One of the defining aims of the Isle of Harris Distillery is to address the pressing issues surrounding population decline here in the Outer Hebrides.
During the 1950s, nearly 4000 people lived in Harris but today the number is half that, a figure reflected in The 1,916 endeavour.
The stark trend continues to this day, as we continue to face acute economic challenges, an ageing community and young people leaving to seek work and opportunity elsewhere with few financial reasons to return.
But, this is not a new phenomenon and the roots of our island’s struggle to survive and thrive lie some 250 years in the past when Harris was a very different place.
From the mid-1700s until the turn of the 20th century, there has been a succession of key trials and tribulations in our Hebridean history, pushing and pulling people from our shores.
Thousands of island emigrants have departed Harris in search of a better life, leaving their homes and often families behind, to seek new opportunities across the world
From Cape Breton to Carolina, Patagonia to the Prairies, the Falklands to the Philippines, men and women of Harris have sailed far and found homes in almost every corner of the world.
And with them, they took their clan names, like Macleod and MacDonald, Morrison and Maclennan, MacKinnon, MacAskill and more…
So, tonight we launch The Diaspora Project to tell their incredible stories and share the history which underlies the distillery’s founding goal.
We also want to discover our international connections, old and new, as we search for far-flung island friends and family and bring them closer to their Harris heritage.
It promises to be a long and fascinating exploration of the past but always with an eye on a positive future. It may also be a painful story at times, but not one we’ll shrink from telling.
We’re grateful to be supported in this project by the wonderful Bill Lawson from the Seallam centre in nearby Northton. His lifetime of invaluable knowledge and research will be our guide as we go.
A new interactive online map will be a repository for the stories we uncover together, and we hope to watch it grow as we trace the epic voyages and the adventurous souls who made them over the last two centuries.
We invite you to share your Isle of Harris connections with us too. If you, your parents, grandparents or great-grandparents have ties to our island then we’d love to hear from you.
Tell us all about your familial links to our island home, and we’ll add your story to the map along with any photographs or information you’re happy to share.
And, if you’d like to research your ancestry to discover more, then we highly recommend visiting Bill’s genealogy website at www.hebridespeople.com to undertake a more personal Diaspora voyage of your own.
So, please join us on our social media channels and here on the Journal as we begin to set the historical scene.
The Battle of Culloden is over, the old clan system has collapsed and faced with rising rents the first Harris folk leave for North America. A war courtesy of Napoleon is coming, but kelp seaweed promises new prosperity…
IF YOU LIVE FAR FROM OUR SHORES AND YOUR FAMILY HAS CONNECTIONS TO THE ISLE OF HARRIS WE’D LOVE TO HEAR YOUR STORY.
TELL US ALL ABOUT YOUR JOURNEY AND GENEALOGY BY WRITING TO MIKE@HARRISDISTILLERY.COM
Our thanks to Bill Lawson and the team at Seallam! Please visit their Facebook page for more information on their work.