Niall Ruadh Mór Mac a'Bhiocair (Big Red Neil MacVicar) was probably
born in about 1780 in North Uist. This would indicate that he was in his
late teens when he enlisted in the army to fight in the Napoleonic Wars.
The fact that his third wife, Margaret Cameron, was born in 1779 would
be consistant with this.
He probably died some time after the 1861 Nova Scotia census was
taken and before the 1871 census of Canada. It is known that he
composed an elegy about the death of his son Donald in an 1859
boating accident near Scatarie.
His first wife was his first cousin, a MacPherson. Her first name may
have been Anna as there is a granddaughter Anne (the daughter of
Donald MacVicar and Margaret MacDonald) or Mary Ann, as Red
Norman MacDonald and Isaac Townsend had daughters named Mary
Ann. Big Dan Ferguson (on the Brickyard Road) in a letter to Donald
Fergusson (9 December 1963) thought that she was his cousin and the
great aunt of Willie MacVicar, the bard from Catalone. Christine
MacCuish, who died c1999, said that her mother's mother, Euphemia
(MacPherson) MacVicar, had a MacPherson aunt who was married to
Big Red Neil MacVicar. Euphemia MacPherson's aunt would have also
been Willie MacVicar's great aunt. This would make Red Neil
MacPherson, Big Red Neil's first cousin and brother-in-law.
His second wife was Sarah Nicholson. There is a birth record (1831)
of Roderick MacVicar from St. George's Anglican Church in Sydney
that lists Roderick's mother's name as Sarah. The death certicate
of Katherine MacDonald (née MacVicar), Roderick's sister, lists her
parents as Neil McVicar and Sarah Nicholson. There is also a record
of a Marion Nicolson, daughter of the late Neill Nicolson of Carinish,
marrying a Neil MacVicar of Vallay in 1823. Their daughter,
Catherine, was born on May 14, 1826 and perhaps died a few months
later. The name Marion would have been an anglicization of Morag,
the Gaelic for Sarah.
Neil was married to a Margaret Cameron (1779-March 31, 1869) some
time after 1839. They married later in life and had no children together.
She may have lived in Cleveland (near Port Hawkesbury) before her
Neil lived on the Isle of Vallay, which is very close to North Uist.
Donald Fergusson thought that his family originally came from the
Knockline area. Rev. Angus MacVicar said that he was descended from
Hector MacVicar, one of the four sons of Donald MacVicar (am Piocair
Mór) murdered in 1581.
Neil's father was probably named Angus, as Neil's first born son was
named Angus and there was an Angus MacVicar listed on the Isle of
Vallay in the 1799 tenants' list of North Uist.
It is possible that Neil had at least two siblings or nieces
(sisters named Catherine and Margaret). There is a record in the
North Uist Parish Register of Catherine MacVicar of Vallay marrying
Archie MacLean of Arivicruary in 1826 and of them having a daughter,
Catherine, in 1827 (also in Arivicruary). There is a record in the
North Uist Parish Register of Margaret MacVicar of Vallay marrying
Angus MacDonald of Vallay in 1828.
D.S. Morrison's notes (c1930) state that none of Big Red Neil's
siblings came to Canada, but that some went to Australia.
D.S. Morrison also states that Big Red Neil was married twice. With
his first wife he had the sons Donald and Angus and the daughter who
married Captain Townsend of Louisbourg.
He emigrated from North Uist one year after many of his friends
and family (they came to Catalone in 1828). He first lived in Mrs
Ahearne's boarding house on the Esplanade in Sydney (where the Royal
Hotel is now). The next year (1830), he moved to Clarke's Road,
Big Red Neil was a piper, fiddler and a bard. He composed the
following songs which have come down to us: Oran nan Cat, Oran nam
Bodach, Oran do'n Rat and part of a song about his landlady in
Sydney. He also composed songs (now lost) about the Battle of Acre,
about the two Uists and an elegy on the death of his son Donald.
Arbuckle, the school-master at Catalone, made a transcription of all
of his songs, which unfortunately is also lost.
Donald Fergusson was of the opinion that Donald MacDonald, the
composer of Chuir Mi Cul Ri Iollaraidh (pg. 49-50 in Beyond the
Hebrides), the son of Red Norman MacDonald, was the grandson of Big
Red Neil (pg. 246, From the Farthest Hebrides).
Neil was also a soldier and fought against Napoleon in Egypt - he had
enlisted with Wild John MacDonald and Donald Ban MacDonald (Wild
Towards the end of his life, he injured himself badly with an axe,
while chopping wood near his house. He died a few years later from
complications from this injury.
The following is an alternative theory concerning Big Red Neil's
second wife, Sarah:
Alex C. MacDonald of Louisbourg who died in March 1984 told Rev.
Neil McLean that the maiden name of the Sarah married to Big Red
Neil was MacSween. Alex C.'s grandmother, Catherine (MacVicar)
MacDonald lived in the same home in Louisbourg with him when he was
a boy and was the daughter of Big Red Neil. He stated something to
the effect that her name must have been MacSween because she was
related to some MacSweens.
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Last updated May 6, 2006