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Home Uncategorized Cruelty, Grievance, Denial

Cruelty, Grievance, Denial

William Kenefick
The Highland Clearances: The People, Landlords and Rural Turmoil, by Eric Richards, Birlin, Edinburgh, 377 pp, £9.99, ISBN: 978-1841580401. Clearances and Improvement: Land, Power and People in Scotland 1700-1900, by TM Devine, John Donald, Edinburgh, 284 pp, £16.99, ISBN: 978-0859766951 The drama of Highland history since 1700 has attracted the interest of many historians and the legacy of the clearances in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries still remains a live issue in Scotland. As Eric Richards suggests, the clearances were the “most rugged and painful of the many attempted ‘solutions’ to the problem of how to maintain a population on marginal and infertile land” at a time of rapid social and economic transformation of Scottish society, when even the most benevolent of landlords were faced with hard choices. Indeed, TM Devine stresses that the term “revolution” is entirely fitting when referring to the sheer pace and impact of this period of change and the drive in particular towards agricultural improvement. Thousands of families lost land or were denied access to it and with this development and the rise of individualism the country witnessed the “death of old rural societies which had formed Scotland’s character for many generations”. As both authors note, this left a deep and lasting impact on the “folk memory of Scotland” and a “terrible scar on the Highland and Gaelic imagination” as people fell victim to enclosure and the growth of large-scale farming or moved to make way for cattle, sheep or deer. The days of the clearances are long gone and they may have passed from living memory, but the “passionate indignation lives on, swollen rather than weakened by the passage of time”, for as both authors would agree, the suject “rankles still in the collective memory of Scotland and especially among Scots abroad”. Richards and Devine are two historians who between them have devoted well over sixty years of research and writing into the great transformation of the rural world of Scotland, and the Highlands in particular, between the middle decades of the eighteenth and those of the nineteenth centuries. Richards’s book concentrates overwhelmingly on the impact and process of rural change on the Highlands, and the nature of the clearances, but he also places these events within a broader European context of rural transformation during this period. He “draws liberally” on his earlier two-volume History of the Highland Clearances (1982 and 1985), but as he notes…

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