Am Baile/Stephen Branley

Location: Lewis
clearances and resistance, gaelic culture

The Cuimhneachain Nan Gaisgeach cairn

Balallan - Baile Ailein (Allan’s town) - in the Lewis parish of Lochs, is famous in Hebridean history for the Deer Park Raid of November 1887 organised by local headmaster - Donald MacRae - a famous Land League stalwart, following on from a series of meetings in Balallan School.

Led by a piper and carrying flags, a thousand land-hungry crofters raided the Park deer forest on Lady Matheson’s estate which used to be their ancestral land. Over three days, they proceeded to kill, cook and eat hundreds of deer to bring the public’s attention to the poverty of the people and their need for land throughout the parish of Lochs.

Both the army and the navy were sent for to subjugate the rebellious crofters, although a storm off Ardnamuchan caused SS Ajax to turn back to Greenock and after a great deal of effort, six of the ringleaders were arrested and sent for trial tried in Edinburgh, accused of mobbing, rioting and break the law of trespass.

The unanimous ‘Not-guilty’ verdict returned on all six in January 1888 had a profound effect throughout the Highlands and Islands. Signalling that rich landowners like Lady Matheson were no longer favoured against the poor, it paved the way for Scottish Land Reform as we know it today.

One of three monuments to the Lewis Land Struggles, the Cuimhneachain Nan Gaisgeach (Memories of Heroes) Memorial Cairn was erected at Balallan in 1994, designed by Scottish artist Will MacLean and using stones from the ruined houses of the land raiders.

As contributed by Hector Malcolm, resident of Lewis.

More information on visiting the area can be found here.