So that’s the archive and the other main visitor attraction we have at Ravenspoint is the local history museum of Comunn Eachdraidh Na Pairc. That’s only fairly recently been relocated to Ravenspoint but it’s working very well and what we’ve got here is a whole range of things from photographs to quite large artefacts. I’m looking as we speak at photographs taken going right back to the 1950s and 1940s of schoolchildren in the different schools in South Lochs. There were five main schools up until 1972 when they were closed and the new school at Gravir was opened. And the current school in Gravir has a pupil roll of just over thirty but each of these five schools in the 1950s had over fifty children in them so, in a way, that demonstrates what a fall in population there’s been. I think that’s the other thing that the archive and the Book Trust and the local history museum demonstrate. It all illustrates the traumatic population history of this area which is not atypical of other rural parts of Lewis, but I think it is a really dramatic story. To give you an example, when Angus Macleod was born in 1916 the population of Calbost, his home village, was nearly two hundred people. When he died in 2002 the population was one. So over less than a century it had gone from two hundred odd to almost complete depopulation. It’s now turned the corner and the current population, I think, is seven, so it’s on the way up. I think Calbost illustrates what’s happening to the other villages in South Lochs but in an extreme form. This fall in population during the twentieth century wasn’t the result of clearance in the classical sense of whole villages being cleared at one time. It was through individual people and families leaving for what they saw as better opportunities, economic and social opportunities, outside the village, outside South Lochs. And the population of South Lochs has also declined as the school roll figures illustrate. From nearly two thousand a hundred years ago, now it’s about four hundred so it’s a fifth of what it used to be. Not as extreme a decline as Calbost but still a pretty big decline and again that’s mainly been in the twentieth century through emigration but there is a history of clearance prior to that and the whole area is a very good illustration of what’s happened to other islands and the Highlands more generally over the last 250 years. So there are villages which were cleared in the nineteenth century which you can go and see today, places like Striomrabhaigh for example, and smaller settlements south of Loch Sealg - those clearances were mainly in the first half of the nineteenth century. Other villages, say, like Orasaigh and Leumrabhagh, were cleared at that time too but they were eventually re-settled from people who were cleared from other villages. Leumrabhagh was re-settled in 1857, mainly by people who were cleared, if that’s the right term, from Striomrabhaigh. And Orasaigh was depopulated from 1843 right the way through to the 1920s when a number of land raids took place. Orasaigh and Striomrabhaigh were land raided in the 1920s and eventually that led to Orasaigh being recognised as a crofting township today.

  • John Randall
Thursday 3rd June 2010