The Clearances

(In Gaelic, Na Fuadaichean)

The Clearances, the period in Scottish or Highland history between 1785 and the 1850s when thousands of crofters were forcibly evicted from their lands, is still a hot topic among historians, and books on the subject continue to pour out from publishers. What makes it a hot and emotive topic is that historians and other writers have differing views as to the severity of the effects on communities, with some historians arguing that the notion of voluntary emigration has muddied the picture, and that the Highlands and Islands were going through inevitable social change.

A good start is John Prebble’s The Highland Clearances and David Craig’s On The Crofters' Trail: In Search Of The Clearance Highlanders. Craig goes off in search of the descendants of cleared crofters in Scotland and Canada to hear their stories. His more recent title, The Glens Of Silence: Landscapes Of The Highland Clearances, is an illustrated title on cleared townships and the consequences on the land. Tom Devine’s Clanship To Crofters' War: The Social Transformation Of The Scottish Highlands gives an excellent overview of that area of Scotland, and sets the period in its historical context. A contemporary observer, Alexander Mackenzie, wrote The History Of The Highland Clearances.

In Patrick Sellar And The Highland Clearances: Homicide, Eviction And The Price Of Progress, Eric Richards, author of The Highland Clearances, examines the life and legacy of one of the Clearances’ most notorious figures, Patrick Sellar. Ian Grimble also tackles the subject in The Trial Of Patrick Sellar.

How the Clearances were seen by the rest of the Scotland, the Lowlands, is examined in some detail in Contempt, Sympathy And Romance: Lowland Perceptions Of The Highlands And The Clearances During The Famine Years, 1845-1855 while The Lowland Clearances: Scotland's Silent Revolution 1760-1830 argues that clearances took place in the Lowlands too, on a greater scale, but that there is much less discussion of it.

The Clearances affected parts of the country in different ways. Here are some books pointing to specific areas: A Season In Dornoch: Golf And Life In The Scottish Highlands; from an archaeological perspective, there is Barra: From The Clans To The Clearances, and Little General And The Rousay Crofters: Crisis And Conflict On An Orkney Estate.

Fictional treatments of the Clearances are illuminating and the main Highlands and Islands writers have written novels that have become Scottish classics. Iain Crichton Smith’s classic novel, Consider the Lilies, is a poignant look at the period through the eyes of an old woman. There is also Neil Gunn’s The Silver Darlings and Butcher's Broom, and Fionn MacColla’s And the Cock Crew. For children, Kathleen Fidler’s The Desperate Journey, remains the classic title. Our Scottish Books in History: The Clearances has more details.

The most recent titles are Michael Fry’s Wild Scots: Four Hundred Years of Highland History while The Highland Clearance Trail by Rob Gibson was published in January 2006.

Books featured in this article

  • Cover scan of Butcher's Broom
    Butcher's Broom - Neil Miller Gunn - Paperback
    'Butcher's Broom' is Neil Gunn's recreation of the Highland Clearances of the 19th century, when great changes swept through the country and its people. Tapping into the essence of Gaelic experience, it is the story of a community threatened with eviction, in order to make way for sheep.
  • Cover scan of Debating The Highland Clearances
    Storm Over The Highlands - Eric Richards - Hardback
    This publication introduces the Clearances as a classic historical problem. Eric Richards reviews the debate among historians, novelists, politicians and economists and presents a representative anthology of documents illustrating the historical foundations on which the debate is built.
  • Cover scan of The Highland Clearnaces Trail
    The Highland Clearances Trail - Rob Gibson - Paperback
    'The Highland Clearances Trail' will answer the where, why, what and whens of the Highland clearances. Taking you around the significant sites of the Highland clearances this vivid guide gives you a scholarly introduction to a tragic moment in Scotland's history.
  • Cover scan of On The Crofters' Trail
    On The Crofters' Trail: In Search Of The Clearance Highlanders - David Craig - Paperback
    For several generations the Highlanders were forced from their homes by landowners in the Clearances. Many fled to Nova Scotia and beyond. David Craig set out to discover how many of their stories survive in the memories of their descendants.
  • Cover scan of A Season In Dornoch
    A Season In Dornoch: Golf And Life In The Scottish Highlands - Lorne Rubenstein - Paperback
    In 1977, Lorne Rubenstein, an avid golfer, travelled to Dornoch in the Highlands. He sought to uncover an authentic sense of self and turned to a place where golf was purest. Here, he describes how the experience had a profound effect on him.
  • Cover scan of The Silver Darlings
    The Silver Darlings - Neil M. Gunn - Paperback
    The tale of lives won from a cruel sea and crueller landlords. The dawning of the herring fisheries brought with it the hope of escape from the Highland Clearances, and this story paints a vivid picture of a community fighting against nature and history, and refusing to be crushed.