Mac an t-Sronaich’s First Murder

This version of the story comes from the CE Uig annals but we haven’t (yet) identified who the storyteller is.

Now, another story I heard from an old minister in Ullapool about Mac an t-Sronaich.  We’re in Ullapool, 30 miles away from Garve where Mac an t-Sronaich came from originally.  Stronach is a common name on the west coast and his family had a small boarding house in Ullapool, where people would come and stay with them.  This is where Mac an t-Sronaich was living, and he had a sister who was friendly with a young girl who was staying with them.

The two girls always shared a bed – there were no single or doubles in those days.  These people who stayed with the Stronach house were fairly well off, and the girl had a gold chain around her neck.  Mac an t-Sronaich had his eye on it, and he meant to get it somehow.  He thought he would go into her room while she was sleeping and snatch it, and no one would know anything about it.

The girls, being girls, were silly, and Mac an t-Sronaich’s sister asked the other one if she could wear the gold chain around her neck for the night, as she herself didn’t have anything like that. The visitor let her have the chain for the night.  Mac an t-Sronaich chose that night to go into their room.  When he grabbed the chain, the girl awoke and cried out, and he killed her there and then, in case he was caught.  Of course, it was his sister, and when he found out in the morning, he ran off and went into hiding, coming to Lewis and living for the rest of his time as an outlaw.

He was captured and hanged in 1836.  His father was an innkeeper at Garve so it may all have happened there, rather than in Ullapool.  The story, with minor variations, is also offered by Bill Lawson in Harris in History and Legend, with the suggestion that the girl who escaped being murdered was Marion Maclean (c1794-1861) from Skye who was subsequently married to Murdo Maclennan in Ardbheag.  If this is accurate and she was indeed a young girl at the time, it dates the beginning of Mac an t-Sronaich’s criminal life to about 1812.