Tributes paid to Lawrence MacEwen, the ‘Prince of Muck’

Lawrence MacEwen with his sheep on the Isle of Muck. Photograph: Jim Richardson. NO-F21-Lawrence-MacEwen-and-sheep
Lawrence MacEwen with his sheep on the Isle of Muck. Photograph: Jim Richardson. NO-F21-Lawrence-MacEwen-and-sheep

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Tributes have flooded in from around the world following the death earlier this month of the laird of the Isle of Muck, Lawrence MacEwen, at the age of 80.

It is estimated that around 200 mourners made their way to Muck for Mr MacEwen’s funeral on Saturday, when he was transported to a hilltop grave at Port Mor on his beloved red Ferguson tractor.

Last year Mr MacEwen featured in a new documentary by Dutch filmmaker Cindy Jansen, titled Prince of Muck, for which she spent more than four years capturing Mr MacEwen and his family, who have owned the tiny Hebridean island for more than a century.

Among those paying tribute following his passing was retired Lochaber GP and former leader of The Highland Council, Dr Michael Foxley, from Ardgour.

He told the Lochaber Times this week that he first met Mr MacEwen when as a newly-elected Highland councillor, he visited Muck in the summer of 1986.

A meeting of all the islanders had discussed the island’s needs, with the first priority to replace the corrugated iron shack that served as both a school and house for the teacher.

‘Lawrence provided an excellent site for a new school and, as there was no community hall on Muck, we worked with the education officials to build the new school with a large enough classroom to serve as a community room,’ explained Dr Foxley.

‘During the long campaign to build new jetties on the Small Isles, Lawrence argued for two new jetties at both Port Mor and Gallanach to serve Muck in all weather conditions.

‘He also argued strongly for smaller, faster ferries to replace CalMac’s Loch Mor. He and others wanted the Highland Council and CalMac to bring a trial ferry over from Norway. He was unsuccessful – but right.’

Dr Foxley affectionately described Mr MacEwen as looking like he had ‘been carved from stone’, with hands the size of shovels and dwarfing his Massey Ferguson 35 tractor – his usual mode of transport.

Dr Foxley continued: ‘He was a regular attender at the autumn sheep sales in Torlundy, selling prime store lambs. His attachment to his cattle was renowned.

NO-F21-Lawrence-MacEwen-and-bull
Lawrence MacEwen was renowned for his knowledge and experience of livestock, particularly when it came to cattle. Photograph: Jim Richardson.

‘Lawrence fiercely wanted new islanders to fit into the community, especially if they had children to maintain the school roll.

‘As a landowner, Lawrence believed in gentle evolution and was fiercely protective of traditional values.

‘He may have owned Muck, but the reality was that he was possessed by the island.
A rare exemplar for other privately-owned estates.’

Renowned photographer for National Geographic Magazine, Jim Richardson, had met Mr MacEwen while on assignment in the Inner Hebrides.

He told the Lochaber Times: ‘Visiting the Isle of Muck and photographing Lawrence MacEwen was one of the highlights of all my years in Scotland. And even then I did not know the the full story of what an epic character he has been in the life of the Hebrides.

‘Not until I read A Drop in the Ocean – by Polly Pullar –  did I realise how fully Lawrence had occupied the spirit of these islands to which he gave his life.

‘I shall forever be grateful that I knew him, however briefly, and learned by his example how to live a life of one’s choosing.’

Ms Pullar, whose book tells the story of Muck through the colourful anecdotes of Mr MacEwen, had remained a great friend.

She said: ‘He leaves a massive void and will always have a huge place in my heart. Of all the book projects I have worked on, working with him on his story A Drop in the Ocean, was the finest. Such a great privilege.

‘Such a wonderful tale of a life well lived, of endless hard graft, adventures – always laced with humour – on a tiny Hebridean Island that he in turn loved with intense passion.

‘As well as his dedication to his family, he adored his cows – and his wish was always to be buried on the island where they could walk over his grave.’