Mac an t-Sronaich was a notorious and shadowy murderer and robber of Lewis legend who was active in Uig in the early 19th century. He lived in a cave behind Keose in Lochs that is still known as Uamh Mac an t-Sronaich and he was reputedly the first cousin of Lilly Macaulay Linshader, the wife of Rev Robert Finlayson, Keose Manse. On many occasions he found refuge at the manse at Keose and Lilly would leave food for him in one of the outhouses. Tradition maintains that on occasion he slept in the manse, and the marks in the panelling above his bed show where he would stick his dagger overnight.
When things got hot for him, he came to Uig: “As long as I keep to the Uig hills, the Uig hills will keep me,” he said.
The only person reputed to have frightened Mac an t-Sronaich was Domhnall Ruadh Beag from Enaclete. Mac an t-Sronaich was on the hill Mula Chaolartain and he saw something going down the side of Beinn a Deas, the route to Hamnaway. Domhnall Ruadh Beag was barefoot and taking a herring net on his back to Loch Hamnaway where there were huge shoals of herring being caught. All Mac an t-Sronaich could see was this round black thing moving along on little white legs. He couldn’t understand what it was and came to the conclusion it was the devil himself.
It would appear he only feared two other things – dogs and ghosts – and his presence on Lewis spread throughout the community a very real and justifiable fear of him. A petition was issued for his arrest in 1834:
Petition of the Procurator Fiscal for the Lewis Districk of Ross-shire, July 1834.
Unto the Honourable the Sherrif of Ross-shire or his Substitute for the Lewis district. The Petition of Thomas Buchanan Drummond, Writer in Stornoway, Proc Fiscal for said district. Humbly Sheweth:
That the petitioner has received information of there being a man lurking about the island of Lewis who is suspected of having committed some serious crimes but for the present has evaded being brought to justice, and as he puts the Inhabitants of the Island in fear of their lives (he being armed with dangerous weapons) besides, as their sheep and other cattle may be destroyed and their goods seized and carried off by that person who at present can have no lawful means of procuring subsistence, and hence the petitioner suspects him either to be a criminal escaped from justice, Vagabond or Plunderer, which renders the present application necessary. May it therefore please your Lordship to consider what is above set forth, and in respect of the peculiar circumstances of the Case, grant warrant to Officers of Court, constables, their Concurrents, and to any of the Natives of the Island to pass search for and apprehend the person before referred to and to bring him before you for examination and thereafter, upon again advising this application with the oration of the accused and other evidence that may be adduced, do and determine in the premises as to your Lordship shall seem proper.
Further in the Meantime grant warrant for citing witnesses to be precognosed in the cause.
According to justice.
Sgd. Tho. B. Drummond,
Stornoway 8th July 1834
The Sheriff Substitute having considered the foregoing petition grants warrant to Officers of Court and other executors of the Law to pass, search for, seize and apprehend the Man or person referred to in this petition and bring him before me for examination anent the facts stated in the petition and grants warrant for citing witnesses as a precognition as craved.
Sgd. John Mackenzie
He was eventually captured in 1836. It is said that when asked as he went to the gallows if he regretted anything in his life Mac an t-Sronaich answered “only two things – the first that I have murdered a child and the second, that I did not murder the Minister”.