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Descendant adds detail to a violent Clearance



It's always great to get a glowing review. But nothing beats the kind of email I've just received from Carol Annett, who was born a MacKinnon.
Those who have read Flight of the Highlanders will recall that Chapter One treats the violent eviction of a great number of McKinnons from Knoydart in 1853. It draws on an eyewitness account by activist Donald Ross. But here is Carol Annett:
"Thank you for writing Flight of the Highlanders. You have done an amazing job of telling this story. I can appreciate what an enormous amount of research was involved. What a feat to pull the disparate threads together.
"This subject has been my passion for the past ten years as I have been researching and writing the story of my ancestors. I am a direct descendant of Highlanders from Knoydart who sailed to Canada in 1853 aboard the Sillery. It was exciting to read the familiar, though horrific account of events at Knoydart in your first chapter.
"In 2016, I had the amazing good fortune to live for a week with a couple whose house is at Samadalan, Knoydart, the exact location of the village where my McKinnon ancestors lived. My friend had a keen interest in the history of her home and property, which was essentially an archeological site.
"On census records my friend had for the post-clearance years, I noticed that Allan McKinnon was still living at Samadalan. That led me to research every single family mentioned by Donald Ross in his account. What I found surprised me.
"My research shows that Allan McKinnon and John McKinnon, both mentioned by Ross, were the brothers of my great-great-great-grandfather, Archibald McKinnon, who left on the Sillery. The records show that 11 of the 16 families interviewed by Donald Ross remained on Knoydart for the rest of their lives, despite repeated efforts to evict them. I have census and death records for each of them. The last person died in 1909 at the age of 82. Many, but not all of them, died in poverty.”
Ms. Annett attached a PDF of an article she published in a genealogical quarterly called Anglo-Celtic Roots. It begins as follows:
Imagine you are Archibald McKinnon and the year is 1853. Your homeland, Knoydart, lies within a rugged region of the Scottish Highlands called the “Rough Bounds” or “Na Garbh-Criochan,” as you say in Gaelic. The place-name, Knoydart, is not of Gaelic origin. It means “Knut’s Fjord,” named by the Norse who once occupied the west coast of Scotland.
Though centuries have passed since the Vikings departed, this stark wilderness has not changed. Across the water from your house you see the mountains of Skye— the jagged Cuillin and the cone-shaped Red Hills—depending on the weather. It rains often and storms can be severe. On fair evenings, you are dazzled by a brilliant sunset or awed by the occasional sight of the shimmering aurora borealis. You live in this austerely
sublime landscape with an abundance of wildlife—seals, dolphins, whales, eagles, gannets, otter and deer—and about 1,000 people.
In August of this year, one-third of these people—including you—will leave Knoydart, and Scotland, forever. . . .
You can read the rest here:
https://bifhsgo.ca/upload/files/Anglo-Celtic%20Roots/ACR_Vol_20_No_3_Fall_2014.pdf

Me again: you can see why I love this, right?


Ken McGoogan
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Trouble at Indigo? Bring back Canadiana!


Indigo Books and Music is having a bad year. Canada's number one book retailer is dealing with declining sales. Compared with this time last year, sales are down roughly eight per cent. Those who want detailed figures can find them easily enough. Indigo CEO Heather Reisman points to some "promising early results on key performance measures." And Indigo recently introduced a new rewards program.
Let's hope that pays off. Meanwhile, I've got another idea. Let's bring back Canadiana!
Yes, I have written about this before. But my unsolicited advice has as yet gone unheeded -- though I offer it freely not just to Indigo, but to every independent bookseller in Canada. 
Once more into the fray. I would suggest that the way to differentiation -- and so salvation -- lies through an assertion of collective identity. 
Not long ago, I visited the main Waterstone's bookstore in Edinburgh. There I found one entire wall -- one long wall, mind, floor to ceiling -- devoted to Scottish books: fiction, biography, history, travel, children's, crime, you name it. In Scotland, that approach sells books. And it serves additionally as an assertion of national identity: och, aye, this is us! We are here!
A short while later, in Dublin, I visited the Eason bookstore in O'Connell Street. This time, I found one long wall, floor to ceiling, offering Irish books: fiction, biography, history, travel, children's, crime . . . . it's glorious.
Here in Canada, we went wrong some decades ago when we moved away from hiving off  sections in bookstores for Canadian books. Yes, I say "we" because Canadian writers were complicit in this change. Proudly we proclaimed that we didn't need a ghetto to survive. We were just that good. By gosh, we could stand with the best in the world. 

