The second Hebridean Book Festival Faclan is being held in Stornoway's arts centre An Lanntair this week. Unlike last year, I am not attending any of the lectures, as I am unfamiliar with the names. I did have a look round the books on sale in the foyer of the centre, but only came away with a transcription of a lecture, given by genealogist Bill Lawson 10 months ago in Gravir, South Lochs. He asserted that Lewis was not as badly affected by the Clearances as other parts of northern Scotland. I was glad to be able to read his well reasoned account, but that doesn't mean I agree with him.
It is immaterial whether a clearance leads to resettlement elsewhere in the island, elsewhere in Scotland or over in Nova Scotia, Canada. It remains a major upheaval. Whether the clearance was voluntary, engineered (through the tried and tested method of bumping up the rent deliberately to beyond the tenants' means), facilitated (passage paid for) - it cannot and should not be negated and belittled the way Mr Lawson does.
I am not a native of these parts, and perhaps can only sense from afar the distress and pain felt by those who were kicked out. I am currently reading a book I bought at last year's Faclan called The Crofters' Trail, which is about clearances all over Scotland.
The link to the present jumped out at me as I was reading a chapter about a clearance in North Uist. In 1987, the author, David Craig, visited the island just as many small island schools were being closed down. One islander complained to him: "It's just like the evictions, this closing of the schools over the children's heads".
There was talk earlier in the week of another round of school closures. I was baffled by the attitude of some councillors, oblivious to their own islands' history, and the sensitivities involved. I was pleased that others were not so blinkered, and voted for consultation on the matter.