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Orinsay - A Day of Sorrows
Orinsay - A Day of Sorrows
by Donald Mackenzie, Domhnall Dubh
My grandfather, Domhnall Ban, was only four years' old when the evictions from Orinsay took place in 1843. He remembered walking with his mother to Garyvard early on a summer's morning where boats were waiting to ferry them over Loch Erisort to Keose. On landing at Keose, they had to walk over the moor to Crossbost where poor, infertile, rocky land had been set aside to form 27 crofts. The women and children made this journey while the young, able-bodied men and women walked all the way round the end of the loch with the livestock and drove them to their new grazings on the northern shores of Loch Erisort.
The men who were left behind stripped the rafters and beams off the old homes and together, with any belongings they had, were loaded on to boats and sailed out of Loch Shell, around the coast to Crossbost. My great-grandfather was one of six brothers cleared from Orinsay that day. One went to Habost to found the "An Haboist" family, one went to Balallan - the 'An Tois' branch, Alasdair came to 26 Crossbost and Dr. MacAulay's great-grandfather, Roderick, went to croft number 27. My great-grandfather came to croft number 15 and Kenneth went to Ranish. He emigrated eight years later, walking with his wife and family to Uig and carrying all their belongings on their back to catch an emigrant ship that was sailing to Canada. A number of the cleared families from Southern Pairc sailed on one of the two ships that left from Uig in 1851. They had to give account of themselves when they arrived in Canada, for they were given in bond by the landlords and were not free agents to seek their own destiny. Many of them were never heard of again.
They lived under very harsh conditions during their first winter in Crossbost. They pulled the boats up over the foreshore and turned them upside down on the low lying banks above the shore. They spread canvas sails over the boats and lived beneath this improvised shelter until they were able to get enough stones assembled and thatch gathered in to build their own homes. They slept underneath the upturned boats at night - indeed some families spent two winters in this encampment. The difficulties of settling down to a routine way of life were enormous. They had to bring fertile soil in on their backs to form lazy beds over the bare, stony landscape, scavenge around to provide food for their livestock, fish the unknown waters of Loch Erisort to provide food for their families and tend the old and the sick amongst them. They also had to try to regain the contentment and peace of mind so cruelly wrenched away from them when they were a self-sufficient community living happily on the lands cultivated for generations by their forefathers, by the shores of the rich fishing grounds of Loch Shell.
With hard work and determination, they helped build up a vigorous crofting township over the years. Lemreway had been cleared two years earlier in 1841 and as most of them also went to Crossbost, they joined forces to apply themselves to the task in hand and try to make the best of it, but resentment at their oppressive treatment continued to rankle and they tried to re-settle Orinsay 38 years later in 1881. Those who were young at the time of the clearances, no doubt fortified by the stories of the better lifestyle they had left behind, were determined to claim title to their ancestral lands. In Roderick Martin the landlord, they met up with someone who was equally determined that their claim would not prevail. With the force of law on his side, there could only be one winner and they were cleared out of Orinsay again after a short time in residence.
My grandfather was born in 1839 on the croft at 6 Orinsay. Tradition tells us that there was a white house built on that land at a place called "Rudha Mhic Eoin".
There was only one house in Crossbost when the people arrived from Lemreway and Orinsay. This was the shepherd's cottage. The tacksman was also a MacKenzie, but he had come from Gairloch and it was his brother-in-law who owned Crobeag. This was the "Stigidh" family and they left Crossbost to live at Crobeag when the new settlers arrived. They eventually set up home in Stornoway.
In common with a lot of villages in Southern Pairc, Buthinis was cleared five years earlier than Orinsay in 1838. They stayed in Orinsay until the entire Village was cleared. The MacKenzies at 19, 24 and 25 Crossbost (Clann 'an ic Alasdair) were originally from Buthinis. Some of the Buthinis families went to Point as well. The family of the bard, William MacKenzie (Uilleam Dhomhnaill ic Choinnich) of Shader, Point, had been among those evicted from Loch Shell. Orinsay was re-settled eventually in 1923, but by that time, the generation living in Crossbost had been distanced from their heritage by the passage of time. Eighty years had gone by during which time they had built up a prosperous township and no longer nursed the grievances felt by their forbears over the tyranny thrust upon them.
Orinsay was re-settled with the population overspill from Lemreway. Lemreway had itself been re-settled in 1858 when Stiomreway was cleared to make way for the Park Deer Farm. In both cases, the families removed at the time of the evictions, with one or two exceptions, did not return.
My grandfather, who was four years' old on the day the Village was cleared, died seven years before I was born. The stories of his parents' struggle for existence were well known within the family, particularly by my aunt who passed them onto me. The span of time that we are talking about has seen a transformation in the fortunes of Pairc - there is land available now and no one seems to want it. Do you ever wonder why the land that our forbears struggled for and wept over is being laid to waste?