Yes, I think so. I think it was easier for the authorities to talk about the Irish shadow, in a sense, overhanging Skye or Lewis but, in another sense, if you look broader, if you take a broader perspective on these things, and look at peasant communities all over the world, this is often a reaction to land grabs and things like this. If you have a peasantry, one of the only things they have is land and how do you react then? Well, first of all, it’s very hard to react. It’s very hard to provoke a revolution in some respects without a long period of perceived oppression or some perceived disconnect between whoever’s got hold of the land and people who are trying to work it. Within the context of Britain and Ireland, because the Irish case was so well known and so much bound up with nationalism in Ireland, I think it was easier for people to link the two and certainly there are links and the crofters, as you say, make these links themselves and there’s some really odd goings on. I mean, in Skye in 1882, everybody knows about the Battle of the Braes and so on but in late 1882 there’s a death threat to Lord Macdonald which is bound up in all kinds of Irish language. It sort of says: “By the blessed Virgin and Saint Patrick, you’ll be laid low.” Like Birkin Cavendish, the government officials who were murdered in Phoenix Park in 1882, a really well known and notorious terrorist atrocity as it was portrayed in the British press. So I don’t know, I’m not sure anybody does know, where these threatening letters come from but people are using ... it was being portrayed as: “It’s some Irish person on Skye who’s about to come and kill Lord Macdonald.” I don’t really think it was that. There were itinerant Irish travelers all around Scotland and the Highlands but it’s probably just somebody using this language and trying to be threatening in a way you can imagine today. If you were trying to scare someone, you would use particular expressions based on what you’ve heard on the news so ...

  • Andrew Newby
Thursday 29th April 2010