Raasay: The Island and Its People

By Norma Macleod | Go to book overview

2
The History of Raasay, C.1450-1630S

EARLY MACLEOD LAIRDS OF RAASAY

The MacLeod lairds of Raasay were known as the MacGilleChaluim. There is documentary evidence of their presence on the island from the sixteenth century. A Crown charter granted to Calum MacLeod of Raasay in 1596 states that his great-grandfather and his 'predecessors since time immemorial' had held Raasay from the Bishop of the Isles. Calum's great-grandfather, possibly also named Calum, may have been born about 1460. It is therefore quite likely that the MacLeod lairds held Raasay for a large part of the fifteenth century.

The MacLeods of Raasay were, most likely, descended from the MacLeods of Gairloch. There would have been close association between Raasay and Gairloch families. Evidence of this may be found in the place-name Laimrig Chloinn mhic Ailein, the Landing Place of the Clan or Children of Allan, on the east coast of Raasay between Brochel and Kyle Rona. This natural jetty or landing place was ideally situated for contact between the MacLeods at Brochel and their relatives in Gairloch.

At that time, and indeed for many centuries after, the sea was the 'motorway'. It was the custom of the times that other lairds, going elsewhere, would stop off and spend some time on the island.

A history of the MacLeans of Boreray, North Uist, tells of such a visit.1 On his way to the MacDonald lands in Uist, Hugh MacDonald called on the Raasay laird. In the MacDonald retinue was Neil Ban MacLean, Hugh MacDonald's foster brother. Hugh MacDonald and the Laird of Raasay engaged in a gambling game, similar to chess. At length, the Raasay laird had won North Uist from MacDonald, and knew that MacDonald did not have the money to buy it back. However, Neil MacLean paid gold and silver to buy it back for MacDonald, probably knowing that he would be well rewarded for doing so. Indeed he was, as he received a verbal lease for the island of Boreray as well as other land in North Uist. The date of this verbal lease is taken to be about 1460.

The Raasay laird is named as MacLeod in this account and later Crown charter evidence suggests that it may well be correct.

The MacLeods lived in Brochel Castle until about the mid-seventeenth century. Although there may already have been a building on the site, tradition says that the MacLeods were responsible for further building. There is a very detailed story told of how they came by the money to finance this undertaking.2

One day, when the MacLeods were hunting on Glamaig, Skye, a favourite dog was lost. The following day the laird and his Gille Mòr (his right-hand man) eventually found the dog aboard a large birlinn at anchor in Loch Sligachan. When he attempted to retrieve the dog, the Gille Mòr was seized by the crew.

-19-

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