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 allow The MacLeod his pleasure elsewhere.
It was the 18th century before this Dunvegan became the Chief's base, even as MacLeod of Harris became the only MacLeod who mattered. By then, at the turn of the 17th century, the MacLeod o f Lewis were a historical footnote.
In the 1590s, King James VI decided to get up a company of men to plunder the Isle of Lewis, and duly dignified this scheme of genocide by an Act of Parliament. The ' Fife Adventurers' - as the expedition has come down in history - were expressly authorised for 'slauchter, mutilation, fyre-raising or utheris inconvenities' as might prove necessary.
Well, they landed at Stornoway in 1578 and the MacLeods thumped seven bells out of them, liquidating the entire garrison. In 1610, James cut out the middlemen and vengefully signed Lewis over to the brutal MacKenzie of Kintail. MacLeod of Lewis was overthrown within two years, any conceivable successor was caught and murdered, and the island remained in MacKenzie hands until 1844.
The Assynt line ended in disgrace.
The last chieftain, Neil, in 1650 betrayed the great Montrose, handing him over for Edinburgh execution in hope of vast reward. He ended up with a load of bad oatmeal. 'The deathshroud be about you, despicable one,' ranted Iain Lom the bard, 'for you have sinfully sold the truth for Leith meal, most of which had gone sour.'
AND MacLeod of Raasay was at length an exile. The wee clan bravely sallied forth, on Charles Edward's side, in 1745, with the consequence that their island was brutally wasted by Government troops the following summer. Though things recovered momentarily, the last resident chief lost his shirt in a preposterous lawcase - he unwisely sued some Italian conmen who had neatly flogged him, unseen, two vast and incredibly butch stone mermaids - and, in 1846, sailed forlornly with his family to Tasmania as his creditors seized everything.
At first, the great MacLeods of Harris burned a …