Two weeks have passed, Mrs. Ida MacKay and I have returned our faithful little Ford Escort and are now waiting for the announcement that our plane is ready.
We have seen for ourselves the vacant hills and fields of Strathnaver and Kildonan in which very few houses are now found except the former home of Patrick Sellar. As we drove along the Naver, we dodged this spring's lambs -- another generation of the "four-footed clansmen" that replaced our ancestors. In Gnumbeg, we have climbed to the cemetery of the Aberach MacKays and their Chiefs and found it in total ruin, a grazing ground for sheep. We have spent many -- but not enough -- hours in Rogart and Golspie talking with descendants of relatives our ancestors had to leave behind to suffer perhaps more hardship than they who crossed the vast oceans had to face. From these and other kind folk we have heard stories of the evictions and sensed the strong feeling of injustice that still runs high among the people.
Noted historians of the area ("intelligent men" said Bertie Sutherland) have told us that the stories of the cruel hardships imposed upon the tenants were more fabrication than truth.
"Patrick Sellar was a competent lawyer", said one learned kindly gentleman as we sat beside the peat fire he had built especially for us. "He had a job to do and unfortunately looked as if he enjoyed doing it." He went on to say that Donald MacLeod's book, "Gloomy Memories", was not to be taken seriously.
"Donald MacLeod told the truth!" said Willie Mackay of Coul, Rogart as we took tea with Mr. & Mrs. Alaister Mackay at Skail House in Strathnaver. "If he didn't tell the truth, he would have been in the Tolbooth in Edinburgh. They couldn't touch him!"
In a few minutes we will begin our journey across the same Atlantic that our ancestors crossed so many years ago. For them it was the filthy, stuffy holds of emigrant ships which were sub-standard to even the slave ships. What little food they had was often of poor quality or even mouldy. Their crossing took more than five weeks and at the end was a land unknown to them, where the challenge of even existence itself would tax their every resource.
For us, it will be the clean, comfortable seats of Air Canada's L1011 where we will be offered a variety of reading material and music, and even a movie to watch if we wish, to help pass the time. Our food will be a full course meal including steak. At regular intervals tea, coffee, wine and other beverages will be offered. Our crossing will take just over five hours and at the end we will find our homes, beds and rest.
We wonder how many times our great-grandparents and others have remembered the lands we have just explored and wished they could have returned as we have. These two weeks have a value to us that cannot be measured by material means.
Our intuition and our experiences tells us that Willie Mackay 'Coul' and Donald MacLeod were "telling it as it was". Indeed, the Sutherland Estate Office had no intention of letting us view the records of that time. We pledge to ourselves and others the closing words of Donald MacLeod's book, "Gloomy Memories" -
Cuimhnichibh air na daoine thainig roimhibh
Remember those who were before you,
that the Havelocks yet unborn
may have course to exclaim before the world,
to the disgrace of your oppressors,
"WELL DONE, BRAVE HIGHLANDERS!"
Janet MacKay with Mrs. Ida MacKay, May 1983
All material, including photo, Copyright 1997; Janet MacKay
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