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John was the eldest son of Murdo and Elizabeth nee Macpherson, Valtos.There is a sasine witnessed by him on 3rd September 1685 in which he is described as "John MacAualy eldest laufull sone to Murdoch MacAulay vic Angus in the Lewis"
He is remembered a lot in folklore for his ability as a hunter and as a poet. William Macpherson (Mac Gille Chaluim) relates the following in his History of the Macaulays:
On one occasion he wounded a stag on Beannaibh a' Chlair, and the animal made off to the south, with Iain Ruadh in hot pursuit. The stag fell down dead near the top of Stulaval, which is on the Harris side of the march, and Iain Ruadh was just setting to work on the carcass with his knife when he was confronted by the forester of Harris, John Campbell of Scalpay, known as Iain Og Mor. When Iain Ruadh refused to give up his gun, Campbell attempted to take it by force, but found that he was no match for his antagonist, who handled him so severely that on arriving home he had to take to his bed.
Now comes a piquant turn to the tale. Iain Og Mor's wife found out from his gillie that he had been involved in a fight with Iain Ruadh, and on hearing that the latter had been the victor, exclaimed "'S e mo roghainn a bha 'n uachdar!" The explanation is given that she was a Lewiswoman, and that before marrying John Campbell she had been on terms of affection with Iain Ruadh. The story has doubtless lost nothing in the telling, but one element at least in it is quite authentic: John Campbell of Scalpay was married to a Lewis woman. She was Mary, daughter of John Maclennan (Iain mac Ruaraidh Chleirich), tacksman of Kirkibost.
After this episode he was temporarily deprived of his gun and his access to the deer forest, and he wrote the following song:
O nach truagh leibh féin m' fhaicinn
'S mi am riuth gu carn breacaich,
'S mi gun ghunn' ach an t-slat air mo ghualainn.
John was drowned in Loch Langabhat whilst swimming to an island on which he had seen a stag. When the body was recovered a large stone was set up on end to mark the spot where his body was laid This may have been at his mothers behest as the stone is called 'Clach Bheas'.
There were many Gaelic laments writted for Iain Ruadh after his drowning.