Tragedy on Skye, August 16

ON the western edge of the Sleat peninsula, sometimes called the Isle of Sleat, is Tarskavaig, a scattering of whitewashed cottages looking out across the open sea towards Rum and the Western Isles.

It was from here that Rowena ­MacDonald, a 32-year-old mother of four, was airlifted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital last week, where she continues to fight for her life. In happier days, Rowena featured on the front page of the West Highland Free Press as the mother of the first baby born in 2016. Now, her husband Finlay has been charged with her attempted murder, as well as the murder of her brother, John MacKinnon.

Police tape closes off the end of the drive to the MacDonald’s place, which stands at the top of the hill, half hidden from the road by a ­sentinel line of fir trees. A neighbour moving bins in the smirring rain late last week said that the tragedy comes “at the end of a terrible ­summer”.

While the UK media is full of ­heatwave news, Skye and the ­northwest Highlands have been stuck in a meteorlogical depression for months, making the weather ­persistently wet and windy – last month they had a third of the usual amount of sunshine, less than the ­average November.

Eilean a’ Cheo (the old Gaelic name for Skye), isle of the mists, indeed. As you leave Tarskavaig you come to a T-junction. Beasts, Highland cows and their calves, and the occasional sheep, ­lumber out of the grey ­landscape on to the single track hill road that leads from the right fork down towards ­Teangue and Armadale, where the ferry runs across to Mallaig.

The home of John MacKinnon, 47, who lost his life a bit later that same morning, sits 8 miles along this road, in a group of houses called Sasaig, which look out across the Sound of Sleat to the mountains of Knoydart. More blue police tape is stretched across the drive of the large modern, two-storey home where MacKinnon lived with his wife and some of his six ­children.

The family appears to have taken refuge next door in the one-storey cabin, where the sign on the gate reads “MacKinnon, half of 7 Sasaig”.A woman in a yellow rain jacket walking past stops to hand in a card of condolence to a police liaison officer. A young teenage boy could be seen in the doorway, jigging a baby strapped to his front in a sling.

Neighbours said it was likely that some or all of the children were at home at the time of Wednesday’s ­incident. The schools are off and there are no school-based holiday clubs ­running currently.

One neighbour, his own hallway lined with wellies and children’s raincoats, said other children in the area are also shocked and may need support when the small ­primary school opens again this week.

The neighbour said that ­MacKinnon was “very much a ­family man, a nice guy who will be a big loss to the community”. He liked ­motorbikes and his recreation was touring the area on a bike.

MacKinnon grew up in the area, ­attending Sleat Primary and then Portree High School. He worked as deerstalker and gamekeeper at “the Clan” – islanders’ name for ­Armadale Castle “the spiritual home of Clan Donald” before moving to work at Torabhaig Distillery.

The distillery was closed the day after the attack. A sign on the door read: “We are sorry but we have had to close the ­Distillery unexpectedly today. If you had a tour booked, we will issue a ­refund to your account. Please accept our apologies.”

Over at Dornie, 30 miles away on the mainland, there is more police tape at the cottage home of the other two people injured that day, osteopath John Don MacKenzie and his wife Fay, a mental health nurse, both 63. Fay was released from hospital after one night. John Don remains in a ­critical condition at Raigmore ­hospital.

Councillor John Finlayson said:

“The community is very much still in a state of shock. In the cold light of day, we are realising the severity of what happened. The two ­communities are 30 miles apart but there are a lot of ­connections and many people will be personally affected by this tragedy.”

Questions over gun control

Since the incident, questions have been asked about gun ownership. The Times ran a piece entitled “Skye shooting: Dunblane victim’s father calls for tighter gun laws”.

Gun ownership is probably lower in rural Scotland than it is in many European countries. And it is probably also in decline. Speaking to me after a press conference at Kyleakin community centre, councilor Finlayson said crofters generally used to own guns but it is less common now. “My father had a 22 rifle for shooting animals that took his lambs, such as foxes. He didn’t often use it, but that was the norm. When I inherited it, I handed it in.”

Nevertheless, he accepted that there will be concern about guns in the community.  “I thought the regulations were quite tight but they may need to be looked at again.”

Fundraisers for the two families involved

The children caught up in this tragedy have to deal with trauma – their families will also be coping with financial uncertainty. Two Justgiving appeals have been started to provide some short-term support. Here are links to them

John MacKinnon’s family

Rowena MacDonald and family