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A cairn marks site of the most famous of all Highland Clearances

The pointing arrow said 3.2 kilometres. Already we had driven 5.7 kilometres along a winding, pot-holed, one-lane road that hugged the side of the small mountain. Happily, we had encountered no vehicles, no cyclists -- in fact, nothing but recalcitrant sheep who frequently stood defiant in the middle of the road until we beeped our horn. We were on the tiny island of Raasay, which is situated between the Isle of Skye and the Scottish mainland. Our destination was Hallaig, one of the best-known sites in the history of the Highland Clearances. It is famous because the 20th-century poet Sorley MacLean, arguably the greatest who wrote in Gaelic, gave the name "Hallaig" to his most celebrated poem. He was born in this place, once a thriving settlement, now a ruin, a jumble of rocks. Once out of the car, we followed a dirt track slowly upwards for what seemed longer than 3.2 kilometres. At last we reached the cairn created in memory of MacLean, "the people of Hallaig and other cleared crofting townships." On the cairn, you can read the poem in Gaelic or in English translation by Seamus Heaney. To me, it is reminiscent of Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas: "Time, the deer, is in Hallaig Wood/ There's a board nailed across the window/ I looked through to see the west / And my love is a birch forever . . . .

Ken McGoogan
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1 comment:

The Furry Gnome said...

I remember 'Hallaig'. I cited the poem when talking about the clearances in one of my lectures.

Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.