Born: January 17, 1935;

Died: August 6, 2019

CALUM “Steallag” MacLeod, who has died aged 84, was one of the last remaining traditional blacksmiths in Scotland. He had continued to work in his smithy in Stornoway until recently and was a much respected and admired member of the Lewis community. For many years Macleod was an ardent supporter of all the various commercial interests of the island and frequently made himself available for the maintenance of crofts and fishermen’s nets etc. A local took Macleod his lawnmower to have its blades sharpened. When he went to collect it he was, “amazed that he managed to get it looking like new. I asked how much I owed him, he hesitated for a moment and then said, ‘och a quid then.’” His skills as a blacksmith and as a character will be a huge loss to the Island.

Calum Macleod was an integral member of the Isle of Lewis and a prominent member of Stornoway since his childhood. From an early age he helped his father in the smithy and at the age of five was entrusted by his father with the task of holding the heads of shire horses when they were brought in for shoeing.

His father was the original ‘Stealag’, having earned the nickname by diving into a muddy puddle while saving a vital goal during a local school football match. Macleod learnt the blacksmith’s business - its demanding workload and delicate craftwork from his father. He picked up the day-to-day routines and, although never a tall or robust man, Macleod was tough and sturdy. He completed his apprenticeship and graduated in the1950s. Initially he was in charge of shoeing horses, making brands for sheep and manufacturing pokers for Hebridean fireplaces. Macleod took over the running of the smithy after his father died in 1972.

In 2008 a film was made (The Last Blacksmith by Calum Angus Mackay) of Macleod at work in his smithy on MacTV. It was the result of many attempts over many years to photograph and record this charismatic craftsman at work. The film explored his knowledge of the Hebrides, its traditions and its folk in detail and he came across as a gentle, generous and much respected character. Mackay recalled making the film, “Stealag is a wonderful story-teller with a highly unique imagination. In the film I wanted to capture the history and atmosphere of the Smiddy workshop. In essence, he made the film and I was lucky enough to be present. "

Also in 2008 Macleod gained national fame when a London newspaper wrote a lengthy feature on him. It reported that sales for the tarasgeirs (Gaelic for peat cutters: pronounced tarashker) that his father had first made in the 1920s had risen over sixfold. The rise in the price of traditional fuel had resulted in Hebrideans resorting to former ways of heating their houses. "I was thinking, oh well, they may be wanting peat irons this year; then it turned out true enough.”

The Macleod tarasgeirs are distinctive and designed by Macleod’s father as ideal for the Hebridean earth. It has a hefty 3 foot-long blade handle about the size and shape of an ice hockey stick. It proved popular in 2008 and Macleod had had to make over 40 cutters half way through the year compared with a total of six for the entire previous year. "A lot of people threw their tarasgeirs away” Macleod smiled, “as they thought they'd never cut peat again, and now they're back again wanting new ones.”

In fact there was a controversy as the authorities did not want too much peat to be cut and argued that the moorland had to be conserved.

Traditionally all Lewis blacksmiths used to personally identify their tairsgeirs. Macleod used the same small identifying marks that his father had forged before him: three dots on the top of the blade – the distinguishing mark that two generations of Macleods have hammered into their peat cutters.

Macleod’s smiddy in Stornoway was an extraordinary space with old tools and pieces of metal all over the place. Ash and smoke pervaded the air and when the forge was lit the heat was intense but Macleod’s eyes concentrated on the job in hand as, in the fierce heat with sparks flying and echoes ringing round the ‘smiddy’, he bent over the anvil fashioning a red hot strip of metal.

Neil MacLeod, who used to run Fleming Engineering in Stornoway, recalled Macleod, “I got to know Calum first of all when I was an apprentice. He was a one-off. His craftsmanship was second to none and he liked nothing better than fixing things that others couldn’t.”

Calum is survived by his wife Mairi, son John Murdo and daughter Kathleen.