Robbie Nicol


22 Mar ‘ 23

Cultural revival

Forgotten voices in history

Forgotten voices in history

There is no single reason that I became involved in the Shieling Project.  There are lots of strands that have come together over the years and many are rooted in the ‘lost’ versions of Scottish history.  I am inspired by those who seek to shed light on that history so that we can once again hear those forgotten voices. In Jim Hunter’s book On The Other Side of Sorrow he wrote that ‘everyone who ever mattered is dead and gone’.  He was of course referring to the Highland Clearances and the forcible eviction of tenants from the land they called home, stripped of their possessions, dignity and pride.   Runrig tugged at the heartstrings with their own version of these events with an evocative rendition of A Dance Called America.


The landlords came

The peasant trials

To the sacrifice of men

Through the past and that quite darkly

The presence once again

In the name of capital


Improvers, it’s a name

The hidden truths

The hidden lies

That once nailed you

To the pain


Thanks to revisionist historians like Jim Hunter these versions of events are much more evident and discussed   The disputes, claims and settlements between different groupings of people about occupying land are arguably more important now than they were then. At the moment territorial disputes around the world make plain the human suffering, environmental degradation and incalculable loss that happens when people are unable to resolve their conflicts peacefully.  Whatever the different views people may have, and whatever version of events are dear to them, it seems clear that there is much to be learnt from conflicts of the past in how we resolve our human-centred differences now and in the future.  In its own way and at a scale appropriate to its size the Shieling Project helps with this ambition.       

Runrig have had a profound influence on the cultural revival of Scotland through their own unique blend of music that drew on politics, history, language, nature and activism reaching whole new audiences both home and abroad.  Following in their footsteps are a plethora of new bands and solo performers full of young and incredibly talented musicians and songwriters finding their own ways to keep this revival alive.  Amongst them are a generation of women.  For those lucky enough to witness it who can forget Karine Polwart’s amazing theatre production Wind Resistance as part of the Edinburgh International Festival in 2017?  Karine combined, ecology, land-use, women’s rights, science, medicine, history, poetry, song and so much more, in a mesmerising performance inspired by her local landscape.

Andy Wightman has also helped shape my understanding of place in writing Who Owns Scotland in which he identified the ownership of more than half the land in Scotland and in so doing was able to reveal the complex power, political and financial structures surrounding landownership and tenure.  Fitz Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful amongst other things challenged globalisation and the need for economic development to come about through small place-specific solutions.   Two key principles that Schumacher advanced in this book were for organisations to find an appropriate scale that suits their work (bigger was not better) and with the appropriate technologies (high tech and high spec were not necessarily better).   As an off-grid learning centre the Shieling Project is a living example of the scale and appropriate technology required to thrive in its current sites.  The Shieling project is also playing its part in cultural revival through combining language and landscape that promotes learning for living.

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