Location: Uists and Benbecula
gaelic language and placenames, gaelic culture, hiding places

The pirates of Bearasaigh

For three years in the early 17th century, Bearasaigh (Bearasay), a small cliff-girt island in Loch Roag, north west of Great Bernera, became the stronghold of Neil MacLeod, illegitimate son of the Chief of the Lewis MacLeod and 40 of his men.

Bearasaigh means precipice island in Old Norse and today it is a favourite rock climbing destination. Back in the 1600s, Neil Odhar (Dark Neil) together with his brother and nephews successfully conducted destructive raids on the MacKenzie colonists sent by King James VI to Lewis and sustained themselves with daring acts of piracy at sea from this, from this rock fortress where the remains of their hide-out can still be seen.

Intending at first to join force with notorious English pirate Peter Love and his ship the Priam when Love sought refuge in Bearasaigh laden with spices and riches, Neil eventually betrayed him in an attempt to secure his pardon from the crown and the release of his brother from prison.

The scheme failed and Neil was eventually caught by his Mackenzie enemies who captured the outlaws’ family members and stranded them in a boat tied to a tidal rock near the island. Neil and his men surrendered in order to save them from drowning. Despite a daring escape, Neil finally met his fate in Edinburgh: where, found guilty of High Treason, he was hanged in 1613.

More information on visiting the area can be found here.. You can also listen to audio trails of Bernera here.