Crofters’ War Memorial planned on Skye

Crofting is a term that many Texans may be unfamiliar with, but is very common in Scotland. A croft is a piece of agricultural land that is rented to a tenant, or “crofter,” often on a year-to-year basis. Prior to the 1900s, very few of inhabitants of the Scottish Highlands and islands owned the land that they lived on. Most of the land was owned by a very small group of landowners. Up until 1886, these landlords were free to evict their tenants or raise the rent at any time and did not have to compensate the tenants for any improvements they had made to the land or buildings. Ultimately this allowed the landlords to systematically “clear” their lands of most of the inhabitants, by raising the rents well beyond the croft’s ability to produce a cash crop. This left the land vacant and made way for the landlords to pursue new ventures to increase the profitability of their lands.

Starting in 1877 on the Isle of Skye tenants began a movement demanding reform of the crofting system by refusing to pay his rent or leave his croft. This movement, now called the Crofters’ War, grew throughout the Highlands and islands and eventually led to the establishment of many laws designed to protect the rights of the tenants. A memorial to the Crofters’ War is now being planned by the Staffin Community Trust and Atlas Arts.

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How many Highland and Island Clans were there?

At American games, there are several dozen, and sometime significantly more “Clan Tents” sponsored by the societies that have sprung up around almost every Scottish surname, Wikipedia lists 353 “Scottish Clans”, and The Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs acknowledges about 140 clans that have chiefs recognized by the Lord Lyon of Scotland– But did you know less than 30% of Scottish origin surnames have any sort of clan association, and of those even fewer actually had a Highland or Island Clan of the same name? The first legal mention of a Clan was in an Act of Scottish Parliament of 1587–not coincidentally the “Clan Territory Maps” you see in surname shops and highland games vendors use the same act for the territory description from the act to show the lands of each clan… with one minor exception; The maps show all of Scotland broken into clan territories, where the act explicitly only describes the Borders and Highlands and Islands. There are 33 Clans described in the Highlands and Islands section, 9 of which are individual clan branches, Like MacLeod of Harris and MacLeod of Lewis, leaving 29 individual Clans.

Per Rothero and Newark’s list (Military historians considered to have the most authoritative list) 25 Highland nobles, presumably leading their people (including MacLeod), were at Bannockburn in 1314–21 Fought for Robert the Bruce, 4 for the English. There are a few clans that appear on one but not the other list, but in that almost 300 year span, there appears to not have been more than 30 actual Highland and Island Clans that functioned as such.

Notably, you can see in our generous interpretation of the past as represented at AmericanĀ  highland games, Lowland houses and small highland kin groups that never acted as independent political entities now are generalized as “Clans”. Since at the games in the states the kilt is ubiquitous as well, a garment which many early highlander migrants to the colonies would never have had a chance to wear (appearing first in the 1720s, with migration to the colonies starting well into the 1600s), it is understandable. Just like the convenient fiction of tartan having an identification function pre-1800s, “Clan” identification serves a purpose today in allowing everyone to celebrate Scots heritage, MacLeods and our septs can know that theirs was a true historical clan.

However, Lord Lyon the Scots King of Arms (Sir Thomas Innes of Learney from 1945-1969) has adopted a more inclusive modern definition of clan, so no need to scoff at lowland family Clan Tents at games!

Now, if only more Highland games and Renn-Faire folk would realize the “Great Kilt”/Belted Plaid was not even worn during the turbulent periods from clan founding to the end of “the era of feuds and forays”…



Act of 1587 –