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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part I.—Records and Traditions of Gairloch
Chapter XVI.—-Ecclesiastical History of Gairloch

THE chronological order of events, otherwise pretty closely A adhered to in Part I., will be necessarily broken in this and the following chapters.

When we first hear of a church in Gairloch it was dedicated, as we should naturally expect, to St Maelrubha. It was a common kirk of the canons of Ross, and stood in what is still called the churchyard of Gairloch. The priests probably lived in the Temple house, as it was long called, which is now the dwelling of the head-gardener at Flowerdale. Possibly the little churches of Inverewe (now Londubh) and of Sand of Udrigil existed in pre-Reformation times, but they are not named in the Dutch map of 1662. There is a church shewn on that map called "Heglis Loch Ew," i.e. the church of Lochewe ; it is at the head of Loch Maree, and was probably at Culinellan, near Kenlochewe. The map does not of course prove that this church existed before the Reformation, but it adds to the probability that it did so. It would be convenient of access for the monastics of Apple-cross. Little is known of the church history of Gairloch before the Reformation, which was consummated in Scotland about 1560.

Sir John Broik was rector of Gairloch at the time of the Reformation, and continued so until his death in 1583.

In 1560 Presbyterianism was established in Scotland, but it does not appear to have materially differed from the Episcopalianism it displaced, or rather absorbed, for it had superintendents whose office closely resembled that of bishops.

In 1572 the titles of archbishop and bishop were introduced, and a form of Episcopacy established. The bishops, however, enjoyed but a small portion of the benefices, and were known as "Tulchan bishops." The origin of this epithet "tulchan," is curious :—When a calf died and the cow thereupon refused to give her milk, the skin of the calf was stretched on a wickerwork frame and moved about to make the cow believe it was sucking, whilst the maid was really taking the milk; the sham calf was called "Tulachan."

In 1592 Presbyterianism was restored by Parliament; and in 1598 Episcopacy was reintroduced.

In 1641 King Charles I. sanctioned Presbyterianism; and in 1643 the Westminster Assembly met, and the Solemn League and Covenant was signed.

In 1649 King Charles I. was beheaded, and James Grahame, Lord Montrose, began his struggle in behalf of the king and the cause of Episcopacy.

In 1651 Charles II. was crowned at Scone, and signed the Covenant. On the Restoration in 1660 Episcopacy was re-established.

In 1689, immediately after the Revolution, Presbyterianism was finally established.

These changes from Episcopacy to Presbyterianism, and vice versa, had very little effect in the Highlands, where the clergy and people long clung to Episcopacy; only one or two keen Covenanters on the east coast maintained Presbyterianism. The change in the government of the church was so slight, that in the days of Episcopacy the bishop, when present, presided as moderator over the Presbytery, which then consisted, as now, of the ministers and elders within the bounds. It was not until well into the eighteenth century that Presbyterianism became popular in Gairloch, and even then it does not appear to have introduced any great changes in the church, or in the form of worship. The principal Christian festivals were observed in Gairloch until the nineteenth century.

A list of all the ministers of Gairloch, with the dates of their presentation, will be found in Table IV. There are a few facts and anecdotes about several of them, which are worth recording here.

The Rev. Alexander Mackenzie was in 1583 presented to the parsonage and vicarage of Gairloch, vacant by the decease of Sir John Broik. Mr Mackenzie was vicar of Gairloch in 1590. He was the first vicar of Gairloch appointed after the Reformation.

In 1608 the Rev. Farquhar MacRae was appointed vicar of Gairloch by Bishop Leslie of Ross. He is referred to in our account of the old ironworks of Loch Maree, and some passages of his life are given in Appendix A. He was one of the Macraes of Kintail. In 1610 he was sent by Lord Mackenzie of Kintail on a mission to the Lews, with the most beneficial results. Though he continued his ministerial work in Gairloch until 1618, and though in his biography he is said to have been minister of Gairloch for ten years, yet his official position as such seems to have terminated sooner, for we find that some time before 1614 the Rev. Farquhar Mackenzie, who had "laureated' at the University of Edinburgh on 31st July 1606, was admitted minister of Gairloch. Probably Mr MacRae restricted his ministrations to those parts of Gairloch to the north of Loch Maree and Loch Ewe, which were then generally considered as in Loch Broom parish.

