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Residents of Island Try to Outbid Millionaire Landlords

August 27, 1996

ISLE OF EIGG, Scotland (AP) _ For $3 million, you could become the laird of Eigg, ruling an island of rare beauty and isolation, kissed by the Sound of Rhum and just north of the Isle of Muck.

But buyer beware: There’s no electricity, the cows have been sold and the derelict mansion suffers from dry rot. What’s more, most of the island’s 60-odd residents are conspiring to outbid you.

Fed up with absent and sometimes eccentric landlords, Eigg’s residents appealed Tuesday for donations to help take their home off the millionaires’ market for good.

Karen Helliwell, a director of the Isle of Eigg Trust, said the trust hopes to raise $1.2 million in donations, and the rest of the purchase price from charity funds.

``We will never be able to build up this island unless we can own it for ourselves,″ she told about 30 people who turned up for a news conference in a shack near the laird’s crumbling 17-room mansion.

Eigg, pronounced ``egg,″ lies an hour’s boat ride west of mainland Scotland. In 30 years it has had five owners, each of whom promised investment and development. None has delivered.

The relationship between landlord and tenant is sensitive in Scotland. Residents of Eigg are still officially described as ``vassals″ and the owner _ or laird _ as ``feudal superior.″

Islanders have few good words for Keith Schellenberg, the industrial heir who bought Eigg for $375,000 in 1976. After he sold it in 1995 for $2.3 million, he needed a police escort to get off the island.

``He kept everything here like the 1920s because he loved that decade. It ultimately inspired the islanders, who would otherwise lack confidence, to rebel,″ said Daniel Morgan, who has lived on Eigg for two years researching a doctoral dissertation on the island’s landlord-tenant struggle.

On Jan. 5, 1994, Schellenberg’s beloved 1927 Rolls Royce Phantom was burned down to the frame when the shack where it was stored caught fire. Locals recall the episode with some relish.

``That shack was a disaster waiting to happen,″ said Anne Campbell, 64.

She spares no sympathy for Schellenberg, noting that he paid her 10 pounds _ $15 _ a week to work in his wife’s gift shop, and that her home up the hill still has only two oil lamps and an outdoor toilet _ ``which is not too good in December, I can assure you!″

Schellenberg says what the island really needs is a constable or two to keep the residents in line. Until then, ``there will always be the bits of under-the-counter gang warfare, sorting out the incomers, that sort of thing,″ he said in July.

He sold the island to Marlin Eckhardt Maruma, a German artist who has been back just once since promising skeptical vassals that he would reverse decades of decline. Instead, he has put the island up for sale.

Faxes to Maruma’s office, asking when the garbage would be collected and the new pier built, got no response. Islanders have wearily read of his debts, and of the auction in Stuttgart in March where no one bid for one of his ``pictures from the world beyond matter,″ produced by igniting paint on fireproof canvas.

Despite their complaints, Eigg’s residents love their nine square miles. The reasons are clear: sunrises over the amphitheater of eagle-nested cliffs and sunsets beyond the sandy cove of the Bay of Laig and the neighboring Isle of Rhum.

Some residents trace their ancestry on the island back 12 generations, to the invaders who slaughtered the previous residents from rival clans. They say Eigg has since become more peaceful.

``I’ve lived here 17 years and never seen a fistfight. Some harsh words maybe, but soon forgotten,″ said John Cormack, the island’s ferryman and postman.

``People get on surprisingly well, considering how few of us there are and how much of each other we see.″

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