Book Review: The Cranachans by Angus MacDonald

The Cranachans. Top row: Colonel Willie Macdonald, Colin Macdonald, Dr. Donald Macdonald, Donald Macdonald, Jack Macdonald. Front row: Canon MacDougal, Alistair Macdonald, Fr (later Archbishop) Donald Mackintosh. Colin, Donald and Alistair were three of the ‘bachelor brothers’, Dr Donald was their cousin who took over the Cranachan lease, Colonel Willie and Jack were grandsons of ‘Long John’, Canon Mackintosh was later consecrated as Archbishop, and Canon MacDougal was parish priest.

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Angus MacDonald OBE lives in Moidart and is a novelist, businessman, cinema owner and bookshop owner.

He has now turned his attention to some of his ancestors and produced an excellent pamphlet on their exploits in the 19th century and beyond.

The MacDonald family were tenants at Cranachan Farm in Glen Roy and in typical Highland fashion took on the nickname of their residence.

Angus asks the question as to whether the famous dessert of oatmeal, raspberries and double cream might have originated there, but does not overstate the possibility.

The five brothers who ran the farm were strong, very tall men used to hard physical work and stock rearing.

Sketch in Illustrated London News. Archibald and his brother Colin competed at the Caledonian Athletic Sports attended by Queen Victoria at Crystal Palace in 1849. Colin won the overall Gold medal, for a running, the hammer and tossing the caber. The Times of the day stated at the finish that he was ‘like a stag from his native hills’.

They were also champion Highland Games athletes and stalwart shinty players, who travelled as far as London to compete in front of Queen Victoria.

The London Times described Colin MacDonald as “like a stag from his native hills.’ The last brother died in 1908.

The cousin of the brothers was known as Long John and he founded the famous distillery and whisky brand of that name.

It is this family member from whom the author is most directly descended.

In Australia, another cousin, Mary MacKillop, a nun, founded an educational order, eventually being made Australia’s first saint in 2010.

Indeed, one of the main themes in the work is an account of Catholicism in Lochaber and the lives of some of its most celebrated clerics and followers.

This is an excellent pamphlet, clearly written and beautifully illustrated. It can be read as genealogy or as the pure social history of remote days in Glen Roy.

In seeking to honour his antecedents, Angus MacDonald has succeeded admirably and will inspire others to do the same.

The work is for sale at both The Highland Bookshop and West Highland Museum in Fort William.

The author has also published three romantic historical novels based on the Ardnish peninsula.

Eric Macintyre