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The clan chief wants to remove the people living in the Highland glens and straths, replacing them with thousands of black-face Cheviot sheep and a few herders.
The people of the glens, who have lived there peacefully for hundreds of years, do not wish to go.
That was the essential conflict of the Highland Clearances, a dark and distressing time in Scotland's history. But in the pages of Year of the Sheep, James Y. Bartlett's epic retelling of the Clearances in Sutherland in Scotland's far North, the conflict is even starker.
Both the clan chief and the people fighting back were women.
Elizabeth Gordon was the 19th chief of Clan Sutherland, and landlord over one million acres of Scotland. She married George Granville Levenson-Gower, termed 'the Leviathan of Wealth, ' who was far and away the richest man in Great Britain. Together, they planned and executed the systematic removal of most of the inhabitants of the interior lands and replaced them with sheepwalks.
But the plan of removal ran into resistance in Glencullen, an isolated village along the River Cullen, deep in the rolling hills and mountains of Sutherland. Most of the inhabitants of the glen were women--their husbands and fathers and sons had been sent off to fight in the King's wars in Europe against Bonaparte.
Left on their own and told to obey their clan's leader as they always had, the women of Glencullen instead chose to fight back. Led by their village shaman and healer, Mute Meg; organized by the schoolteacher Anna Kenton, the niece of Lady Elizabeth; and inspired by the ferocious leadership of the almost shape-shifting outlaw known as Billy Hanks, the women of Glencullen decided to make a fateful stand to defend their way of life.
Based on actual events, Year of the Sheep is an epic novel that runs from the Battle of Culloden Moor through the French Revolution in Paris, and from the swanky mansions of London to the rude huts of Glencullen, fated to be set to the fire as a way of life that lasted almost a thousand years was extinguished.
As in all stories about the Highland Clearances, there are no happy endings. The people of the Highland glens were removed from their crofts and farms, over a period of almost fifty years, replaced by flocks of sheep. Nevertheless, Year of the Sheep is an inspirational story of bravery, sisterhood, community and love.