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Roderick was born in 1851, the son of John MacKinnon and Betsy MacAskill of old Ruisgarry. His father died when Roderick was still a baby and the family moved instead to become cottars at Lamerick. Following his aunt Mary MacAskill's death in 1866, Roderick was passed her house, next to his parental home in Lamerick.
Roderick worked as a farm servant, marrying Mary Morrison of Strond. They lived for a while at Auchterawe, where at least two of their children were born, later returning to Lamerick. Together Roderick and Mary had five children.