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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter XL. - Remarks on Parish of Fortingall Church and Affairs


BEFORE he died, Mr Macara had the satisfaction of getting missionary ministers placed in Rannoch and Glenlyon. This was a long step in advance of the catechist help of schoolmasters on which he had to rely before, but a quarter-of-a-century had still to elapse before Rannoch and Glenlyon were created into quoad sacra parishes. In 1804, Mr John Macnaughton, a native of the Glen, was the missionary minister at Innerwick, and Mr Alexander Irvine held a similar position at Kinloch Rannoch. The latter, as Dr Irvine of Little Dunkeld, was, when he died in 1824 at the premature age of fifty-two, prominent among the leaders of the Church of Scotland. Because he set his face as hard as steel against the narrow views and intolerance into which the revivalists plunged headlong, he has been classified among the Moderate leaders of the Church of Scotland; but in his preaching he was as fervently evangelical as any of the men who went out at the Disruption. His memory is still green in Little Dunkeld and Strathbrand as an eloquent preacher in English and Gaelic, and an indefatigable parochial worker. He was born at Garth, where his father was a farmer; licensed by the Presbytery of Mull as missionary at Kintra in July, 1797; removed to Rannoch in 1799; and, on Mr Macara's death, was presented to Fortingall by Sir Robert Menzies, whence he was transferred in fifteen months to Little Dunkeld. His marriage with Jessie, the younger daughter of Robert Stewart, Laird of Garth, and sister of General David Stewart, the historian of the Highland Regiments, was a romantic outcome of early boy and girl love. Caste feeling refused sanction to the marriage. The son of a small tenant, however superior in natural talents and scholarship, was not thought a fit mate for the bonnie daughter of the laird. So, as the straight- forward application for her hand was refused, the lovers made an elopement marriage, and the laird and his family soon became proud of their son and brother-in-law. The graceful, lively style of General Stewart's History owes much to Dr Irvine's revision and assistance. He was a ready debater, with flights of fancy and touches of humour to set off" solid arguments, an impressive preacher, and a whole-hearted Highlander who did much for Gaelic literature and the gathering of the Ossianic poetry which had come down orally from generation to generation.

Mr Irvine was succeeded, first in Rannoch and soon afterwards in Fortingall, by Mr Robert Macdonald, a younger son of the Laird of Dalchosnie, and uncle of General Sir John Macdonald. Mr Macdonald was licensed by the Presbytery of Mull in October, 1802, and ordained by the Presbytery of Abertarff in May, 1803, whence he removed to Rannoch. He was presented to Fortingall by John, Duke of Atholl, and inducted there in September, 1806. He died in February, 1842, in the seventy- second year of his age, and the thirty-ninth of his ministry. He prejudiced his position among the local gentry and among the common people like wise by marrying his servant maid, who, although uneducated, made a good wife for him. It was indeed said that she was a kind of guardian angel to him as long as she lived, and that after her death he deteriorated in respect to strict sobriety and diligent discharge of his ministerial duties. He took life easy, and was too much inclined to boon companion sociality, but never went so far as to lay himself open to Church discipline or censure. That he was a jolly good fellow nobody could deny, nor that he had talents and knowledge which would have given him ministerial influence had he made the most of them. But he was always far more liked as a man than he was respected or reverenced as a minister. He wrote the paper on his parish given in the "New Statistical Account of Scotland." I have seen other documents written by him, which showed that he could state a legal case or draw up a petition with singular ability. He was fond of Gaelic poetry, and possessed a great store of stories.

Mr Macdonald was succeeded by Mr, afterwards Dr, Alexander Irvine eldest son of Dr Irvine, Little Dunkeld. He came to Fortingall from Foss, where he had been minister for some years, and was soon after the Disruption taken to Blair-Atholl, where he spent the remainder of his life. Mr Irvine was followed by Mr Donald Stewart, from Tobermory. He was a native of Breadalbane, the pious and worthy son of pious farming people. His wife, Agnes Shiels, was descended from a brother of the author of the "Hind Let Loose." It is rather singular that Mr Macara, Mr Macdonald, and Mr Stewart should not now have a single representative, and I am not sure that Mr Fergus Ferguson has any either. Sir Robert, who fell at Quatre Bras, was Mr Macara's only child, and he died unmarried. Mr Macdonald and Mr Stewart had sons and daughters who all died unmarried. The deposed Mr Robertson is still represented by his daughters. General Sir Archibald Campbell and his wife were both of them great-grandchildren of his.

