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Article posted: December 4, 2001
Music & Heritage of
Outer Hebrides, Scotland
By: Ryan Taylor, Biography and Archived Articles
The Isle of Lewis, off the west coast of Scotland, is one of the harshest parts of Britain. Along with the other Outer Hebrides islands, it has always been sparsely populated.
A part of Lewis exists in western Ontario too.
The famine which affected Ireland in the 1840s was felt in parts of Scotland as well. The crofters of Lewis also suffered. Their landlord was less than sympathetic and in the end decided to evict many of his tenants for economic reasons.
The islanders sailed to Quebec, looking to settle with earlier emigrants in the Eastern Townships. After a time, a group of 109 families settled in Huron township, Bruce County. The area became known as the Lewis Settlement.
The new Canadians were able to maintain their Scottishness because there were so many in the same area who came from Lewis. Their language and customs were the same, and could be maintained through the generations. Even now, people from Huron township feel their ties with Lewis.
Angus Macleod, a folk singer and composer, felt strong ties with his Lewis heritage from the time when his grandfather would sing to him in Gaelic. His great-aunts looked into the distant past in their collective memory. "They spoke about the Isle of Lewis like it was home-almost like our family was on some kind of extended leave of absence from the island," said Macleod.
In his research on his ancestry, Macleod learned a great deal about the Lewis evictions and the immigrants' experiences. He wants to share what he knows with others, and as a composer, the natural way to do this is through music. The result is The Silent Ones (CD or cassette). The music is in a modern-folk format, with a rock base but with hints of Gaelic in some songs. The opening features a recitation in Gaelic with a piper playing a slow air, Leaving Lewis.
The twenty-page booklet which accompanies the CD tells the story of the evictions, and of Angus Macleod's journey to recapture his ancestors' experiences. He strongly emphasizes the heartlessness of the landlord's methods of choosing who will emigrate. Most of those chosen did not want to go, but the landlord and his factors applied economic and social pressures which made it impossible for them to stay.
Macleod's descriptions of the trip across the ocean and the first days in Canada continue in the same horrified tone. In fact, even those on the crowded trans-Atlantic ships had times of singing on the decks and sunny days watching the strange seabirds who visited them. As others had found before them, the new land offered the emigrants many opportunities, provided they were willing to work.
And they knew how to work. Those who had scraped a living from the meagre soil and harsh climate of western Scotland were certainly able to build farms in the lush forests of Ontario. The longing for home, however, never seemed to go away.
Macleod's music is haunting and paints an emotional picture of the evictions and the loss which his ancestors suffered. It points out once again that there are many roads for family historians to travel, and many reactions to the information we gain through our research. This is a musician's offering to his ancestors, and one which many can enjoy. Those whose Scots heritage lies in the Hebrides will find it especially touching.
The Silent Ones is published by Torquil Productions, Box 303, Kincardine N2Z 2Y8. Their toll-free telephone number is 877 489 4693, fax 519 396 8582. The CD costs $23.00 (C$), which includes P.S.T., postage and handling. The cassette is $18 (C$). For more information, visit their website at www.torquil.net, where a lengthy biography of Angus Macleod is available.
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