CLAN chief who once taught law to a young Barack Obama has died in
Ian MacNeil, 80, the 46th chief of the Clan MacNeil of Barra, had been
suffering from lymphoma.
Last night Angus MacNeil, the Western Isles
MP, led the tributes.
He said Mr MacNeil was much loved and
respected on Barra and news of his death will be greeted with feelings of
sadness and loss.
"He was a person who delighted in other people," he
said. "He was active in the Barra community in protecting the island air
service from proposed Scottish Executive cuts eight years ago.
had a strong interest in crofting and made considered submissions on the
Crofting Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament."
Allan, the islands' MSP, added: "Ian was a remarkable person, not just
because he headed one of Scotland's oldest clans, but because he was an
immensely kind, learned man who devoted his considerable talents to helping
"As well as working tirelessly to safeguard the future
of Kisimul Castle in Barra, he had a notable career as a professor of law in
the States, a knowledge which he put to formidable use in defending the
interests of Barra.
"That could take many forms, whether it was in
arguing for the interests of the island's fishermen or its crofters.
"Indeed, to his immense credit he secured public ownership of the island
In 2004, Mr MacNeil transferred nearly 9,000 acres of his
land on Barra to Scottish ministers, as well as fishing and mineral rights,
with the plan eventually to give it to the residents.
He offered the
land to the community more than 20 years previously but it was not acted on
as he was considered a good landlord.
He continued to be a regular
visitor to the island where he had a home and still has connections to
Kisimul Castle, the family seat now run by Historic Scotland.
2000, he agreed an annual rent for the castle of £1 and a bottle of malt
Ian Roderick MacNeil claimed descent from Niall of the Nine
Hostages, the king of Ireland from 379 to 405. The clan MacNeil is said to
have lived on Barra for nearly 1,000 years.
The 21st chief, General
Roderick MacNeil, sold the island in 1838 when he faced economic ruin.
As he had no children, the chiefship passed to a cousin whose line had
emigrated to America.
In 1937, Kisimul Castle and most of Barra were
bought by Robert Lister MacNeil, a descendant of the 22nd chief and father
of Ian MacNeil.
Ian spent a considerable period on the island and
went to school in Castlebay.
He later ran the crofting estate for
nearly 35 years, splitting his time between the island, his native America,
where he taught law at Northwestern University in Chicago, and Edinburgh.
He was an expert in contract law as well as crofting and crofting
While teaching in the United States, he told his wife
he thought he had the first black US president in his class, a reference to
the young Barack Obama, who was one of his students.
"He told his
wife that he had thought he had the first black president in his class,"
said the Western Isles MP Mr MacNeil.
"She just smiled but he was
a man of great foresight and a great talent spotter.
"At the same
time he was genuinely very humble."
Mr MacNeil is survived by his
widow Nancy, and his family, Rory, now the 47th MacNeil of MacNeil, Jenny
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