Balallan - Lochs - Pairc Memorial - Deer Raiders - Lochs - Land Struggle - 1887
Balallan - Lochs - Pairc Memorial - Deer Raiders - Lochs - Land Struggle - 1887
Balallan, Baile Ailein (means Allan's Town) , a lovely village situated at the head pf the sea loch Erisort. This now peaceful village was the centre in 1887 of fight (all be it peaceful) that took place as the local crofters fought to keep their crofts as land owners wanted to convert many many acres of sheep land into sporting deer parks and this beautifully built cairn that was erected in memory of the events that took place and the Lochs heroes. - Isle of Lewis History
Deer Raid Cairn - Balallan - Built 1994
The cairn pictured above - was built In 1994. It was designed by an artist Will Maclean and was built by a stonemason Jim Crawford. It commemorates the crofters of the Lochs area who dared to speak up against the land owners and in the end their protest is seen to have been one of the most influential that was ever to be made.
The memorial that looks at first glance like a simple stone structure, deigned looking like an upturned barrel, actually incorporates a circular stair with a viewing platform which overlooks Loch Erisort.
The crofters inspiration was a local man called Donald Macrae, who was a Balallan schoolmaster, who committed his whole life to Highland Land Law Reform movement and to assisting the oppressed crofters
Three Entrances to depict Three Areas Involved
The memorial sits on a site on the rock outcrop above Balallan with a view of South Lewis.
It is twelve feet high built from reclaimed rocks and beach stones and has three Entrances - one for each area which was involved in the raid - 1) Kinloch 2) North Lochs and 3) South Lochs
3 Stones to Lay in Memory of the 3 Main Events of the Raid
The three projecting stones around the top of the memorial were placed in their positions in order to symbolise the three prominent events in the Pairc Deer Raid
1) East to Ruadh-Chleit. Reading of the Riot Act
2) South East Seaforth Head Meeting of the Raiders and landowner.
3) South Airidh Dhomhnaill Chaim Raiders Camp site
Eight Directional Stones From the Raiders Croft's
Built into the wall are directional stones, each numbered which have been taken from the crofts of the raiders
The Grand Opening of the Pairc Deer Raiders Cairn Monument
In 1994 this special monument was officially declared open. There was a two mile march through Balallan to the cairn. Out at the front of the procession were three pipers led by the descendents of the raiders.
A crowd of 500 people followed and a special tune was played by the pipers, having being written for the occasion by Ian Crichton. There was also a a re-enactment of the events of Nov 1887. During the speeches the marchers enjoyed a taste of venison cooked over an open fire. The day concluded with a sell out Gaelic concert in Balallan village hall
THE EVENTS THAT LEAD UP TO THE PAIRC DEER RAID
The Crofters wars - the name given to the confrontations in the 1880's between the Highland and Island landowners and the crofting communities, took place of many years, and is quite an important milestone in the Isle of Lewis history. The crofters wars essentials culminated in the crofters achieving more rights in connection to the land they crofted.
Crofts Were Too Small
Crofts that were too small - largely down to the earlier "clearances" - Struggling crofters - large rents! Many crofters in the 1880's were having a hard time.
Much of their land was now owned by the Mathesons who had purchased the Lewis land and then permitted the crofters to use small portions of land or crofts.
Rents Were Set High
In the 1850's the rents were set very high and many crofters struggled to survive as the soil was poor. They tried to survive by keeping the sheep and fishing, but ultimately the future was in the hands of their landlords - who evicted them, when they defaulted on their rent payments and offered them free passage to Canada, which many had no alternative than to leave the island. Of those who remained, very often they were left with small crofts on which whole families and extended families tried to make a living, so life was very hard..
Crofters Act 1886 - Crofters Holdings Act
An act was passed in 1886 by the Government when they acknowledged that crofters who had managed to stay after the Clearances were still crofting were in fact still being victimized.
Security of Tenure
The government provided legislation in the form of a Bill which gave the crofters "security of tenure" and gave then the right to arbitration when being faced with rent rises and also permitted them to bequeath their tenancies to loved ones and also the intention was that the crofters would have some say when improvements were needed to the crofts.
