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Ian MacNeil, Chief of Clan MacNeil

A CLAN chief who once taught law to a young Barack Obama has died in Edinburgh.

Ian MacNeil, 80, the 46th chief of the Clan MacNeil of Barra, had been suffering from lymphoma.

Last night Angus MacNeil, the Western Isles MP, led the tributes.

He said Mr MacNeil was much loved and respected on Barra and news of his death will be greeted with feelings of sadness and loss.

"He was a person who delighted in other people," he said. "He was active in the Barra community in protecting the island air service from proposed Scottish Executive cuts eight years ago.

"He had a strong interest in crofting and made considered submissions on the Crofting Bill currently before the Scottish Parliament."

Alasdair Allan, the islands' MSP, added: "Ian was a remarkable person, not just because he headed one of Scotland's oldest clans, but because he was an immensely kind, learned man who devoted his considerable talents to helping his community.

"As well as working tirelessly to safeguard the future of Kisimul Castle in Barra, he had a notable career as a professor of law in the States, a knowledge which he put to formidable use in defending the interests of Barra.

"That could take many forms, whether it was in arguing for the interests of the island's fishermen or its crofters.

"Indeed, to his immense credit he secured public ownership of the island itself."

In 2004, Mr MacNeil transferred nearly 9,000 acres of his land on Barra to Scottish ministers, as well as fishing and mineral rights, with the plan eventually to give it to the residents.

He offered the land to the community more than 20 years previously but it was not acted on as he was considered a good landlord.

He continued to be a regular visitor to the island where he had a home and still has connections to Kisimul Castle, the family seat now run by Historic Scotland.

In 2000, he agreed an annual rent for the castle of 1 and a bottle of malt whisky.

Ian Roderick MacNeil claimed descent from Niall of the Nine Hostages, the king of Ireland from 379 to 405. The clan MacNeil is said to have lived on Barra for nearly 1,000 years.

The 21st chief, General Roderick MacNeil, sold the island in 1838 when he faced economic ruin.

As he had no children, the chiefship passed to a cousin whose line had emigrated to America.

In 1937, Kisimul Castle and most of Barra were bought by Robert Lister MacNeil, a descendant of the 22nd chief and father of Ian MacNeil.

Ian spent a considerable period on the island and went to school in Castlebay.

He later ran the crofting estate for nearly 35 years, splitting his time between the island, his native America, where he taught law at Northwestern University in Chicago, and Edinburgh.

He was an expert in contract law as well as crofting and crofting legislation.

While teaching in the United States, he told his wife he thought he had the first black US president in his class, a reference to the young Barack Obama, who was one of his students.

"He told his wife that he had thought he had the first black president in his class," said the Western Isles MP Mr MacNeil.

"She just smiled but he was a man of great foresight and a great talent spotter.

"At the same time he was genuinely very humble."

Mr MacNeil is survived by his widow Nancy, and his family, Rory, now the 47th MacNeil of MacNeil, Jenny and Sandy.



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