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Hundreds gather to mourn MacLeod chief

Tributes to controversial figurehead who tried to sell off Cuillin mountains

John MacLeod of MacLeod, the 29th chief of the clan MacLeod, was buried on Skye yesterday, wearing his best kilt and dancing shoes.

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The clan chief, who died of leukaemia last Monday at the age of 71, attended society balls in London, Cologne and Vienna but said he was happiest dancing in the dining room of his ancestral home on the island, Dunvegan Castle.

It was his attachment to the castle that led him into controversy seven years ago when he tried to sell the Black Cuillin mountain range, which he also owned, to raise funds to fix the castle's leaky roof. MacLeod thought he could get £10 million for the majestic peaks, which are visited by tourists and walkers from all over the world.

However, the move was met with outrage and prompted an investigation of ancient title deeds to establish whether his ownership was legal. The chief later withdrew the mountains from the market after several offers fell through.

Last week, MacLeod's body was brought north and laid in an open-topped coffin in the library of his beloved castle - the clan's seat for 800 years - that he had hoped to restore.

The family had dressed him in the outfit in which he went to his grave - his ball jacket, his ornate clan buckle and his best kilt. His son Hugh Magnus - now the 30th chief - said that he could not bear to part with the ragged old kilt his father loved to wear from day to day, even though there were holes in several inappropriate places.

Yesterday's funeral service was held at Duirinish Free Church of Scotland at Dunvegan, with a burial afterwards at the ruined church at Kilmuir.

More than 400 mourners came from all over the world to pay their respects to the clan chief. There was John from North Carolina, a serving soldier in the US Army with a two-year-old child, who had received countless emails from MacLeod of MacLeod during difficult times. There was Peter who ran the local tourist trap celebrating the tallest man in the world whom he claimed came from the sky. He was there because he said MacLeod had always been helpful. Then there was the nobility, including businessman Sir Ian Noble and the McNabb of McNabb, among others.

Mourners spoke of their genuine love for MacLeod, a man with a plethora of contradictions but who also possessed empathetic humanity.

When the time came for the earth to be poured on the coffin the minister, a Free Church man, made sure he gave the benediction in both Gaelic and in English, to celebrate this complex and to some extent magnificent man who had given his all for 30 years to try to save the castle that he loved.

Plans for a memorial service will be announced shortly, but it is expected to be held in April. John MacLeod of MacLeod is survived by his third wife, Ulrika, sons Hugh and Stephan, and daughter Elena.

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