Byline: JOHN MACLEOD
HE was the aspiring professional tenor, yanked, rather against his wishes, into the landed gentry.
The onetime timid schoolboy found himself in command of a castle and a vast far-flung clan. Yet, rather pathetically, he was the MacLeod who wasn't really a MacLeod. On Monday, John MacLeod of MacLeod - 29th Chief, 71 years of age - died quietly in London, and a new stitch is now sewn in the weft of his people.
The history of Clan MacLeod starts with a Norwegian robber-baron and becomes swiftly a tale of two halves. Leod was a 12th- century prince and a son of Olav the Black, King of Man and the North Isles and a scion of the legendary Godred Crovan, King of Dublin, Man and the Hebrides. His galley is still commemorated in a fine old Gaelic song.
Anyway, Daddy gave Leod all the lands of Lewis and Harris and, in turn, Leod split the inheritance between two sons. Torcuil took charge of Lewis and, within a few generations, descendants had founded smaller MacLeod 'septs' on Raasay and in Assynt. And Tormod inherited Harris and, by a judicious marriage, gained two considerable lands on Skye, including the keep at Dunvegan which, for centuries more, remained but a holiday cottage.
The little but gloriously fertile isle of Pabbay, between Harris and North Uist, was the principal seat and, by the 1500s, was one of the great cultural strongholds of Scotland - renowned for learning and medicine, music and poetry, fine architecture such as the Fairy Tower at Dunvegan or St Clement's at Rodel, and a singularly fine whisky from Pabbay's good barley.
It wasn't all sweetness and malt.
There were the usual cheerful atrocities of the period. In 1577, in the last ghastly act of a bitter feud, a MacLeod force cornered every last MacDonald of Eigg in a cave, piled heather and brushwood at its mouth, and suffocated the lot. The odd wife was immured in a Dunvegan dungeon to …