• Alex Macaulay
Location:
Paiblesgarry
Date:
Wednesday 17th February 2010
Reference:
SWI2010/008

Alex:

Uill, far a bheil sinne ann an seo an-diugh, ’s e tac a bh’ ann, tac le Baile Raghnaill. Bha dà thac aige còmhla, Paiblisgearraidh agus Baile Raghnaill, agus bha aon sia no seachd a ghinealaichean dhe na Dòmhnallaich sin anns an àite agus bha, bha iad nam bàillidhean ’s nan uachdarain fad iomadh bliadhna. Agus mar a thachair an rèid no an reubalt ann an seo an dèidh a’ Chiad Chogaidh, feumaidh sinn a dhol air ais gu mun do thòisich an cogadh, agus mar a chaidh fearann a ghealltainn le Lloyd George dha na saighdearan a bhiodh a’ tilleadh às an Fhraing, às a’ Chogadh Mhòr, gum biodh oighreachdan leithid seo air am bristeadh dhaibh nan croitean ’s gum faigheadh iad beòshlaint agus croitean dhaib’ fhèin.

     
 

Agus mar a thachair an seo, bha am baile ri taobh Phaiblisgearraidh, Cnoc an Torrain agus am Baile Mòr, croitean beaga bochda agus tuilleadh ’s a’ chòir sluaigh agus bha iad nan leth-chroitean feadhainn aca. Agus bha na gillean air tilleadh às an arm no às a’ chogadh agus chaidh a ghealltainn dhaibh leis an Riaghaltas gum faigheadh iad croitean agus gun ceannaicheadh an Riaghaltas dhaibh am fearann. Ach bha cruinneachadh ann an sgoil an Ceann a’ Bhàigh bliadhna ro an dèidh a’ chogaidh, an dèidh a’ Chogaidh Mhòir agus bha Ball Pàrlamaid ann Dotair Moireach, agus bha e a’ dèanamh òraid ann an sin agus dh’innis e dhaibh mura rèideadh iad am fearann nach fhaigheadh iad gu sìorraidh e. ’S e sin fearann Baile Raghnaill. Agus sin mar a thachair. Bha na gillean an uair sin aontach gu leòr a bhith a’ tighinn a-staigh a Phaiblisgearraidh dìreach a dh’aindeoin dè a dhèanadh Baile Raghnaill. ’S rinn iad sin. Thàinig iad a-nall air a’ chrìch, agus ron an sin agus linntean roimhe sin, tighinn a-nall tarsainn air a’ chrìoch gu tac Bhaile Raghnaill, bha e na b’ fhasa dhut a dhol dhan àite bu ro-naomh. Chan fhaigheadh duine faisg air agus thàinig iadsan a-nall agus chuir iad suas an sprèidh a bh’ aig Baile Raghnaill air fearann Phaiblisgearraidh suas a Bhaile Raghnaill, agus thòisich iad fhèin air treabhadh na talmhainn. Thug Baile Raghnaill an uair sin a-mach Raghnall Mòr mar a chanadh iad ris. Thug e a-mach toirmeasg orra gun tighinn, gun tighinn fad mìos no dhà às dèidh nan crìochan aige no gun rachadh ‘s dòcha an cur dhan phrìosan no leithid sin. Agus, ach cha do dh’èist iadsan ri mòran dheth. Dh’èist iad an toirmeasg agus chùm iad orra a’ treabhadh, a’ cur agus chaidh iad mu dheireadh gu cùirt air a shàilleabh, agus ’s e bristeadh toirmisg, bristeadh toirmisg a bha nan aghaidh agus cha robh duine aca ag àicheadh sin, agus fhuair iad dà mhìos prìosain an Inbhir Nis. Agus, ach cha ghabhadh … cha robh math dhaibh càin a phàigheadh. Dh’fheumadh iad a dhol dhan phrìosan.

