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South Uist honour for Scot who was one of Napoleon’s generals

One of Napoleon’s most trusted generals will be honoured at a ceremony on South Uist today.

A plaque will be unveiled to the memory of Marshal of France Jacques MacDonald, later created Duke of Tarentum, whose family came from the island.

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The event, at Howbeg, will be attended by Herve Bouche, the French consul general in Scotland, and Etienne Louys, secretary general of the French Institute. Later there will be a seminar and ceilidh at Kildonan Museum.

Jacques Etienne Joseph Alexandre MacDonald carved out an outstanding military career between 1785 and 1830 and was famous throughout France.

His father was Neil MacEachen from the village of Howbeg on South Uist, where Gaelic tradition held him to be a very important figure, although he is hardly mentioned in any record.

A spy, he flitted in and out of the shadows surrounding Jacobite affairs and Bonnie Prince Charlie, even popping up in the boat that sailed “Over the Sea to Skye”.

In his book, A MacDonald for the Prince, the late Dr Alasdair Maclean said that much of what was written about Mr MacEachen was inaccurate.

Dr Maclean, a Gaelic scholar and long-time GP in South Uist, wrote: “A picture emerges of a remarkable man who left Scotland as a student priest in his early teens. In June 1746, he was with Prince Charles Edward Stuart on the crossing (from Benbecula) ‘over the sea to Skye’ with Flora MacDonald. Shielded by his friends, however, he escaped the close scrutiny of history.”

Mr MacEachen went back to France after the failure of the Jacobite rising, and spent the rest of his life in exile. By 1749, he had changed his name to MacDonald, possibly because nobody could pronounce MacEachen in his adopted country or perhaps because of the esteem in which the Prince held those of that name.

Marshal MacDonald visited South Uist in 1825, to find out more about his father’s background, of which he admitted to knowing very little.

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