Iain McLachlan’s fame in the piping world stems from a 1958 composition that became the hugely popular air “The Dark Island.”
Though he also played pipes, fiddle and melodeon, Iain was best known for his musical expertise on the three-row Shand Morino button accordian, on which he was regarded as Scotland’s finest exponent.
He was born in Hacklett, Benbecula, on October 21, 1927, and died on February 21, 1995 in Creagorry, Benbecula at 67. He rarely journeyed out of the Highlands.
A native Gaelic speaker, he began playing fiddle and accordian at the age of six, picking all of his music up by ear and never learning how to notate or read it. His knowledge of old tunes and varied settings was encyclopedic, and he was known as a very musical player. Dr. William Donaldson once heard him play at the Creagorry Hotel on Benbecula, and recalls that “he was a magical player and played a lot of pipe tunes very expressively.”
“The Dark Island” was composed in 1958 as a pipe lament for a local doctor, and originally called, “Dr. Mackay’s Farewell to Creagorry,” It achieved widespread popularity after it was used as the theme music for the BBC TV series “The Dark Island,” filmed on Uist in 1963. It has since been recorded hundreds of times.
N.B. It should be noted that an alternate history of this tune says that while Iain McLachlan popularized the tune, its composition was attributed to him in error. The tune may well have been written by Allan MacCormack, the nephew of well known Benbecula piper Lachlan Ban MacCormack. According to this version, the original tune was named “The Dark Island” after it was recorded by Iain McLachlan for the above-mentioned TV show.
JM, December 2007
-with notes from the Springthyme Records website, and private conversations with Dr. William Donaldson. Alternate history from private conversations with Dr. Allan MacDonald.