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Grianam Case

Grianam Case

The Grianam case was a legal dispute between the MacDonalds and MacLeods regarding rights to several islands in the Sound of Harris, including Grianam and Rangas. It was a complex case, involving many witnesses from Berneray and North Uist, who gave evidence that spanned events from 1651 to 1765. 

Mary MacLeod, born during the 1640s, recalled that the island had been known as Grianam Shiabay during her childhood. Morris Morrison remembered not only that his father Gilbride had grazed lambs on Grianam before 1651, but also recounted the discovery of a dead whale on Shensker in 1711, a whale that was deemed to belong to Berneray. A few years before there had been a similar dispute involving a dead seal found on either Grianam or Rangas. 

The evidence from Mary MacLeod and Morris Morrison had been gathered at a meeting at Goulaby in 1735. A year later, the local landlords and other notable men of the time carried out an inspection of the march or boundary between North Uist and Harris. It seemed settled, to Berneray minds at least, that the islands belonged to them. For a number of years, a period that coincides with the Jacobite Rising of 1745 and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempt to regain the British throne, it appears that there was less tension over Grianam and Rangas. 

Thus far the disputes had been primarily over grazing and the rights to items washed ashore on the islands. However, the value of seaweed gathered around the shoreline was beginning to rise rapidly. Kelp ash produced from the seaware was a valuable raw material used in the soap and glass industries. An agreement was reached at Cladh Maolrithe that Borve tenants on Berneray would allow tenants of Sand on North Uist to cut seaware on the islands, on payment of 25 merks. However, knowing that Berneray's tacksman Donald MacLeod hadn’t yet paid for his peat from North Uist, the Sand tenants chose to cut their seaware clandestinely without paying. 

Several men from North Uist claimed that they had travelled on foot to Grianam at low tide, which would have given them a legal right to the seaware. In 1751 Angus Ferguson of Borve discovered an artificial path between North Uist and Grianam. Not long after he was sent with grieve Finlay Morrison and another Borve man to reclaim payment for the seaware illicitly taken. They certainly received payment, but drank the proceeds before arriving home. In 1754 came further dispute over Rangas, which was finally agreed by arbitration, with the seaware of North Rangas to be cut by Berneray and that of South Rangas by Baile mhic Phail and Garavurchie.

Once again, in 1763, the local landlords inspected the march between North Uist and Harris. During the visit Sir James MacDonald of Sleat made it clear that the boundary suggested by his tenant had not been agreed by Berneray. Donald Roy MacDonald, who took over the tack of Kyles Berneray from Donald MacLeod the old Trojan in 1764, did nothing to ease tensions. He insisted that Sand tenants should be allowed to cut seaware on Grianam if Berneray people continued to do so. He encouraged aggression in the Sand tenants, resulting in Berneray subtenants' ropes being cut and their seaware lost. In 1765 there was a direct confrontation between the two sides. The Trojan lost his temper and attempted to take a shearing hook from a Sand tenant, at which point Donald Roy MacDonald arrived and, after some heated words, both sides agreed to stop cutting seaware. 

This was the point at which Sir James MacDonald decided it was time to take the Grianam problem to court. There were 41 witnesses from Berneray  and 22 from North Uist. The Outer Court of Session delivered its decision on 17th July 1770, in favour of MacLeod of Harris. Sir James appealed and the second decision by the Inner Court of Session, confirming the original decision, was delivered in 1772. Sir James appealed again, taking the case to the House of Lords. That decision on 2nd February 1781 agreed with the earlier decisions, ordering that £100 be paid to the respondent for his costs. The march between North Uist and Harris was now fixed, following the line recalled by generations of Morrisons.


Title: Grianam Case
Record Type: Historical Events
Date: 18th century
Record Maintained By: CEBH
Subject Id: 109034