     
 

Agus sin mar a bha, ach fhad ’s a bha iad ann fad trì seachdainean, cheannaich an Riaghaltas an talamh bhuapa, o Bhaile Raghnaill agus mar sin fhuair iad am fearann gu dligheach an uair sin mar a gheall, mar a gheall an t-uachdranas ron chogadh. Rinneadh ochd croitean am Paiblisgearraidh agus ochd eile am Baile Raghnaill, agus tha mise ann an seo – sliochd fear dhe na ‘raiders’ agus tha feadhainn eile timcheall fhathast ann, ach bidh mi a’ smaoineachadh nach dèanadh mòran an-diugh a leithid siud a rud, a dhol a phrìosan airson na tha thalamh an seo. Ach siud mar a thachair.

     
 

Well, where we are here today, it was a tack, a tack belonging to Balranald. He had two tacks at the same time, Paiblesgarry and Balranald, and there were some six or seven generations of those MacDonalds in the place and they were, they were factors and landlords for many years. And the way the raid or the riot took place here after the First World War, we need to go back to before the war started and the way land was promised by Lloyd George to the soldiers returning from France, from the Great War, that estates such as these would be divided up for them into crofts and that they would have a livelihood and a croft to themselves.

 

And the way things happened here, the township beside Paiblesgarry, Knockintorran and Baile Mòr, small poor crofts with too many people and they were half-crofts, some of them. And the boys had returned from the army or from the war, and the government had promised them that they would be given crofts and that the government would buy the land for them. But there was a meeting in the school in Bayhead a year after the war, after the Great War and a Member of Parliament attended, Doctor Murray, and he was making a speech and told them that if they did not raid the land they would never get it. That was the Balranald land. The boys were then agreeable enough to come into Paiblesgarry in spite of what Balranald might do. And they did that. They came across the boundary, and before that and for generations before that, coming across the boundary to the Balranald tack, it was easier for you to get into the holy of holies. Nobody could get near it, but they came across and they put the animals that Balranald had on Paiblesgarry land, up to Balranald and they themselves started ploughing the land. Balranald then brought out Big Ronald as he was called. He put an interdict on them to prevent them coming across, not to come near his boundaries for a whole month or two or that they would go to prison or suchlike. And they did not listen to much of it. They heard the interdict but they kept on ploughing and planting, and they eventually had to go to court because of it, and breaking the interdict, breaking the interdict was the charge against them. Not one of them denied that and they received two months imprisonment in Inverness. And, but they couldn’t ... they were not allowed to pay a fine. They had to go to prison.

 

And that is how it was, but whilst they were in prison, after three weeks the government bought the land from them, from Balranald, and so they got the land legally then as was promised, as the government had promised before the war. Eight crofts were designed in Paiblesgarry and another eight in Balranald, and I am here – the progeny of one of the ‘raiders’ and there are others still around. But I often think that not many nowadays would do such a thing, go to prison on behalf of the amount of land here. But that is how it was.

 

When they came over you see from Baile Mòr, the raiders, they found Balranald farm workers seaweeding, hauling seaweed up on to Paiblesgarry machair. What they did, you see ... they were probably known to them, you see? In a small place like this you’d know who they are. They just went to the carts and tipped them over where they were and sent them home, sent them up to Balranald. This is terrible, to do that, to Balranald. But they’d forgotten, you see ... certainly twenty years, maybe ten years, previously they wouldn’t have done it but they’d been four years in the trenches so what do they care after that about Balranald, about anybody, if you know what I mean? Absolutely ... They weren’t insulated Highlanders anymore, they’d seen the world such as it was. It moulded their characters to such an extent that authority like that was irrelevant after what they saw, you get me? That made it ... My grandfather, my dad used to say, my grandfather would cringe at what he had done. It was cruel to do that and they idolised Macdonald and ... plenty factors were idolised and estate owners because of who they were. But not after France, oh no.

Simon:

So, in Aignish it was very much the lack of food was what stimulated the raid then.

     

Alex:

Is that right?

     

Simon:

That’s the way Alasdair MacLeod talked. The fishing failed and they didn’t have access to the farmland and that was what drove them to it. But here, this was after the war so, you’re saying, in part, just the experience of being at war was one of the things that led people to challenge the way things were set up?

