Monday, 3 May 2010

From Brunigil to Stiomrabhagh

I spent the afternoon mapping the villages of Pairc, which were cleared in 1821. Using an old map and modern satellite imagery, I could locate Brunigil, Stromos, Airigh Dhomhnuill Chaim, Rias, Scaladale Beag and Mor, Gilvicphaic, Ceannmore, Bagh Ciarach and Bagh Reimsabhaigh, Bunchorcabhig, Glenclaidh, Smosivig, Caolas an Eilean, Valamus and Valamus Beag, Ceann Chrionaig, Brollum, Hamascro, Mol Truisg, Molhagearraidh, Ailtenish, Buhanish, Gearraidh Righsaidh, Ceann Tigh Shealag, Gearraidh Reastail and Stiomrabhagh.

These foreign sounding names once meant home to small groups of people, scattered on the periphery of an area of mountainous moorland, whose highest peak, Beinn Mor, crests 1,700 feet. You can access the map on this link to find out which village each marker represents. Looking at the linked map, you can switch over to satellite view and zoom right into the marker. It will show a ruined house, homestead or even farmhouse. Kinloch Shell (Ceann Tigh Shealag) used to host an inn where the men from the district would come to drink. The ribbed appearance of the land is an indication of the runrig (or lazybed) system of agriculture. A lazybed is a ridge of ground generally used for growing potatoes and sometimes also for raising corn, the seed being laid on the surface and covered with earth dug out of trenches along both sides.

It is nearly 190 years ago since those villages were cleared, and its occupants packed off elsewhere. Not necessarily overseas, but certainly to elsewhere. To date, the evidence of their toil remains visible, even from as far away as outer space. The Eishken Estate, on which these tiny hamlets lie, is now the domain of the toffs, the shooting and fishing fraternity. In a few years, the hills will be desecrated by 33 wind turbines, each standing a third of the height of Beinn Mor, with attendant electricity transmission infrastructure.

Trying to read up on the history of the district pre-1821 yields practically nothing. It is heavily focused on the trials and tribulations of the Clan Mackenzie and the Earl of Seaforth. Nothing on the people who lived off the land. In a way, a distant echo came back from those days in the year 2005. The fifty folk living on the shores of Loch Seaforth objected to the Eishken Windfarm. But they were drowned out by the roar of big business.

I close with an image by BBC Islandblogger Molinginish showing Reimsabhagh.


  1. That's a truly lovely picture ... :- ) and thanks for telling me the meaning of 'Runrig' ...!

  2. If ever there was a contradiction in terms it is "Lazybed"- "Slaverybed" would be much more appropriate. All of these beds had to be made on peat by annually hauling vast quantities of seaweed from the shore and hand digging into the peat in an attempt to make it fertile. It is quite incredible how far up the hillthe lazybeds are to be found. They stubbornly remain as silent tetimony to a hardy breed of people who did little more than survive agianst all odds in a harsh environment and subsistence economy where sheep, deer and playground for nouveau rich industrialists from England ruled the sway.

  3. Gives a new meaning to the term 'boundary changes' in this election week

  4. If it helps, Stiomrabhagh was resettled by landless families from Lemreway and (I think Calbost) from around the 1900 to 1939. I know this because my father was born there. The settlement wasn't seen as a legal crofting one so the government / council didn't pay for a road or even a path. The only way in was by boat or over the hills from Orinsay and inevitably the villagers moved away because of this - all to Lemreway and Orinsay, I belive. The Pairc Historical Society has more on this if anyone is interested.