One thing that is has become obvious over the past few days is the continuing cultural links between Ireland and the Hebrides. The landscape ( mountains , islands and blanket bog )is common to both , and of course their shared history from prehistory to the land clearances and emigration of the last two centuries . Surprisingly in amongst the soft vowels of the Hebrides is a recognisable remnant of the Irish accent – perhaps more Northern than Southern – but definitely there.
We felt ashamed to be English in Ireland. For all that everyone was as friendly as could be , the folk culture and oral history was all about the clearances by absent English landlords. Up here the villains of the piece were the clan chieftains themselves , who gradually changed from protectors of their common land and people into landlords who either sold out or abused their kin in a manner equally abhorrent to the English landlords in Ireland. Both places saw the inevitable replacement of the clan system with its local focus ( and feuds!) by the infinitely more powerful nation state. It’s just a shame that both systems lacked the morality to look after their poorer folk. It seems that there were some attempts at philanthropy by Victorian magnates , the new barons of the industrial revolution , but in general the few families who owned the vast majority of the land behaved appallingly , and life for the rest was terribly hard and short.
In some respects the iron age folk may have had it much easier. Their dwellings were little different to the Black houses of the crofters – huge stone walls over earth floors and covered with a low thatch . They at least could live off the bounty of the land without having to pay rent , and presumably the landscape had yet to be denuded of trees in their day. We had a fascinating day touring the islands, gasping at the scenery and examining these ruins , some of which had been rebuilt to give a good idea of what it must have been like to live and work in these conditions.
Vast tracts of land are still owned by remarkably few families , but we are left with the impression that although still not easy (especially in the winter darkness!), a good life in these isles in our hopefully more equitable age is now possible. When the weather permits the sheer staggering beauty of the place must make it a VERY good life.

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