Chief of Clan MacNeil of Barra Dies Aged 80
Tuesday saw the sad loss of Iain MacNeil, chief of The MacNeils of Barra. He was 80. A popular Chief he will be missed greatly, especially by the people of Barra. He was a remarkable man who led one of the oldest Clans in Scotland.
Born in New York, Iain was also educated in the US, and was a graduate of both Vermont and Harvard universities. Later on he returned to Harvard, but this time to teach, and one of the students in his contract law course was the future President of the US, Barack Obama. It is said that during his time teaching at Harvard, he suggested to his wife Nancy that he may have America’s first black president in his class. And he turned out to be correct.
MacNeil had a home in Edinburgh, but he lived on Barra, where he was able to talk some Gaelic with the locals. He spent the past 35 years dividing his time between Barra and the US, and he held a law appointment at Edinburgh University. Iain was also a greatly liked and admired colleague on the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. His title is one of the very few in Scotland which is preceded with the honorific ‘The’.
The MacNeil put a lot of time and effort, and personal resources to help with the upkeep of Kisimul Castle, the clan’s seat on Barra. The castle dates back to the 1200s, and sits on an islet, surrounded by the sea. On one occassion, when faced with more repairs to the castle someone asked why he continued with it all, and Iain referred to his motto ‘Buaidh No Bas’, meaning to conquer or die, as an explanation to the perpetual effort put in to the castles restoration. However, in 2001, he leased the ancestral seat of Kisimul to Historic Scotland for 1,000 years in return for the annual sum of £1 and a bottle of malt whisky. In 2003 Iain MacNeil also transferred over 9,000 acres of his land to Scottish ministers with the intention that they will end up in the possession of the residents. At the time, a local councilor, Jessie MacNeil, was quoted as saying that this act placed the islanders in charge of their own destiny. She added,
“He could have put the island on the open market at a time when Scottish estates are changing hands for millions of pounds. That in itself speaks worlds about the man and how we see him.”
Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan has paid tribute to the late Chief, calling him a remarkable person.
“Iain had a notable career as a professor of law in the States, a knowledge which he put to formidable use in defending the interests of Barra.”
“That could take many forms, whether it was in arguing for the interests of the island’s fishermen or its crofters. Indeed, to Iain’s immense credit he secured public ownership of the island itself.”
The MSP went on to say: “People in Barra, I know, are very sorry to hear of his passing.”
Iain MacNeil is survived by his wife, Nancy, their children Rory, Jenny, and Sandy, and grandchildren.Tagged