June 27, 2008 § 8 Comments
Gress Raiders Memorial, Gress, Isle Of Lewis. Via abd
After having fought and faced the horrors of the First World War on behalf of Queen and country, crofters returned to Lewis to make good the promise of land and homes made to them by the government. However they found none and in their place farms who’s ownership was supported by the island’s new proprietor and soapman Lord Leverhulme. These returning ex-service men were denied crofting land and their condition increased the tensions within the community and highlighted the problems of land usage.
The farms of Coll and Gress fell under particular attention as demands were made that the land here was divided once again into crofts and given to the people to work. Leverhulme, who despised crofting and whose vision of Lewis’ future was as an industrial island of fish canning and milk production, would have none of it. The radicalism of the land raiders was not misplaced political dogma, it was forged in the experiences of their starving parents and fired in the trenches of the first world war. They knew the justice of their cause even if Leverhulme could not understand it and once again a series of land raids ensued.
The resultant battles saw the raiders take and withdraw from the land a number of times under duress of arrest and pressure from Leverhulme who used threats of employment over local workers on his schemes amongst other tactics. The raiders determination eventually won through and Leverhulme eventually gave up the farms at Coll and Gress. In 1922 the Board Of Agriculture took over the farms and divided them into over 100 new crofts, establishing crofting communities which, which thanks to will of men like the raiders, survive to this day.
The design for the this memorial site posed problems for it’s creators and required more discussion with the local committee. Several amendments were made to the original design.
The site selected was a flat sandy area by the river Gress below a main road and adjacent to the Tolsta bridge. The bridge became the focus of the conflict of 1918/20 between the landowner Lord Leverhume. with his plans for industrialisation and a crofting community struggling to maintain its traditional way of life.
The final proposal for the work took the from of a three part stone structure reminiscent of an upturned boat intersected by a rectangular stone column approx 12ft in height. The stone works were built on a raised earth platform surrounded by a ditch and trench (a reference to the Great War and the promise of a return to a land fit for heroes) The trench was planted with Ash and birch and the mound seeded with wild flowers.
The policies of Leverhulme did have supporters particularly in the non-crofting areas. The centre column was constructed with dressed stone and referred to these differing perspectives. The outer Cairns was of flat beach stone curving inwards as they reached the top of the memorial (a technically complex part of the build.) The opening of the memorial took the form of speeches and the singing of a Gaelic psalm.
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.