Whisky Galore is a novel by the English author Compton Mackenzie (1883–1972), first published in 1947. The story is based on a real-life incident that occurred in 1941 off the Hebridean island of Eriskay, when the SS Politician ran aground with a cargo that included 22,000 cases – 264,000 bottles – of Scottish malt whisky along with other trade goods and a substantial number of banknotes, headed for Jamaica and New Orleans.
Mackenzie wrote the novel while living on the Hebridean Isle of Barra, at the house he built in 1935 called Suidheachan, Gaelic for “sitting down place”; the novel’s fictional setting of Todday is one of his “affectionate portrayals of Barra”.
The book has sold several million copies, been reprinted several times, and has been adapted for the cinema twice under the title Whisky Galore!, in 1949 and again in 2016.
During the Second World War, the cargo vessel SS Cabinet Minister is wrecked off a remote fictional Scottish island group – Great Todday and Little Todday – with fifty thousand cases of whisky on board. Owing to wartime rationing, the thirsty islanders have almost run out of the “water of life”, and see the wreck as an unexpected godsend. They manage to salvage several hundred cases before the ship sinks, but the authorities, particularly in the shape of the pompous Home Guard Captain Waggett are determined to confiscate the whisky, if they can find it.
Although the wreck and the efforts to recover and conceal the whisky are central to the story, there is also much background detail about life in the Outer Hebrides, including culture clashes between the Protestant island of Great Todday and the Roman Catholic island of Little Todday. There are also various sub-plots, including those of two couples who are planning to get married.
Mackenzie’s prose captures the various accents of the area and includes much common Gaelic that was in use at the time. The book includes a glossary of the meaning and approximate pronunciation of the language.
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