Thursday, February 5, 2015

Neil MacGillivray of Burg & Inchkenneth

I first read about Neil MacGillivray in Alasdair Alpin Magregor's book Skye and the Inner Hebrides (1953). Neil was the island boatman for Inchkenneth when MacGregor met him. MacGregor does not say too much about Neil, but you can read a good account of his life in Timothy Neat's When I was Young (2000). The chapter about Neil begins as follows (in his own words):

Looking at a photograph of me when young and looking at me now, aged 84, you'd never think I was a man who often danced with Hitler's mistress. That was Unity Mitford. Both she and her mother were very fond of me. They lived here on Mull, on the island of Inchkenneth. I was boatman and general manager of the island - but it's a long story and it seems a very long time ago.

Photo of Neil in his 20s - unfortunately later editions of the book have a different cover 
I won't repeat the story of the Mitfords on Inchkenneth. But it is one of the strangest tales of the Hebrides. Unfortunately I only met Neil MacGillivray once. That was in 2003 when I visited him at his home, Aird of Kinloch, near the head of Loch Scridan on Mull. Over a dram of Grouse he told me some stories about his life on Inchkenneth, and showed me one of his treasured possessions, Unity Mitford's swaztika arm band. I tried to get him to talk about Alasdair Alpin MacGregor, but he did not remember much other than "he had holes in his trousers."

Neil lived on Inchkenneth for nearly 20 years, and raised his family there. Their time on Inchkenneth came to an end around 1966, shortly after the Mitford's sold the island. There was some sort of dispute with the new owners, I have no idea what it was, but it was bad enough that Neil's house on Inchkenneth was subsequently knocked down (see photo below). As I was leaving I asked Neil if I could take his photo; here is the picture, which also shows his dog Dileas (which means faithful in Gaelic).

Neil MacGillivray at his home in 2003
The day after visiting Neil I went to Inchkenneth. (See book 1 chapter 12 for the story of that visit). Neil had told me where to find the spot where his house had been. The rectangular patch of rubble in the next photo is all that's left of his house.

Site of Neil's house
I always intended on visiting Neil again, but it was not to be. Neil passed away in March of 2009. In August of that year I paid a visit to his grave in Kilfinichen burial ground.

MacGillivary Tombstone in Kilfinichen
Also buried here is his wife Janet, who passed away in 1989. When I visited the cemetery the tombstone had yet to be inscribed with the date of Neil's death. That has since been done, and the final lines on the stone are now:

Neil MacGillivray, 
who died 30th March 2009
Aged 94 years
Devoted Father and Loving Husband

Next to the Neil's grave is the grave of another MacGillivray, Christina, better known as Chirsty Burg, who passed in 1989. Chirsty was well known to many who hiked through the Burg to see the Fossil Tree, and I wish I'd been able to meet her. An excellent book on Burg, and Chirsty (that also has some information on Neil), is Tea with Chrissie, by Rosalind Jones.

Tombstone of Chirsty Burg

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