Thursday, February 9, 2017

Bearasaigh - The Pirate's Isle

There is a little island in the outer reaches of Loch Roag I've always wanted to visit. The island is Bearasaigh, which had a brief moment of fame in the 1600s.

For a few years in the early seventeenth century, Neil MacLeod and forty of his followers had a stronghold on Bearasaigh. From this small isle they launched raids against the “Gentlemen Adventurers” sent to Lewis by James VI to “civilize” the Outer Hebrides. Bearasaigh was a good choice for a stronghold. It is cliff-girt, with just one, easily defend-able, sloping rock slab that allows access to the top of the island. They eventually caught Neil by stranding family members in a boat tied to a tidal rock near the island. Neil and his band surrendered in order to save them. Neil managed to escape after that, but was recaptured and ended up swinging from an Edinburgh scaffold in 1613.

In chapter 16 of his book Behold the Hebrides, Alasdair Alpin Macgregor recounts the story of Neil Macleod, which you can read at this link.

I've always wanted to get ashore on Bearasaigh to see if there are any remains of Neil's encampment on the island. But to do so would require an expensive day-charter of a RIB on a very calm day, and so I've put it off for many years. But I was able to get a close up view of the rock slab that gives access to Bearasaigh during a tour around the islands of Loch Roag last August. It was a miserable, cold, and wet day, as you can tell from the rain-smears on the following photo of the landing spot. It was evident that a scramble to the top of the island on those rocks would be exciting.

A wet-lens view of the way up Bearasaigh
On the same boat trip we took a look at the oil rig grounded at Dalmore, six miles away. If the wind and tide had been different Bearasaigh might of been in the headlines after a 400 year absence.

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