🗓️ This week is Gaelic week! As part of that I recently saw a post with two stories from Boreraig, so I thought in addition to linking it I’d also share some more of the history and my own photos from when I visited it myself all the way back in 2016.
🗃️ From Canmore:
“Boreraig and Suisinish Clearance villages on Loch Eishort’s northern shore, with rich evidence of settlement and land use spanning centuries. Boreraig is particularly haunting, surviving almost as it was when cleared in 1852…
…NG 619 164 Boreraig: cleared by Lord MacDonald in 1852, (Nicolson 1930) – still partly occupied in 1901, (OS 6″map, Inverness-shire, 2nd ed., 1903) but totally deserted by 1954-5 (OS 1″map, 7th series)
A Nicolson 1930.”From the Canmore Website search results for Boreraig
ℹ️ The Highland Clearances took place from the late 1700s into the mid-1800s and beyond, when thousands of Highlanders were forced off of their ancestral lands by the landowners, many of whom were former clan chiefs, to be replaced by more profitable sheep. In the case of Boreraig we can see from the quotes above that it was Lord MacDonald, Chief of the MacDonalds of Sleat who was in involved.
🪦 The above photo shows Cill Chriosd (Kilchrist), the Church that’s often the starting point for the walk to Boreraig. One of the flimsy excuses given for clearing the township was that they were too far from the church and so it was being done for benevolent piety. However, having a bit of a trek to get to church – including for funerals and having to carry a coffin all the way – was not uncommon in the countryside at the time. Also, Lord MacDonald had gotten himself into debt and needed the money.
💬 Here’s the first of the stories from aforementioned post I saw shared by Coast (English follows Scottish Gaelic):
“Chan eil Heasta ach 3 mile air falbh bho Boreraig. Bha torr dhe na daoine a bha a’ fuireach ann an Heasta, thainig iad a Boreraig agus thainig mo shin-sheanair a Boreraig. Theich iad a Boreraig mus do chuir iad tene ris a bhaile. Bha teaghlach a’ fuireach ann am Boreraig ris an canadh iad na Kellys. Bha e a’ cur an iognadh orm co as a thainig na Kellys. Thug na Kellys cuideachadh do na Jacobites aig Cul Lodair. Tha an teaghlach ann an Heasta chun an latha an-diugh. Bha boireanach Kelly ann am Boreraig nuair a thainig na maor trath ‘s a mhadainn. Chunnaic i iad is dh’aithnich i gun robh an bairligeadh gu bhith ann. Thainig iad dhan dorus aice is dh’iarr iad oirre bobhla de dh’uisge fuar a thoirt dhaibh. Thug i a-mach le bobhla falbh ach bha cuman aice ri taobh an dorais. Chuir i am bobhla anns a chuman ach thuirt iad rithe “Cha dean sin an gnothach idir. Bha an t-uisge anns a chuman ann fad na h-oidhche is theirig dhan tobar. Dh’fhalbh i dhan tobar, is nuair a bha i leathach rathad a’ tilleadh air ais bhon tobar, chunnaic i an ceo agus bha sin an taigh aice na theine. Dh’fhag i creadhal a-staigh nuair a dh’fhalbh i agus càraid ann (twins), agus ‘s e dithis ghillean a bh’anns a chàraid. Ach thug iad an creadhal a-mach mus do chuir iad teine air an taigh. ‘S e Kellys a bh’innte-sa. A chàraid a bha sin, iad fhein is a mathair, theich iad a Heasta. Dh’fhas iad suas ann a Heasta agus dh’fhuirich fear aca agus phos e te ann a Heasta. Chaidh am fear eile dhan Druim Fheàrna agus phos e boireanach as an Druim Fheàrna agus bha e an sin gus an do chaochail e.
