John Prebble: re The Highland Clearances

Once the chiefs lost their powers following the Battle of Culloden, many of them lost also any parental interest in their clansmen. During the next hundred years they continued the work of Cumberland's battalions. So that they might lease their glens and braes to sheep-farmers from the Lowlands and England, they cleared the crofts of men, women and children, using police and soldiers where necessary.

The Highlanders were deserted and then betrayed. It is the story of people, and of how sheep were preferred to them, and how bayonet, truncheon and fire were used to drive them from their homes.

It has been said that the Clearances are now far enough away from us to be decently forgotten. But the hills are still empty. In all of Britain, only among them can one find real solitude, and if their history is known there is no satisfaction to be got from the experience.

It is worth remembering, too, that while the rest of Scotland was permitting the expulsion of its Highland people it was also forming the romantic attachment to kilt and tartan that scarcely compensates for the disappearance of a race to whom such things were once a commonplace reality. The chiefs remain, in Edinburgh and London, but the people are gone.

Finally, we have not become so civilized in our behaviour, or more concerned with men than profit, that this story holds no lesson for us.

From: The Highland Clearances, by John Prebble
A Penquin Book, 1969

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