In 1649 tne Rev- Roderick Mackenzie, third son of Roderick Mackenzie of Knock-backster, was admitted minister of Gairloch, and continued so until his death in March 1710, after an incumbency of sixty-one years. He seems to have been a man of quiet easy-going temperament. When he came to Gairloch Presbyterianism ruled; when Episcopacy was established in 1660, he conformed ; and when the Revolution put an end to Episcopacy, he became a Presbyterian again. " Whatsoever king may reign, still I'll be vicar of Bray, sir !" The extracts from the presbytery records of the period, given in the first section of Appendix F, shew how careless this worthy minister was to obey the mandates of the presbytery. He married a sister of the laird of Knockbain, and had a son, Kenneth, born about 1703.

Some time during the seventeenth century the Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie, an Episcopalian clergyman, came from Bute, and bought the Kernsary estate. He resided in the proprietors house at Kirkton, still standing close to the present Inverewe churchyard in Londubh, and officiated in the old church there, some remains of which are still to be seen. His great-great-grandson, the late Rev. Hector Mackenzie, minister of Moy, stated, some few years ago, that he remembered his grandmother Mrs Mackenzie of Kernsary (called Mali Chruinn Donn) shewing him an old prayer-book in an oak chest at the house at Kirkton, and that she said the chest and prayer-book had belonged to his ancestor who bought Kernsary. A loose stone may be seen in the part of the ruined church which was used as the burial-place of the Kernsary family; it is inscribed "K M K 1678," and is believed to have recorded the date when the Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie built or restored the little church. Possibly this clergyman chose Gairloch as a comparatively safe refuge for an Episcopalian in the covenanting times, and his services were most likely purely voluntary, and not intended to compete with those of the minister of the parish; or he may have voluntarily taken the place of Mr Farquhar MacRae as minister for those parts of Gairloch which were considered to be in Loch Broom parish.

The Rev. John Morrison became minister of Gairloch 1st March 1711. Although Presbyterianism had now been established for more than twenty years, it appears that some of Mr Morrison's parishioners still clung to Episcopacy, and in consequence the poor man had a bad time of it.

At the first meeting of the presbytery after his admission, Mr Morrison presented a petition, stating "that after two days sojourn, in going to preach, he was interrupted at Kenlochewe by the tenants of Sir John Mackenzie of Coul, who had laid violent hands on him and his servant, rent his clothes, made prisoners of them, and kept them three days under guard in a cottage full of cattle and dung, without meat or bedding the first two days, the tenants relieving one another in turn by a fresh supply every day. On the third day a short supply was allowed, but they were yet kept prisoners in the same place without other accommodation. When the fifth day came Mr John was carried to Sir John's house, who declared no Presbyterian should be settled in any place where his influence extended, unless Her Majesty's forces did it by the strong hand."

Another example of the persecution of Mr Morrison is traditional in Gairloch. He was travelling on the east side of Loch Maree, and when at Letterewe was attacked by the inhabitants, who seized him, and having stripped him naked, bound him to a tree, where they left him. This would be about September 1711, and the midges were in full force. The sufferings of poor Mr Morrison are said to have been dreadful. Towards evening a woman of the place took pity on him and released him from his miserable position. Thus set free he escaped, and it was some time before he again visited his parish. It is a saying in Gairloch, that there has never been a really pious holy man in Letterewe since this outrage on a minister of the gospel was committed there!

Having thus no access to his parish, Mr Morrison, and a neighbouring clergyman who was in a similar plight, fled to Sutherland on 7th November 1711. On the petition of George Mackenzie of Gruinard, who " had built a little church at Udrigil at his own expense," Mr Morrison agreed (8th April 1713) to preach there once a year at least.

