This book examines the history of the township of Caolas at the east end of the island of Tiree. It is based primarily on the invaluable resources in the Argyll Papers, and especially the administrative records held in the Argyll Estate Archives at Inveraray. These allow the development of the township to be set out in remarkable detail from the mid-seventeenth century, when it was held by joint tenants in what is sometimes called ‘runrig’, to its reconfiguration as a crofting township in the early nineteenth century.
The first half of the study examines the changing nature of land-holding in Caolas, and the manner in which such change affected the lives of the tenants. It also considers the reasons for the transition to crofting, and the way in which this transition was effected by the tenants themselves. The splendidly detailed information in the Argyll Archives records the rents paid by tenants, as well as their identities. The histories of the principal crofting families in the township can therefore be established with much greater clarity than was possible hitherto. The lives and occupations of cottars too are given a significant place in the story, alongside the biographies of a considerable number of seafarers produced by the community, several of them Master Mariners.
The second half of the study considers the cultural life of the township. It explores the roles of churches and schools, the designs of surviving nineteenth-century houses, links with the neighbouring island of Coll, and the Caolas connections of John MacLean, Poet to the Laird of Coll. A chapter is devoted to the songs he composed about people and events in Caolas before he emigrated to Nova Scotia in 1819. A further chapter examines the compositions of later Caolas poets. The book is rounded off with the writer’s memories of the descendants of the main nineteenth-century Caolas families, as he knew them in the second half of the twentieth century.This is the first detailed study of its kind for a Tiree township, and it is hoped that it will act as a template for similar studies of the island’s other townships. Although it is based firmly on the landholding patterns of Caolas, it is first and foremost a commemoration of the people who lived there in the period under review.
Published by Tiree Books.