Born: July 24, 1941;

Died: May 16, 2022.

THE death earlier this week of the legendary Laird of Muck, Lawrence MacEwen, aged 81, has sent shock waves not only around the Small Isles, where his family have owned the two mile long island since 1896 but across the worldwrites Maxwell MacLeod.

'Prince of Muck', last year’s documentary on him, made by the Dutch film-maker Cindy Jansen, has been widely broadcast to much acclaim, having premiered at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. He was also the subject of a 2014 book, Lawrence MacEwen and the Isle of Muck, written by Polly Pullar and published by Birlinn.

Reviewing the book, The Scottish Farmer said at the time: "The hero of the book, the colourful Lawrence, is old-school farming, whose agricultural nous has been honed from years of having to make do and mend due to restrictions of tide, time and weather that affect all islands".

Lawrence, the review added, "has that indomitable spirit that today is quite an anachronism and his derring-do exploits involving transporting livestock on and off Muck have become things of legend. Health and Safety experts would be spluttering into their Horlicks at some of the antics, the best story of which surrounds the purchase and transportation of a new 'hoose coo' from the Isle of Mull to Muck".

Indeed, Lawrence was not your average laird. He spent almost all of his life on his island, often barefoot and in well-used overalls, and was more likely to shoot visitors huge welcoming smiles than pheasants. His funeral is likely to attract folk from all across the land of the ever-young.

Muck's 1,400 acres of fertile land were bought by the MacEwen family in 1896. Lawrence's father was a naval officer who passed the island onto his eldest son, Alastair, but when Alastair suggested that they sell up and move to Australia Lawrence said that he actually felt sick at the suggestion; the island was given into his tender care, to both his joy and trepidation as he was very nervous at the responsibility.

Tall and with the presence of a Viking, he was educated at Gordonstoun, where he greatly disliked being nicknamed Big Muck and acquired a certain notoriety for insisting that he remained barefoot on even the most arduous of the school's expeditions.

When he eventually assumed responsibility for the island he soon acquired an ambition to develop it through, as he put it, “evolution rather than revolution" and whilst the power dynamic was undoubtedly patriarchal – he would, for example, insist on interviewing everyone who applied to live on the island – he was also a listener and a carer and kept up the Gordonstoun tradition of having a cold bath every day, presumably to keep himself from getting too uppity.

Muck is a relatively fertile island and after several years of energetic endeavour from the entire community (the island is held in nervous awe for its work ethic by the population of many other island communities) it became something of an exemplar of what can be achieved.

He would proudly organise an open day each year where the bountiful harvests would be on display alongside the bread made freshly each day by his wife Jenny and the wonderful vegetables grown by his younger brother, Ewen, and served in a tiny hotel.

But it was tough. Several islanders died at sea; the climate was so demanding that it was said that when one day the wind suddenly stopped, half the islanders fell over; and mains electricity was not introduced until 2013.

Perhaps the most famous story that defines Lawrence is that he was once in the company of some of the revolutionaries from the neighbouring island of Eigg, one of whose number was in full flow advocating the overthrow of landlords when the door opened. In crept a sheepish, barefoot Lawrence with cups of tea made by himself, some freshly-baked scones from Jenny, and a smile as big as a watermelon. The laughter was huge.

Today, with the passing of time, things have moved on and his children have taken over much of the running of the island, to impressive effect. After an election it was decided to welcome a fish farm. There is a bank of small wind-turbines, a shooting business that even extends to running stalking on Rum, a fine luxury hotel and a collection of holiday lets that are devilishly hard to book. Even, dear God, a yurt.

In his dotage Lawrence was given charge of the milking cows and could sometimes be seen gossiping to them as he ambled with his best pals to the parlour, just as he put it, to settle them a bit. Of course Lawrence was wary of some of the changes, perhaps a bit too much revolution rather than evolution, but he was known to be secretly delighted that the MacEwens of Muck were keeping up with the times.

Asked, once, what it was like to own an island, he replied that he didn’t wake up in the morning and think that he owned it, just that it was his job to look after it on the short amount of time he would be on the earth – and that in some ways the island was sort of owned by all of those who actually lived there. And he probably meant it.

He has left instructions that he is to be buried on an open piece of ground so that his beloved cows can graze above him, presumably so that he can keep up with the gossip.

A stone to his cairn.