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Clearances

A term used to describe the enforced migration of a large section of the population from the Scottish Highlands in the years following the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745, which continued throughout the 19th century. The reasons for the clearances can be partly ascribed to the failure of the rebellion, the government's consequent desire to curb the power of the clan chiefs and the break-up of the clan system of land ownership; but the first clearances, in Sutherland, were as a result of a move by the landowners to introduce new methods of agriculture and land usage. Crofters, small farmers, holding no rights to their land, were removed to the coastal strips to make way for the introduction of sheep farming in the more fertile glens. However, the new mixed economy and the introduction of industries such as fishing and linen manufacture did not provide a secure basis for the population, and throughout the 19th century absentee landlords encouraged emigration, especially to North America.

Many of the evictions were carried out with a brutality that has become part of Highland mythology and folk memory, and there was some spirited resistance to the clearances in Skye through strikes and land raids. Security of tenure was granted to the crofters only by the Napier Commission of 1886, but by then the population of the Highlands had dwindled. The clearances changed the face of the Highlands, encouraged absenteeism among landlords and helped to weaken Gaelic culture and language, although its literature is rich in their condemnation.

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