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John MacDonald

John MacDonald

John was born about 1845, the son of tailor Donald MacDonald and Joan MacCrimmon of Pabbay.  During the 1850s his parents moved to a newly built home at Ardmaree on the island of Berneray.

John entered the army as a volunteer based at Inverness, later working as a fisherman and stone mason. The house at Ardmaree passed to him following his parents’ death. His son Donald was born in 1890. John married Mary MacInnes in Glasgow in 1896, with whom he was to have a daughter, Christy Mary.

A story about John is recounted on page 9 of The Place Names of Berneray:

There is a story of one John MacDonald, a native of Pabbay whose family had moved to Berneray from that island when John was a young boy. Apparently John had been endeavouring to seaweed a piece of ground ... to grow potatoes but everywhere he went with the heavy creel of seaweed on his back, he was told,

"You cannot use that part, it belongs to Donald the Smith."

Eventually John threw the loaded creel on the ground in disgust and said to them in Gaelic, "The earth belongs unto the Lord and all that it contains, except the Red Knoll which belongs to Donald the Smith."  

There is a further description of him on page 60 of Sea-Names, relating to the rock with his name, Bodha Iain Dòmhnullaich, which had previously been named Sgeir Mhic Asgaill:

MacDonald had a fishing smack as well as being an excellent stone-mason. During the fishing season he sailed as far as Wick. As his fishing smack was quite large, on his way home from the east coast he used to jettison his stone ballast at MacAskill Rock in order to gain entry to the shallow harbour at Borve [Pol an Oir]. … Iain was a big man in every way, and his nose was equal to his other dimensions, so much so that he invariably joked about it. When people passed him on the roadway, he used to push his nose to one side to allow them to pass. The following is a little ditty he used to sing about his nose:

‘S i ‘n t-sròn mhòr a nàirich mi,

A nàirich mi, a nàirich mi,

‘S i ‘n t-sròn mhòr a nàirich mi,

A h-uile ait san robh mi riamh,

Bhiodh i as an spàin agam,

An spàin agam, an spàin agam,

Bhiodh i as an spàin agam,

Mu’n tàrainn a cur na mo bhial.

From the book Coille an Fhàsaich:

John MacDonald didn't have a croft but there was a big high wall all the way round his house, and I remember him digging it over with a spade when he as an old man. Though he was such a good mason, he was also a master mariner, and owned a big powerful fishing-boat...

John’s masonry skills were in demand. He helped construct the house at 3 Borve and built the Free Church Manse with the help of free local labour.


Title: John MacDonald
Record Type: People
Gaelic Name: Iain Dhòmhnaill Iain
Date of Birth: 1845
Date of Death: 22-12-1935
Date of Marriage: 15-09-1896
Occupation: Stonemason; Soldier; Fisherman
Sex: Male
Bk Reference: CEBH 1195
Record Maintained By: CEBH
Subject Id: 105866