On 23d October 1716 Mr Morrison represented his grievances to the presbytery, and solicited an "act of transportation," or, in other words, prayed to be transferred to some other parish. On 12th November 1716 he stated that, "having no glebe, manse, or legal maintenance, he was obliged to take a tack of land, and that for three or four years successively his crops were destroyed by cattle. In the time of the rebellion the best of his cattle were taken away by the rebels, and very lately his house plundered of all provision to the value of four hundred merks." His solicitation was granted 14th November 1716, and he was transferred to Urray. It is said that the " tack of land " Mr Morrison took was in Tollie bay, and that he built a humble dwelling for himself close to the shore of Loch Maree. This was in the latter days of his short incumbency, after his return from Sutherlandshire. He conducted services in a turf-built church which stood by the shingly beach in Tollie bay. Old people now living say that they remember seeing the remains of the turf walls of Mr Morrison's church. Here is a curious story of this period :—It was nearly Christmas, probably in 1715, and whisky was required for the hospitality of the season. No whisky was made in Gairloch until long after this, but in Ferintosh, on the other side of Ross-shire, there was plenty of whisky distilled. Mr Morrison had a brother Rorie, who was also a minister. Rorie is said to have been the minister of Urray. If so, he must either have died about 1716, or have resigned to make room for his brother on the sudden transfer of the latter from Gairloch to Urray in that year. Early one morning the Rev. John Morrison sent off a man from Tollie with a horse to his brother at Urray for two casks of whisky. The man reached the brother's house the same night. Rorie determined to play a trick. on his brother, so when his brother's man was out of the way he made his own servants fill the two casks with water-gruel instead of whisky. Next* day the man returned to Tollie, believing the casks to be full of whisky. It was Christmas eve when he reached Tollie, and a party was assembled to celebrate the festivities of the season. But when the casks were opened there was no whisky,—only water-gruel!

The Rev. James Smith, after an interregnum of five years caused by the difficulty of finding a clergyman willing to undertake the charge of this wild parish, succeeded Mr Morrison in 1721. In his day the Presbytery of Gairloch was erected. A sum of ^1000 was allowed him by the Assembly, and the heritors or proprietors of the parish provided a manse with garden and glebe, and erected churchyard dykes. Mr Smith was a man of energy, and effected much in the way of reforming the morals of his people and spreading religion among them. In 1725 he had a missionary catechist' at work, and he established a presbyterial library. In 1724 a school was established in Gairloch by the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge, but was removed to Strathglass in 1728 for want of encouragement by the people. However, the first parochial school in Gairloch was in operation before Mr Smith's removal.

Though under Mr Smith Presbyterianism appears to have made way in Gairloch, it was otherwise in the contiguous parish of Lochcarron. The hero of the following incident is said to have been the Rev. Mr Sage, first Presbyterian minister of Lochcarron. He was settled in Lochcarron in 1727, and in 1731 prayed the presbytery for "an act of transportability." Mr Sage, who was a very powerful man, was travelling on foot to Gairloch vid Glen Torridon, accom panied by his servant, a mere boy, who carried the "bonnet" which held the provisions for the way. Two of Mr Sage's parishioners had conspired to put an end to his life. They followed him, and after a time joined company, beguiling the way with conversation, until a fit place should be reached for the carrying out of the projected murder. When they came to the burn of the Black Corrie the minister announced that the luncheon hour had arrived, and asked his parishioners to join him. He took the " bonnet" from the boy, and began to dispense the viands. The would-be assassins seated themselves quite close to the minister, one on either side, and the leader now at last mustered pluck enough to inform Mr Sage that he had been condemned to die, and that his hour had come. The powerful minister instantly threw an arm round the neck of each of the villains, and squeezed their heads downwards against each other and upon his own thighs with paralysing force, holding them thus until they were on the verge of suffocation, when, in response to their abject screams for mercy and promises of safety for himself, he released them from his strong pressure, and they went away both better and wiser, let us hope, for this display of the good minister's muscular Christianity.

The Rev. Ćneas M'Aulay was minister of Gairloch from 1732 to 1758. He had bad health, and was often absent from his parish. He employed a catechist.

The Rev. John Dounie was minister of Gairloch from 1758 to 1773. In his time Mr Thomas Pennant visited Poolewe (Appendix B). He heard Mr Dounie preach in the church at Tollie Croft, or Cruive End, and stayed the night with him in the manse at Cliff, Poolewe. Pennant, in the preface to his "Tour," speaks in high terms of Mr Dounie.

The Rev. Daniel Mackintosh, who succeeded Mr Dounie, seems to have been in smooth waters, and religion flourished in his time. His incumbency extended from 1773 to h*s death in 1802. He wrote the paper on Gairloch in the Old Statistical Account (Appendix C), from which we learn that there was no division or dissent in the parish. He was greatly assisted in his labours by the support of the generous and enlightened baronet of Gairloch, Sir Hector Mackenzie, and his wife the beloved lady of Gairloch.

