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Aignish Riot Cairn, Point, Isle of Lewis. Via abd41


The Aignish riot of Jan 1888 was one of the most potentially disastrous confrontations of the period. The raiders gathered at Aignish farm on the Eye peninsula, face to face with police backed by Marines with fixed bayonets. 

With traditional croftland being taken from crofters by landlords and given over to large farms, men found themselves under pressure to house and feed their families as they had done for generations. On Christmas Day 1887, a meeting of landless crofters was held in the Eye Churchyard, Point and it was decided that a deputation should speak to the owner of nearby Aignish farm to inform him that if he did not vacate the farm with his entire stock, within a fortnight, they would drive every beast off the land and reclaim it as their own.
” On New Year’s his dykes started being destroyed and stock was allowed to stray. The police were informed, and one of three men who were engaged in this destruction was caught, after being partly stunned with a baton. Shortly after, a crowd arrived at Aignish Farmhouse demanding the prisoner’s release, and threatening to destroy the farm steading but when Mr Newall appeared with a gun, the men dispersed.
Everyone throughout the Island knew that Monday 9th January, 1888 was the day set for clearing Aignish farm of its stock. The Authorities in Stornoway, after their experience in Park and the strong criticism of their inaction at the time of the Deer Raid, which they did not try to prevent, although they had advance information about it, decided to check any lawlessness by declaring the proposed assembly illegal. Anyone taking part in it would therefore be guilty of the crime of mobbing and rioting, even if not partaking in any act of violence.
Before dawn on the chosen morning 36 men from H.M.S. Seahorse, which happened to be in Stornoway, were landed quietly in Sandwick Bay. As they made for the farm, a Company of the Royal Scots moved quietly from Manor Farm to Melbost Farm. Sheriff Fraser, with Police Superintendent Gordon, Deputy Procurator Fiscal Ross and a couple of policemen were also at Aignish Farm awaiting developments and prepared to deal with any emergency.
The raiders came with the dawn, and immediately began driving the stock in the direction of Stornoway. On seeing this, Sheriff Fraser, a Gaelic speaker, went out to meet them. His earnest appeal to abandon their project fell on deaf ears, as they continued to drive the beasts away. Sheriff Fraser called for the marines, but the raiders paid little attention.
About noon, a party of the raiders clashed with the marines, and eleven of them were taken into custody. When the incensed crowd attempted to free their comrades, it took the bayonets of the marines to keep them at bay. Missiles of all kinds began to fly, and the situation appeared ugly.
It was Sheriff Fraser, ably assisted by Superintendent Gordon, who, by his coolness and tact prevented a dangerous confrontation from having tragic consequences. Many of the raiders were militia men or Royal Naval Reservists, trained in the use of firearms, and capable of taking drastic action against the marines, a branch of the services never popular with the Islanders. There is no doubt that if a single shot had been fired, there would have been much bloodshed.
The Sheriff finally read the Riot Act, and explained its provisions in Gaelic, but this seemed to make no impression on those assembled. The arrival of the Royal Scots, however, made them realise there was little more they could do. Tempers began to cool, and all that the raiders could do was to return home, while the prisoners, strongly guarded by marines and soldiers, were marched to gaol in Stornoway.
Early on the morning of l3th January, the prisoners, handcuffed in pairs, and carefully guarded by police and soldiers, were escorted aboard H.M.S. Jackal, and taken to Edinburgh. They were tried before Lord Craighill, and found guilty of the crime of mobbing and rioting. His Lordship sent them to prison for periods ranging from twelve to fifteen months.”

The site of the memorial is Aignish farm on a ridge overlooking the Eye Church of St Columba to the north and the entrance to Stornoway to the south.

The Design of the cairn reflects the idea of confrontation and takes the form of two stone structures of local stone approx 15 ft in height a few feet apart each with a flat face from which jagged stones protrude these pillars have curved backs and taper in towards the top. The jagged stones face each reflecting the aggression and tension of the event.

The opening day saw a gathering of more than 600. A group of 200 local people in the costume of the period carrying red flags marched from Bayble School to the cairn led by pipers. The crowd formed an audience for a performance of a play The Aignish Riot. The Cairn was opened by John Mackay the son of one of the 13 jailed raiders.