Skye clearance sparks a tale of two continents

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An ambitious new song project linking a cleared village in Skye to a town in Australia is one of 21 nationwide events to form part of Scotland’s Year of Stories.

Supported by EventScotland as part of the Year of Stories 2022 and Creative Scotland, An Tinne (The Link) is a project led by SEALL, and Skye Gaelic singer Anne Martin linking a collection of songs, stories and objects across the centuries between Scotland and Australia.

The connection is a cooking pot hook on a chain (an slabhraidh) which moved to Australia with a Skye family forced from their homes during the 19th century Highland Clearances.

A chance meeting in Australia between Anne and a farmer from Victoria began the
remarkable circular journey from the cleared village of Greaulainn in Kilmuir and a farm in Geelong, Victoria, and forged an unbreakable link between people, land and language on two continents.

In 1852 Donald and Anne MacPherson boarded a ship to Geelong to fight for a new life in the New World. They took with them the clothes on their backs, the family bible and their cooking pot hook.

Anne (Martin) explained: ‘I met Stuart MacPherson by complete chance when I was singing at the Port Fairy Folk Festival in Victoria in 2007.

‘He just happened to tell me that his people were from Skye and it just so happened that his people were not just from Skye but from the abandoned village behind my property!

‘Stuart told me about the family heirloom, the slabhraidh, which was taken from Greaulainn by his ancestors all the way to Australia and passed down through the generations to end up with him on his farm along with the bible.

‘To the family, the hook is a poignant reminder of their journey to the other side of the world.’

For some time, Anne has been in possession of a collection of Trotternish songs (mainly
written by women) gathered by Inspector of the Poor, Catriona Douglas of Kilmuir, in the 1930s. The An Tinne project will take the manuscript and reimagine these songs to give insight into the place and the people who sang them.

From a song house residency in Kilmuir in May, the manuscript will be reworked by a
collaboration of female musicians and will provide a source of inspiration for new music from Gaelic speakers, modern Australian and First Nation Artists from Scotland and Australia.

The project will also include a series of walks, talks and workshops focusing on the cleared villages of Skye and Raasay and the Highland Clearances in general.

An Tinne will culminate in a high-profile weekend of concerts and celebration on Skye and Raasay between August 4-6, which will launch the Catriona Douglas collection. It is hoped to synchronise similar events in Australia, via livestream.

SEALL interim director, Sara Bain, said: ‘An Tinne is a project comprising so many profound layers.

‘Underpinning the theme is the incredible strength of the Gaelic culture – its land,
people and language – which has endured across time and distance.

‘An Tinne is an intrinsically Gaelic story and highlights not only the uniqueness of the cultural heritage of one of the Highland’s Gaelic bastions but also the language’s ability to survive through adversity and time.’

‘SEALL is more than just delighted to lead this project with Anne and we are very grateful to our funders, and particularly EventScotland for allowing this incredible tale to be part of Scotland’s Year of Stories 2022 which spotlights, celebrates and promotes the wealth of stories inspired by, written, or created in Scotland.

‘We hope An Tinne will inspire people to come forward with more of the real stories from Skye and Raasay that still remain untold.’

As well as involving highlight events, An Tinne aims to support schoolchildren, communities and visitors to learn about Skye’s cultural heritage and inspire them to realise the importance of an indigenous language to their history.

The project also aims to inspire visitors with roots in the north west Highlands to travel (if permissible under the Scottish Government Strategic Framework for Covid-19) to the area and experience the real stories behind the lore.

Paul Bush OBE, VisitScotland’s director of events, said: ‘An Tinne will be at the heart of an engaging, celebratory nationwide events programme, and this unique project will bring people together to celebrate and explore shared histories through music and song.’

For further information, visit www.seall.co.uk