Comann Eachdraidh Ionadail Phortrigh

Portree Local History Society


Three Tales of Taog

- as told by I G Macdonald


By the A87 road at Culeshader one mile south of Portree, now enclosed in the Glen Varagill forestry plantation, are the ruins of the 16th century home (Tota-Thaoig), of a man famed for his physical strength and mental abilities.
Aodh Mor Maccuinn, or Taog (like the Irish Taig) MacQueen was bodyguard and adviser to Donald Gorm, Chief of Clan Donald at Duntulm Castle.
Being a skilled archer he was always on hand when trouble was near.

On one particular day MacKenzie of Kintail sent a party of henchmen over to Skye to steal cattle. News came to Donald Gorm that the raiders were at Flodigarry and that a large cattle drove had been taken. As they made their way beneath the hills via Glen Sneosdal towards Linicro with their spoil, Taog hid behind a rock and, using bow and arrows, killed the reevers one by one.
The leader of the herdsmen was very swift of foot and he managed to flea to the hills until Taog disappeared to return the drove of cattle to Flodigarry.
Some hours later, just as he was crossing a burn near Totescore, he was again overtaken by Taog Mor.
The Kintail man made a case for his life, since he alone was left, and Taog eventually let him go so that the message could be related as a warning to MacKenzie of Kintail.

To this day the burn is called ‘Lon Singilte’ or the Stream of the Single Man.


Taog was a man of great common sense who soon became renowned for his clear and just views.
He was often in demand when difficult questions arose and when there were disputes which could not be solved by the usual means, Taog’s judgements were regarded as final.
On one occasion, he was called upon to judge between two Portree men who had a dispute.

The two had been fishing off the rocks at Scorr on a very stormy evening. A large wave had washed one man into the sea. His companion, in casting his line to rescue him, had caught him in the eye with his hook and had thus pulled him to shore.
As a result of this incident, the man had lost his eye and took his neighbour to court.

Taog’s judgement was in the same league as Solomon’s. He suggested that they wait until the next, equally severe storm, and that the victim should be plunged into the sea at the same point. If he managed to swim ashore without assistance, he would receive damages for the loss of his eye.

The complainant promptly dropped the case!


Between Fiscavaig and Talisker is the headland of Rubha nan Clach.
Some say that it was here that a cow fell from the cliff and landed on a boat which was anchored beneath, others claim that the incident occurred near Dunvegan Head.

Either way, the cow’s owner and the owner of the boat were tenants of MacLeod of MacLeod.
The particular chief of the time was Alistair Crotach. Both men complained to their chief, as the cow had been killed and the boat destroyed.
Compensation was demanded and it was the duty of the Clan Chief to judge who should pay.

At that particular time there was a short period of peace between Alistair Crotach MacLeod and Donald Gorm the Chief of the MacDonalds at Duntulm, and Alistair Crotach knew that the MacDonald chief often relied on the skilful judgements of Taog Mor MacQueen.
This famous sage was sent for and he patiently listened to the arguments.

The cow’s owner stated that, if the boat had not been anchored beneath the cliff, his animal would have survived the fall into deep water and would easily have been able to swim to the gently sloping beach.
The boat’s owner maintained that his vessel was anchored in its usual position and would have remained undamaged if the cow had not landed on it.

Taog’s Solomon-like judgment was to the effect that Alistair Crotach should compensate both owners, as he was the proprietor of the cliff which was the common factor, and therefore the primary cause of the accident.

The Chief paid up with good humour as this neatly solved his predicament.


Ian G Macdonald

Published by Stephen Clarke, on behalf of Portree Local History Society - © I G MacDonald October 2011.

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