The tune was written in 1958 by a piper named Iain McLachlan as a lament for a medical doctor who was leaving their town. The name of the tune, as originally produced by McLachlan, was "Dr. MacKay’s Farewell to Creagorry". McLachlan lived in Creagorry, a place on the island of Benbecula located in the Outer Hebrides between North and South Uist. Dr MacKay was his friend and neighbor. There is no suggestion that McLachlan thought of his home as a dark place. In a short time, the tune caught on and became known to David Silver of Inverness. Silver was a musician and a journalist.
In 1963, the BBC launched a TV show entitled "The Dark Island". The show was a spy thriller about a torpedo that had been washed up on an island in the Hebrides with Russian connections. The BBC approached David Silver to write the theme song for the show. Silver wrote the words using McLachlan's tune as the melody. The show lasted about three seasons and was considered by the BBC to have been a flop; however, the song was a great hit and has been recorded by more than fifty artists since its original publication. In fact, it's fair to say that "The Dark Island" has all but obliterated the original inspiration and dedication that McLachlan intended.The earliest references to the Dark Island were made by the Romans about Great Britain. Since the success of the Silver/McLachlan tune, there has been a veritable industry built around these words. Since most of the TV series was shot at South Uist that Island now refers to itself as the Dark Island. There are a number of hotels in the Hebrides which call themselves The Dark Island. There is a beer originating in the Orkneys called Dark Island and uses as its logo the Ring of Brogar which is a ring of 27 standing stones on an island in the Orkneys which dates from approximately 2000 B.C. and is thought to be a religious site; it is also considered the Dark Island. There are popular video games called Dark Island. There are also several books that have been published using this title. Finally, of no particular relevance, but interesting nonetheless, there is an island in the Philippines called Mindora which is referred to as the Dark Island because there is a particularly nasty strain of malaria which seems to have originated from there and continues to be associated with it.
Iain McLachlan (shown above) was born: 21 October, 1927, in Hacklett, Benbecula.
With his death, in 1995, Scottish traditional music lost one of its finest exponents. Known particularly for his masterly touch on the three-row Shand Morino button accordion, Iain also played pipes, fiddle and melodeon and had an extensive knowledge of traditional music. For more than 40 years he had travelled by road and ferry to play the accordion at ceilidhs and dances throughout the Highlands and Islands.
Brought up with the Gaelic language, song and Highland music, Iain started playing fiddle and melodeon at the age of six. He picked up all his music by ear and, like many of the older generation of traditional musicians, he never learned to read or write music. There lay his strength, for Iain's music was always 'from the heart' and in his memory he held an enormous wealth of tradition. He had several different versions of many of the old tunes and, when introducing a tune, he would often introduce the music as 'an old melodeon reel' or 'a pipe setting' or 'a Skye setting' of such and such a reel. His father played melodeon for local dances and Iain learned melodeon from him. While still a boy, Iain used to sit at the knee of a local retired fiddle teacher and dancing master, Donald MacPhee (of Nunton, Benbecula), one of the few Hebridean fiddlers of that era, and from him he learned many old fiddle tunes and the old style of playing them.