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A Life of Soolivan
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Publication Date
01 January 2004
Available for Sale
Birlinn Limited
Age Range
19th century, 20th century
b/w illus throughout

A Life of Soolivan

Based on the Recollections of John MacLeod, Gael, Traveller, Rebel, Convict and Raconteur
by Calum Ferguson - Find out more about the author

In 1889, Iain Tharmoid Uilleam of the Barantaich sept of the Lewis Macleods was born at No. 11 Port Mholair, a mile from the outmost headland of An Rubha, Lewis. In the rough, tough world of his teenage years, his prowess as a street-fighter earned him the nickname ’Soolivan’ (after John L. Sullivan, World Heavyweight Champion). A born rebel, he railed against every kind of discipline and was always in and out of trouble. Unsuited to a settled existence, he sampled his first taste of freedom when he ran away to sea at the age of 16, and subsequently lived an itinerant life in many parts of the world: the Canadian prairies before the First World War, America during the Prohibition era (much of which he spent in prison), Australia during the Depression, as well as Patagonia, Fiji and Turkey. Ending up in the notorious Tuxpan Jail in Mexico, he was released only after the involvement of the British consul, and he returned to the family croft in Lewis, where he lived until his death, twenty years later in 1956. During these years he frequently entertained visitors to the croft with stories of his adventures. His was a forthright and vernacular style of story-telling, humorous and robust, never sentimental or self-pitying. This book is a remarkable portrait of one of Lewis’ most famous sons and a celebration of a truly free spirit.

Born in Point, Lewis and educated at Aberdeen University, Calum Ferguson has had a varied career as a teacher and broadcaster, including a period at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. He now lives in Stornoway. He is the author of a number of books in Gaelic and English including Hiort: A Gaelic History of St Kilda. His last book, Children of the Black House, was a best-seller over Christmas 2003.


Children of the Black House 1841582689 pbk L14.99