Wild Scots: Four Hundred Years of Highland History by Michael Fry - review by John Keay

John Keay

The Path of Progress

Wild Scots: Four Hundred Years of Highland History


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While acknowledging assistance from Highland friends and sages, Michael Fry admits that none of them is likely to agree with the views expressed in Wild Scots; he just hopes that the sages stay sage and the friends friendly. The book is billed as ‘controversial’ – and is. Before we’re through the gate of Fry’s brisk preface, his gun is up and the feathers are flying. The idea for Wild Scots apparently came from a lively correspondence in The Scotsman that was prompted by a leader defending the ducal house of Sutherland. To most Scots, the Gordons of Sutherland epitomise the rapacious land-owning lairds responsible for the Clearances – those waves of dispossession and dispersal that scattered Highland communities to the four corners of the globe during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In now admitting that it was he who wrote the offending leader, and in going on to insist that scarcely any of the Clearances was as harsh, gratuitous or unpopular as is generally supposed, Fry invites the sort of obloquy usually reserved for those who deny the Holocaust. 

It is to be hoped that this won’t put off the sensitive reader, and that the tag of ‘controversial’ is not taken to imply any mischievous conjecture. For this is an outstanding book, extremely ambitious but carefully researched, closely argued, cleverly constructed and, best of all, deliciously written. Although Fry

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