Na Gaisgich (The Heroes)
The Spirit of the Highlands is, for me, embodied in our people, such as the land raider crofters about whom I composed this music
The inspiration for my work, Na Gaisgich (The Heroes), came from learning about the land raids by crofters in the Lochs area of Lewis. In 1891, having been refused any additional land by estate owner Lady Matheson, the crofters, who had been suffering overcrowding in coastal villages, attempted to re-settle in the ruined townships of Steimreway and Orinsay, from which forefathers had been forcibly evicted. The men, including some from my grandmother’s village of Calbost, were arrested, tried in Stornoway and sent to jail in Inverness Castle prison.
On release, they were greeted as heroes by cheering crowds of townsfolk. As well as being a lesser known but important moment in the history of Inverness Castle, it could be said to be one of many potent events in the late 19th century Highlands and Islands land reform movement, with ever-increasing support for crofters. Legislation did not go far enough, however, and land raids continued through to post-WWI.
I composed a trio of piano-led pieces of music, evoking the story of those 1891 crofters, at the heart of which are three vital threads: Na Tìr, Na Daoine, An Cànan (The Land, The People, the Language). The past has agency in the present and I found immense inspiration in the courage of those crofters. 130 years later the linked issues of private land ownership and rural depopulation continue to be among the biggest challenges facing us in the Highlands.
Listen to the music inspired by Steimreway below.
Inverness Greets the Heroes
Listen to the music inspired by the heroes below.
Inverness Greets the Heroes Audio
Listen to the music inspired by the Dachaidh below.
The Spirit of the Highlands is, for me, embodied in our people, such as the land raider crofters about whom I composed this music; folk, many of whom were impoverished and landless, who were willing to take on the might of the law and their ‘lords and masters’ in the struggle against injustice and inequality and all those land campaigners whose tenacious courage brought about the beginnings of change.
That spirit was embodied in those who, in the aftermath of post-Culloden repression, kept the Gaelic language and our traditional music alive; a spirit which would not be broken. That spirit continues today in Highlanders’ passionate belief in our communities, our culture, environment, our sense of place and belief in the future of this beautiful place we are fortunate to call home.