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Returned to the Spirits by Ronnie Smith

By Ronnie Smith

Returned to the Spirits

The black water
flees the rippling loch,
in the long shade,
the silent witness,
of the western ridge

The brief river splits
the lush dancing grass
in its endless rush
to the bay, a genesis
of life in every direction.

The scattered stones
of houses destroyed.
Timbers, long embered
and cast, as their families,
by the Sutherland storm.

Only the river course
remains. Cold north,
where the sea takes it,
as it scattered their
spirits, to a new world.

Ronnie explains the inspiration behind his poem:

My maternal family are MacKays and I was raised, until the age of 18 by my mother and her parents in Largs, Ayrshire. Brought up to be as thrawn as the rest of them. I also have family in Glasgow and in Canada – Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver Island.

I began to learn about the Clearances when I saw the original theatre production of ‘The Cheviot the Stag and the Black, Black Oil’ in 1973.

I was fifteen. Gradually I learned more about the connection with my family and my uncle Robert, in Victoria BC, started to research our ancestors. He got as far as finding one ancestor whose ship was diverted to Glasgow from its route to Canada by a storm in the Western Approaches. This particular MacKay stayed in Glasgow, working as a weaver. So far so good but we have not been able to discover exactly which part of MacKay country we come from.

My wife and I visited Strathnaver and your wonderful museum in the summer of 2017 after which I sent you an article which you kindly published on your website, it was also published in the Scottish Review. Poems take longer to gestate and that is why I have sent this poem to you now, have only recently completed it to my satisfaction.

In fact I wrote it for you and for all the work that you do because I believe that knowing who you are and where you come from is incredibly important. The history of our clan and the betrayal of our people is a story that must never be forgotten.