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Author(s): Willie Orr

Location(s): Isle of Mull

Genre(s): Historical, Fiction

Era(s): 1850

In the winter of 1846, the potato crop in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland turned to slime. Thousands, dependent on the crop for survival, faced starvation, eviction and death. The remote township of Shiaba on the Isle of Mull suffered more than most. This is the story of a woman and her family torn apart by hunger and disease, but who, in spite of unrelenting hardship, survived and came together again to remain in their home.
On the Ross of Mull, when the potato crop fails, the Factor offers work to the starving tenants, but the wages are so mean that Calum MacGillivray leads a strike. His wife, fearing for the lives of her children, takes them to Glasgow, but he remains, and the dispute develops into a prolonged contest between him and the Factor. Courage against power.
Calum is close to collapse when an agent of the Relief Fund intervenes and offers him training as a fisherman. He regains his strength and, through his fishing, helps to feed the people of Shiaba. Many, however, are evicted and leave for Canada, ill-equipped to face the
bitter cold of a Canadian winter. Many die on the journey.
In Glasgow, Catherine finds work with a widowed teacher, a Chartist and free thinker whom she comes to admire. He teaches her to read and write. Their friendship, however, is broken when a cholera epidemic strikes. No-one knows the cause. No-one has a cure. She survives and gains a scholarship to become a teacher.
Catherine eventually returns to Mull as a stronger and more confident woman and finds work teaching in one of the schools. Calum has to adjust to that. He becomes a successful fisherman, allowing him to stay in Shiaba. In the end, however, he is drowned in a hurricane attempting to rescue other seamen. Catherine is the last to leave Shiaba, surviving long enough to see the bonfires celebrating the death of the Factor.
Many of the original letters and newspaper reports are included in the text.

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