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.