Compiled by Allan J. Gillis,
Nov. 16, 2002
Father Allan MacLean, son
of Catherine MacVarish and Alexander MacLean of Arisaig, Scotland, was
born 6 May, 1804. He first studied arts and medicine in Europe and then
changed to theology. He studied at the Scots College in Valladolid, Spain,
from 16 Sept. 1826 to 2 Sept. 1836. He was ordained by Bishop J. Britz at
Segovia, Spain on 28 May 1836.
On returning to Scotland,
he served at Barra, South Uist, Fort Augustus and Glasgow. From October of
1839 until February of 1849, he assisted Fr. John Chisholm at St. Mary’s
in Bornish, South Uist. At the same time, he was also assistant to Fr.
Seumas MacGregor at Iochdar. He was a guest and assistant at Arichat from
his arrival in 1854 until January 1855. He frequently travelled all over
Cape Breton. He was pastor at Creignish from January, 1855 until the
autumn of 1857. He then became pastor of Judique, with Creignish as a
second charge until 29 June 1861. He died at Judique on 1 October, 1877,
and is buried there.
Fr. Allan was renowned for
his skill in Gaelic, both as a preacher and as a poet. He is also
remembered in South Uist and Cape Breton for his sunny disposition and his
pranks, one of which is mentioned on page 207 of the book
Father Allan’s Island:
Speaking of Father John
Chisholm, parish priest of Bornish, the author mentions, "When at a great
age he grew feeble, a young priest whom Father Allan loved for his light
heart was appointed his assistant and another’s (who would have been, I
think, the priest of Iochdar).
His head full of songs,
Father Allan M’Lean went footing it around Bornish and Iochdar with an old
fowling-piece over his shoulder, at £10 a year and his food; shooting
wild-fowl for the pot in whatever house he might be bound for, always
happy, always making songs, always playing tricks on Father Seumas [P.P.
‘Father Allan (M’Lean) had
caps to his gun. The children, who adored him, were always begging them.
One day he was at a house where he and Father Seumas were well known. The
children begged for caps. "Wait until Father Seumas comes by," he said,
"then get you on either side of the road and call out, ‘Lair tha fodha,
lig-i, lig-i!’ and you’ll get caps.’ "
So they were delighted to
think they would get caps so easily, and when Father Seumas came by they
did as they were told.
Father Seumas said nothing,
but gave them an ugly look. He got off his horse and went towards the
house. The father came out and Father Seumas laid about his ears with the
whip, saying, " Good-for-nothing! It is easy to see where your children
got their manners!"
"What have I done?"
said the astonished man.
"Manner is not learned in
the crow’s nest," said Father Seumas, and he laying his whip about the
man’s ears, and the man backing into the house. Whenever they were inside
the door, there they see Father Allan M’Lean’s gun on the table.
"Ach!" said Father
Seumas; "B’urrasda fhaicinn gun robh oide-ionnsachaidh eile agaibh!"
(It is plain that you had another tutor)"
Father Allan came from a
family of fourteen. Four sisters and three brothers came to Cape Breton
with him in 1854. Another sister was married in Scotland to Hugh MacEachen,
a native of Arisaig, Scotland, who later settled near his uncle, Padruig "Bàn"
MacEachhen, in Glendale, Inverness County, Cape Breton Island. At first,
his sisters were his housekeepers at Creignish and Judique. Three other
siblings went to Australia, including Charles, grandfather of A.D. McLean
of Perth, Australia. One of Father Allan’s nephews, the Hon. Allan MacLean
was premier of the colony of Victoria, Australia, in 1900. He was the
second Catholic to hold that position.
He has a four-sided
headstone at Judique, the face of which reads, Sacred to the memory
of Rev Allan MacLean, native of Arisaig, Inverness Shire, Scotland, who
departed this life, Oct. 1, A.D. 1877 in the 73rd year of his age and the
40th of his priesthood. R.I.P. On the back is inscribed
The noblest work of God on Earth, an honest man. There are
inscriptions on the other two sides as well, in Gaelic and Latin..
The following article
appeared in the August/September 1994 issue of The Clansman. The
author was anonymous.
The Bard Father Allan
In the last installment,
Father Allan MacLean appeared in the "Oran na Flats" by Alasdair Mac
Eoghainn Bhàn. In this column, Father Allan MacLean himself shall be
A brief column about Father
Allan appeared in MacTalla in Volumn V dated 13 March 1897:
Rugadh e ann am Mùideart,
an Alba. Fhuair e fhoghlum anns an Spainn, agus labhradh e cainnt na
dùthcha sin cho fileanta ‘s cho ceart ri gin de na Spàinnich fhéin.
Thainig e do Cheap Breatunn, agus bha e àireamh mhòr bhliadhnaichean a’
saoithreachadh ann am paraiste Shiudaig. Bha e anabarrach measail aig na
h-uile chur eòlas air, ge b’e creud dhe ‘n robh iad. Bha e ‘na dheagh
phoibaire ‘s na dhannsair; agus rinn e iomadh òran. Cha’n eil teagamh
againn nach eil moran de chuid bàrdachd air chuimhne measg an t-sluaigh
fhathast. Chaochail e ann an Siudaig ‘sa bhliadhna 1872.
