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The Clearance of Vuia Mhor
The Clearance of Vuia Mhor
by Maggie Smith
The beauty of the Island of Vuia Mhor (Bhuidha Mhòr) off the west coast of Uig is a tantalising speck in the imagination of families of exiles tracing their ancestors. The visible landscape is tumbledown ruins which were once the warm hearths of families. The cold grey walls were witness to the brutal clearance of families in the early 1840s.
Life on the island of Vuia Mhòr was hard, with little fertile land and no safe anchorage. The peats were cut and harvested in Drovenish and taken home by rowing boat or sail. Boats had to be beached after each fishing trip.
Amongst the inhabitants were the family of Neil Macleod, who had found refuge in Vuia Mhor after being cleared from the old village of Mangersta. Neil was married to Catherine Mackenzie of Kirkibost, Bernera and they had twelve children, ten of whom emigrated to Cape Breton between 1821-1826. Kenneth, one of the sons, emigrated in 1826 with his wife Ann Macleod from Balallan, and their child died on the long sea voyage across the Atlantic. They managed to keep the child's death a secret so that the child would not be buried at sea.
A grandson of Neil Macleod, 'An Og (John, son of John), lived on Vuia and was courting Ann Maclennan from Reef. It is said he swam across to Reef regularly with his dry clothing strapped to his head.
The islanders fished to sustain the families and paid their rent by harvesting the sea-kelp with the substantial profit from the sales going to the landowner. When the landlord's greedy eye focused on sheep rearing the community was sacrificed and scattered to the four winds.
The land officer evicted the inhabitants from the seven homes and forty-six souls young and old came ashore in the village of Geishader.
The strong swimmer John Macleod married his Ann in 1847 and lived in Geshader, having been cleared from Vuia along with his mother and sister. They lived there as cottars and the ruins of the house can be seen to this day on croft No 2. The Martin and the Smith family became cottars on croft no 10 Geshader and later emigrated. The Mathesons went to Ungeshader, then some emigrated and others went to Brue. The MacArthurs settled south of Enacleit at a place still known as 'Buaile Mhic Artair'
Tales of the eviction were repeated in oral tradition and are expressed in the poetry:
'S iomadh athair agus màthair
Bha gu làr a 'sileadh dheòir
Mar chaidh a fuadach as an àite
Far an deach an àrach òg.
Chuala sinn e bho ar cairdean
Mu's do dh'fhag iad tìr nam beò
Gu'n ghabh mallachdan an àite
Air na dh'fhàsaich Bhuidha Mhòr
À Amhran Lord Lever
le Domhnall Donn Donald Maciver Cnip
The land officer responsible for the evictions, Kenneth Stewart, tacksman of Hacklete, went to Canada and fell on hard times. He was a tramp and went to the door of a house and knocked. The girl who opened the door gave him a piece of bread. After he had eaten she enquired if he had enjoyed this morsel. He replied that he truly had and was very grateful. She then proceeded to tell him that he had been responsible for the eviction of herself and her family from Vuia Mhor!
Cha robh dùil agad fhads a bha thu gam fhuadach à Bhuidha
Gum biodh tu lorg aoigheach orm ann an Canada.
Despite the vastness of Canada this man had come to the door of the girl from Vuia. Though she had only been a very young girl at the time of the eviction, she recognised the man. She then urged him to leave before her husband came home. She believed he would murder, either he who carried out the evictions, or her for showing compassion to the man who had evicted the families so brutally years before.