Union Songs

Destitution Road

A song by Alistair Hulett©Alistair Hulett

- [play]

In the Year Of The Sheep and the burnin’ time
They cut our young men in their prime
The old Scots way was a hangin’ crime
For the Gaels of Caledonia
There’s a den for the fox, a hedge for the hare
A nest in the tree for the birds of the air
But in a’ Scotland there’s no place there for the Gaels of Caledonia

But there’s no use getting’ frantic
It’s time tae hump yer load
Across the wild Atlantic
On the Destitution Road

The bailiff came wi’ the writ and a’
And the gallant lads of the Forty Twa
They drove ye oot in the sleet and snaw
The Gaels of Caledonia
When yer house was burned and yer crops as well
Ye stood and wept in the blackened shell
And the winter moor was a living hell
For the Gaels of Caledonia

The plague and the famine they dragged ye doon
As ye made yer way tae Glesga toon
Where ye’d heard o’ a ship that was sailin’ soon
For the shores of Nova Scotia
And ye sold yer gear, ye paid yer fare
Wi’ yer heid held high though yer heart was sair
And ye bid farewell forever mair
Tae the glens of Caledonia

The land was cleared and the deal was made
Noo an English lord in a tartan plaid
He struts and stares as the memories fade
Of the Gaels of Caledonia
And he hunts the deer in the lonely glen
That once was home to a thousand men
And the wind on the moor sings a sad refrain
For the Gaels of Caledonia


Many thanks to Alistair Hulett for permission to add this song to the Union Songs collection.

Alistair writes:
The time in Scotland known as the Highland Clearances was a government led assault on the non-English speaking tribal societies - the clansfolk, that had existed there for countless centuries. From it’s inception in 1792, when it was called in Gaelic by its victims Bliadhna nan Caorach, meaning The Year Of the Sheep, till it finally ended nearly eighty years later, this was a period of incredible violence and cruelty carried out in the name of modernisation.
Wool was seen by the clan chiefs as a better source of profit than rent, and the government agreed. Many sold their lands to southern capitalist farmers while others carried out the clearings themselves. In all cases the military gave assistance in what amounted to a programme of ‘ethnic cleansing’.

Hard on the heels of The Year of the Sheep came The Year of the Burnings, when any hope of return was put to the torch and destroyed. Capitalist farming methods and the introduction of sheep to the glens gave rise a process of physical and cultural genocide that has left the Scottish Highlands barren of its human population to this day. The passage out of the Highlands in those times was known as The Destitution Road.

Visit Alistair Hulett's website at http://www.alistairhulett.com/

Find more of Alistair Hulett's work in this collection

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