Above in Gaelic is a story from the time when the village of Boreraig was forcibly cleared in 1853 to make way for sheep. The Kellys were a family living in Boreraig. The Kelly woman, a mother of twins, spotted the eviction agents/factors arriving at the shore early in the morning. They knocked on her door and asked for a bowl of cold water. She returned with an empty bowl and went to fill it from the wooden pail outside but before she did, she was ordered to go and collect fresh water from the well. When she was half way home she saw the flames of her house on fire. She had left her twin boys in a cradle inside, but they had taken the cradle out of the house. The family relocated to Heaste, as did some of the families from Boreraig.”From the Coast website & originally spotted on Facebook – click/tap through to the Coast website to read the other shorter story, just in English this time, under the longer one.
📖 Additionally, you can read more about the Boreraig clearances on Electric Scotland:
“…The only plea made at the time for evicting them was that of over-population. Ten families received the usual summonses, and passages were secured for them in the Hercules, an unfortunate ship which sailed with a cargo of passengers under the auspices of a body calling itself “The Highland and Island Emigration Society.” A deadly fever broke out among the passengers, the ship was detained at Cork in consequence, and a large number of the passengers died of the epidemic. After the sad fate of so many of those previously cleared out, in the ill-fated ship, it was generally thought that some compassion would be shown for those who had been still permitted to remain. Not so, however. On the 4th of April, 1853, they were all warned out of their holdings. They petitioned and pleaded with his lordship to no purpose. They were ordered to remove their cattle from the pasture, and themselves from their houses and lands. They again petitioned his lordship for his merciful consideration. For a time no reply was forthcoming. Subsequently, however, they were informed that they would get land on another part of the estate—portions of a barren moor, quite unfit for cultivation.
In the middle of September following, Lord Macdonald’s ground officer, with a body of constables, arrived, and at once proceeded to eject in the most heartless manner the whole population, numbering thirty-two families, and that at a period when the able-bodied male members of the families were away from home trying to earn something by which to pay their rents, and help to carry their families through the coming winter…”From the version of The History of the Highland Clearances uploaded by Electric Scotland
🎧 The above extract mentioned the voyage of the Hercules – if you want to know more about that, I highly recommend listening to the Stories of Scotland podcast episode on it here or wherever you get your podcasts. They have an excellent episode on the later “Battle of the Braes” too which also took plant on Skye with the involvement of Lord MacDonald. Celebrated Scottish Gaelic bard Màiri Mhòr nan Òran composed a song about this “battle”.
⬆️ While exploring the remains of Boreraig, I happened to look up when entering the house pictured in the Featured Photo at the top of this post, and noticed these wee bits of shell embedded into the underside of the lintel stone. Since doors are liminal places I wondered if they had been either deliberately pushed in, or even if they’re naturally occurring fossilised shells that particular stone may have been used because of that. However, so far I unfortunately still haven’t been able to find any reliable folklore/folk tradition sources that talk about this – I will definitely post about it if I do in future. In the meantime, here’s an ominous wee bit of lore regarding whelk shells I came across while looking:
“Empty whelk shells (faochagun failmhe) should not be allowed to remain in the house for the night. Something is sure to come after them.”From the book The Gaelic Otherworld by John Gregorson Campbell, edited by Ronald Black
🥾 Lastly, for the walking route my husband & I took to Boreraig, plus some more great photos taken at a different time of year and before it was quite so overgrown, have a look at IsleofSkye.com. We went at the end of September so not too cold, but as you’d expect very changeable weather! It had just stopped raining when we set out and unlike more famous sites in Skye there was no-one else around, which made for quite an eerily atmospheric walk. If you go wear appropriate footwear and waterproofs – the path gets narrow and slopes in places as a proper road/path was never completed while the township was still occupied. The walk itself isn’t too difficult though so don’t be put off by that ☺️
📸 Featured Photo credit & all other photos: taken by myself on a – far too short – visit to the stunning Isle of Skye in 2016. Hopefully the remains of Boreraig are still accessible and visible through all the vegetation etc now.