Sùil nam Brà

'The enforcing of the prohibition on querns readily symbolised the tension and oppression of these communities. And the destruction of the stones symbolised the fundamental means of getting nutrition – the final blow.'

Prof. Hugh Cheape, Historian & UHI Academic

Sùil nam Brà (eye of the quernstone) is a memorial to the Crofters Uprisings in north Skye that will open in early 2024. This has been repeatedly requested by the community, during public consultation events and AGMs, since Urras an Taobh Sear was set up in 1994.

Kilt Rock was chosen as it was known locally to be used for clandestine open air meetings between the townships of Bhaltos and Ealaiseadar during the uprisings in the 1880s. Meetings had to take place outside so that no single family could be persecuted for holding such an event. The exterior will resemble the ruins of a blackhouse and will provide shelter in the exposed site.

The involvement of a range of local people, many of whom are descendants of the protesters, in realising a memorial to their ancestors’ past has been invaluable.

Inspiration came from this former home near Cùil na Cnoc.

Sùil nam Brà – Our Memorial to the Crofters of Staffin

On the last day of November, seventeen children from Sgoil Stafainn visited Creag an Fhèilidh (The Kilt Rock) to participate through the medium of Gaelic in the building of Sùil nam Brà – our Memorial to the Crofters in our district who rose against oppressive landlordism during the 1880s.

There are twenty-two small townships throughout the district of Staffin - known to older Gaelic speakers as An Taobh Sear (‘east side’). During the last few months, stones have been gathered from each of these townships, to reflect how deeply every family was affected by the land struggles of the 19th century.

Many local crofters were actively involved for years in opposing the tyrannical regime where the landlord had all the power whilst crofters - and women for that matter – were denied even the legal right to vote in Elections. During those dark days, hundreds of crofters would gather at The Quairing and Loch Mealt to plan their course of action towards getting justice. The purpose of the Memorial is to communicate succinctly the historical background prior to the Crofters (Scotland) Act of 1886, but to highlight the role played by our forebears in bringing about much needed change.

Staffin Community Trust has been working towards realising this Memorial for a very long time. The title of the work – Sùil nam Brà – reflects how Loch leum nam brà (the loch of the leaping quernstones) came to be named. It is a story that the landlord of the time would prefer had been drowned along with the quernstones.

The work is being realised through partnership. We have undertaken a long consultation with the community, and we treasure the enthusiasm which local people have contributed to informing the development. People have been generous in contributing stone. Nobody has been more enthusiastic, kind or helpful than Janet Lamont – Seònaid Shòmhairle Siùsaidh Thormoid. Janet’s great-grandfather was none other than Norman Stewart (Tormod Choinnich) – whose bold opposition to tyranny earned him the nickname ‘Parnell’.

Through partnership with Atlas Arts some years ago, members of the Trust visited iconic sites in Scotland and Germany. Henry Castle emerged as the artist whom the community selected to create a Memorial to this significant story. We have enjoyed a meaningful relationship with Henry and are delighted that the clachair is Hector Macleod – a Gaelic speaker from Sconser.

We are thrilled with the siting of this Memorial. The Kilt Rock is visited by hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world. Not only is the place symbolic for a multitude of reasons, but it benefits from the immensely extended new car park. The Memorial will be completed early in the new year. Incorporated within the structure are interpretation panels in Gaelic and English, along with a poem by Maoilios Caimbeul. The designers of the panels are Lateral North.

This has been an intergenerational project. It was the late Lachie Gillies – an original member of Staffin Community Trust – who first flagged up that a crofters’ memorial should be a local priority. The old Gaelic proverb says ‘follow closely the example of those who have gone before you’.

When their own grandchildren ask them how Loch leum nam brà came to be named, our young stalwarts will be equipped to tell them this story. And they will be proud to mention that their own hands placed some of the stones onto this Memorial.

In terms of funding, this is a considerable development and funding has been received from a variety of sources. These include The Scottish Government, The Highland Council, Bòrd na Gàidhlig and The Gordon & Ena Baxter Foundation. We are most grateful to all our funders.

We have been particularly delighted that Bòrd na Gàidhlig has contributed to the cost of our interpretation panels. And through their Gaelic Officers’ Scheme, they have enabled Angus Murray to spend a considerable amount of his time on this project. Bòrd na Gàidhlig has been extremely supportive of our community throughout the last few decades. Treasuring and building up our Gaelic language is a key element of the work of Staffin Community Trust.

Leanaibh gu dlùth ri cliù do shinnsear.