How an Island Lost its People

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Improvement, Clearance and Resettlement on Lismore, 1830-1914

by Robert Hay

In 1830, Lismore was one of the granaries of the West Highlands, with every possible scrap of land producing bere barley or oats. The population had reached its peak of 1500. By 1910, numbers had dwindled to 400 and were still falling. The agricultural economy had been almost completely transformed to support sheep and cattle, with ploughland replaced by the now familiar green grassy landscape.
This book explores the many, interrelated, factors that led to this haemorrhage of people. Much of the story is told through the actions of two major players in the famine years: Allan MacDougall, the factor of Baleveolan estate, who worked to improve farm practices and encourage the better tenants and James Cheyne, who took the opposite approach, clearing his land for sheepwalks. Detailed examination of the fates of different groups – tenants, skilled workmen, cottars and paupers – shows that the most vulnerable were the landless but also the young of all classes. They were “pushed and pulled” into migration to make their living, principally in the expanding industries of the central belt of Scotland.

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