He was born in Moidart,
Scotland, in 1811. He was educated in Spain and spoke the language of the
country as fluently and properly as any of the Spaniards themselves. He
came to Cape Breton in 1857, and he workrd for many years in the parish of
Judique. He was extremely respected by all, whatever their creed. He was a
good piper and dancer, and he made many songs. We don’t think that many of
them are still remembered by many people. He died in Judique in 1872.
These are just the bare
bones of his story. He and his brother Norman studied in Spain; Norman for
the priesthood, and Allan studied medicine. Norman became ill and died,
and Allan, grieving deeply, returned home to Scotland. He entered the
priesthood himself after hearing his mother saying that since God took one
of her sons, it was too bad that He did not leave the one studying for the
priesthood. He returned to Spain, and completed his theological studies
there. His first post was in South Uist, assisting Father Chisholm, but he
came shortly afterwards to Judique. Stray Notes from Highland History
notes that "Father Allan was accompanied to America by four sisters
and three brothers, while some of the family emigrated to Australia, a
nephew of Father Allan’s having been at one time premier of Queensland."
Father Allan is best
remembered for his sense of humour, which is reflected in his songs. On
one occasion, it happened that a bishop from Belgium came to the parish. A
number of the priests went to receive his blessing. Father MacLean asked,
when his turn came, if he could say his prayers in Gaelic, before
receiving the blessing. The bishop was not a handsome man --- he wore a
white surplice, had no hair on top of his head, but plenty on his face,
and a long nose. Father Allan sang a song that he had composed, poking fun
at the unusual appearance of the bishop. Not being a Gaelic speaker
himself, the bishop rewarded Father Allan with his blessing.
Another humorous song was
one entitled "Beinn Noah". This was about a fellow with a long
beard who crossed Beinn Odha (a mountain in the Judique area) in the
middle of winter and arrived at a house looking like Noah himself. With
regard to this song and the previous one, although the stories about the
songs remain, the songs themselves appear to have been lost.
Other songs which have not
been lost include one to Boulardrie, and two songs published in
MacTalla in praise of girls that he had met while at South Uist. Were
he not a priest, they might be considered love songs! The first song is to
a Miss Campbell, sister of a priest; the second is to a Mary MacRae. Both
songs use very familiar Gaelic poetic imagery in describing these young
ladies. Father MacLean also notes that both of them were beautiful
The following song was also
published in MacTalla Vol. V. It is a very unusal specimen of
Gaelic poetry. In part it is in praise of South Uist, noting that he
himself is far from its beaches now. The story line switches somewhat
abruptly to getting a gun, killing a bird, and having it plucked for the
priest’ dinner. In a way, the song is like modern poetry, following a
"stream of conciousness," as Father MacLean remembers very different
images of South Uist.
(N.B. Some of the
information and dates given here differ from that given by Fr. A.A.
Johnston. I tend to agree with Johnston as he was a meticulous scholar and
had access to the original church documents. AJG)
Fonn - Ho an clò dubh
Uidhist ghlas nan cradh-gheach*
Tha ‘n tràigh sin fada bho Ailean
Ged is iomadh lamhach
A dh’fhag e an cois na mara.
Is aithne dhomh gach àite
Bhios grannda ri cur an t-sneachda
Is tric a ghabh mi tàmh ann
Fodh sgàilean de dh ‘fhilleadh breacain.
Gheobh mi gunna sònruichte
Air dòigh ‘nur théid mi a Ghlaschu
Is fheàrr na Nic an Toisich
Gad ‘s mór a bòsd aig Dòmhnull Sagart.
Nur chuirinn ri m’ shùil e
Gu fùdar a chur na dheannaibh
Bhiodh Ròn Glas a stairrich
Stoirm air ‘s e dol gu astar.
Mharbh mi ‘n coileach
An t-eun is briagha ann san ealtuinn
‘S Màiri ghrinn ga spìonadh
Gu biadh ‘dheanamh dha na sagairt.
Mur a biodh am fùdair
Air chùl nam peilearan glasa
Cha robh h-aon a’s dùthaich
Chuireadh smùid ri coileach lachunn.
There are other anecdotes
about Father Allan that I hope to add later. There is another humorous
song about a family of MacEachens on Ben Noah who had a wedding and some
people suspected that Father Allan was the one who made the song about the
occasion. The chorus went something like this:
Bha banais aig Beinn
Noah a nochd,
There was a wedding at Ben Noah a
Bha banais aig a Beinn Noah.
There was a wedding at Ben Noah.
Bha banais aig Beinn Noah a
nochd, There was a wedding at Ben Noah a night,
Air pairt na Chloinn na
Bochain! Among part of the Clan of the Bochans!
(My uncle, Johnnie
MacDougall, sang this song for me in Sudbury in the late 1960s. My Gaelic
is not good enough to write it down properly.)
Rev. A.A. Johnston, Ed. Kathleen M. MacKenzie, Antigonish, 1994.
Father Allan’s Island,
Amy Murray, Edinburgh, 1936
Ed. Alexa Thomson, Halifax, August/September
N.B. In the "Letters"
section of The Clansman, February/March 1993, there is a letter
from A.D. McLean "Ardvar", 14 Larundel Road, City Beach, 6015, Perth, West
Australia. He was seeking information on descendants of Father Allan’s
siblings who came to Cape Breton with him. I hope to mail a copy of this
item to him, along with genealogical information from the Glendale area.