     

Alex:

Yes. They went away in their droves from these ... The population was very, very high on small crofts and they were going away. Went away and joined the Cameron Highlanders or whatever regiment, and they walked all the way to Lochmaddy, fifteen miles from here, they waved to their parents: “Och, we’ll be back at Christmas.” Which Christmas? I often think of the ones that walked up these roads, these township roads, never to return. They were only eighteen. Some of them were not even eighteen. And the ones that came back were either ... well, they were certainly hardened or else broken completely. But the raiders, they were very confident this lot. They stood trial in Lochmaddy, in the Sheriff Court, and the press were there and ... like, in Skye even before them, the Braes ... This is long before the press got a hold of it. Members of Parliament got hold of it and made a meal of it which ... And the government, the promised ... Well, George was a Liberal (David Lloyd George, British Prime Minister, 1916-1922), but it was this government that promised land fit for heroes, if you like: “You’ll get land, you’ve only got to apply for it.” But Dad was told by this MP in England, he says: “You’ll never get it, it’s surrounded by red tape,” which is probably true, I don’t know. But they took the bull by the horns and just ... “Right, we’ll go.” And they went, prior to the raid, they went up to the house, Balranald House, and told them they were going to raid his land just like that! Their parents would never do that!

Simon:

What was the original response from the estate?

     

Alex:

Oh, he took out an interdict right away, interdicting them from going to his land for a calendar month or two calendar month, whatever period the Sheriff granted him. But of course that was ... turn up, they all get a copy each and ... face on all the time, and then, of course, they had to be charged and they were taken to ... There were some comical things about it as well, quite comical I suppose but ... There was twelve of them ... (inaudible) ... sentenced to sixty days without the option of a fine, but there was no prison in Lochmaddy big enough so they were sent back home! Well, of course, eventually they were arranged to take them to Porterfield in Inverness. There’s some hilarious stories about them being chased around the machair and hiding from the police. That was farcical, that story about them, but it’s true!

Simon:

When the raid actually happened, did the raiders mark out plots?

     

Alex:

Yes, there and then.

     

Simon:

And did people start ...?

     

Alex:

Yes, they’d start ... whatever time of the year it would be, you know? Oh no, they just marked out in Paiblesgarry and of course Balranald didn’t go ... They didn’t raid Balranald itself, it was Paiblesgarry, it was part of the estate. And there was twelve, maybe sixteen of them down there, marked out bits for trowelling. It’s not their land but that’s what they did. He used to go about on horseback, Balranald, and threaten them. Well, I don’t know about threaten them, bully his way ... None of them owned horses but this is the owner. But that never intimidated them either, oh no. And eventually this land was bought off him by the Department. It is to this day Department land, it’s not part of Balranald estates.

Simon:

So you’re like a tenant of the government?

     

Alex:

In my case, my father bought the land, so it’s actually private land on government property on an island owned by Lord Granville. That’s the truth.

Simon:

Do you think it was just the brutality of being in the trenches or the fact that you had that kind of thing with the officers who had the same background as a lot of landowners and many soldiers just ...?

     

Alex:

No, not so much up in the Highlands, you see? Some of them are very ‘pro soldier’ if you like. They knew what they had. They certainly had good fighting men up in the whole of the Highlands, and I suppose that reflected on the amount killed. There was more killed per capita up here than anywhere else, that sort of thing you see so ... Plus the public were on their side in the climate at the time. Most people here in North Uist were in favour of the raid so they weren’t going to lose a job, know what I mean? Latterly it was all farm workers. They’d be going to be ruled or ordered by somebody who they thought even less of than themselves, the landless folk. A lot of the workers in these estates had a snobbishness about them that ... well, they thought themselves being on terms with the boss to be something. In a poor environment like this, that didn’t work.

Simon:

So had your grandfather had a croft or ...?

     

Alex:

He had a half croft, my grandfather, and his brother had the other half. That croft was one and a half miles long by seventeen yards wide.

Simon:

That’s not much.

     

Alex:

Thirty-four yards for the whole croft, that’s like a piece of roadway. But my father’s brother had gone ... he had gone to Canada in 1912 so he missed all that, but my father certainly would have gone and stayed had he not got this place.

