafford:“Lord and Lady Stafford were pleased humanely to order the new arrangement of this country. That the interior should be possessed by Cheviot sheperds, and the people brought down to the coast and placed in lots of less than three acres, sufficient for the maintenance of an industrious family, pinched enough to cause them to turn their attention to the fishing. [of herring] A most benevolent action, to put these barbarous Highlanders into a position where they could better associate together, apply themsleves to industry, educate their children, and advance in civilisation.” In 1807, the Most Noble Marquess began evicting his Scottish Highland tenants beginning with a trifling ninety families: men, women and children. This can be seen as a learning experience.

In 1814 during the clearance of Strathnaver, Patrick Sellar ensured his place in history. His methods – on the order of his employers – was reminiscent of the ‘Butcher’ Cumberland. Tenants were ordered out of their homes which were then set ablaze. If anyone was slow getting out or went back for possessions, the fire was started with them inside. All possessions, including furniture were burnt. Women, children, old men and animals stood in huddled, fightened groups whilst the savage work went on. To make the land more suitable for the Sheep, the burned homes were levelled so the Cheviots could browse with ease. This also made it impossible for the tenant to rebuild or take refuge in the remains of their homes. The land was to be devoid of all human habitation as not to intrude upon the grazing sheep.

The evicted lost all their possessions, their clothes and cooking utensils, not to mention their dignity and sometimes their lives. Now they had no place to go, and nobody thought (or cared) to provide them with one. They were, as was said at the time, “driven out like dogs.”

In one incident, a woman of perhaps more than ninety years old, was to old and weak to be moved from her home. The neighbours pleaded for Patrick Sellar, the agent, to show mercy for the old woman. Sellar responded,

“Damn her, the old witch. She has lived too long. Let her burn.”

Her house was put to the torch, even the sheets on her bed were set ablaze. Local clansmen and clanswomen tried to rescue her by taking her burned body to a nearby barn, but she died five days later in agony, as surely murdered as anybody could be.

One of those burned out of Grummore was ninety year old William MacKay. He remembered the Jacobite days and had already been evicted once. His wife, Janet, died as a result. When he was evicted again from Grummore he went to the churchyard and stood over her grave and said “Well, Janet, the Countess will never filt (evict) you again.” He turned and walked, alone, to Wick where he died alone and unmourned.

An elderly woman, who was partially paralyzed and in absolute pain if moved or if she tried to walk, was ordered out of her home by Lord Stafford’s agent (Sellar). She could only sit in a motionless chair. Sellar told the neighbours she must immediately be removed by her friends or the constables (Lowland sheperds) would be ordered to do it. Her family lifted her from the chair, and four boys of the township cried as they carried her out in a blanket. As she was taken towards the coast,

Sellar was eventually put on trial but

the trial was delayed for nearly a year. The forty witnesses against him had been interviewed by a sheriff-Substitute McKid, but only 15 were called to give evidence. There were nine witnesses on Sellar’s behalf, all of them his own men.

The Judge, in summing up to the Jury, lent heavily on the low character of the chief prosecution witness, a tinker, William Chisholm, who had seen his mother-in-law die during the evictions. The middle-class jury brought back a Not Guilty verdict in just 15 minutes. The Jury had been bought; bribed by the rich and powerful Lord and Lady Sutherland, although this could not be proven at the time. The Sheriff-Substitute was driven from office, and even sued by Sellar, and simply disappeared. Sellar was a free man.

No compensation was paid in respect of homes destroyed, far less the personal possessions destroyed. Lord Stafford could have easily cleared his estates in a far more humane way, for his possessions were vast. Perhaps they could have been given the time to resettle on the coasts, although that land might have been useless, at least it would have been an attempt. No attempt appears to have ever been made, one wasn’t needed for these savage ‘Highland barbarians’.

The fact is that, even though Patrick Sellar was brought to trial, even though it was a both a travesty and a miscarriage of justice, he was not the prime mover. His employers should have been in the dock with him. They should also – all of them- been found guilty – of multiple counts of murder.

So you now know what you need to do the next time you go for a piss.