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This page last updated Oct 2012

NEW Oct 2012 Donald Morrison sent a link to a photo of a model of Muirneag recently built by his Dad

NEW Dec 2009 A visit to the site where the Muirneag was broken up for fenceposts.

NEW Nov 2009 A stunning color profile of the 'Muirneag' available from Kathy Bray of Bray Prints. (opposite)

Any understanding of the Muirneag would be incomplete without a study of the model built by Gordon Williams of Monmouth, Gwent. Gordon used the plans drawn by Harold Underhill from the measurements taken of Muirneag by Stornoway dental mechanic, George MacLeod, when she was being dismantled for fenceposts in 1947.
The model is the result of MUCH research by Gordon during the 2000 plus hours of the construction of his model of Muirneag. He kindly shared with me documentation from his research, some of which I believe came from Mr Alex John Murray, Stornoway (Grandson of owner Alexander MacLeod). The model now is the property of the MUSEUM NAN EILEAN (The Museum of the Western Isles) Francis Street, Stornoway.
Some previously unknown images of the famous Muirneag were unearthed by Bob Dennis, marine artist of Taunton, Somerset, who used Muirneag along with the also famous Excelsior in his painting Harbour Gold. Bob possesses a rare collection of glass lantern slides, some of which include previously unseen images.
Please contact me for comment or if you can help with extra information.

Find out more about

And also the Mesothelioma Fund

Almost certainly some surviving timber from the Muirneag - see more here

Color profile drawing by Kathy Bray

Model of the Muirneag by Gordon Williams

Painting 'Harbour Gold' by Bob Dennis

SY 486 Muirneag

Launched May 1903 for Alexander "Sandy" MacLeod, Knock Point, Stornoway.
Length 82', keel 61', beam 21',depth 12'.

The Muirneag was among the last of the Zulus built by McIntosh of Portessie & Ianstown. They had been building fishing boats here since around 1830, the previous twenty years since 1883 being spent in perfecting the Zulu & acquiring an excellent reputation for the quality of their craft.
Messr's McIntosh had already launched the first Buckie built Steam Drifter, BF 398 Frigate Bird in 1900, but in 1903 were still building mainly Zulus, six being launched in 1903, each taking about eight weeks to build, & costing £500 including spars. A further four were launched in 1904 before they presumably adapted their yards to the production of Steam Drifters.
When Alexander "Sandy" MacLeod ordered his Muirneag ("Darling Girl" in Gaelic & also the name of a prominent hill near Stornoway) in 1903, it was his second McIntosh built Zulu - the first being the SY 1108 Caberfeidh, being launched from the Portessie yard by John McIntosh in January 1896. "Sandy" had by 1903, already a reputation as a fine fisherman & mariner, his Caberfeidh being the first Stornoway Zulu to go the English herring fishing. This reputation was enhanced as he fished Muirneag continuously up to the outbreak of WW2, refusing to convert her to engine power & thus becoming one of the last links to the past, being the last British herring drifter to fish under sail power alone.


"MacLeod was already established as one of the pre-eminent skippers in Lewis when in 1903 he contacted Mr. William McIntosh, the renowned boat-builder of Portessie, Buckie & ordered a 60' keel, 80' o'all "Zulu" type fishing boat, with certain amendments to suit his own requirements, derived from his experience on fishing boats. When two such experienced "Aces" combined, one the master boat-building craftsman, the other the master skipper & seaman, the result could not but produce a masterpiece, & the Muirneag as he christened her was all that. He would set a ghoster or glider in a light breeze, but when the rest of the fleet were reefed down to two reefs, MacLeod drove his Muirneag under full sails. She was a safe & powerful seaboat, whether close hauled or running free, hardly ever needing her sails eased in a sea."