The Crofters Act
The Crofters Act became the Crofters Holdings Act. This act also should have meant that more crofts were to be made available for crofters, however it was actually probably century later when land was actually made available.
Lady Matheson owns the Pairc land - Sheep Farms No Longer Viable - So Deer Forest was wanted
The Mathesons had acquired , much of the land on Lewis. Sir John Matheson purchased The isle of Lewis in 1851 and as like all over the Isle of Lewis.
Unfortunately on this occasion she reacted by sending a telegram to the Secretary of State for Scotland demanding that they send in the military. Also the Estate factor, acted on reports he was getting, (which had numbers of crofters being much over stated) dispatched telegrams to the estates Edinburgh lawyers - stating that delay would be fatal and they in turn also contacted the Secretary of State
Royal Scots and Naval Marines Sent to Lochs
- where Crofters were Eating Venison!
The powers that be dispatched some Royal Scots and Naval Marines, and a military task force were got together to deal with the "outrage". This really was quite "laughable" - and well overkill - a military task force just to deal with what essentially was a few (although it is said that there were actually about 160 crofters involved).
They were local crofters who had made their camp by the shore of Loch Seaforth and in order to get over their hunger had actually "acquired" a lot of deer and were settling down to eat venison. It is written that they had killed about 400 deer. The sheriff and the Police Superintendent met with the "raiders" and told them of the impending task force that were en route and advised the locals to go home. After much discussion the locals were read the "riot" Act and once again told that there was nothing to be done and they were to return to their homes.
By this time, the locals were well tired , having spend a couple of nights in tents, were ready for home. As the Police Superintendent and a gamekeeper were making their way home they came across one lone raider Mr Mackinnon from Balallan who had a gun and was carrying over his shoulder a "stag". Mr Mackinnon threatened to "shoot" them, but upon the Superintendant identifying himself, he ran off into the darkness. He hid himself at the Shore of Loch Seaforth, covering himself in seaweed.
The upshot was that the Police thought he had drowned. A couple of days later he headed for the Stornoway police station and gave himself up. It was believed that he confessed the names of the rest of the raiders party for a free pardon.
The land that had been "cleared" of many crofters, and had been used for larger sheep farms, was now not being used as to a large extent cheaper, often better quality products from Australia and New Zealand had replaced the products that the large sheep farms produced. There was a certain "irony" in this as indeed Australia, New Zealand and Canada had been the places where many of the islands crofters had been shipped to during The Clearances!
THE PAIRC DEER RAID
Crofters Implore Lady Matheson to Make Land Available for them - (which was rightfully theirs)In the lead up to the Pairc Deer Raiders Riot, the local crofters implored that Lady Matheson should give back some of the land to the individual crofters.
After all the land that the Mathesons had purchased - had been taken off the crofters during the clearances and they considered that the land was actually rightfully theirs. However she decided that the former 42,000 acres of land, that had been a large sheep farm, should now be turned into a sporting deer park
22nd November 1887 - Crofters March into the Deer Forest - Secretary of State Informed
The crofters led by a piper and carrying flags got together and marched into the forest, where they confronted Mrs Jessie Platt, who was the lessee and her gamekeeper at the Seaforth Hotel.
Actually it is written, that Mrs Jessie Platt was liked by the locals and had been held in esteem by some of them, so much so that some named their children "Jessie" after her.
THE OUTCOME - THE PAIRC DEER RAIDERS TRIALS
Police Sergeant Hector Smith Talks to the Lochs Raiders - Donald Macrae Accused
Police sergeant Hector Smith from Keose did try to defuse the strong feelings of the Lochs crofters, he spoke at length to the Balallan head teacher Donald Macrae and advised that if they gave themselves up there would be no force involved. Donald Macrae went to Stornoway and the Crown tried to make out that Donald was a bad influence on the crofters and that he had damaged the Pairc Land. Donald said that he had never even stood on a blade of grass on the Pairc Land at all and had not gone beyond the highwater mark, and indeed stressed that he was a card holding newspaper correspondent. He was at any event detained in the Stornoway prison on bail for £60 (which was a great amount of money at that time)
Donald Macrae - Bail Paid - Released
As Donald was falling asleep, no doubt tired out, he was awaken to be told that his bail had been paid, by whom wasn't certain, and that there was a bed reserved for him in the Imperial hotel in Stornoway and that he would be transported from there - next day to Balallan.
