Past & Present

Hùisinis

Hùisinis John Walsh.jpgHùisinis     (Photo: John Walsh)

Cathy Bell Morrison recently gathered the reminiscences of Katie Maclennan and Chirsty Mackinnon from Hùisinis, and from Calum Bhlackie (Maclennan) from Gòbhaig. Those are drawn upon here, along with more from Aonghas Dhòmhnaill a' Phuist (Angus Maclean). All can be viewed in full in the Island Stories section, here on the website.

The First Statistical Account of Scotland in 1794 gives little information about activities in the area at that time, other than to say that Hùisinis was cultivated with the use of a Scotch plough pulled by four horses. In his book Harris in History and Legend, Bill Lawson informs us that Hùisinis was part of the tack of the island of Bearnaraigh (Berneray) in the Sound of Harris, at one time, and ponies would be taken to the hills above Hùisinis for winter grazing, via a short stop-off in Taransay.

Iain a’Chubair (John Macleod) of Aird Asaig, in his evidence to the Napier Commission in 1883, spoke of the fact that Donald Stewart cleared the seven townships of Hùisinis, Gòbhaig, Luachair, Leòsabhaigh, Crabhadal, Dìreasgal and Abhainnsuidhe and leased the tack to his relative (his wife’s first cousin), Alexander Macrae. Originally from Glenshiel in Kintail, Macrae was known locally as Fear Hùisinis (the Hùisinis Man). Calum Bhlackie heard tell that Fear Hùisinis’ house was by the Garradh Cloiche; the substantial stone wall which still spans the boundary between the arable machair and the hill ground.

The clearance of the villages for Fear Huisinis’ sheep farm is believed to have occurred in 1811, the year Alexander Norman Macleod and his factor, Donald Stewart, took over. By this time, sheep farming was becoming very profitable due to the demand from the growing industrialised centres in the South for wool and mutton.

We know from Peter Kerr’s research, to be found on his wonderfully informative blog, direcleit.blogspot.co.uk, that Fear Hùisinis moved to Kyles Lodge in 1820, then known as Hushinish House, when he took over the farms at nearby Taobh Tuath (Northton). He kept on the tack in North Harris however, and Angus Duncan informs us that the crofters of Scarp were required to travel to Taobh Tuath to help with the gatherings there. Alexander Macrae remained at Kyles Lodge until his death in 1874. In the intervening years, his holdings expanded at the expense of more communities, to incorporate Easaigh (Isle of Ensay), Nish-a-Sìth (Nishishee) and Ceann Tùlabhig (Kintulavig). Bill Lawson informs us that Fear Hùisnis’ sheep farms also included large areas in Lewis and the Uists.

By Joan Cumming, 2014

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