Memorial for Crofters’ War on Skye

A sheep stands above the road to Staffin, where residents want to mark the role the community played in the Land Wars of the 1800s. PIC Contributed.
A sheep stands above the road to Staffin, where residents want to mark the role the community played in the Land Wars of the 1800s. PIC Contributed.
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A crofters uprising on Skye more than 130 years ago is to be marked with a memorial to those who fought landowners for fairer conditions.

Staffin Community Trust wants to recognise the role its community played in the Land Wars of the late 1800s as crofters battled against punitive rent increases and eviction.

The memorial will mark crofters such as Norman Stewart (Tormod Choinnich Stiùbhart) from Bhaltos who was the first Skye crofter to refused to pay a rent increase in 1877.

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He played a pivotal role in the agitation, ending up in prison twice, and became a figurehead in the uprising that was supported by hundreds of crofters.

Commemorative cairns have been placed in Skye communities of Glendale and Kilmuir to mark the role of their foregathers in the Land Wars.

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Sine Gillespie, director of the Staffin Trust, said: “Glendale, Braes and Kilmuir made the headlines as agitators on a frequent basis.

“It is notable that the communities of Glendale and Kilmuir have erected modest cairns to commemorate the role of their great-grandfathers in the crofters’ Land Wars.

“However, in Staffin, we have failed to create a lasting memorial to our own crofting ancestors more than a century on.”

Staffin Community Trust is working with Atlas Arts on the project and artists have been invited to come forward with their ideas for a contemporary memorial.

Creative Scotland has awarded the project research and development funding.

Atlas director Emma Nicolson said: “It has enabled us to go on a journey with members of the community trust in Staffin, investigating the many possible outcomes for a fitting memorial to the crofters’ struggles.”

The Land Wars were marked by violent clashes between people facing eviction and landowners and the authorities and followed on from the Highland Clearances.

The Battle of the Braes in 1882 was triggered by a rent increase imposed by Lord MacDonald. When sheriff officers were sent to evict the crofters, who lived near Portree, around 50 police officers from Glasgow baton-charged the gathering crowd.

The unrest spread to Glendale and in 1883 with Marines sent to Skye to assist the police.

The Napier Commission was set up that year to examine issues surrounding crofting and land ownership in the Highlands and Islands with hearings held across the area.

The report failed to make way for new legislation and the following year crofters put up six candidates in a general election.

Five candidates from the Crofter’s Party were elected with new legislation in 1886 addressing some - but not all - of the issues surrounding land rights in Scotland.

Today, Staffin, in the north east of Skye, has a resident population of more than 500 people who live in 23 different crofting townships around Staffin Bay and the Trotternish Ridge.

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