I was in the far north of Scotland last weekend, visiting Loch Fleet on the eastern coast of Sutherland. Loch Fleet is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and I saw a wide range of bird species there, as well as many seals hauled out on the sand banks.
Towering over the peaceful landscape is a monument on Beinn a’ Bhragaidh (Ben Bhraggie), a hill to the north. I visited Loch Fleet with one of my brothers, who told me that the monument is to the Duke of Sutherland, one of the most notorious of the perpetrators of the Highland Clearances in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Duke of Sutherland was one of those rich landowners who wanted to move crofters from land on which they had lived for centuries, replacing them with the more profitable sheep and deer. Many did not want to leave voluntarily. The Duke of Sutherland had his Factors burn and demolish their homes. Many of the people evicted were sent to Canada, especially Cape Breton Island where a Scottish Gaelic speaking community remains to this day.
The Duke of Sutherland Monument is seen in two ways by the local community. Some see the monument as commemorating the Duke’s cruel deeds in brutally clearing the people from the land and reckon that it should be removed, by force, if necessary. Others see the statue as a reminder of the evil which he carried out, lest people forget about the Clearances. I do wonder if the people of the many cities of Europe destroyed in World War 2 would agree with that viewpoint if a statue of Hitler was placed in their city “to remind them” about what he had done. I think not.
There is a monument which is much more sensitive to the memory of those forced to leave their homes in the Highland Clearances at Helmsdale, further north-east in Sutherland. Called “Exiles”, the bronze statue was unveiled by the then First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond in 2007.
Image: Clearances monument at Helmsdale.
Celtic League Mannin Branch.