Lewis’ most infamous Outlaw – Mac An Stronaich

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Many a disobedient child from Lewis has been frightened into submission by the threat of Mac an Stronaich’s reappearance.

The story goes that Mac an Stronaich terrorised Lewis for many years before his capture and execution in Inverness some time after 1834. He apparently murdered anyone that was unfortunate enough to meet him and sought refuge in most of the islands moorland.

Whether fact or fiction, the story has been passed down the generations, no doubt snowballing as the years go on, but nevertheless has certainly led to many a good yarn being told.

According to folklore, Mac an Stronaich (translating as the son of Stronach) came from Garve in Ross-shire and was seriously mentally ill. One night his sister had a friend round to stay who was wearing a nice colourful necklace.

When the two were in bed, unbeknown to Mac an Stronaich, his sister borrowed her friends necklace. Mac an Stronaich had his eye on the necklace, whether he liked the look of it or believed it was worth a lot of money, he decided he wanted it.

He sneaked into their bedroom and killed who he thought was his sister’s friend but he had actually murdered his sister.

This is what led Mac an Stronaich to become an outlaw and ended up scavenging around Lewis moorlands. The following, whether to be believed or not, are a few creepy but at times, amusing tales about him.

Mac an Stronaich – The Black Sheep!

One day women of Bernera were out at the sheilings and were passing Mac an Stronaich’s cave. They started throwing stones and things at the cave and shouting ‘come out, come out,’ ‘Tigh thu mach a sin.’

As they were wailing at the cave for Mac an Stronaich to come out, a black sheep popped its head out and they all nearly jumped out of there skin thinking Mac an Stronaich was coming to get them!

If it had been a white sheep that reared its head it would have been fine but a black sheep gave them the fright of their lives.

Uig Moors

Mac an Stronaich was often seen on the moors of Uig, he would keep himself alive by stealing sheep and cows.

Even though he would frighten people he was also scared of them.

One day, a young girl was looking for a missing calf near a cave, which is now known as ‘Leabaidh Mac an Stronaich’ (Mac an Stronaich’s bed). The girl saw someone running towards her from the cave shouting, “If I was closer to you, you wouldn’t be smiling” - it was Mac an Stronaich wanting the calf. She turned her back on him and began to shout, “Iain! Aonghas! Mac an Stronaich is coming towards me, hurry up!”

She wasn’t shouting to anyone; pretending there were others there seemed to scare him off.

Other stories to have survived the passages of time in Uig folklore detail the time when he was on the run in Uig where he killed a boy. The boy was sitting by a small loch in the moor eating meat off a bone when Mac an t-Sronaich pounced on him.

The young lad seemed to know what fate was about to befall him so asked his attacker if he could finish eating before he was killed. Mac an t-Sronaich then drowned the boy but it seems this was his one and only regret as he said: “I wouldn’t change anything I’ve done but I wish I had let that boy live.

“The look on his face as I killed him has been haunting me ever since,” he admitted.

Their were women out cutting rushes for thatch and one of them asked what would happen if Mac an Stronaich came here, the other said we would take his intestines out with hooks, and little did they know that he was hiding somewhere listening to them. He got the fright of his life and didn’t appear for a while.

Ness Moors

Once when he came to the visit the village of Cuiashader near Skigersta, Ness. At one point there were quite a lot families staying in the sheilings there.

A young couple with a son were living in one of the sheilings. One evening when they were having their dinner they heard a knock at the door.

They answered to find this shady character who they recognised as Mac an Stronaich who was asking for somewhere to stay. They gave him something to eat and offered him a bed with their son.

The boy was watching Mac an Stronaich when he was getting changed and he had a knife inside one of his stocking which the boy thought was very odd.

The couple went next door to inform the other families about what the boy saw. They decided that both couples would stay awake all night in the sheiling that Mac an Stroniach was .

Mac an Stronaich asked the boy if he would walk with him a bit and show him the way to Tolsta. The boy refused and Mac an Stroniach replied and said: “You are very lucky because if I had got you behind that hill you would never have seen your mother and father ever again.”

His Last Act

Mac an Stronaich was eventually caught and sentenced to hang for the murders of 19 people and his last request was for a jug of water which he was duly given by a court clerk. Mac drank his fill and promptly brought the jug crashing down on the head of the clerk, killing him instantly.

“Now I have killed 20,” were Mac an Stronaich alleged last words before he met his deserved death on the gallows.