The Giant Angus MacAskill Museum, Dunvegan
The very mention of a giant museum can cause confusion. Ironically, the Giant Angus MacAskill Museum in Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye is very small, but its contents are huge. Set in a restored Highland croft, the museum shows off the greatness of Angus MacAskill, who was born in 1825 and grew to a mighty 7’9” tall. In 1981 he was recorded in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest “true giant” – one without underlying medical conditions or notable deformities – who ever lived.
A life-size statue of him greets visitors as they enter, towering in the corner beside his tiny companion, Tom Thumb. At this point, all sense of proportion goes out of the window. Everything in here is huge – a giant chair, an enormous jumper, socks the size of fisherman’s waders and a replica of the giant coffin that they carried him off in. It’s only when you place something actual size near the exhibits that you get a sense of how gigantic he actually was.
Born in Berneray in the Western Isles in 1825 Angus MacAskill was a small baby. At the time doctors didn’t think he would survive. But oh boy, he proved them wrong with no real indication of why he became so large. The only clue to his mighty size was a daily dish of crowdie (oatmeal and cream) after his meal. Even regular nips of whisky and a toke on his pipe didn’t stunt his growth.
Angus’s stay in Scotland was short-lived due to the Highland Clearances, and his family emigrated to Nova Scotia when he was 6 years old. They settled in Cape Breton and he worked the land in the small farming community of St Ann’s where he became known as Gille More (or ‘Big Boy’).
Tall stories of his strength and kindness have been passed down from generation to generation and were collected in the book The Cape Breton Giant by Peter Gillis. True to form he was a gentle giant, helping those who needed it and refusing frequent offers of a fight from those too foolhardy to think about what they were getting into. The story goes that when one man wouldn’t take no for an answer Angus suggested they shake on it. One handshake from MacAskill drew blood from the man’s fingers and he quickly got the message.
Visiting from New York, a Mr Dunseith spotted him and quickly signed him up as a fairground attraction. Legend has it that Colonel Tom Thumb, the world’s smallest fully grown man would ‘dance merrily on the palm of his hand’ before being thrown unceremoniously into the giant’s coat pocket. There is some suggestion that photos of Angus MacAskill and Tom Thumb are actually fakes, and the two didn’t perform together. Whatever the case, MacAskill found great fame, touring the world and even visiting Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle.
When he returned, richer, to St Ann’s he invested his earnings in grist mills and opened a small shop where he would sit on an upturned 140-gallon molasses barrel and smoke his pipe. He was remembered as a kind and generous man, who regularly donated money to the local Presbyterian Church, but didn’t go to services because the congregation gawped at him too much. He died from brain fever in 1863 at the age of 38 and is buried in the cemetery in Englishtown overlooking St Ann’s Bay. He is commemorated by museums on both sides of the Atlantic. As well as the museum in Skye, there is a Giant MacAskill and Highland Pioneers' Centennial Museum in St Ann’s containing some of his original belongings.
The Dunvegan museum was opened in 1989 by Peter MacAskill who wanted to tell the story of his amazing relative. Local craftsmen have created the gigantic artefacts – from giant sculptures to coffins to knitwear and the museum gives an insight into life on a Scottish island in the 19th century. The legend goes that there was another giant in MacAskill’s lineage so there may be one more to come. Let's hope so.
Giant MacAskill Museum photos
More of Anne's Giant MacAskill Museum photos
How to get there
The Museum is on the main street in Dunvegan (the A863) on the Isle of Skye, IV55 8WA.