Simon:

So how many families ... well how many crofts were created ...?

     

Alex:

Sixteen in all in the whole estate. Eight in Paiblesgarry and eight in Balranald.

Simon:

And are they still held by Uist families or ...?

     

Alex:

No. Well, the relations of the families. They have, some of them, remotely so but ... there are no new tenants in that are not related or connected, however remotely, to the ... no.

Simon:

So, in some ways, it does seem quite different because what I’ve been told about the earlier raids was that it was very much just desperation, pure and simple, that drove people ...

     

Alex:

What do you mean ‘early raids’?

     

Simon:

Emm, Aignish and ...

     

Alex:

Ah.

     

Simon:

Whereas here, there was obviously desperation too, but also a belief that the way things were currently set up was wrong and that people were being let down.

     

Alex:

There was no starvation here, that wasn’t part of it. Not this raid, no. But then if you go back far enough, if you go to Sollas, these ... not a land raid, an eviction, if you know what I mean, where they created the township. That was poverty in those days, real poverty. But then the population was huge. I mean, the 1841 census shows over four thousand people in North Uist. There’s barely sixteen or seventeen hundred there now. It’s a sad thing but it took a war and huge emigrations to stabilise it like it is now. I suppose it ... Plenty people here now, but not many are getting their livelihood from crofting, no. Precious few.

Simon:

In your dad’s time, after these crofts were created, were people able to support themselves from the crofts or ...?

     

Alex:

Yes, once they got ... Well, the first thing they had to do in these places was build houses. There was no houses here you see? The workers’ houses, farm workers’ houses, they were here but no other house. My father built all these round here. He collected the stones from the paths and ... He was only one of eight, you see, and the rest did the same.

Simon:

So there was no help from the government to create the house or ...?

     

Alex:

He got blasting powder, dynamite, but I don’t remember what he paid for it. I think £10, £10 sterling, and he got I don’t know how many pounds of blasting powder to blast rock. That’s a laborious job, drilling rock with a jumper and a hammer. That ... (inaudible) ... and the house as well. Not all of them but most of them were in a ... we call them 1920s houses. They’re still here, you see, the 1920s. You can tell, with ... (inaudible) ... as well, a 1920s style of house. That’s the houses that were built that style.

Simon:

So is there any nearby?

     

Alex:

Oh yes. We’ll have a run and ...

     

Simon:

Did the fact that people had managed to get the land have any influence on the community in terms of self esteem or how it thought of itself or was ...?

     

Alex:

I don’t know, I’m not sure about that. I’m sure they were very pleased to get it but the work started then. The reality. I suppose the euphoria of getting acquitted, not acquitted but allowed out at least from the prison and all that ... There was a huge gathering at the railway station in Inverness, my father remembered, with MPs and everybody wanting to get in on the ... These raiders were released, they were going home to Uist, and they got I think a pound each or something to make the trip to Mallaig or Kyle of Lochalsh or ... And that part of it, then the work started then, when they got here. They got the land, there was a rent to be paid. And what they got ... You have no house, you’re living maybe your father and mother half a mile away and that’s no use. You’ve got that certain area now that you can call you own, far superior to the crofts they came off, much bigger. Oh yes, much bigger. And this place was noted for it’s barley crop, Paiblesgarry. Most of Balranald grew their wintering crop on Paiblesgarry. Oh great, aye. All done by dozens of horses and dozens of servants and harvesting and all that, yes. There was no shortage of, before the First World War, there was no shortage of farm workers at Balranald. Well, after the war there was.

Simon:

What happened to the farm workers then?

     

Alex:

Och, they just ... they got old and ...

     

Simon:

They stayed on in the area? They lived in the area?

     

Alex:

Oh yes, they lived on Balranald estate. Rent free, oh yes.

Simon:

So some of the estates still existed even after the crofts were given out?

     

Alex:

In Uist? No. No, that was the end of it. That was the end of Balranald estate, oh yes.

Simon:

I’m just trying to figure out what happened to the actual workers once the land was given ...

