CC BY-SA, Lagg, Isle of Jura © Patrick Mackie -


adapted from lindsay neil's story (2011)

Location: Jura
travel by sea, ships and boats, gaelic culture

A boatload of whisky and a hand in marriage

Annually, since the early 1800s, two world-renowned universities in Britain hold a Boat Race, furiously rowing down the River Thames to win a bathtub full of champagne (some of which the winners got to drink and some of which they got to wear). The less well-known Great Jura Boat Race was altogether much rougher, occurred only once and resulted in the winner being awarded a boatload of whisky, none of which was wastefully worn. It was not a race in a pencil-like skinny boat with eight rowers and a little person to steer on a quiet inland river; this was in a sturdy solid boat with one oarsman and in the open sea. The result of the race has been faithfully and permanently recorded in the family annuals of the Lindsay family from Lagg, Isle of Jura.

The prize for winning the race was the hand of Effie McGilp, a much sought after maiden who was reputedly very beautiful with stunning red hair (the winner did not actually win her hand in marriage, but only the right to be the first to ask her). It is only meet here to pause and reflect on the very fair-minded and egalitarian attitudes that prevailed on Jura at the time. Effie was not obliged to marry the winner, only to consider his proposal first. Archibald Lindsay was the second son of John Lindsay and Helen McColl, known to everyone as Eliza, and was born in Lagg in 1818. He desired the redhead Effie McGilp, but unfortunately, a man called MacLean also wanted her hand in marriage.

It was agreed that the two suitors should row from Lagg to the mainland, and the winner would get to ask her to marry him. So the pair set off from Lagg one day in 1843. Doubtless, there was a degree of ceremonial fortification accompanying the setting of race rules and starting them off. Archibald won the race, and his proposal to the lovely Effie was accepted. They married in 1844, lived a long time, and had eight children, all born in Lagg. Such maritime competitiveness is delightfully perpetuated today. The Jura Regatta is a slightly modernised successor to the Great Jura Boat Race, but not by much. Archibald Lindsay, the wondrous rower, was the great-great-grandfather of the sadly late Grand Admiral of the Jura Fleet, Lindsay MacDougall – so, like myself, a direct descendant. The opinion of the outcome by the gallant McLean who came second is not recorded, but he doubtless passed colourful Gaelic comment on the result. Perhaps his descendants learned to drive fast cars, buses, and big ships, having discovered that they are faster, have less effort, and be able to pull birds.

Personally, where I was confronted with such a punishing nine-mile row, I would have dropped the mackerel feathers just off Lagg point and let the McLean win. I would not, in that case, be recounting this true story, but by good fortune, my ancestors were built of sterner stuff and probably had enough fish at the time.

Contributed by Lindsay Neil

More information on visiting the area can be found here.