MacGhillie Easbuig, whose name, for those of you without the Gaelic, means the son of the bishop’s servant, was one of those people who wanted to be in every fight going, and, if there was none going, he would look to start one himself. He was rash but he was lucky and tended to come out of conflicts better than when he went in, even when he was on the losing side.
He himself went by the nickname of bishop, but this was because of a circular patch of baldness on the top of his head rather than for any holiness. This was a time when the many different islands of Scotland were each ruled by their own chiefs, who tended to be laws unto themselves. Now the island nearest to MacGhillie’s castle had a chieftain even more of a ruffian than the average. One day, when MacGhillie was away redistributing the cattle owned between himself and his neighbour, this ruffian descended on the castle and carried off MacGhillie’s mistress.
MacGhillie, when he returned, was so angry that, without waiting for advice from his friends or even for a boat, unarmed but for his sword and his breeches split at the seat but otherwise naked, jumped into the sea and swam to the ruffian’s island, although this island was some two miles from the shore.
He came to the kidnapper’s house and, looking through the window, saw his mistress suffering the warm attentions of the chief, surrounded by three hundred of his kinsman. Without thought he dashed into their midst, killed the chief before the man knew what was happening to him and then dashed out again.
The chief’s guests were annoyed and angrily pursued him. By the time they got to the shore he was once again swimming, this time back to the mainland. In sorrow for the death of their chief the pursuers went to fetch boats and then rowed after MacGhillie whom they soon overtook. He, still holding his bloody sword in mid sea, stabbed two of the most advanced pursuers, which discouraged the rest so that he was able to get safely back to shore.
At this time the king of Scotland was too ill to attack his enemies. MacGhillie went to see him and said, “Lord, send me out in your stead and ask me to fight well. Be sure that, whichever way that victory goes, I shall win more praise than anyone else there.” So it was to prove.
In the fight victory went to him but, in the fighting, his legs were pierced by several deep lance wounds so, leaving his companions to the spoils, he made his way back on foot, leaning on his spear. In this vulnerable position he was suddenly attacked by three foot soldiers, one carrying a lance, one a sword and one a bow.
The first, armed with the lance, was first to attack him but, as the man lunged, MacGhillie pierced him in the heart with his own spear and, turning aside the man’s lance, grasped it with his left hand and stabbed the second in the groin.
The third drew his bow and shot MacGhillie in the back. However, undaunted, he plucked out the spear from the body of his second attacker, threw it at the archer and struck him in the throat.
So all four fell but MacGhillie was soon found by his men and he was taken to safety and eventually recovered from his wounds.
Despite everything he survived to old age, taking for his motto, “You may go where you will but you’ll die when you must.” This has always been the soldiers’ maxim and it is just as well they believe it because it stirs them up to be brave.