Behold the Hebrides
The Pirate's Last Stand
A Story of the Isle of Berisay
NOW I would like to tell you just a little more about
our old friend, Neil MacLeod, who, as I have narrated, harassed the
Gentlemen Adventurers from Fife, and who was in no small way the cause
of their failure to plant a trading colony in Lewis, because, after the
MacKenzies had taken possession of the Long Island, he continued to give
them a great deal of trouble and anxiety, and artfully evaded the many
traps which the newcomers had so diligently set to capture him.
You will recall the description I gave you earlier of
Kisimul Castle, where the desperate and notorious Ruairi, Chief of the
MacNeils of Barra, lived in royal style on the booty he plundered at sea,
and how in the end he was enticed aboard a ship which the cunning
MacKenzie of Kintail had arranged would sail into Castlebay, and anchor
quietly beneath the walls of Ruairis fortress under cover of friendship.
Well, Neil MacLeod along with his three bellicose
nephews and Torquil Blair and his four sons, together with some forty
indomitable Islesmen, had been forced to seek shelter on the strongly
fortified Island of Berisay, or Bereasaidh, which is situated just where
the Atlantic sweeps into Loch Roag. To Berisay Neil had been accustomed
for some years before to send provisions of victuals and other necessaries
from time to time, that it might be a retreat unto him in his direst need.
From this island he was able to conduct a series of most destructive raids
on the property of the MacKenzies, because Berisay was as invulnerable as
Kisimul Castle, and Neil was every bit as bravo and crafty and as elusive
as the Chief of Barra.
On this rock-fortress Neil, now an outlaw, enjoyed a
period of unbroken and uninterrupted success as a sea-robber; and he lived
here for two or three years by a dauntless and ruthless system of piracy.
While Neil MacLeod was in possession of Berisay, there
arrived in Lewis a certain English pirate, who haid a shippe furnished
and fraughted with great wealth. This pirate was none other than the
doughty Peter Lowe. He and Neil, both having been outlawed for very
similar reasons, became the closest friends; and it was their intention to
join forces and become masters of Lewis on land and sea. But ere Lowe had
enjoyed a reasonable period of residence on Berisay he and his crew were
suddenly taken prisoners by the sons of Torquil Blair, and were sent along
with their ship to Edinburgh by the command of Neil MacLeod, who thought
that his excellent capture would result in his pardon and in the release
of his brother, Tormoid, who was in prison. The Privy Council, however,
thought otherwise; and the English crew and its captain were hanged at
Leith, while Neil obtained neither the kings pardon, nor yet his
Wily as was Neil, old Ruairaidh MacKenzie was wilier
still, for, just as the latter was on the verge of abandoning any further
attempt to surprise Neil and his garrison on Berisay, a brilliant
strategical idea struck him, which, according to Sir Robert Gordon,
resulted in the capture and ultimate execution of Neil MacLeod.
MacKenzie planned that the wives, children, and such as
by way of affinity and consanguinity within the Island of Lewis did
appertain to Neil and .his sea-rieving followers, should be collected in
an open boat and taken out at low tide to a rock within easy distance of
Berisay. Here it was decided to lash the boat down, and to leave it so
that the tide might come in and drown its occupants.
This scheme was carried out and had the required
result, because the MacLeods were sufficiently near the rock to observe
the plight of their relatives and to hear their shrieks for help; and we
are told that they stood aside until they were unable to bear the scene
any longer, for this pitiefull spectakll did so move Niell and his
company to compassion! So MacKenzies plan to entice the robbers to leave
their stronghold proved successful, for Neil and his clansmen surrendered
themselves to the MacKenzies just as the tide was about to swamp their
After the fall of his fortress on Berisay, Neil again
appears to have effected a daring escape, and to have fled to Harris.
There he sought to conceal himself among the mountain fastnesses until he
was betrayed by a certain Ruairaidh, Chief of the MacLeods of Harris, who,
though it seems rather difficult to believe, had been scheming for some
time with the Privy Council to capture the pirate and to hand him over to
the authorities to be dealt with. An ancient MS., to which I have had
access, declares, however, that MacLeod of Harris was charged under payne
of treasone to delyver Niell McLeod to the privie Counsell.
At any rate Neil was caught and was straightway brought
to Edinburgh, where, in the spring of 1613, having been tried on and found
guilty of a score of very serious charges, he was hanged at the Market
But of Neil MacLeod it was written that he met his
death verey christianlie.
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