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Smuggling in the Highlands
Prefatory Note


Most of the following short account of Highland Whisky and Smuggling Stories was read before the Gaelic Society of Inverness twenty-seven years ago, when there was an extensive revival of illicit distillation in the Highlands, especially over wide tracts of Inverness-shire, Ross-shire, and Sutherlandshire.

For some time prior to 1880 illicit distillation had been practically suppressed in the north, and the old smugglers were fast passing away; but with the abolition of the Malt Tax, the reduction of the Revenue Preventive Staff, and the feeling of independence and security produced by the Crofters' Act, came a violent and sustained outburst of smuggling which was not only serious as regards the Revenue and licensed traders, but threatened to demoralise and impoverish the communities and districts affected. The revival among the youth of a new generation of those pernicious habits which had in the past led to so much lawlessness, dishonesty, idleness' and drinking was especially lamentable.

In their efforts to suppress this fresh outbreak the Revenue officials were much hampered not only by the strong, popular sentiment in favour of smuggling and smugglers, but also by the mistaken leniency of local magistrates, and by the weak, temporising policy of the Board of Inland Revenue towards certain sportsmen who claimed exemption for their extensive deer-forests from visits by the Revenue officials.

This deplorable state of matters accounts for and explains the serious view taken of the situation as it then existed, and the appeal made for rousing and educating public opinion on the subject. Fortunately, matters have much improved since 1886; smuggling is again on the decline, almost extinct, and will soon, it is hoped, be a thing of the past in the Highlands. But Smuggling Stories, with their glamour and romance, will ever remain part of our Scottish folklore and literature.

The paper read before the Gaelic Society of Inverness was included in the Transactions of the Society, Vol. xii., and appeared soon after as a series of articles both in The Highlander and Celtic Magazine. Permission to publish the paper in book form was readily given by the Gaelic Society, and included with it, occupying pages 75 to 94 of this little volume, are several good smuggling stories and detections now published for the first time.

The proprietors of the interesting photographs inserted have also kindly permitted their reproduction as illustrations. One picture is particularly interesting, being the sketch taken by the artist, MacIan, of Sandy MacGruar's bothy in Strathglass, referred to in the text. Considering the great, almost insuperable, difficulties of obtaining access to Smuggling Bothies, and the scarcity of such pictures, these illustrations are of more than passing interest and value.


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