Am Bratach No. 322
August 2018

“Whaur extremes meet”: a tribute to Allan MacRae
by Ray Mackay

The full version of this speech was delivered at the opening of the debate in Stoer.

Debating ideas was one of Allan’s passions. When you argued with him — and it wasn’t all that difficult to get into an argument with him because he had very firm opinions on a wide range of subjects — you had to be sure of your ground because you would discover that he had read something or listened to something or had somehow got to know something about the topic. For a crofter who did not have a television and who spent most of his life out of doors, he was remarkably well-informed. He would say, of course, that it was because he didn’t have a television and spent most of his life out of doors that he was so well-informed.

The Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid was thrown out of the Communist Party of Great Britain for being a nationalist. He was also thrown out of the Scottish National Party for being a communist. He famously said that he wanted to be “whaur extremes meet”.

He would have loved Allan MacRae. For a man who had a small frame, MacRae had incredible physical strength; without any educational qualifications, he was very learned; and despite being quite shy in person, when he addressed a meeting or spoke on camera, he was a gifted, charismatic communicator.

In a recent BBC Scotland Landward programme, the reporter Dougie Vipond recalled how he met Allan on the occasion of the trust’s twentieth anniversary. I happened to be at Allan’s the day after that interview. “Did you give him a cup of tea?” I asked.

 “A cup of tea? Are you kidding, boy? Give them a cup of tea and you’ll never get rid of them. There’s work to be done.” Allan loved the fact that people came from all over the world to interview him but he loved physical labour even more — his walls, his cattle, drains, paths, fences, roads — whatever needed to be done.

If you go round Assynt, you’ll hear many “Allan” stories — the one about the trailer breaking away from his Landrover and careering off on its own; the one when the local policeman, new to Lochinver, stopped him; the one about the dynamite — in fact, there are quite a few which involve dynamite... and policemen, if truth be told.

Everyone who came across Allan MacRae will have an image of him in their mind’s eye. That image will, of course, differ from person to person but there will be attributes that they all share — his sincerity, his straightforwardness, his passion — above all, his passion. But another, perhaps less well-remembered attribute was his humour. He could make you laugh.

Most of you will have come here from the Lochinver direction. You came over a hill with a viewpoint — it’s called Strone. The story goes that two fire engines were parked there in the evening, with their crews attending a muirburn on the sea side of the road. The familiar MacRae Landrover drives up and parks beside the fire engines.

Out steps Allan with a small can of petrol and he heads off to the other side of the road. “What are you doing, Allan?”

“Oh, there’s more burning to be done here tonight, boy.”

Ray Mackay is vice-chairman of the Assynt Crofters’ Trust. 

CLICK to buy a postal subscription online

Go back to Home Page