2020 marks the 200th anniversary of the Inverlael Clearances. Our project seeks to commemorate this event by launching a two year community project to explore the historical and cultural landscape of Inverlael through archaeological investigation and Historical archival research. Using these parallel approaches, we will interpret the stories f this township’s past and its people, to share the history of a lost local community.
Historical records date Inverlael to at least the 13th Century. until the establishment of Ullapool in 1788 Inverlael was described as ‘the largest settlement north of Dingwall‘. The area was owned by Munro family for at least three centuries until the mid 17th Century when the MacKenzie’s of Coul took ownership of the Glen (Jones, 1994, pp79-117).
The MacKenzie’s ownership of Inverlael is visibly marked on the landscape by the sepulchre surrounding the grave of Sir Colin MacKenzie of Coul 4th Bt. The family’s brutal eviction of the old township of Inverlael by Sir George Steuart MacKenzie on Martinmas 1819 ruptured a centuries old community. This painful history is now largely forgotten but one that is hidden in plain sight. Huddles of stones from the old croft houses are strung out across the hillside, clearly visible from the public road and car park. More satellite sites associated with the township lie further up the glen, among the modern planted Inverlael Forest and adjacent to very popular walking routes.
Faces of Inverlael
Part of re-engaging with the historic landscape of Inverlael and Balblair was getting to know the people who once lived there. Part of the appeal of this project is the number of people within the local community who descend from the ancient inhabitants of the glen. We felt that it was important to bring the past and future together as part of this project to bridge the divide that had been created 200 years ago.
“Although I have worked for 4 decades in photography of the Arts and Culture in various parts of Scotland, it is social documentary
and working with people that I find the most satisfying, portraiture
in particular has always appealed to me. Being able to photograph
so many interesting people with a direct connection to the area
and in particular the clearances, is fascinating for me. I hope my
portraits have captured something of the ongoing resilience in
these ancestors of the people who suffered this tragic historic
Duncan Mackenzie | Dìleab nam Beann
Duncan ‘Bain’ MacKenzie is the reason our project exists at all. For years Duncan has trawled the forest, hillsides and straths on a very personal mission to understand the land, its previous occupations and crucially, to feel the presence of his ancestors.
Duncan has recently been the subject of wonderful documentary produced by film maker Richard Else. This documentary shows the passion that Duncan has for both his work as a game keeper and his love of the land and heritage.
Pupils at Ullapool Primary School have been helping us recreate the Inverlael landscape through Minecraft! We have been lucky enough to get help from none other than Wizard Keen!! aka Adam Clarke, who has been mapping out the Inverlael area in Minecraft.
Our team and the pupils at Ullapool Primary School have been helping to bring the characters to life by creating skins and giving them each their own back stories. Not only have we managed to populate our Minecraft village but we have also been able to do it in their native language, Gaidhlig!