Images believed to be taken at Stornoway in the 1930's.
March 1954

Grand Old Lewis Seaman Passes

Alexander MacLeod of 5 Knock, who died last week at the age of 87, was an outstanding figure in the life of Lewis. As a seaman his name has become almost legendary -----
Seldom has a man been "married" to a boat as Alexander MacLeod was with the Muirneag - the last sailing drifter in the Scottish herring fleet. He skippered the boat for the exceptionally long period of 42 years so that he became known locally & to hundreds of visiting fisherman as "the Muirneag". -----
In the summer of 1912, when they were making sail in the morning to return to port, the skipper's son Alistair fell overboard. Another son Callum dived after him. The skipper with lifebuoy & heaving line, dived after them both, & all three were safely hauled on board.
He followed the fishing with the Muirneag up to the beginning of the last war. One day in May 1936, the Muirneag had top shot for a fleet of ninety boats, although then she was then one of two remaining sailing boats in Stornoway. The other was the Paradigm. -----


On one occasion in 1905 he gave a remarkable demonstration of fidelity to principle. One Saturday at the end of August he was fishing with the Muirneag about 60 miles out from Peterhead. He netted a shot of about 200 crans & set sail for port, but about half an hour later, the sail was ripped. It was Sunday afternoon before the vessel limped into Peterhead. A curer offered 5/- a cran for the shot. The skipper refused. It was contrary to his principles to sell his catch on Sunday. The curer offered to provide shore crew to do the unloading so that Mr. MacLeod would not be engaged on Sunday work. He refused that offer also. On Monday, still true to his principles, he dumped the record shot of his career at the South Breakwater. It was an action he never regretted.

Sandy & son Angus

MacLeod the Hard Driver

MacLeod drove all his boats hard, especially the Muirneag. She could stand being hard pressed. As he once said - "I never worry about the Muirneag's hull, only the spars & gear".
Muirneag was apparently triumphant in many races home with the Scottish fleet from Yarmouth, as well as races back to Scottish ports from the fishing grounds. In consequence he did damage much gear, & in 1909, when running for Fraserburgh, wind abaft, the mizzen was snapped off above the crutch, driving her so hard that day, he was leaving the Steam Drifters behind.
Another time while running to Wick from the Stronsay fishing grounds again with wind abaft, foresail & mizzen set & two men on the wheel, Muirneag logged 22 1/4 miles in 2 hours.

The End of the Muirneag

At the age of eighty in 1945 he took her to sea for a night to say farewell, after 42 years as her sole owner. Muirneag was sold at public auction in Stornoway in 1947 for £50 & was dismantled to provide fence posts. A Stornoway dental mechanic, George MacLeod, took her measurements whilst she was being dismantled, & these became the basis for the plans drawn by renowned maritime expert & author Harold Underhill, of Glasgow, & the reference for models such as those by Gordon Williams & David P. H. Watson OBE, Connecticut, USA, on display at the Scottish Fisheries Museum at Anstruther. The model of Muirneag owned by the NMM (pic opp) was constructed by George Macleod of Stornoway, who in a letter to William McIntosh dated 1/7/1956 said
"......By the way, the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, have accepted my model of the 'Muirneag' and it is now berthed in their museum there."

Scottish Fisheries Museum model

National Maritime Museum model

Alexander MacLeod's Early Career
Mr. Alexander MacLeod was born in 1866 in Knock Point, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Scotland.

After leaving school, & choosing a career as a fisherman, he soon had his first command. In 1886 he had built by Mr. Murdo MacDonald, boat-builder of Stornoway, a 25' o'all "Sgoth" type fishing boat called


In 1890 he became skipper & part owner of his first Zulu - the 49' keel

SY 853 Johanna

(The following notes from MacLeod family sources.)

"Leaving Loch Inchard, Sutherlandshire, for Stornoway, one morning in December 1891, with 120 crans of herring on board, he had to shorten sail to the last reef at 10am. At 11pm they made landfall at the Butt of Lewis, & shortly after coming about onto the starboard tack, the foreyard broke & the sail was torn. They got the mizzen sail rigged on the foremast, but after a while the yard broke & this sail was also damaged. While lying helplessly broadside on, a heavy sea struck & nearly swamped her. Having rigged up & streamed a sea anchor, bringing her head onto the sea, they rode it out until 10am the next day when the wind moderated. They spliced the yard with wooden fend-offs, patched up the sail as best they could & crawled back to practically where they had started from, this time into Loch Inver, Sutherlandshire, at 4pm. The only other boat caught in that gale disappeared without a trace."

