When John McPhee returned to the island of his ancestors—Colonsay, twenty-five miles west of the Scottish mainland—a hundred and thirty-eight people were living there. About eighty of these, crofters and farmers, had familial histories of unbroken residence on the island for two or three hundred years; the rest, including the English laird who owned Colonsay, were “incomers.” Donald McNeill, the crofter of the title, was working out his existence in this last domain of the feudal system; the laird, the fourth Baron Strathcona, lived in Bath, appeared on Colonsay mainly in the summer, and accepted with nonchalance the fact that he was the least popular man on the island he owned. While comparing crofter and laird, McPhee gives readers a deep and rich portrait of the terrain, the history, the legends, and the people of this fragment of the Hebrides.
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Crofter and the Laird, The
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THE SCOTTISH CLAN that I belong to--or would belong to if it were now anything more than a sentimental myth --was broken a great many generations ago by a party of MacDonalds, who hunted down the last chief of my clan, captured him, refused him mercy, saying that a man who had never shown mercy should not ask for it, tied him to a standing stone, and shot him. The standing stone was in a place called Balaromin Mor, on Colonsay, a small island in the open Atlantic, twenty-five miles west of the Scottish mainland. The event was not the first of its kind there, and in