Thursday 7 November 2019

Keith Schellenberg recalled

For the Daily Record 01/11/19 on the death of Keith Schellenberg, former laird of Eigg

At the West Highland Free Press, where I started in journalism in the 1980s, we campaigned for radical land reform.

It was when I stepped ashore on the island of Eigg with photographer Sam Maynard I learned this was easier in theory than in practice.

The islanders, almost all tenants of the landlord Keith Schellenberg, were living in derelict, rented homes. They were working, or not working, depending on the whim of the laird who controlled everything on Eigg apart from the dole and the doctor.

Eigg, we found, was in the feudal death-grip of landlordism.

After years of neglect at the hands of this self-styled “playboy”,the islanders had enough of his cricket matches, vintage Rolls Royces and Toad of Toad hall buffoonery.

Speaking out took some courage, but for those who did it was the first step in finding a voice in their own story.  

In turn charming and menacing, Schellenberg was a savvy legal and media operator, casting himself as a misunderstood philanthropist of which the Hebrides has seen many.

He tried outsmart the islanders by selling on, first to himself, then to a German fire artist.
With legal advice from the late Simon Fraser, the islanders proved smarter. They now own the place - game, set and match.  

I returned to Eigg two years ago for the 20th anniversary celebrations of the buy-out.

The islanders were the same, warm and welcoming, and there were lots more kids running around. The population has increased by 60 per cent, over 100 happy souls live on the inner Hebridean paradise. People were getting on with ordinary, radical lives.

Yesterday, as news of “Schelley’s” death spread, the last of the 3,000 tons of community-owned forestry harvested on the island was being shipped off the modernised pier.

Maybe that, the fact that islanders are cracking on with making Eigg a viable, self-sustaining community, is the best memorial to the Schellenberg era of misrule.

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