The fugutive Mac an t- Strònaich
The Comann Eachdraidh received this story from Donald Macritchie, Dòmhnall Ghinneis, a number of years ago. Donald stated, “My mother was born in 1870 and her grandmother's sister was alleged to have been chased by Mac an t-Srònaich over the moors in the area known as Na Leitrichean. She was chased towards the Creag Ghorm. In those days most of the settlement of North Tolsta was situated beside Allt na Muilne at the northern boundary of what is now New Tolsta.
“The story was that she was chased and when she came in sight of the village houses she started to shout and her pursuer stopped chasing.
“In one of the many tales that were told about Mac an t-Srònaich it was alleged that he called at a house known as Taigh Mairi Alasdair to get food. The house was situated at the north end of Tolsta where number 44 is now. It was also said that he used to visit a house at Back, where food was always left for him in the barn. I am sure that every village has its own stories of the doings attributed to this man, who did at one time definitely roam the moors of Lewis. As schoolboys we all had tales, especially from Ness and the West Side, about different men who had fought with Mac an t-Srònaich.
“One such story told how one day the fugitive was getting the better of a particular Niseach or Siarach and he was forced to call on his dog for assistance. The dog obliged by biting Mac an t-Srònaich and he was forced to let go his grip and retire.
“My own opinion is that this man was never a murderer, but was certainly a fugitive from justice for some criminal offence he had committed earlier in his life. He probably assumed that once he got to Lewis he would escape persecution, but that was not the case! As the stories about him began to multiply and because of the ‘murderer' tag attached to him, no one trusted him and he would have been desperate for food on many occasions, hence his raiding forays in different parts of the island. He was unable to communicate directly or, as they say today, have a dialogue with someone who could sympathise or understand his dilemma. I am sure that when he ‘attacked' people it was to get food, but whatever he did and however he came to Lewis his presence on the island was the subject of many stories down through the years – stories that enlivened many a winter's night in the old ceilidh houses.
“Had this man been such a wanton killer during his sojourn here, why was he not pursued and caught earlier? Surely one man, who appeared to be unarmed, would have been easy meat for a posse of Lewismen? I could never understand why one man was allowed such freedom to kill. In my opinion if he had carried out the murders, as some of the stories suggest, then he would have been hunted down mercilessly and relentlessly.
“This is only one man's view of the Mac an t-Srònaich saga. What do you think? (The surname Stronach can still be found on mainland Scotland ).”
*To all children growing up in Lewis up until the 1940s Mac an t-Srònaich was their bogeyman. As Donald Macritchie says, the numerous stories told of him in the ceilidh houses livened up the winter evenings. One of the saddest of these stories is his alleged confession at his trial. When asked of the time he drowned a herd-boy from the West-side near Muirneag his reply was, “An truas a chuir am balach orm anns a'bhotann bhùirn Gum b'fheàrr leam air na chunnaic mi Gun robh e air mo ghlùin”.
Allegedly he was not caught on Lewis. He maintained that he was completely safe on the island. ‘Ma ghleidheas mise beanntan Uig, gleidhidh beanntan Uig mise'. He left the island, got caught, was tried, found guilty and hanged on the mainland and not on Gallow's Hill. The Stornoway Gazette carried a series of informative articles in the 1960s, The Families of Lewis, contributed by Mac Gille Chaluim.
In February 1959 Mac Gille Chaluim wrote:- Mac an t-Sronach is an authentic surname and not some kind of nickname. It is found from an early period in Easter Ross, the anglicised form being Stronach. There are many traditions in Lewis about Mac an t-Srònaich, some of which may well be founded, some not. There are at least two that would appear to belong to the former category.
His father had an inn at Garve, and he was closely related to Lilias Macaulay, wife of the Rev Robert Finlayson, Lochs. Taking the question of his paternity first, we find in the records of the Dundonnel law-suit that in 1830 and for a good number of years previously the innkeeper at Garve was Alexander Stronach, a son of the Rev. Alexander Stronach, Loch Broom. He was married to Ann (or Nancy), daughter of John Morrison ( Iain Mòr mac a'Mhinisteir ), tacksman of Drimchork, Gruinard, who was a son of the Rev. Murdo Morrison, Barvas.
According to Findon's Genealogy Tables of the Mackenzies, the issue of marriage was as follows:- Roderick married to a Miss Mackenzie at Contin, with issue. Alexander Barbara, married to Roderick Mackenzie, Scoddule, with issue. Justina, married to a Macintyre at Lochluichart. If we could regard this list complete and accurate, then we might suppose that Mac an t-Srònaich is to be identified with the above Alexander.
Unfortunately tradition does not seem to have preserved his Christian name. Moreover, Findon's Tables are not conspicuous for accuracy and these are incomplete.
There were at least two other daughters, Betty and Margaret, the latter of whom married Alexander Mackenzie, Ardmair. As to the relationship with Mrs Finlayson, John Morrison (Iain Mòr mac a ‘Mhinisteir ) had another daughter Catherine, who married Donald Macaulay (Dòmhnall mac Sheòrais) , tacksman of Linshader, and she was the mother of Mrs Finlayson. So if we accept that Mac an t-Srònaich was a son of Alexander Sronach, innkeeper at Garve – and there is no reason to doubt it – then he and Mrs Finlayson were first cousins.
Mac an t-Srònaich was in Lewis in the fourth decade of last century (1840s). All the indications are that he was a fugitive from justice. The tradition known to me is that he was responsible for the death of a servant girl in his father's house, but I can adduce no further evidence. The record of his case may yet come to light. No doubt the degree of harm he did while in Lewis has been exaggerated, but there is at least one family, in North Harris, who could give information about how an ancestor of theirs was murdered by him while on his way home from Stornoway, whither he had gone to procure a keg of whisky for a wedding. Mac Gille Chaluim."