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John Roderick Macphail
John Roderick Macphail
John Roderick MacPhail (1873-1950) was a son of Murdo Macphail and Catherine Maclean, 19 Gravir. He was the first child born to Gravir after a drowning at Rudh Ranais at which four men and two boys of the village were lost; John Roderick was named after two of them. He was known in childhood as Fionn.
The young Fionn was evidently something of a ruffian, as his cousin William Macphail related in his tale The Dominie's Dilemma. He is also the subject of William's poem Faire, faire mhic Catriona.
Also known as "Skin", JR was a Sudan and Boer War veteran and served in the Seaforth Highlanders in the First World War. John Roderick was invalided home in December 1915 and is mentioned in Loyal Lewis: Roll of Honour 1914-1918.
He lived in one of the last blackhouses with no chimney in the village. Oral tradition talks of him converting from the traditional peat to coal for his fire in the middle of the floor and seemingly he was rather black in complexion as a result.
Chrissie (Chisholm) Morrison recalls him from her childhood:
JR (pronounced "Chy Are") was a cousin of my granda Angus MacPhail and lived in a black house with his mum. I sometimes went to Coinneach Mall's shop for messages for her but I could hardly see her for the black smoke in the house and she was bedridden as I remember her. Chy was a character and spent a lot of his time in my grandparents' house and in Ned's. He used to tease us; he used to ask me to spell "Toman Uadan" and no matter what I said, he would say "That's wrong. It's Tea - oo - eye - em - oo - eye - tea -eye - oo - en."
Chy was in the war known as the South African War or the Sudan or Mahdi War, which was fought a couple of years before the Boer War broke out. My Dad fought in the Mahdi /Sudan War against the Dervishes and he told us that Chy was there and was wounded and sent to Malta to recuperate and where they thought he was a Maltese. He gave my sister one of his medals and I lodged it in Fort George, with his name etc in the Museum. He had two brothers - one in Bragar and Niall Kate in Stornoway. I think the "Calum Marie" family were related to him.
During the Boer War, Lord Kitchener spent a long time speaking to him while he was standing as a soldier in line. When his envious fellow soldiers asked him what Lord Kitchener had talked about, he told them with a wry grin that he had asked him, 'Which tribe in Africa are you from?'.
John Roderick was a bachelor at Gravir.