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The Unsung Hero of the Bernera Riots

The Unsung Hero of the Bernera Riots

The following is an article that appeared in The Hebridean - from a story related by Donald Macaulay:

Many of you will have heard of the Bernera Riots and the main characters involved, but an unsung hero of that episode was Donald Macdonald, or 'Dan' as he was known locally. Dan lived at 25 Valasay, a village between Hacklete and Tobson.

Up until 1872 the people of Great Bernera and Tir-Mor had their summer grazing stretching from Beannaibh a' Chuailein to Gleann Shanndaig on Morsgail Moor. In that year word came from the Factor, Donald Munro, that they were to lose that grazing and given, in place, a very inferior piece of land, both in quality and size, at Earshader. They also had to build, at their own expense, a seven-mile long dyke between themselves and the new estates Scaliscro and Morsgail. The crofters were extremely unhappy but they had no option but to comply with the Factor's wishes. However, less than two years later when the dyke was almost complete, word came from Munro that they were to move from Earshader to grazings in Hacklete. To cut a long story short, one crofter, Angus Macdonald from Tobson, complained and was arrested and imprisoned in Stornoway.

Whilst Angus was languishing in prison for his part in the fracas, Dan couldn't sit back and do nothing, so he took it upon himself to go from house to house raising the people of Bernera. He is said to have told a man from Bosta:

Bi 'n-aird, tha thusa gle bhlath agus comhfhurtail ann an sinn 's do nabaidh air leacan fuara ann am priosan Steornabhaigh.

(Get up, you're warm and comfortable there and your neighbour is on cold slabs in Stornoway Prison.)

He sent boats to Carloway and Uig to muster more men until finally about 150 men were congregated at Garynahine, it was also Dan who kept the group's enthusiasm alive during the long march to Stornoway.

Word of the imminent onslaught had reached the police station so Angus was cleaned-up, dressed in new clothes and released in the hope of stopping the marchers. The Procurator Fiscal, the Sheriff-Clerk and all the policemen in Stornoway led by Superintendent Donald Cameron met the mini-army at Manor Farm. He advised them to return home promising them that they would correct all the wrongs if they did. There were murmurings amongst the Bernera men for a while then Dan raised his voice saying:

The police had many years to correct the wrongs and didn't do it, they won't do it now either, they don't have the authority.

With these words they marched into Stornoway, the piper Donald Maclennan from Kneep in Uig, at their head. That night was spent at Goathill and they marched to the castle the following morning to meet with Sir James Matheson and air their grievances.

In the ensuing trial a unanimous verdict of not guilty was awarded and Donald Munro was shown to be the despicable tyrant he was. This was a turning point in the history of the people of the Highlands and Islands and the first step towards security of tenure for crofters. We owe our gratitude to men like Dan who were prepared to walk that extra mile and put their personal freedom on the line for the peace-of-mind of others.


Title: The Unsung Hero of the Bernera Riots
Record Type: Stories, Reports and Traditions
Type: Newspaper Article
Date: 2005
Record Maintained By: CEBL
Subject Id: 54276