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MacLeods of Raasay

Raasay House Scotland

Standing in its own grounds, just north of Raasay village, and commanding a fine view over its own small harbour and anchorage is Raasay House, home of the MacLeods of Raasay until 1834, when bankruptcy forced the 12th laird to emigrate. Built in 1747, it stands on the site of an earlier house that was burned to the ground by government troops in 1746 as a reprisal for the part played by the family in the Jacobite rising.

The MacLeods were good landlords and treated their people well, but their luxurious lifestyle exceeded their income. The final straw came in the early 19th century when the 12th chief of the MacLeods decided to commission two stone mermaids to be made to flank the front entrance. Although he requested them to be the size of large dogs, on their arrival they turned out to be enormous. The bill for their construction broke the chief, who had in any case inherited large debts, and he was forced to sell up and emigrate to Tasmania.

The mermaids remain and can be seen at the Battery by the sea, overlooking the jetty. They may have been more effective in repelling Napoleon than the cannon placed there for the purpose by a later tenant!

Dr Samuel Johnson and his companion Boswell stayed there in 1773 and, as a result, Boswell made quite a number of interesting observations: "Such a seat of hospitality, amidst the winds and waters, fills the imagination with a  delightful contraritie of images; without is the wrath ocean and the rocky land, the beating billows and the howling storm; within is plenty and elegance, beauty and gaiety, the song and dance. In Raasay, if I could have found a Ulysses, I had fancied a Phaecia."

The house was remodelled early in the 19th century and after 1846 passed through the hands of various owners until it was bought in 1876 by Edward Herbert Wood, an industrialist who made his fortune in the china trade and came from Burslem in Staffordshire. Improvements followed including the addition of wings and a Georgian frontage, all of which can still be seen today. It was then run as a sporting and farming estate until it was sold in 1912. From 1937 until 1960 it was an hotel.

Raasay House is currently undergoing a major refurbishment. When doors re-open in Spring 2009, it will be a leading UK outdoor activity centre and event venue.

The setting in which Raasay House stands is particularly interesting. The old parish church and Chapel of St Moluag, built in the 13th century, together with a mid-19th century memorial chapel, lie behind the building in a burial ground. St Moluag, like St Columba, came as a missionary from Ireland in the 6th century and set up a foundation in Lismore. The chapel obviously made an impression on Johnson and Boswell during their visit, as Boswell remarked on its "unroofed and ruinous state".

Raasay is the only inhabited island in Macleod's possession. The length of Raasay is, by computation, ten miles, and the breadth two.

One of the old Highland alliances has continued for two hundred years, and is still subsisting between Macleod of Raasay, and Macdonald of Skye.

During a recent visit to the Island of Raasay we received a peculiar prediction regarding the Macleods from an old man there.

Death of John McLeod of Raasay.

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