The Clearance of Vuia Mhòr

The following was written by Maggie Smith for Hebridean Connections.  The genealogies of all the known inhabitants of the island of Vuia – uninhabited since 1841 – can be found here.

Life on the island of Vuia Mhòr was hard, with little fertile land and no safe anchorage. The peats were cut and harvested in Drovinish and taken home by rowing boat or sail. Boats had to be beached after each fishing trip.

Amongst the inhabitants were the family of Neil Macleod, who had found refuge in Vuia Mhòr after being cleared from the old village of Mangersta. Neil was married to Catherine Mackenzie of Kirkibost, Bernera and they had twelve children, ten of whom emigrated to Cape Breton between 1821-1826. Kenneth, one of the sons, emigrated in 1826 with his wife Ann Macleod from Balallan, and their child died on the long sea voyage across the Atlantic. They managed to keep the child’s death a secret so that the child would not be buried at sea.

A grandson of Neil Macleod, ‘An Og (John, son of John), lived on Vuia and was courting Ann Maclennan from Reef. It is said he swam across to Reef regularly with his dry clothing strapped to his head.

The islanders fished to sustain the families and paid their rent by harvesting the sea-kelp with the substantial profit from the sales going to the landowner. When the landlord’s greedy eye focused on sheep rearing the community was sacrificed and scattered to the four winds.

The land officer evicted the inhabitants from the seven homes and forty-six souls young and old came ashore in the village of Geshader.  The strong swimmer John Macleod married his Ann in 1847 and lived in Geshader, having been cleared from the island along with his mother and sister. They lived there as cottars and the ruins of the house can be seen to this day at No 2. The Martin and the Smith family became cottars on No 10 Geshader and later emigrated. The Mathesons went to Ungeshader, then some emigrated and others went to Brue. The MacArthurs settled south of Enaclete at a place still known as Buaile Mhic Artair.

Tales of the eviction were repeated in oral tradition and are expressed in the poetry:

‘S iomadh athair agus màthair
Bha gu làr a ‘sileadh dheòir
Mar chaidh a fuadach as an àite
Far an deach an àrach òg.
Chuala sinn e bho ar cairdean
Mu’s do dh’fhag iad tìr nam beò
Gu’n ghabh mallachdan an àite
Air na dh’fhàsaich Bhuidha Mhòr

À Amhran Lord Lever
le Domhnall Donn, Donald Maciver Cnip

The land officer responsible for the evictions, Kenneth Stewart, tacksman of Hacklete, went to Canada after his wife diedand fell on hard times. According to tradition, he was a tramp and went to the door of a house and knocked. The girl who opened the door gave him a piece of bread and after he had eaten she enquired if he had enjoyed this morsel. He replied that he truly had and was very grateful. She then proceeded to tell him that he had been responsible for the eviction of herself and her family from Vuia Mhòr!

Cha robh dùil agad fhads a bha thu gam fhuadach à Bhuidha
Gum biodh tu lorg aoigheach orm ann an Canada.

Though she had only been a very young girl at the time of the eviction, she recognised the man at her door. She then urged him to leave before her husband came home. She believed he would murder, either he who carried out the evictions, or her for showing compassion to the man who had evicted the families so brutally years before.

Kenneth Stewart was born in 1781 in Skye and came to Uig – in fact to Bernera – with his relative, Rev Hugh Munro. He married Mary Smith, daughter of Farquhar the tacksman at Earshader, and lived at the farmhouse in Hacklete where they had nine of a family. Six of his children emigrated; five to Canada and one to Australia. He went to Canada after his wife’s death in 1851 (she is buried at Baile na Cille) and himself died before 1861 in Victoria County, Nova Scotia.