The Year of Sheep – Scots Protest against The Highland Clearances
The year of Homecoming is upon us, when expats and people from abroad with Scottish blood return to their homeland to celebrate all things Scottish.
But 217 years ago, the Government were doing quite the opposite, Scots were being banished from their homeland, threatened with execution if they refused. Amid the backdrop of ‘The Highland Clearances’ some inhabitants of Scotland did protest. In a year that was to become known as ‘The Year of Sheep’, there is evidence of a series of organised protests using one of Scotland’s most important exports- sheep.
In 1872 during The Highland Clearances a wedding party declared war on sheep and decided to undertake the ambitious job of driving thousands of sheep from the hills of Easter Ross and Sutherland. The majority of them members of the Ross family of Strathrusdale This escalated to 4 days later becoming a massive riotous group of 400 men. The Ross-shire Sheep Riots had begun.
Prof Jim Hunter, director of the UHI Centre for History said: “Announcements were made outside churches on a particular Sunday. The plan was drive the sheep from Sutherland and Easter Ross south.”
The sheep drivers recruited to their ranks as they pushed south.
By early August, they had rounded up 6,000 sheep and had reached Beauly, near Inverness.
Prof Hunter said: “The government was panicky. The situation was worse from their perspective because of the French Revolution and there was apprehension that the same thing might happen in Britain.
“The government cracked down on public protests.”
The Inverness County Sheriff Court Records reveal the punishments ordered for six men accused of driving sheep away.
MacKenzie and Aird were both ordered to be transported for seven years “beyond seas to such places as His Majesty shall appoint”.
If they returned to Britain in those seven years they were to be sentenced to death.