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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Appendices H


ADDENDA on St Maelrubha and Ecclesiastical History.

The following Notes are principally gleaned from Dr Reeves' paper on St Maelrubha (Proc. Soc. Antiq. Scot., vol. iii., p. 258 et seq.), and from "Bishop Forbes' Journals," &c, by Rev. J. B. Graven (1886):—

St Maelrubha was eighth in descent, on his father's side, from Niall of the Nine Hostages, Sovereign of Ireland, through Eoghan (who died in 465), one of Niall's sons, and on his mother's side he was akin to St Comgall, the great abbot of Bangor, in the county of Down. He was born 3rd January 642, and trained at the monastery of Bangor, of which, according to some, he became abbot. In 671, following the example of St Columba, he went to Scotland, probably in the first instance to Iona, and in 673 he founded the church of Applecross, which became the nucleus of a conventional establishment, following the order of Bangor, and for a long time affiliated to that monastery. He founded a church on an island on Loch Maree,—both island and loch still bearing his name in the corrupted form of Maree. He preached Christianity in the adjoining districts. Maelrubha's Seat, near Loch Clair, is so named because it was a place where he preached. He died at Ferintosh, whilst discharging his sacred office, on Tuesday, 21 st April 722, at the age of eighty. There is a tradition that he suffered martyrdom at the hands of the Danes, but it seems inconsistent with existing records. His body was removed to Applecross, and there interred. He acquired so great a reputation for sanctity that he was regarded as the patron saint of this part of Scotland, whence he extended his influence both in the islands and on the mainland. His work in the parish of Gairloch did not die with this holy man. Isle Maree became the residence of a priest. Later on two churches were erected within the parish,—the church dedicated to St Maelrubha at Gairloch, and a church near the head of Loch Maree, then called Loch Ewe. In all probability this church stood (as tradition has it) by the small well that still bears the name of Tobar Mhoire, or "Mourie's well." No doubt St Maelrubha had himself hallowed the spot by blessing the well, or preaching close to it. From the numerous dedications of churches to his memory, not only here but elsewhere, we learn how laborious must have been his missionary work. The name Maelrubha is compounded of Mael, a servant, and Rubha or Ruba, patience. It has been corrupted in almost endless variety. There are the following amongst many undoubted corruptions:—

Contemplating these corruptions of Maelrubha, one cannot but conjecture that the name Smiorsair, given to a hamlet two miles north of Tobar Mhoire, is derived from the name of the saint, and that perhaps some other Gairloch names may have had the same origin. At and near Applecross are many names connected with the saint and his successors.

The churches founded by St Columba and St Malrubha not having the assistance of a powerful body like the Church of Rome (with which they had no connection), gradually fell into decay. Later on the Romish Church stepped in and gathered up the threads of languishing Christianity; but the inaccessible Gairloch seems to have had no place in church history for some centuries. No doubt Christianity was maintained by a few pious priests amid the clan contests and general turbulence that filled the long interval before the Reformation. That casting off of the Roman yoke made little difference on the west coast. It seems most likely that the Rev. Farquhar MacRae, ordained vicar of Gairloch in 1608, was brought up as a Roman Catholic, and no doubt his learned hearer, Sir George Hay, was so too; but neither they nor the common people seem to have objected to the change made by the Reformation, nor can we suppose that it affected them to any appreciable extent. The simple ritual of the Highland churches was scarcely capable of any change; and it is not likely that forms and ceremonies were much debated in Gairloch.

It was far different when the change came from Presbyterianism to Episcopacy. The Highlanders clung to the old faith, and stoutly struggled against the introduction of Presbyterianism.

The diocese of Ross at the Revolution (1680) comprised within its bounds thirty-two parishes divided into four presbyteries or " exercises," one of which was Gairloch. Of the thirty-one clergy (one parish was vacant) nine were deprived of their livings by the Presbyterians ; one voluntarily demitted, declining to obey the new powers; one offered to submit to the new church government (his services were declined); of one parish we have no account; and the remaining nineteen continued (without submission to presbytery) to hold their benefices to their deaths. Of this last class was the Rev. Roderick Mackenzie, Episcopal minister of Gairloch, whose masterly disregard of the Presbytery has been stated (page 65).

When the long incumbency of the Rev. Roderick Mackenzie was brought to a close by his death in 1710, the presbytery resolved to have a minister of their own settled in Gairloch. The Rev. John Morrison was nominated, and the Rev. Thomas Chisholm was sent to Gairloch to take preliminary measures. At a meeting held at Kiltearn, 28th February 1711, Mr Chisholm reported "that, in obedience to the presbytery's appointment, he had gone to the parish of Gerloch in order to have preached att that church and serve the edict for Mr Morrison's admission; but after he was come near to said church he was seized upon by a partie of men and carried back again about six miles, and that being let go by them, he had essayed again to go to the said church another way, and that he was again seized upon by another partie of men, and carried back by them to Kan-loch-ow, where he was detained by them for some time as a prisoner, and thereafter by other parties coming successively was carried back till he was a great way out of the parish, and not let go till Sabbath afternoon; but that while he was detained prisoner (understanding that he was designedly carried back lest he should preach at Gerloch) he had read and intimat the said edict before six or seven persons, within ane house at Kan-loch-ow, which is one of the preaching places of the said parish, and he returned the said edict endorsed by him with the attestation of his having executed the same in the foresaid manner. The Rev. John Morrison was admitted minister of Gairloch,—not at Gairloch, for that was impossible, but at Kiltearn. The story of his treatment by the tenants of Sir John Mackenzie of Coul, and of Sir John's declaration to him, has been recorded (pp. 65, 66). It seems the presbytery represented Sir John's conduct to the General Assembly, but he set them at defiance, and apparently with impunity.

When the Presbytery of Gairloch was constituted in 1724, only two ministers •were found in its bounds.

The subsequent progress of Presbyterianism in Gairloch is recorded in Part I., chap. xvi. Notwithstanding the statement of the Rev. Daniel Mackintosh in the " Old Statistical Account "(1792), that there was then no division or dissent in the parish, it seems that there were at least a few who still clung to Episcopacy, for we find from a quotation given in " Bishop Forbes' Journal," that in the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century Episcopal " pastors took it by turns to wander over the west of Ross, through Strath-Garve, Torridon, and Gairloch, and thence into Skye and the Long Island, ministering to the detached families who still kept up a connection with them."

 


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