My stupendous friend Robin Grey who has created an incredible show about land rights and their history in the UK, called 3 Acres and a Cow, commissioned me to write a poem about the Highland Clearances in Scotland and when I began to research this dark side of our history and the shame that is so cut into its every tale. I ended up writing a bit of an epic and was unsure about it but when I performed it at Grow Heathrow, which is a project that is fighting for it’s own land rights, I was surprised with how it was met. Please take a look and also at Mr Grey’s latest venture which is called Pedal Folk and you can find out more here: https://www.facebook.com/PedalFolk
‘Sean-na-chie’- A folk historian amongst the Highlanders of Scotland whose calling was to witness and to keep the memory of the experiences of their community alive.
The bleeding clotted words from scarred wounds, become stories that never really heal, often pricked by the memories of cleansing fires and these lesions are cut deep as the mount of Canada Hill.
Where Clansmen climbed with their tartan stripped from waist, land and family, to spy the ships that leave for new endeavours. Eyes of grief capture their brother’s faces in stormy clouds before their last blinkered glimpse of them forever.
Improvements came in the year of the sheep. Sweeping away bristling highland peaks as the ling heather is harvested in August, nature left strange and barren. Waves of pinkish lilac turn into the crushed heads of the women of Strathcarron.
Their punctured stern beauty, beaten by the landlord’s craven militia who charged the unarmed daughters of Ross-shire. Struck them with all their force, mangling limbs and weltering gore lying them down in fields of savage mire.
The act of union that was burned in the dead of Cullodden gave way to George’s butcher to sever tribes through their stomachs being emptied and their tongues being levered. A Duke, devoid of the spirit of kindness triggered the murdering, raping of all that came across his suspicious heart, now maimed and now tethered.
Proscription quietened all song with the gaelic ‘dia duit’ that hoped some God would be with them, no more would the kinsfolk meet to gather tales and rebellion. Ere the shapes of men were culled into chattels for the harsh watery graves of kelp work or bound to be new slaves of the Caribbean.
Displaced crofters held their possessions in the rain, no abode awaiting their weary bodies when their forty mile trek was done. Yet their legs carried many a soul when the sea of flames flooded the blazing houses that scalded for six days till there was none. Their ashes could not dry the cries of dashed hopes that soon crashed on the rocks of Strath point.
The clearance of Barra was an artful plan by cunning Cluny a colonel who called his tenants to a meeting that would never be minuted. With threats of blazing destruction the village of 1,500 breaths, were bound to go to the assembly hall like cattle unaware of the sorrow ahead.
These people were seized, with handcuffs and truncheons that smashed all the power from them. Dragged onto the ship bound for lands that lived over the horizon, some broke free into the sombre ocean, swimming for Scotland. Yet only finding the police’s felling hand and their bankrupt wanderings of Glasgow’s streets.
No one was better than the Duke of Sutherland at pulling the plough up in the rafters and replacing them with the big white sheep in a vile landslide. Their teeth lay many a man upon a shelf and the jaws of Stafford bit a broad mark into the countryside. Chewing the limbs of his thousand dwellers in a greed for the profit of coin over mortals, the pains of revenue he would neither starve nor deny.
With a winter came a death that birthed plans that would rub scorn into foundations of stone that would burrow into the heathland. A monument to honour the first marquis of eviction, slow deaths and dishonours, was built upon a terrifying demand. Those who he had turfed from grass to beach in life were threatened with a spectre of consequence, if they did not raise a shilling to pay for a statue that still sits upon Ben Braggie in sick prominence.
A 100 feet effigy that looks over the skyline of Golspie, still stands as a reminder that some ranks will take the benefits of money over the cares of man. Angers tear into the wind and there is still a hand that would slash its features till gloating eyes became mineral again. Sean-na-chie’s would pray that a hundred years from now this would be a pedestal of crumbling decay, never forgotten but ravaged by the nature he tried in life to tame.
By Keely Mills
Copyright to Keely Mills
February 27th 2014