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The Highland Clearances Trail
By Rob Gibson
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Years ago a writer spoke up for ‘the great Duke of Sutherland, whose Highland Clearances might well rank as the first liberal or enlightened act by any major landlord in the history of Scotland. The conditions of the peasants squatting on poor land, which they were too lazy or drunk to farm was totally abject. They lived amid piles of their own excrement in godless squalor breeding like rabbits, drinking like fishes and dying like flies. When the Duke moved these wretched, murdering drunken people to better land on the coast and restored the Highlands to their pristine beauty he was much inspired by simple philanthropy.’
This statement was not made by some 19th century callous landowner, but by Auberon Waugh in 1996 in the Daily Telegraph. Historian and bon viveur Michael Fry has also recently claimed the Duke was misunderstood, and landowners were acting in the interests of Highland communities during the Clearances.
Professor Tom Devine, holder of the Sir William Fraser Chair of Scottish History at Edinburgh University, recently told officials a complete shake-up of history provision in schools was needed so that pupils properly understand Scotland’s place in the world. Devine recommend more time should spent on studying the Clearances.
"The real facts of the Clearances have been neglected for too long. I hope this book will fuel an overwhelming support for the permanent place of the Clearances in our school curriculum"...ROB GIBSON
It is obvious there is a need for an investigation into the nature and scale of the Clearances. The facts have always been subject to revision, but now Rob Gibson’s The Highland Clearances Trail systematically documents dates, places, names and numbers and in doing so nails the lie the Clearances were somehow a benevolent act by paternalistic landowners.
The Highland Clearances Trail was originally published by Highland Heritage in 1981, when Inverness Tourist Office banned the booklet from its stock, stating that it was ‘unsuitable for tourists’. Today Luath Press has published a much enlarged version with five times as many entries as the original pamphlet. It is now an invaluable guide to the reality of the Clearances and their shattering effect on Gaelic culture.
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AUTHOR: Rob Gibson has been an SNP MSP for
the Highlands and Islands since 2003 and is an enthusiastic member of
the Environment and Rural Development Committee. His interest in
Scottish history has encompassed both Highland hillwalking and land
reform. He has published various books including Plaids and Bandanas:
From Highland Drover to Wild West Cowboy in 2003.