Iain MacNeacail

Iain MacNeacail of MacNeacail and Scorrybreac, Chief of the Highland Clan MacNeacail

Born: 19 June, 1921. Died: 16 October, 2003, aged 82

IAIN MacNeacail of MacNeacail and Scorrybreac, a quiet and distinguished man, was always very giving of his time and efforts to his clan throughout the world. In 1994, he said that about 90 per cent of his extensive correspondence and a good deal of his reading was connected with the clan.

He was about 12 when he was really made aware that his father, Norman Alexander Nicolson, was a clan chief and that some day he would inherit his responsibilities. Although Norman Nicolson was not in a position to travel a great deal, he maintained a steady correspondence with clan members in Scotland, England, the United States, Canada and New Zealand, and his son was always encouraged to read the letters. Iain became the 21st clan chief on his father’s death in 1962.

Scorrybreac inherited many personal treasures handed down from one generation to the next. The oldest was an ancient (c.14th century) single-handed sword. Another was a lock of red/gold hair - this having been given, according to family tradition, to the ladies of Scorrybreck House by the fugitive Prince Charles. Tragically, most of the old papers and letters relating to the family were destroyed with Scorrybreck House, near Portree, on the Isle of Skye, in the 1880s.

Scorrybreac was brought up on his father’s sheep and cattle property near Campbell Town, in northern Tasmania. Educated at Scotch College, Tasmania, he joined a daily paper as a cub reporter until early 1940 when he volunteered to transfer from the part-time militia to the 28th Field Regiment, 9th Division Artillery, Australian Imperial Force. He remained with the regiment throughout the war and served in the Middle Eastern campaigns and later in the invasion of North Borneo.

After the war, he returned to the family property and in 1946 married Pamela Fish.

They began their farming life on a war service settlers’ block in northern Tasmania but by 1955 his father’s failing health made it imperative that they should return to manage Scorrybreac, the Tasmanian family property of some 6,000 acres named after the old clan lands on Skye.

Following his father’s death, he purchased his brother’s interest in Scorrybreac, and he and Pam continued to produce good quality wool. They also founded a Galloway cattle stud as a side interest.

Five years later they moved to an undeveloped property, which they named Kanangra, 20 miles north-west of Canberra, where their elder daughter, Robin, was at university. After building residences, establishing pastures, erecting miles of fencing, boring for water and bulldozing dams, they experienced two years of severe drought and a marked drop in wool and sheep prices. They split Kanangra into a number of small farms and moved to Canberra, where Scorrybreac became engaged in freelance journalism. In 1975, seeking the sun, he and Pam moved north to a small "hobby" farmlet in Queensland where they grew avocados and he continued with his travel journalism. Finally, in 1979, they made their last move when they retired to Ballina, New South Wales.

It was during this time they "found the time" to concentrate on the revival of the clan, and began to travel extensively. In 1987, part of the clan ancestral land, by Ben Chracaig, Portree, which had been the home for nearly eight centuries of the Nicolson of Scorrybreac chiefs and their clansmen, was put on the open market. MacNicols and Nicolsons the world over formed Urras Clann MhicNeacail (The Clan MacNeacail Trust) and enough money were raised to enable it to purchase the 130-acre headland "for preservation and public enjoyment".

The next year, the Lord Lyon recognised Scorrybreac as the only clan chief, ending a long, drawn-out challenge to his claim. While Scorrybreac and his family must have drawn comfort from the worldwide support extended to them, it was clear to those who followed the case that it caused the chief much heartache and anxiety.

Much of his and Pam’s time was now involved with the clan, travelling in Australia and on overseas trips, often to Highland gatherings, including four in the United States and one in Canada. They made seven visits to Skye for clan meetings and ceilidhs.

Pam passed away on 3 June, 1995. He sorely missed his soul-mate, her delicious sense of humour and her keen sense of the ridiculous; there had always been much laughter in their life together.

But the clan continued to progress and it gave Scorrybreac much pleasure to announce the formation of the Highland Clan MacNeacail Federation, and that a Grant of Arms had been made to the Federation, under Letters Patent dated 6 January, 1997, by the Lord Lyon King of Arms. He was also very proud to learn that the Federation had been accepted as a "Founder" of the new Scottish Museum thanks to a generous donation made to the museum on behalf of the federation by Burke Nicholson, of Balvenie, and Harman Nicholson, of Atlanta, Georgia, USA.

Further recognition of the status of Scorrybreac was to come with the announcement that, by a warrant of 28 May, 1998, the Lord Lyon had approved a grant to him as Chief of the Clan MacNeacail of Supporters, a Plant Badge and a Pinsel. He also approved a change of motto from "Generositate non Ferocitate" to "Meminisse sed Providere" (Remember, but Look Ahead).

In early 1999 Scorrybreac received his first copy of the clan history book, The Highland Clan MacNeacail (MacNicol), a History of Nicolsons of Scorrybreac, which was written by WDH Sellar and Alisdair Maclean and financed and painstakingly edited by Harman Nicholson, of Atlanta.

Clan MacNeacail has lost not only a chief but one who was a treasured friend to many who knew him, a linchpin that held together a widespread clan in warm kinship, caring and understanding. The word gentleman is often casually used, but thoughts of Scorrybreac are remembrances of a gentle man. That gentleness never failed him, but his physical and moral strength was evident in his service to his country and to the wider community within Australia and throughout the world.

Above all, he was a devoted family man; his love for, and pride in, his family was always evident. He was a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather - he rejoiced in their successes, felt for them in sorrows, and, most important of all, always listened to and loved them. He died at his home in Ballina and is survived by his two daughters and two sons, one of whom, John, inherits the title of Chief of the Highland Clan MacNeacail.