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This report is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.

Letter from Shetland: Mousa, Identity and Landscape Malachy Tallack

Shetland, like other remote parts of Scotland, is scarred by the remnants of the past, by history made solid in the landscape. Rocks, reordered and rearranged, carry shadows of the people that moved them. They are the islands’ memory. From the ancient field dykes and boundary lines, burnt mounds and forts, to the crumbling croft houses, abandoned by the thousands who emigrated at the end of the nineteenth century; the land is witness to every change, but it is loss that it remembers most clearly.

For some, these rocks reek of mortality. Their forms are a potentially oppressive reminder that we, too, will leave little behind us. In ‘The Broch of Mousa’, the poet Vagaland wrote of how ‘in the islands darkness falls / On homes deserted, and on ruined walls; / The tide of life recedes.’ People have come and gone from these islands, and with them have passed ‘their ways, their thoughts, their songs; / To earth they have returned.’ We are left only with the memory of stones, which we have few skills to interpret.

The island of Mousa was once a place of people. It was once home to families, to fishermen and farmers, who lived and died there. But now the people are gone and their homes deserted. The island has been left to the sheep, the birds and the seals. And, in the summer at least, to the tourists.

A remote island of just one and a ...


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