The old priest wrote the letter to Aunt Peg by hand. “You are of Clan Ian Roudh (Red John),” the letter starts. The direct family line in America went through Ian Liath (Grey John), who emigrated from the Highlands to Canada in 1786. He was a Gaelic poet.
The script is still strong on the faded photocopies, made of the original sent by Father Ewan to Aunt Peg in 1955. “He came from Knoydart,” the letter continues, “on the west coast of Scotland.” It’s part of an area known as the Rough Bounds.
I remember viewing the rugged, empty hills from my own trip to Scotland, on the way to the Isle of Skye. The land looked muscular, with protruding rock and muted vegetation and dark, cold waters. The rolling clouds and chill wind added to the sense of untamed foreboding. And emptiness.
“There are few if any of our people in the Highlands,” wrote Father Ewan. “You know why.” He was speaking of the Highland Clearances, when the British Lords drove the people out of the hills and replaced them with sheep.
True, our clan migrated down from Ontario into the States, overtly retaining their Catholocism and, maybe subconciously, the imprint of Knoydart.
“Our people did better in this country,” wrote Father Ewan. And that sentence stuck. We are here now, in cities and towns and interconnected. Are we meant to seek areas away from comfort? Sometimes it’s necessary to put the laptop down and find out.