Ceannabeinne Clearance Township
AN ANCIENT LAND FULL OF HISTORY
The area of Ceannabeinne on the eastern outskirts of Durness was a thriving township up until the clearances about 1842. With close inspection, many signs of the township are still visible. The lazybed and runrig systems can be clearly seen. Ceannabeinne cottage is probably the only lasting testament to the settlements, now a holiday home, this building used to be a school. to the untrained eye or the causal observer there is no more to be observed than an area of fallen rocks and stones. The dwellings reveal that they were part of a well established community with a varying degree of standards. There is prove of substantial properties, cottages with chimneys and partitions that would have been improved from the black house around 1800. There are dwellings with well defined gardens and some show building techniques specific to the area. Doors in gable ends and round curved walls.
A census of the 16th June 1841 details ten families living in this township. Ceannabeinne can arguably be described as an important township in the bring to attention of the Scottish population the atrocious situation in the Highlands. The publicity of one the first orgainsed riots was in part responsible in bringing about the crofting legislation.
About 1810, a lowland Scot obtained the leasehold from the Duke of Sutherland, who lived at Dunrobin Castle, of Rispond and Ceannabeinne and became the tacksman. This meant he had complete control over the tenants of the district and was responsible for improvements. By 1813, he had built a pier at Rispond, several houses for fishermen and a smoke curing building for fish. The tacksman rented sea areas to local men and charged them money to go fishing. He owned all the fishing boats and equipment and rented at very high prices. The fishermen had to sell their catch to James Anderson the tacksman at very low prices.
By 1840 the townships of Balnakeil, (the main settlement around Durness) Keoldale, Hope and Eriboll had all been turned into sheep farms and the ancient townships of Borralie and Croispol had disappeared. By 1841 particularly in Durine and Lerin but also Sangomore, Smoo and Sangobeg, clearances for sheep had remodeled township living as crofting townships. Houses had a garden where the family's crops were grown emerged. The landowner, the Duke of Sutherland saw this as an improvement but most of the local people did not like the changes. Some worked hard on the land and along with fishing and kelp gathering, they made a living. Others found jobs as shepherds or laborers on the big sheep farms at Keoldale, Balnakeil and Eriboll. Some left Durness and went to work in the city factories and some emigrated to Canada. By 1841, the only survivors of the old townships were those on the Rispond Estate. The biggest farm town on the Estate was Ceannabeinne. Here there were fourteen houses and a school. By working part of the year away from home often, fishing in Caithness, some of the people did manage to gradually improve their lifestyle despite the hardships. Foundations at Ceannabeinne and Rispond would suggest some houses were developing away from the traditional black house to ones with windows and doors and a hanging lum. In September 1841, the people of Ceannabeinne were told they had to leave.
Local stories and slightly conflicting newspaper reports relate the event. A Sheriff Officer (doubts as to whether this man was an officer or an employee of James Anderson) from Dornoch brought the note of eviction on a day the men of the township were cutting bent (grass) for thatch at Balnakeil about ten kilometers away when a woman was heard shouting from Ceannabeinne. The woman of the township forced the sheriff officer to burn the writ by holding his hand over a fire. The next event about the 10th September 1841 was the non-arrival of the same officer with instructions to raise a trusty party to help. As the party arrived at the Hope Ferry they were warned the people of Durness were ready for more trouble and feeling there was not enough support returned to Dornoch. The most serious riot occurred on Saturday 17th September. A sheriff substitute, the procurator fiscal, police superintendent and fourteen special constables arrived in Durness at the inn at Durine about nine in the evening. Forty-eight men of Durness tried to talk with the sheriff and ask that the eviction not be carried out on the Sabbath day but this was refused. At about ten o'clock the men who had gathered at the well on the Park Hill opposite the inn attacked. How much violence is unclear but the constables were removed and disarmed. The sheriff officer escaped and hid. The procurator fiscal and the superintendent stood their ground but were eventually removed from a room in the inn and escorted to the parish boundaries.
Shortly after the riots at the Durine Inn, Sheriff Lumsden arrived in Durness and delivered a powerful speech that included the threat of the 53rd Regiment from Edinburgh being sent to enforce the eviction. The riot had attracted many newspaper reports, which was unusual at this time, and an official investigation was ordered from government officials in Edinburgh. The call for the 53rd Regiment was cancelled and a fair investigation was initiated. As James Anderson had not broken any law, the people of Ceannabeinne had to leave their homes in May 1842. Some good did come out of the affair. The publicity stopped the Duke of Sutherland's Factor clearing the tenants from the Durness Estate and the people remain on the good land at Sangomore and Durine to this day. In 1886, the Crofters Act became law and landowners could no longer force their tenants off the land.
There can be little doubt about the hardships imposed when the period referred to nowadays as the Clearances affected the population of this Parish. Newspaper reports and articles gave conflicting reports. In a series of letters published in the Edinburgh Weekly Chronicle in the years 1840 and 1841, reproduced in the History of Sutherlandshire by Donald MacLeod, is the request that for revenge of the evil that was done to many an innocent, individual letters written about the time may be preserved for many days in his native country.
Download the Ceannabeinne Trail Leaflet
Download the Ceannabeinne Riots booklet
Download the Ceannabeinne Environment