Well, now, surely, we have proven whatever we needed to prove. And we have stumbled into a brave new world in which the digital (algorithmic) weather is against us and the wind blows hard and the rain is turning into hail. 
Surely it's time for writers and publishers to call a halt to destructive infighting. Let's admit that, in our hubris, we made a mistake. Let's urge Indigo -- and other booksellers -- to start solving their problems by reviving the Canadian bookshop ghetto. Yup! I say we bring back Canadiana!
Ken McGoogan
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The Great Famine marked Ireland forever



(In the December issue of Celtic Life International, I write about ranging around Ireland while exploring the many dimensions of the Irish famine.)
It's not all that far to Tipperary – not if you start in Kilkenny and make for the Famine Warhouse at the eastern edge of that song-famous county. We simply drove west for about 30 km, which included a short detour because we took a wrong turn and ended up exploring a one-lane road with a ridge of grass down the middle. The Famine Warhouse is the site of an 1848 incident known as the Battle of Widow McCormack's Cabbage Patch – an episode that to me represented a fourth and final dimension of the Great Famine.
By this time, three weeks into our latest Irish ramble, and somewhat to my surprise, I had come face to face with the politics, the science, and the human suffering of the Great Hunger. I saw the Warhouse as symbolizing the active response – the rebellion. But I have gotten ahead of our wanderings around southeastern Ireland, an area that, during the famine years, fared relatively well. Hence my surprise.
In Dublin we were taken, Sheena and I, with the power of the sculpted famine figures on the north bank of the River Liffey. We spent time at EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum. And we poked around the Jeanie Johnston, the replica famine ship that I wrote about last issue.
But the political dimension didn’t manifest until we went to the Irish Potato Famine Exhibition, mounted upstairs at the St. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre. The exhibition, which included posters, a 15-minute video/DVD, and an hour-long show of panel stills, delivered an overview before turning to specifics. Between 1845 and 1852, approximately one million Irish people died of starvation or disease and two million fled the country, many of them coming to Canada.
Tens of thousands of farmers were forcibly evicted by absentee landlords spouting the free-market doctrine of “laissez-faire.” One photographic image, from County Clare in the west of the country, showed the house of Mathia Magrath "after destruction by the Battering Ram."
Some scholars present slightly different numbers, saying 1.5 million died in Ireland and 1.5 million emigrated. Either way, the three million total explains why some have described the Irish Famine as the worst human disaster of the 19th century – a devastation exceeded in the 20th century only by the Jewish holocaust.
During the decade that followed the Great Hunger, another two million people departed from Ireland. Today, largely as a result of all this, the Irish diaspora encompasses 70 million people around the globe. Among them we find almost five million Canadians and 35 million Americans.
But the politics. This exhibition points a finger at the policies and attitudes of British Parliamentarians, notably Lord John Russell, prime minister from 1846 to 1852, and Charles Trevelyan, the assistant treasury secretary who handled the Irish file. A narrator explains that Trevelyan “believed that God and market forces were on the same side” and that the Irish Famine was “a visitation of God” and a way of solving an overpopulation problem. Bigotry and convenient, self-serving myopia.
After driving due south along the coast for 155 km, we set up in the lively seaport-town of Wexford, cornerstone of Ireland’s “Ancient East” and traditionally a centre of resistance to British rule. At nearby Johnstown Castle, a splendid gem of gothic revival architecture, we walked along beside an ornamental lake and admired a Victorian walled garden. The surprise came when we wandered into the Irish Agricultural Museum, which is housed in refurbished farm buildings. Here we encountered another Great Famine Exhibition – this one lacking a video but comprehensive and notable for its scientific rigor and detail.
Sailing ships from the Americas brought the potato to Europe late in the 16th century. It became a diet staple, especially in agricultural Ireland. Potato blight followed the same route and reach continental Europe in 1843. Blight is a fungal disease that attacks leaves and tubers. Spread by spores in the air, it turns up as a small dark spot on a potato leaf and wreaks havoc. Seed tubers sustain the fungus through winter and so infect a still larger crop the following spring.
The Johnstown exhibition is replete with charts and graphs illustrating and analyzing everything from the decline of small farm holdings to the prevalence of various Famine-related diseases, among them typhus, Asiatic cholera, and scurvy or “black leg.” Up to 85 per cent of those who died during the Great Hunger did so not from starvation but from fever or disease.
Here, too, we read of government-sponsored workhouses, where conditions were so miserable that, by August of 1846, only 43,000 people had taken refuge within. As the Famine intensified, these penitentiary-like buildings came to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people, desperate for the three sparse meals a day they could earn by toiling on make-work projects, usually roads. When the famine ended, 40 per cent of the children who entered the workhouses had been orphaned or deserted.
By the time we reached Kilkenny, that medieval town 80 km northwest of Wexford, we thought we understood the human suffering induced by the Famine. But a visit to the sparkling MacDonough Junction Shopping Centre taught us otherwise. In 2005, developers set about creating this contemporary shopping centre out of a prison-like workhouse from the mid-19th century. . . .

(To read the complete article, pick up the December issue of Celtic Life International. To learn how the widespread famine impacted Scotland, and especially the Hebrides, check out my latest book, Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada.)


Ken McGoogan
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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.