30 March 2020
The organisers of a new project to rediscover the history of a Scottish highlands township are appealing with people with ancestors from the area to get in touch.
The project, ‘Lost Inverlael, Finding Balblair’ will be led by Ullapool Museum, supported by a grant of £68,000 from Historic Environment Scotland alongside funding from Forestry and Land Scotland.
Remembering the Inverlael Clearances
2020 marks the 200th anniversary of the Inverlael Clearances, a township near Ullapool in the northwest Scottish Highlands. In the winter of 1819, more than fifty families were brutally evicted from their homes by landowner, George Steuart Mackenzie of Coul, to make way for more profitable sheep farms. Forced from the land their ancestors had lived and worked for generations, families faced a struggle to survive the onset of a harsh winter. Some moved to larger towns across the Highlands, many made the painful decision to emigrate.
The brutal eviction of the old township of Inverlael ruptured a centuries-old community and although this painful history is now largely forgotten, its legacy is hidden in plain sight amongst the huddles of croft house stones strung out across the hillside and glen amongst the modern planted Inverlael Forest.
Appeal for information
Project co-ordinator Helen Avenell said: "As we launch this project we are putting out an appeal to anyone who may have information on ancestors who were from Inverlael and Balblair. Scraps of the social history of Inverlael have been preserved through oral tradition handed down through generations of local families. However much of the story of this cleared community and its evicted families has been lost, even though we know that Inverlael was a thriving community, at one time the largest community north of Dingwall.
"Alongside the archaeology programme, we are running a research project to get stories from families and relatives that will help in our understanding of the area.
“We also wish to hear from people who believed that their family were from Balblair (Cromarty). We believe that Balblair (Lochbroom) was a hugely populated area and many people may have the wrong Balblair when it comes to their own family history. If you believe your family were from Balblair but have found little information on the East Coast, then we at Ullapool Museum would really like to hear from you.”