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Lament For Iain Garbh MacLeod, Raasay


The greatest hero of Raasay was Iain Garbh MacGillechaluim, 7th of Raasay. He was Chieftain from 1648 until his untimely death by drowning on Easter Monday, 1671. Iain Garbh MacLeod was known for his great courage and prodigious strength, hence the designation Garbh.


Iain Garbh's untimely end came upon leaving a christening of the Earl of Seaforth's child on the Isle of Lewis. The Earl, his liege lord, had asked him to bear witness at the child's christening. Iain attended with his youngest brother Calum and fifteen clansmen. They departed the shores of Lewis late one night at a time when a howling gale was churning up the seas with an unrelenting ferocity. They unfurled their new Dutch sail which was much larger than what they were used to. With too much wind in the sail, the galley tipped over within sight of land and all were lost.


Iain Garbh's death gave rise to many poems and songs of lamentation. Here is a verse translated from one of three songs composed by his sister:

Sitting sadly I sorrow,
Heavy hearted and ailing
I am songless and cheerless
I am weary with wailing.

Iain's death also gave rise to many myths, one of which held that his wet nurse was a witch and she had conjured up the storm that caused the drowning. This myth was consistent with a widespread belief that witches had the power to conjure up storms whenever they so willed. A witch could take an empty eggshell, fill it with water and while shaking it say some incantations over the eggshell and, magically, strong gusts of wind would soon be churning up the seas.


Iain Garbh married Janet, a daughter of Sir Ruaridh Mor MacLeod of Harris and Dunvegan, without issue. Padruig Og MacCrimmon composed this lament in 1688.


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