The Rev. James Russell was minister of Gairloch from 1802 to t 844. Some objection was made to his appointment on account of his imperfect Gaelic; but he was found to be advancing in his knowledge of the language. Notwithstanding his progress, some amusing stories are still told in Gairloch of the ludicrous mistakes he used to make in his Gaelic sermons. For instance, intending to mention the two she-bears that came out of the wood and tare the children who mocked Elisha, he used Gaelic words which made the animals to be she roebucks! Up to and during Mr Russell's time the education of children in Gairloch, and the correction of adults for offences against morals, were in the hands of the presbytery. In 1825 the presbytery, having instructed Mr Russell to deal with one of his parishioners charged with immorality, found that he was too remiss in so dealing, and suspended him from the office of the ministry. He appealed to the General Assembly, who reinstated him, and warned the presbytery to act with greater caution in future towards its members in such cases. The separate ecclesiastical (or "quoad sacra") parish of Poolewe was formed during Mr Russell's incumbency. The Rev. Donald MacRae was presented to the new church of Poolewe in 1830, though the separate parish was not declared to be such until an Act of Assembly on 25th May 1833, and was not erected by the Court of Teinds until 3d December 1851.

The Rev. Donald MacRae wrote the paper on Gairloch in the New Statistical Account (Appendix E).

In 1843 tne secession from the Established Church of Scotland, usually termed the "Disruption," occurred, and the Free Church was formed. Mr MacRae seceded to the Free Church.

Mr Russell died in 1844, having been forty-two years minister of Gairloch. On the departure of his successor from Gairloch, the Rev. D. S. Mackenzie, the present minister of Gairloch, was appointed in 1850.

On the establishment of Presbyterianism, Gairloch was in the Presbytery of Dingwall. Several minutes show the difficulties in the way of the ministers of Gairloch attending the meetings of presbytery, and of members of presbytery visiting Gairloch. Minutes of the presbyteries relating to these and other matters in Gairloch are extracted in Appendix F.

Sometime between July 1668 and June 1672 there seems to have been nominally a Presbytery of Kenlochewe, but it does not appear that this presbytery ever met, and there are no records of it extant. In 1672 Gairloch was reannexed to the Presbytery of Dingwall by the bishop and synod.

On 4th September 1683 the "Highland churches," including Gairloch, were annexed to the Presbytery of Chanonry. This step appears to have been intended as a punishment to the ministers of the Highland parishes for their non-attendance at meetings of the Presbytery of Dingwall. Thus for a time Gairloch was no doubt in the Presbytery of Chanonry, but there is no other reference to the fact in the ecclesiastical history of the period. This was during the long incumbency of the Rev. Roderick Mackenzie, whose isolated position in Gairloch seems to have rendered him indifferent to the action of the presbytery.

On 19th May 1724 the Presbytery of Gairloch was erected by the General Assembly. This presbytery was composed of the same parishes as now constitute the Presbytery of Lochcarron. The meetings of presbytery were held at different places,—Kenlochewe, Gairloch, and Poplewe are mentioned.

In 1773 an Act of the General Assembly ordained that the Presbytery of Gairloch should be called in all time coming the Presbytery of Lochcarron, and Gairloch and Pooiewe remain to this day in that presbytery.

The old parish church of Gairloch, dedicated to St Maelrubha, stood, as we have seen, in the churchyard of Gairloch, which is now used as the parish burial-ground. There was a church in existence here before 1628, for we find from an old document that Alastair Breac, fifth laird of Gairloch, had caused a chapel to be built "near the church" of Gairloch, during his father's lifetime, where he and his wife, and no doubt also his father John Roy Mackenzie, were buried. According to the Rev. Daniel Mackintosh, in the Old Statistical Account, the Gairloch church of his day had existed for "more than a century," so that it must have been erected in the middle or latter part of the seventeenth century,—possibly by John Roy or Alastair Breac; it stood most likely on the same site as the original church. In 1727 Mr Smith, minister of Gairloch, . got the heritors of the parish to erect churchyard dykes. In 1751 the Rev. ^Eneas M'Aulay is said to have got a new church built. It must have been a frail structure, for in 1791 it had fallen into a ruinous condition; it was a thatched building. James Mackenzie says, that about 1788, when his mother was attending the parish school at Strath of Gairloch, under the tuition of William Ross, the Gairloch bard, she and other girls went one day during the dinner hour to the old church. The children opened the church door, when, from some cause or other—very likely only a puff of wind— the door closed in their faces with a bang, and they got a great fright!

