Women’s role fighting Scottish clearances recognised
Summary of sotry from BBC News, November 9, 2011
The role of women in the eighteenth and nineteenth century Highland Clearances in Scotland is being brought to light by historians.
Widows and soldiers’ wives in many cases led the fight against landowners who were trying to clear them off their land in order to make way for new farms.
Between 1750 and 1855 the Clearances saw families fighting to keep control of the land that they had lived on for generations.
The Crofters’ War in the 1880s also saw a renewed struggle for land rights.
Incidents often saw women defending their land by pelting police officers with mud and stones.
Historian Elizabeth Ritchie says the women’s role still isn’t fully understood.
Women were often on the front line because their husbands had died or were away serving in the Napoleonic Wars.
Victorian Gaelic poet Mairi Mhor nan Oran (Big Mary of the Songs) wrote of the women:
“And the gentlest women most graceful in movement, their heads were broken on the braes of Beinn Li.”
At the time, the UK government’s under-secretary for Scotland described the woman as “viragos” – aggressive women – and said that they had been treated “too chivalrously” in the past.
The 200th anniversary of the Clearances in the Strath of Kildonan is approaching in 2013, and the Timespan Museum in Sutherland has been gathering information about the women.
Dr Ritchie says: “I do think their stories have been forgotten and I think there is scope to tell some of these stories.”
Maggie Craig, author of Damn Rebel Bitches, a book focusing on Jacobite women in 1745-46, says: “I think we often forget that nowadays we lead comparatively quite comfortable lives, but running a house was a really difficult occupation in those days because you didn’t have shops, you had to grow your own food.”
“The home was so important to women of the 1700s. I can see them defending their homes to their last breath.”
“That was what the whole aim of their lives was about – it was about preserving the home.”