In 1842 dissent in Fortingall was confined to a small number of Baptists who were associated with the Baptists of Lawers, and whose pastor was worthy Mr Duncan Cameron, father of the author of the "Gaelic Names of Plants," and also of Mr Robert Cameron, a north of England member of Parliament. Mr Donald Maclellan, cousin of Mr Cameron, Lawers, another Fortingall man, was for many years Baptist minister in Glenlyon. During the revival movement out of which the Baptist communities arose, Mr Macdonald, the easy-going parish minister, was so far from coming up to the popular ideal of ministerial zeal and strictness of life that it is almost a wonder the sectaries were so few. Of the many stories told about him two small harmless ones may be related briefly. A good many young men of the upper classes who gathered to a Christmas entertainment at Glenlyon House were amusing themselves putting the stone and throwing the hammer when the minister happened to be passing by. They hailed him, and he joined them. He was then beyond middle age, but having been in his youth an athlete, he boasted of former feats and ran down their performances. He was handling the hammer while delivering his criticism, and they challenged him to throw it, and he did so, but he was out of practice, and the hammer, having taken a wrong swirl, fell close to him. At this mishap there was much laughter. The minister, now on his mettle, asked for another throw, and sent the hammer several feet beyond their farthest mark. He then went away, saying to them as he left "When you go beyond my mark, send down word to the manse, and I'll come up and put off my cassock."

For the last period of his preaching life he had made a selection from his written sermons, and used to read them in order, Sunday after Sunday, till he came to the end of the parcel, and then, turning it over, began at the beginning again. People with good memories knew beforehand what would be next Sunday's sermons, for they were in pairs, English and Gaelic. Some years before his death he went for a month or two in the summer to live in the thatched house belonging to the croft he rented and farmed along with his glebe, because repairs were being made on the manse. In this temporary abode an outbreak of fire took place one night, which caused more alarm than damage to anything, except the disarrangement of the minister's sermons. His New Year sermon was familiarly known to his congregation. The text was: "Observe the month of Abib, and keep the Passover unto the Lord thy God: for in this month of Abib the Lord thy God brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt by night." Now there was no month of Abib sermon on the New Year Sunday after the fore-mentioned incident. But in the March of that year the Abib sermon turned up again. The minister, after the fire, had never troubled himself to re-arrange the sermons as they were previously, but took them one by one in the order in which they chanced to fall, without looking at the text before he went into the pulpit. When chaffed about preaching a New Year sermon in March, he good-humouredly replied that March was the month of Abib, and that the old Christian year used to begin then.

In the changes brought about by time, the Jacobite Episcopal ianism with which Mr Ferguson had to contend died out utterly. Lively memory of Mr Macara's evangelical preaching, stern discipline, and all round ministerial efficiency counteracted Mr Macdonald's slackness largely, but, I believe, although they liked him as a man, the Fortingall people must have felt the flouts and gibes of the Baptists keenly, and during the Ten Years' Conflict the sneers of their neighbours about their minister, and the feelings so roused, coloured their after conduct in the case of the disputed settlement in which I was subsequently involved. In their short and far separated periods of service at Fortingall, the two Irvines, father and son, kept up the Macara tradition, and the son, although far from being such a popular preacher as his father, helped to confirm not a few of the Fortingall people in their determination to stick to the Church of Scotland at the Disruption. Those who seceded were not numerous enough to form a separate congregation. They put themselves under Mr Sinclair, the Free Church minister of Kenmore. They regularly crossed Drummond Hill to go to church Sunday after Sun- day, but in time they got a meeting house on Chesthill's land at Croftgarrow, to which Mr Sinclair came at stated times to preach. They communicated at Kenmore until 1857 or a year later, when, having accession through the split in the parish church congregation as the result of the disputed settlement case, they got a church and a minister of their own. They never made an attempt to set up a Free Church school. Those who did not secede in 1843 were more happy in their next minister, Mr Donald Stewart, presented by the Duke of Atholl. Mr Stewart was an earnest evangelical preacher, of amiable peace-loving character, who applied himself assiduously to his pastoral duties, and in the fiercely hot days after the Disruption gained the respect of those who did not go to hear him. Candid Free Churchmen said they only regretted that they had not themselves more ministers like him, and the more critical of their party could say nothing worse of him than that he was a Moderate, and had attached himself to the wrong side. He died, un- fortunately, at the end of 1855, when in the fifty- fifth year of his age. Having, when in Mull, been induced to become security for a relation who came to financial grief, he had to bear the burden of the debt so incurred for the remainder of his days, and he did not live long enough to pay it all off, although, notwithstanding his numerous family, that end was not far off at the time of his premature death. He kept his trouble to himself, and it was only when he died that people understood how manfully he bore his trials.


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