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Danny Macleod

It's difficult to imagine what the outcry would be in the present time if the solution to one island's housing problem was…to move all those affected to another Island! And we are not talking about the isolated populations of Mingulay or St Kilda here.

Only a century ago that was the solution offered to some communities in Lewis and Harris – and instead of the sturdy traditions of their native blackhouses, there was the bleak, exposed modern solution of corrugated iron houses where the only solid parts were the gable ends.

Next week, 100-years on, BBC ALBA chronicles the journey and lives of one of Scotland’s largest voluntary government-backed migrations in a new documentary, Talasgair – Tìr nan Gaisgeach / Talisker – Land for Heroes. This is being shown on Monday 1 April at 9pm.

The programme, produced by Stornoway-based MacTV, meets with children and grandchildren of the original settlers and features stunning archive footage, filmed over the last century, of these pioneers setting up new homes and townships on the then-barren land.

In the early 1920s, the horrors of the First World War and its economic consequences for the fishing industry in particular, the devastating tragedy of the Iolaire disaster and the shattered hopes to the Leverhulme era, hung heavily over Lewis and Harris which led to hundreds setting off on a journey across the world in search of a better life and new beginnings.

But at the same time there was a mass movement of people which saw islanders complete an emigration much closer to home in what was the first and largest government land resettlement programme anywhere in the Highlands and Islands.

Between 1923 and 1924, almost 400 people from 43 families from Harris and 22 from Point in Lewis, made the voluntary journey across the Little Minch to Skye after the Board of Agriculture (BoAS) purchased 60,000-acres in North Talisker from Macleod of Dunvegan for over £56,000.

There the settlers made the land their home, with 69 crofts created in three new townships, Portnalong, Fernilea and Fiscavaig.

Peigi Wood and Danny Macleod are second generation settlers in North Talisker, both born to parents from Harris who made the journey to Skye. They reveal what life was like for these early settlers - the first schools, roads and the famous timber huts in which they initially lived, provided by the BoAS.

John Finlay MacInnes, Mairi Milne and Norma Mackenzie were all born in the district after their grandparents had secured crofts in the 1920s, with John Finlay revealing stories from how the district’s churches were built, to the unique sheep stock club; while Norma shares her pride at passing on the house her grandfather built to her son - ensuring the fourth generation retains the land and home which remains so close to her heart.

More detail about the history of the emigration is shared by another son of Portnalong, Lord Minginish, Roddy John Macleod who was, before his retirement, Chairman of the Scottish Land Court and President of the Lands Tribunal for Scotland, and the first Gaelic-speaking Chair of the court.

Recorded notes and accounts confirm Harris-born Allan Macleod was the first of the settlers to put pen to paper upon arriving in Talisker, committing to stay in the region. His granddaughter, Elizabeth Morrison, shares her memories and those recorded by her Grandmother, Johanna Macleod, in a precious diary offering a first-hand account of both the journey and lives of these first settlers.  Extracts from the diary are peppered throughout the documentary.

Talasgair – Tìr nan Gaisgeach / Talisker – Land for Heroes (airing on Monday 1 April at 9pm), is the latest documentary in BBC ALBA’s flagship Trusadh series.

Director, Eric Mackinnon, says: “This programme shines a light on a mass emigration within the Highlands and Islands which saw a significant number of islanders from Lewis and Harris resettle in Skye.

“It is full of very personal stories and shows the struggles, and ultimately the success, of the people who made Talisker their home. One of the most incredible things about this emigration is that around 400 islanders left and lived together almost cut off from the rest of Skye and as such they retained the language, culture and traditions of their former home islands of Lewis and Harris - so much so that to this day you can recognise the Leòdhasach or Hearach roots from their accents.

“With this year marking the centenary of the last of the people settling in the region it was important for us to mark the migration and recognise these pioneers and their descendants, and tell stories of a historic journey and lives lived less ordinary.”

Trusadh – Talasgair – Tìr nan Gaisgeach / Talisker – Land for Heroes will première on BBC ALBA and iPlayer on Monday 1 April at 9pm (in Gaelic with English subtitles).

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