Nicholas Maclean-Bristol (NMB) was born in London in 1935 into a military family, who were the senior cadet branch of the Macleans of Coll. He was brought up with stories of the Macleans, who had been forced to sell the island, after owning it for four hundred years, when the potato famine of the 1840s devastated the Highlands. The main male line of the family died out forty years later.

When he was nine years old, NMB decided that he would regain Breacachadh Castle the ancient fortress of the Macleans of Coll, but first he would follow his forbears into the army. In 1955 he became a second-lieutenant in the family regiment the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. He served in Northern Ireland, Malaya, Berlin, Aden and Borneo; he retired from the regular army in 1972. His last job as a regular soldier was to be Training-Major of 1st Battalion, 51st Highland Volunteers. He was then invited to command its D (Argyll & Sutherland) Company, which enabled him to reform the Isle of Coll detachment of the company.

In the early 1960s NMB purchased Breacachadh Castle. Before he could begin its restoration he organised archaeologists to carry out excavations and a field survey of the castle. In 1967, when he was serving at the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, he founded The Project Trust, which sends young volunteers to serve overseas for a year. All candidates spend a week living with local families in Coll as part of their selection before they go overseas. He moved to Coll permanently with his young family in 1972.

Since he was at school NMB had been studying Highland History and in 1967, with a group of friends, he founded The Society of West Highland and Island Historical Research Ltd (SWHIHR). It publishes West Higland Notes & Queries [WHN&Q] three times a year.

It has included many articles about Coll, particularly of interest to those coming to Coll for the ‘Homecoming’ is the serialisation of ‘An Account of the Island of Coll and its People’, written in Gaelic by Donald Mackinnon, who was born at Grishipol in 1800. Before he emigrated to Australia in 1859 Donald had been employed as a school master in the Higlands by the Gaelic Schools Society . He was also a poet.

Donald’s manuscript is a fascinating account of the island.It gives an insight into what a crofter thought was important in the early nineteenth century when crofts were first established in Coll. It has been translated by Ronald Black, formerly Senior Lecturer in Celtic at the Unversity of Edinburgh, and edited by NMB. So far articles on Crossapol & Totamore, Feall & Arileod, Arileod & Ballard, Totronald, Broadhills & Acha, and Grimsary have appeared in WHN&Q. They can all be purchased from SWHIHR.

NMB has also written several books and numerous articles about the West Highlands. They include:

Hebridean Decade, Mull, Coll and Tiree 1761-1771. (1982).
Warriors and Priests; The History of the Clan MacLean 1300-1570. (1995).
Inhabitants of the Inner Isles, Morvern and Ardnamurchah 1716. (1998).
From Clan to Regiment: Six Hundred Years in the Hebrides 1400-2000. (2007).
Castor and Pollux. Two Jacobite Maclean Knights from The Sound of Mull at War in The Hebrides, The Highlands of Scotland, Ireland & Mainland Europe 1674-1716. (2012).

NMB recently completed ‘One Clan or Two?. The feud between the Macleans of Duart and those of Lochbuie 1100-1715’. It is at present with the publishers and should be published in 2018. He is at present at work on a book to be called ‘A Jacobite Clan?: The Clan Maclean 1716-1766’.

  • Tuesday 18th September 2018

  • 1000h – 1200h

  • An Cridhe, Arinagour

  • Donations to Homecoming Coll welcome