Sculptures repopulate empty Lismore croft

Malcolm McColl's story tells a tale of community defiance in the face of clearance and eviction NO_T25_MalcolmMcColl

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Three new inhabitants have moved into an abandoned croft on Lismore.

Sculptor Iona Macleod, who also lives on the island, wants to spread the word about her latest art work on show from now until late September.

The figures, based around real life stories from Lismore’s past, highlight the problem of lack of affordable and accessible housing now and back in history.

Old Lady of the Shebeen was evicted from the northern tip of Lismore as punishment for illegal distilling. IM_T25_shebeenoldlady


Mary MacDonald , who had a piglet friend, was just 13 when she first left Lismore to find work.
Lismore sculptor Iona MacLeod hopes to take the sculptures on tour of the Western Isles, adding to them as it travels

Iona has called her installation Empty Houses and it can be seen at Balimackillichan Farm, from the track leading down to Coeffin castle. To get there it is a 60 minute walk from the Appin ferry at Point or a 60 minute stroll from the Oban ferry at Achnacroish. Visitors are asked to follow the country code and remember to shut gates.

Archie and Inna McColl allowed Iona to put the sculptures on their farm. The actual spot they stand on is among ruins of an empty croft called Tir na Choirce, shortened to Tirechoire which translates to The Land of Oats.

You can find out more about Iona’s work here

Although the stories Iona based the sculpture around are all from the island, they are not specific to that croft, she says.

Research by island historian Robert Hay uncovered who the last generation of tenants at Tirechoire were, along with an interesting story of eviction and conspiracy to commit the crime of spuilzie – selling off grain before the landlord could get his hands on it.

At its peak in 1831, Lismore had a population of 1,500 people. Today it has around 175 people.

Iona said: ‘The depopulation of the highlands and islands is often thought of as an historic issue, however, access to land, affordable housing and work in rural areas are still major obstacles faced by communities like Lismore and present real difficulties for population sustainment and growth.

‘These sculptures are meant to encourage conversation around this issue by repopulating one of the depopulated spaces on the island. I hope it will encourage people to think about how the historic context of this issue has evolved to set the scene for what is happening within the community today.’

Each of the figures in the installation is based on a person from the island’s history.

One of the characters is based on Malcolm McColl who has an inspiring story about community defiance in the face of clearance and eviction.

Another is the Old Lady of the Shebeen who was evicted from the northern tip of Lismore as punishment for illegal distilling.

Then there is Mary MacDonald who had a piglet friend and was just 13 when she left her island to find work across the Firth of Lorne on a small farm at Achnacree in Benderloch. Her job was to look after a boy and a girl a bit younger than herself. Unfortunately for Mary, her master and mistress were mean and penny-pinching but ‘with aspirations to gentility’.

An excerpt from a book A Tale or Two from Lismore, written by Domhnall MacIlleDhuibh, tells how one special day, important visitors were due to call so the scene was set to give off the impression of wealth. For that purpose, a pot of jam was put on the servants’ table – the first taste of such a luxury for Mary and herd-boy Donald Maccaul who could not resist finishing the entire jar. The story goes it was the first time, indeed the last time, jam was on the menu.

All the books that helped Iona with the stories are available at the island’s heritage centre. They are Domhnall MacIlleDuibh’s (Donald Black) A Tale or Two from Lismore and Robert Hay’s Lismore The Great Garden and How an Island Lost its People.
Caption: Malcolm McColl’s story tells a tale of community defiance in the face of clearance and eviction