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Our History – Pioneering Fathers on Raasay

Raasay has produced some extraordinary individuals over the years. Characters whose lives left their mark on both the island and the wider world, and are forever part of Raasay’s story. As we head towards Father’s Day, we look back at some of the most important Raasay figures from days past.

Iain ‘Garbh’

One of the most celebrated of Raasay’s historical pioneers was Iain ‘Garbh’ (rugged) Macleod, the last of the Macleod chiefs to hold the seat in the north at the fortified clifftop of Brochel Castle. He was distinguished among his contemporaries for his size and strength.

By 1700 the Macleods had moved their seat from wild and rocky Brochel to the sheltered woodlands of Clachan in the south of the island. The move marked a significant break from centuries facing east across the seas to Wester Ross to now looking west to the towering Cuillin mountains of Skye. It also marked the societal change taking place across the highlands, as clan chiefs began adopting Lowland landlord values over community kinship.

Angus Mackay

Scotland’s celebrated piping musical heritage owes much of its present-day popularity to the pioneering Raasay piper and composer Angus Mackay. Angus was one of four sons who were all accomplished pipers. In the mid-1800s Angus learned musical theory and took on the challenge of translating the treasure trove of ancient Scottish piobaireachd (Gaelic for ‘pipe music’) into written musical annotation form for the first time. In doing so he ensured that centuries of priceless musical knowledge was recorded, preserved and shared. His published collections were so popular that in 1843 he was invited to Buckingham Palace to take up the post as the first ever personal piper to the sovereign, Queen Victoria. To this day lovers of bagpipe music still make a pilgrimage to the scenic ruin of his home ‘Taigh a Phiobaire’ which translates as ‘the Piper’s House’ that still stands at Eyre in the south of the island.

Calum ‘Arnish’

In the 20th Century the balance of population on Raasay shifted significantly from the north to the south. This decline left the community and families in the north literally running out of road when it came to transport and communications. This stirred one celebrated Raasay father Calum ‘Arnish’ Macleod to take matters into his own hands. Equipped with a book on roadbuilding, a pick, wheelbarrow and some dynamite he set about building a road to link his home township at Arnish to the ‘county’ road, with his main motive to enable his daughter to visit him during her school breaks while studying on Skye. It took ten years but his herculean achievement in constructing the 1 3/4 mile was recognised with the award of the British Empire Medal. Today ‘Calum’s Road’ stands testimony to a Raasay man backing himself to get the job done despite the odds against. A demonstration of strength, determination and a pioneering approach to parenthood! If you want to find out more about this inspiring story, we recommend reading a copy of Roger Hutchinson’s book ‘Calum’s Road’. 

And that’s a wrap! We hope you’ve enjoyed our feature series on the ‘Pioneers’ of Raasay both past and present and that it has encouraged you to come together, especially on high days, family days and perhaps this Father’s Day to show appreciation for loved ones, share your own stories and joyfully reminisce about days gone by.

We look forward to sharing plenty more stories of our island, our distillery and our team very soon – all of which are hugely influential in shaping every aspect of our values and approach.

And finally before you go – if you want to get in touch to learn more about our history, our whisky or anything in between just drop us a line at [email protected] and we’ll be sure to get back to you.

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