Page last updated at 00:13 GMT, Thursday, 16 July 2009 01:13 UK

Comedian traces Clearances link

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

That Mitchell & Webb Look
David Mitchell (left) discovered his ancestors were sheep farmers

Actor and comedian David Mitchell has traced his paternal Scottish roots back to the Highland Clearances.

For an episode of BBC One's Who Do You Think You Are?, he found his ancestors were sheep farmers in Sutherland who later mysteriously abandoned the farm.

The programme, to be shown next month, will reveal their part in the Clearances and also how one member of the family became a local hero.

The Clearances saw tenant crofting families moved to make way for sheep.

Mitchell found his relatives had farmed at Tongue in the far north of Scotland.

He is best known for appearing with Robert Webb in comedy series Peep Show and That Mitchell & Webb Look.

The pair met at Cambridge University, where Mitchell was president of the Footlights Club.

They wrote for programmes including Armstrong and Miller, Big Train and Dead Ringers.

Sheep riots

Starting in the late 18th Century and running into the 19th Century, the Clearances saw crofts occupied by generations of families cleared to make way for large-scale sheep farming and the rearing of deer.

Sutherland was one of the areas of the Highlands where crofters were hardest hit.

The first Duke of Sutherland, George Granville Leveson-Gower, had families moved from his land to make way for sheep.

There was later an unsuccessful attempt to destroy a statue that was erected in his honour.

In another part of the Highlands, it led to the Ross-shire Sheep Riots as crofters stood against the new farmers.

The troubles of July and August 1792 saw the year become known in Gaelic as Bliadhna nan Caorach - the Year of the Sheep.

One group of men rounded up 6,000 sheep in Sutherland and Easter Ross with the plan of driving them south in protest.

They reached Beauly, near Inverness, before being stopped by the Army.

Soldiers of the 42nd Regiment, better known as the Black Watch, were sent from Fort George on the Moray Coast to arrest the sheep drivers.

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