Croftland, Loch Chàrlabhaigh, Isle of Lewis. Via Bluewave
The Isle of Lewis, to the present day, retains a substantial rural population for one reason above all others. It is that, at crucial points in the island’s history, its people were prepared to resist the power of landlordism and insist on the right to remain on the land which they occupied.
Without these struggles, the crofting population would have been virtually eliminated, just as it was in many other areas of the Highlands and Islands. The alternative to resistance would have been even greater emigration, even larger tracts of land under under the unproductive ownership of a few individuals and even greater weakening of the Gaelic language and culture. The heroes – Na Gaisgich- who resisted all of that deserve to be remembered and honoured.
The posts below outline 4 of the major events in this struggle and outlines a little bit about the memorials you can find marking the geophysical points of the events on the islands. Starting with Bernera, for a chronological view you should move on to the Deer Park raids, Aignish and then Gress.
There is an excellent book giving a far more detailed and interesting account by Joni Buchanan called The Lewis Land Struggle – Na Gaisigh.
The cairns and memorials were created thanks to Cuimhneachain nan Gaisgeach (Commemoration of our Land Heroes), a community-based voluntary organisation formed in 1989 on the Island of Lewis under the chairmanship of the late Angus Macleod MBE. Angus was the inspiration and driving force of the project.
The purpose of the organisation was to erect memorials to commemorate the crofters struggle for land law reform and to generate an appreciation of the social history of land reform in the Gaeltacht.
A team looked at three sites on the island associated with particular land raid incidents and the main criteria were that the structures should not intrude on the landscape- they should withstand the weather conditions- have low maintenance – the design should reflect the particular event and should have sufficient signage to explain the history and function of the memorials.
The three incidents selected were
- The Parc Deer Raid, Balallan 1887
- The Aignish Riot, Point 1888
- The Gress Raids, Bhac circa 1915