Am Bratach No. 322
“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,
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.
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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.