Land Struggle: Pairc
June 27, 2008 § Leave a Comment
The Parc Memorial. Balallan. District of Lochs
In November, 1887, several hundred crofters from the Pairc region staged a deer raid in protest at their treatment by The Matheson’s, landlords of the Lewis Estate.
Prior to the raid, many Pairc townships had been systematically cleared to give greater access to land that was regarded primarily as deer hunting ground. The boundaries of the deer forest widened as townships were cleared and tenants marginalised; crofters working the land for survival were regarded as a hindrance to sporting pleasure, and were treated accordingly.
The raid was planned and co-ordinated by six men, amongst them Donald Macrae, the schoolmaster from Baile Ailein (Balallan). Already an eloquent spokesman for the Land League, Macrae also alerted sympathetic journalists in Glasgow with a three-word telegram: HUNT IS UP.
The raiders met Mrs Platt, the sporting tenant of Pairc, as they approached their agreed starting point. She invited them to Eisgean Lodge for food and drink. They declined and commenced with the hunt. In protest at the loss of their land, they killed a large number of deer, many of which were distributed to the needy.
They spent the evening talking to journalists and explaining their grievances. Throughout the two-day raid, they maintained good relations with Mrs Platt and her gamekeepers, and went quietly to their homes when ordered to do so after the Sheriff had read the Riot Act.
Nevertheless, the authorities panicked and sent a contingent of police and marines to quell what they thought was a full-scale rebellion. Six were arrested and sent to trial in Edinburgh.
Widely regarded as savage and ignorant folk, the crofters distinguished themselves during the trial by their eloquent arguments for a fairer deal from the Lewis Estate. Their counsel successfully argued that no riot had taken place since the men were spread out over an area of 144 square miles. Although the judge was hostile in his summing up, all six were acquitted to loud cheers from the courtroom gallery. Donald Macrae was carried shoulder high through the streets and the raiders were entertained in the Prince of Wales Hotel in the evening.
Seven years later, the crofters were lighting bonfires to celebrate the Report of the Deer Forest Commissioners (PDF), which recommended a great reduction in the Highland areas given over to deer forest. Today, most of Pairc is still a sporting estate in private ownership.
In 1994, a cairn commemorating the Deer Raid was commissioned by a group called Cuimhneachain nan Gaisgeach (Commemoration of our Land Heroes). This impressive monument stands at the edge of Baile Ailein on the Tairbeart (Tarbert) to Steornabhagh road. Designed by renowned Scottish artist Will MacLean, the cairn has been built by stonemason Jim Crawford – a fitting tribute to one of the most peaceful, yet influential protests made in the history of the Crofters’ Wars.
The site chosen for the memorial was a rock outcrop above the township of Balallan with view of the landscape of South Lewis.
The cairn is a circular structure 12ft in height built from reclaimed and beach stones it has three entrances that align with the three districts involved with the raid: Kinloch, North Lochs and South Lochs.
Internally a circular stairway leads to a viewing platform where three raised marker stones are set into the wall head each pointing to sites where significant events in the narrative of the raid took place.
1 East to Ruadh-Chleit. Reading of the Riot Act
2 South East Seaforth Head Meeting of the Raiders and landowner.
3 South Airidh Dhomhnaill Chaim Raiders Camp site
Built into the wall are numbered directional stones taken from the crofts of the raiders
The Parc memorial opened on 26th May 1994 with a whole day of celebration the culmination of four years work. The opening began with a two mile march through Balallan to the cairn led by the descendents of the raiders with three pipers at their head followed by a crowd of more that 500. A pipe tune had been written for the occasion by Ian Crichton – The Deer Raid Marchers and played by Col. Peter MacGillvary. There followed a re-enactment of the events of Nov 1887. During the speeches the marchers enjoyed a taste of venison cooked over an open fire and the day concluded with a sell out Gaelic concert in Balallan village hall.