• Patrick Phillips

Forgotten village of Glen Lochay - Tirai

Updated: Oct 19, 2020

On maps today, they are simply known as shielings. Without roofs, they can't be considered as a 'bothy' either. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a 'shieling' is defined as 'a mountain hut used as a shelter by shepherds'. Or from another perspective, 'a summer pasture in the mountains'. Today, in our culture a 'hut' would be considered a "man-cave". When you encounter such a place, all one can do is to place a certain wonder at what happened? How did this highland village become deserted? Or was it abandoned? If so, then why?

In the precise moment, when the shepherd, or shepherds, had to leave their homes and animals, how did they feel? How long had they lived there for? Did they have children? You see, when you begin to look at their homes, which for myself I consider them to be more than just a 'hut'; you crucially realise that their stories are invisible to us, out of sight. Instead, their stories are preserved around the stones of each wall they had built, how? Because they are still standing, shouldn't that be enough, and profound a statement for us to consider, and listen? The walls of their homes, once again are still standing. They have not fallen yet, nor are they in total ruins. This little civilisation, was for them their life. This was how they chose to sustain the land, animals and themselves - what freedom. It is without surprise, that the Gaelic name given to the village - Tirai, means 'land of good luck or joy'.

Knowing their stories would mean living there (listening out), becoming intimate with the landscape, and attempting to know their struggles and joys. It would simply not be enough, to read and to take into account the historical facts of their time (it is not vivid enough). For example, the most obvious choice, being, historically about the economic changes across Scotland - both before and after Scotland became part of the United Kingdom. It's about going deeper. How did they live their lives? How happy were they? How did they see life? How did they see their future? What would their reaction be if they were to see the world as it is today? Most importantly, was the quality of their lives to an ethical standard, in which they desired no more? In the modern world today, often, the quality of a person's life is measured by their mortality. But actually, whether you have lived a short or a long life, the quality can be completely different. And yes, essentially, what I am stating, is that the only way to measure the quality of a life, is that of experience. Therefore, what was their daily experience of life? How good was it, when once again compared to the way we live today?

Land is a place where dreams are realised, end, and begin. New settlements, begin on open ground - with new expressions. Therefore, representing a way of being in the world. Living.

Deserted, it maybe the village today - we must still remember that the natives would not have abandoned their village without solid reasons. From the research I have done so far, having found many of the answers to my questions at the start of my essay, that a Census of 1871 recorded that 'no one' remained 'living in Tirai'. And there are no other records of life existing thereafter. Tirai had come to an end. If we go back to trace the beginning of Tirai, the earliest (and at present) only record we have, is that of the village being mentioned 'in 1451 in the Exchequer Rolls of Scotland'. Meaning that up until 1871, Tirai was so far a village that had lasted 420 years. There is no doubt that the village is much older in it's creation. One can only imagine the culture (let alone the stories) stored up, and passed on to generation after generation. In 1791, 'there are eleven families on the farm' and that was 'considered to be too many.' Yet, they had each other, there was the family unit, and the village itself, a family. Not made up of separated fragments, like today, with individuals being forced to become single units. It seems, from historical facts, that the collapse of the village, was a gradual process - as opposed to a sudden, single event of crisis. Therefore, the end of Tirai, I believe, would have been made up of a series of critical events, that most certainly would have led to it's eventual collapse. An example of a critical event, was 'in 1807 farming became difficult with tenants unable to meet their rents.' Big landowners, with a desire to increase their profits, once again led them a stray. Our problem remains the same, the owning of the land, rather than it's use.

The people of Tirai, therefore, did not abandon their village, they were forced to do so. Meaning, that from an economic perspective, their situation was political, rather than it being about their lack of ethics, in the way they would have attempted once again to sustain themselves, the land, animals and village. They were considered to be no longer profitable, because once again they could not meet the 'increase in rents', and yet as a village they had managed to survive for over four centuries. What the village of Tirai exemplifies, is that an economic-exchange with a profit continues to be unsustainable, and will only persistently push out the essential needs of others. Where something is gained, elsewhere - something is most definitely lossed.

In a new economic-exchange without a profit, Tirai, when we consider it's economic energy of the last 420 years it existed - would have (were the village to be alive today), created a village that would have been able to sustain itself for well over 1,000 years. And most importantly, it's culture too.

Roles within the village, were many. Shepherd, Ploughman, Tack, Miller, General Labourer, Housekeeper and Servant. Most of the job-roles I've mentioned above, became common, as many were forced across Britain (part of the enclosure movement) to leave their village abodes, and make way for the city as wage-labourers. But before this transition, self-sufficient Crofters, were persistent in finding ways in which they could carve out, not only their independence as a way of living, but essentially to place themselves as part of a larger economy - for the country in which they resided.

If we go back to the ancient role of Shepherd, do we know if there are any Modern shepherd's still around today? I don't think there is, the common title of "Farmer" and that's it. To be a Shepherd nowadays has become a forgotten way of life. Furthermore, how amazing would it be, if we could begin the process of weaving together ancient, and modern roles of being in the world today? Wouldn't that be more Modern? There was also a 'limekiln' based in the village of Tirai, which we could consider as a Micro-Green Industrial Revolution (can you believe it, Tirai was already being Modern). And revolutionary, in the sense that the villagers, established economic survival, through their existing connection with Nature. Knowing that they would never need to over extend their needs - in which to transform Glen Lochay into something of a serious commercial limestone quarry. Their little limekiln, is proof that they had no desire to exploit Nature, only to sustain and make the most of what resources they had available to them. Most certainly, there was no corporate dream as we see today.

Imagine, if the village of Tirai could once again be brought back to life? Becoming an eco-village of the Highlands. Isn't that how life is supposed to be, made for living not just existing?

Standing as I do often in the village of Tirai, I see, using my imagination, the villagers, sitting quietly, looking out towards - mountain and sky, feeling and knowing everything through their senses the true meaning of life. Dreaming far and wide as they did, through the Glen, passed Lochs, across Oceans into the Universe, and beyond...

By Patrick Phillips

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Patrick Phillips ©2019 Ink drawing of Meall nan Tarmachan & Ben Lawers.