The present Gairloch church was erected in 1791, and repaired in 1834.

The little church at Sand of Udrigil, which we may call the chapel of Sand, is commonly believed to have been originally erected by St Columba himself. In 1713 George Mackenzie of Gruinard, who is said to have built a little church at Udrigil, prayed Mr Morrison, the refugee minister of Gairloch, to preach there. Whether this was the same church we cannot be sure; tradition says George Mackenzie only thatched and repaired the ancient church. After this time the ministers of Gairloch periodically preached at this little church until at least the end of the eighteenth century.

There was an old church at Culinellan near Kenlochewe; the date of its erection is uncertain. The Rev. Daniel Mackintosh, in his paper in the Old Statistical Account, refers to this place of worship as existing in 1792.


The church at Tollie Croft, now called Cruive End, is not likely to have been of any antiquity. In 1733 the kirk-session of Gairloch petitioned the presbytery to enlarge the "chapel at Pollew," and the presbytery agreed to do so. This was probably the place of worship at Tollie Croft close to Poolewe. It was no doubt the church where Mr Thomas Pennant heard the Rev. John Dounie preach in 1772, for it was close to the place where he would land from his boat on Loch Maree (see Appendix B); the Rev. D. Mackintosh mentioned it in 1792. Old people now living remember the Rev. James Russell preaching in this little church as lately as 1826. At that time Duncan Mackenzie, the innkeeper at Poolewe, previously butler to Sir Hector Mackenzie at Flowerdale House, used to read the Scriptures to the people in the Cruive End church pending Mr Russell's arrival from Gairloch. This church would be very convenient for the minister of Gairloch when he had his manse only a mile away at Cliff, Poolewe, as was the case between 1759 and 1803.

The turf-built church in Tollie bay, where the Rev. J. Morrison used to hold his humble services, was only a temporary expedient during his short and troublous incumbency.

The old chapel of Inverewe, on the east side of the river Ewe, close to the former mansion-house of the Kernsary estate, seems to belong to the seventeenth century, judging from the appearance its ruins now present, but there is no record whatever of its history. The Rev. Kenneth Mackenzie, proprietor of Kernsary, preached there, as we have seen, during some part of the seventeenth century.

The present church of Poolewe was completed in 1828.

If there was a rectory, parsonage, or manse in Gairloch before the Reformation, it must have .then ceased to be church property. The Rev. Farquhar MacRae, who became vicar of Gairloch about 1608, lived at Ardlair, on the north-eastern shore of Loch Maree. Ardlair is near Letterewe, where dwelt the ironworkers for whose special behoof Mr MacRae was sent to Gairloch by Lord Mackenzie of Kintail; and it may have been part of the arrangement under which Sir George Hay acquired the woods of Letterewe from Lord Mackenzie for the ironworks, that his lordship should allow Mr MacRae the use of a house at Ardlair, which was also on his property.

Poor Mr Morrison, in 1711-16, had no glebe, manse, or legal maintenance, and his hut in Tollie bay was on land leased by himself.

In 1728 a manse and glebe were provided by the heritors for the minister of Gairloch at Achdistall, near where the Gairloch hotel now stands.

In 1759 the presbytery exchanged the glebe at Achdistall for other land at Clive, or Cliff, close to Poolewe, and a manse was shortly after erected on the new glebe.

In 1803 the old glebe of Clive was exchanged by the presbytery for a portion of the lands of Miole at Strath of Gairloch, and a new manse was erected at once. This is the present manse of Gairloch ; it was added to in 1823, when Hugh Miller, then a mason, took part in the work. His experience in Gairloch at that time is recorded in "My Schools and Schoolmasters."

The present manse of Poolewe was built in 1828.

The old Free church at Gairloch, and the Free manse there, were erected shortly after the Disruption in 1843. The church having become unsafe was pulled down in 1880, and the present handsome building erected on the same site.

The Free church and manse at Aultbea were also erected soon after the Disruption. The Free Church has also mission churches or meeting-houses at Poolewe, Opinan, and Kenlochewe in Gairloch parish. The first minister of the Gairloch Free church was the Rev. Duncan Matheson, who was succeeded by the Rev. John Baillie, the present minister. The first minister of the Aultbea Free church was the Rev. James Noble; to him succeeded the Rev. William Rose: after whose death the Rev. Ronald Dingwall, the present minister, was appointed.


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