A DETERMINED local historian is hoping a letter to America may finally solve the mystery of a faithful dog that died in a catastrophic fire in Inverness in the late 19th century.
Norman Newton has been delving into the poignant tale of the canine superhero that refused to leave the butcher’s shop it was guarding when the inferno destroyed what is now the Victorian Market in June 1889.
The story will feature in a trailblazing digital project to be launched by Highland Council at the end of this month, bringing city legends and landmarks to life – but despite extensive research no one has been able to discover the dog’s name.
Undeterred, Mr Newton is pinning his last hopes on a Scottish-born woman now living in New York – the great-granddaughter of the butcher who owned the dog.
"She is perhaps the last possibility for more information about the fire and the dog through family stories," said Mr Newton, of Blackwell Road, Culloden.
"The rational part of me says it is unlikely. But a story like that is so dramatic that surely it would have passed down through the family."
Mr Newton managed to track down the woman by following clues from sources such as reports of the fire in newspapers including the Inverness Courier, plus help from the family historian at the Highland Archive Centre.
Having identified the butchers A&D Macdonald, along with the location of the family farm in Glenmoriston, he subsequently discovered the great-granddaughter of Alexander Macdonald had married in Dundee in 2009 but was living in America.
"I do get a bit obsessive when it comes to researching local history," he conceded. "It takes on a life of its own.
"It is like being part historian and part detective. You have to follow the clues and work out what is going on."
He has now written to her outlining the story and other details of her family history and is awaiting a reply.
From researching the 1901 census, Mr Newton also discovered the dog’s owner was a Gaelic speaker. He speculated the dog might only have responded to Gaelic commands, which would explain why it refused to leave its post when the fire broke out as the owner was not present.
If no definitive answer is forthcoming from America, the public will be invited to help name the dog.
The council has come up with a shortlist of potential names including Dileas, Gaelic for faithful. Other contenders are Mac, Market Molly and Market Morag.
A new plaque at the Market will honour the dog which was the only loss of life in the fire described by the Inverness Courier at the time as the most destructive in 40 years, causing estimated losses of £12,000 and leaving families homeless.