Of his forebears, the Macleans had lived in Raasay for a number of generations, but were believed to have come ultimately from Mull, most probably after a sojourn in North Uist. His father’s mother’s family were Mathesons who originally came from Lochalsh on the mainland. His mother’s people were Nicolsons from Skye, and MacLeods of Raasay origin who had moved to Skye.
The world in which he grew up was one in which the Clearances and Land Wars were living memories, and the Highland land question was as live an issue as were the affairs of Britain and the Empire. Questions of religion, and of religious politics, were equally important. At the same time, there was no shortage of piping, poetry and songs in Sorley’s family and neighbourhood in his formative years. From this social and intellectual amalgam he derived his idealism, his love of music and learning, his admiration for brains, brawn and physical beauty, and his passion for lore and genealogy.