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James was born in 1896, the youngest child of Norman MacCuish and Rebecca MacCusbic of 'house 5' Backhill, and from 1900, 19 Borve. He was a pupil at Berneray School between 1903 and 1911. At the time of the 1911 census he was living with his aunt Flora at 'house 4' Backhill. As a youth he worked as a shepherd alongside John Archie MacAskill.
James became a fisherman, owning the Spy. In 1930 he married Ann MacAskill of Rhuvanish, with whom he had two children before her death in childbirth. He subsequently married Marion MacKillop of 12 Borve. They had two children together.
19 Borve passed to James following his father’s death in 1932, although later he was passed 17 Borve, to which he moved with his family.