The Deer Raiders Cause Gains Support
The Newspapers Were Full of Reports of the Raid and The Trials Support for the Raiders gathered momentum. Detailed were printed not only in Scotland and the UK, but also internationally. Such was the interest that a Glasgow newspaper sent a correspondent to Locks, to report on the conditions that the crofters were living under and when the results of this were published, a great "public" debate ensued and the Government were implored to also do an investigation, which they did sending a Mr Malcolm McNeill to Lewis to report. His results, confirmed what the papers had already published.
The Government at Last were Persuaded Not to extend further legal protection to Deer Forests
As a direct result of all the publicity afforded to the Pairc Deer Raid, the government did come to the conclusion that the current system caused social instability and they then began not to extend more legal protection for Deer Forests.
Six of the Leaders Were Committed for Trial in Edinburgh
Actually there were only six of the leaders of the Deer Pairc Raid that were brought to justices. The world was interested by now and the trial at Edinburgh was well covered by the press. The six men were charged with mobbing and rioting. The six men were represented by three legal solicitors.
The Defence Says That The Actions Weren't That of Mobbing and Rioting
It was argued by the defence that clearly, there could have been no mob as the crowd was spread across 144 square miles of open ground. The men accused also, were not criminals but all had no bad records and were god fearing and upstanding law abiding citizens who had served their local communities well.
Mr Mackinnon - Witness for The Crown
Mr Mackinnon, was to be the main witness for the crown and he was to appear in court being questioned and cross questioned for many hours and it was put to him that when the raid was first discussed, he had said that he was going to proceed whether anyone else from Balallan did or not. Mr Mackinnon gave his evidence in Gaelic, admitting that he fired the first signal shot when the Balallan men joined forces with the men from the Gravir area. He also admitted that he fired a shot which did kill a stag and cut off its head to take it to Donald Macrae, the Balallan school teacher.
After all the evidence and arguments from both sides had been presented, the outcome of all was that the presiding judge summed up strongly against the raiders maintained that it was a mistake to suggest that the Park Deer Raid had simply been a mere poaching expedition which could have been dealt with by the Day Trespass Act. however, he also said that deer, were not private property, as indeed weren't grouse or any other wild animal. He also stated that proprietors were entitled to prevent trespassers from coming onto his land.
Jury - Verdict - Not Guilty in Half an Hour
The jury only took half an hour before returning a verdict of NOT GUILTY on all charges for each of the six men. There were cheers from the crowded courtroom. Many thought though that if the men had been charged a lesser charge of trespass, and dealt with under the Day Trespass Act, then many more men than the six charged could have been charged and that a result would surely have been that a large number of men would have been convicted.
Stornoway Crowds Greet the Lochs Deer Raiders
The men were met at the Stornoway pier by a crowd of hundreds of supporters and the entire crown marched to Percival Square where the men gave speeches.
Seven Years Later
Seven years later, the crofters were lighting bonfires to celebrate the Report of the Deer Forest Commissioners, which recommended a great reduction in the Highland areas given over to deer forest
War Time - Grow More Food - Helps Crofters
During the second world war, the Grow more Food Policy that the government was advocating led to many crofters from the Lochs areas to be granted grazing rights in more designated areas and after that in 1949 the Agricultural Holdings Act meant that they were tenants for ten years or more
Balallan, Baile Ailein (means Allan's Town) , a lovely village situated at the head pf the sea loch Erisort. The lovely village of Balallan, Lochs, Western Isles is reputed to be the longest village in the Uk, being some 4 miles in length. Great moorland walks - old peat roads that are really picturesque.....
Ardvourlie woodland walkway. A few miles along the road from Balallan to Tarbert is a lovely walk with stunning views of Loch Seaforth and the Harris Hills. Clisham seen from the woodland and Ardvourlie moorland. The path follows a winding route up the hilly moorland ....