     

Alex:

Well, they used to come down to Paiblesgarry and see the crofters, the new owners, and they always got a plot for potatoes or something like that. Oh yes, they weren’t persecuted or anything. And they worked of course, they got friendly with their new ‘owners’ if you like, their new ... Oh yes, it was fine that.

Simon:

Did the fact that the land was better here than the older croft land ...

     

Alex:

Oh yes, bigger, uh huh.

     

Simon:

So did people share ... the fact that you could grow barley and that, did that benefit the other crofts?

     

Alex:

No it didn’t. No, this was for their own stock; here they grew their crops.

Simon:

And nowadays, North Uist, is there in some ways like community buy-outs or ...?

     

Alex:

No, not so far.

     

Simon:

There’s no interest in that?

     

Alex:

No, I think they’re quite pleased with the situation the now. There doesn’t seem to be ... No. South Uist did it and in Harris there’s quite a few, right down ... (inaudible) ... and all these places but not in Uist, no. I think they’re ... The status quo pleases them I think, the way it is at the moment.

Simon:

It’s interesting because in Skye there’s quite a lot of Department land and they were offered the chance to have it transferred over to the community and they chose not to as well. They thought it was better with the ...

     

Alex:

No, the Department collect the rents from here. The Department in Edinburgh collect the rents but they’re a pittance you see, a pittance. Often ... (inaudible) ... What’s the name of the place down beyond Dalry? In Edinburgh there. There’s an army of people working in that place, and the rents from these crofting people, it’s a pittance compared to what’s around them. I think they would dearly love to get rid of them all, buy them and get them off their hands but ...

Simon:

Has there been an encouragement to do that?

     

Alex:

No. I don’t think so, no.

     

Simon:

So Balranald, would that be one of the last raids that happened?

     

Alex:

I believe it was. There was a ... it wasn’t a raid. Up in Balmartin, there was an occasion there with land but it wasn’t considered. There was nobody charged or sent to prison, no. And I can’t see another one coming, for the sake of getting land I mean, no.

Simon:

Do you think Balranald was a kind of turning point then? Cos the public were in so much sympathy with ... the need to do something so extreme wasn’t important anymore?

     

Alex:

Well, it’s not ... They had to do something.

     

Simon:

Then they did.

     

Alex:

Oh yes, absolutely! What else? Emigrate? But why emigrate after this MP has been spouting forth about raiding it. Face to face: “You’ll have to raid it, otherwise you’ll never get an inch of it.” That’s all the spouting they needed there.

Simon:

But, do you think, because of the public sympathy for the raiders following that that crofters were in a better position afterwards if they made claims on land? Like on Balmartin or ...?

     

Alex:

No. They only wanted an extension to ... to extend it. They wanted some in Pairc ... No more land. But this was an out and out raid in Paiblesgarry. They just came across and they were determined to get it and determined to go to prison. Well, it wasn’t that they raided ... (inaudible) ... that sent them to prison, civil laws. There was no shame in it, oh no. There was no shame in going to jail for that, no.

Simon:

And you didn’t have the Land League at that time any longer?

     

Alex:

No, no. Oh no, that’s ... No, the Land League was most effective in Lewis and Skye but not in the Balranald raid, no.

Simon:

And some of the raids, like at Pairc and the Aignish again, the descriptions describe them like: “People have banners and drums and ...” And there was an event as well. Was Balranald like that?

     

Alex:

No. They had a piper there but ...

Simon:

So it was just quite simple and ...?

     

Alex:

Yes, quite simple. Just ... they marched over with the piper playing but no, nothing else. They had spades over their shoulder to mark out a plot for themselves but ... All romantic stuff nowadays but ... It was hard. Most of them not married, fortunately because you’d be really struggling with a family.

Simon:

I was wondering they had kids or ...?

     

Alex:

No, no. My father wasn’t ... Most of them were not married.

     

Simon:

If they were married do you think they’d have been more likely to have gone to Canada or ...?

     

Alex:

Well, they’d maybe be less likely to want to go to jail if you know what I mean? I’m not sure. It would help if you had no ties, oh yes.