In 1896 he became skipper & part owner of the larger 54' keel, Zulu

SY 1108 Caberfeidh

built to their own order by John McIntosh of Portessie. She was the first Stornoway boat to go to the East Anglian winter fishing.

(The following notes also from MacLeod family sources.)
"In November 1897, on the passage home from Scarborough, the Caberfeidh put into Aberdeen to land three East coast members of the crew. With a skeleton crew of four, Mr. MacLeod struck heavy weather in the Pentland Firth. The yard broke & his brother was injured, but the three fit men brought the disabled Caberfeidh into the harbour."

"Another winter, also on passage from the East Anglian fishing, when off Whiten Head, with a moderate breeze of SW wind, it veered suddenly during the night to the NNE & blew a whole gale. After reefing her down, a heavy sea struck her & burst the sail. They had to run into Loch Eribol, Sutherlandshire, under bare poles."

In 1898, MacLeod became skipper & part owner of another famous Lewis fishing boat, the

SY 1217 Morven

bought from Wick when eight months old.

(These notes also from Macleod family sources.)

"One morning, after hauling 50 crans of herring in the minch in a SW gale, & making for Stornoway, the Clansman, one of Macbraynes' cargo & passenger ships came up with them. The Morven with two reefs in the sail & a heavy sea running, was in Stornoway at the same time as the Clansman."

"Another stormy evening, when the Claymore, also one of Macbraynes' cargo & passenger ships, was storm bound at Kyle of Lochalsh, the Morven crossing from Loch Slapin, offered to take the mails across to Stornoway for them, & the Morven crossed to Stornoway that night."

"One winter, on the passage home from Lowestoft, the Morven arrived in Stornoway 14 days ahead of the other Stornoway boats which had accompanied them all the way North to Wick. On that trip, the Morven encountered heavy weather from the North in the Pentland Firth, having to reef down to two reefs in the foresail & four in the mizzen sail. MacLeod was at the wheel all that night without being relieved."

In this 1937 photo of Muirneag taken at Stornoway is also the Swedish fishing vessel Linnea LL590, on transit to or from ling fishing at St Kilda.
Many thanks to Donald Mackay for permission to post this photo.
More on the fate of Muirneag

The following information and images were provided by 'Roddy' Danny McDonald

'My uncle Duncan MacDonald, 8 Balallan, Lochs, bought the Muirneag by public auction in Stornoway in March 1947, she was then taken to the shore at 8 Balallan and broken up for fence posts, not a lot remains of her today, - - - - there are some of the original timbers still around, some iron works, the compass and the ships bell are in the museum in Stornoway.'

Muirneag on her way to be broken up

Duncan MacDonald - the man who bought the Muirneag and cut her up for fenceposts.
'they cut her up with a big cross cut saw with big wooden handles at each end' - - - 'some of the curved ribs were used as straining posts or "bracers" at corners'

The remains of the Muirneag in Loch Erisort

A surviving double block from Muirneag

A hook and thimble from Muirneag

Some surviving iron fastenings from Muirneag

105 year old nail from Muirneag SY 486

'This is an original 7 inch wrought iron clout nail from Muirneag SY486 given to me by Roddy MacDonald'.
Information and image provided by John MacLennan

John MacLennan also provided this link HERE to a photo he posted on Trawler Photos of Alex Murray - grandson of the skipper of Muirneag.

Sources & acknowledgements
Mr. Alex John Murray (grandson of Alexander MacLeod)
Mr. Alex MacLeod (great grandson of Alexander MacLeod)
Mr. Gordon Williams, Monmouth, Gwent
Mr. Robert Dennis, Taunton, Somerset
Ian McIntosh (great grandson of William R. McIntosh - builder of Muirneag)
Buckie District Fishing Heritage Museum
Moray District Library
Banffshire Advertiser
Stornoway Gazette
Donald Mackay
John MacLennan
Roddy MacDonald