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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (Mc)
MacLean, Father Allan

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. of Iochdar].

‘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 "Bn" 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 MacLean

In the last installment, Father Allan MacLean appeared in the "Oran na Flats" by Alasdair Mac Eoghainn Bhn. In this column, Father Allan MacLean himself shall be considered.

A brief column about Father Allan appeared in MacTalla in Volumn V dated 13 March 1897:

Rugadh e ann am Mideart, an Alba. Fhuair e fhoghlum anns an Spainn, agus labhradh e cainnt na dthcha sin cho fileanta ‘s cho ceart ri gin de na Spinnich fhin. Thainig e do Cheap Breatunn, agus bha e ireamh mhr bhliadhnaichean a’ saoithreachadh ann am paraiste Shiudaig. Bha e anabarrach measail aig na h-uile chur elas air, ge b’e creud dhe ‘n robh iad. Bha e ‘na dheagh phoibaire ‘s na dhannsair; agus rinn e iomadh ran. Cha’n eil teagamh againn nach eil moran de chuid brdachd 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 dancers.

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)

Oran Molaidh

Fonn - Ho an cl dubh
Uidhist ghlas nan cradh-gheach*
Tha ‘n trigh sin fada bho Ailean
Ged is iomadh lamhach
A dh’fhag e an cois na mara.

Is aithne dhomh gach ite
Bhios grannda ri cur an t-sneachda
Is tric a ghabh mi tmh ann
Fodh sgilean de dh ‘fhilleadh breacain.

Gheobh mi gunna snruichte
Air digh ‘nur thid mi a Ghlaschu
Is fherr na Nic an Toisich
Gad ‘s mr a bsd aig Dmhnull Sagart.

Nur chuirinn ri m’ shil e
Gu fdar a chur na dheannaibh
Bhiodh Rn Glas a stairrich
Stoirm air ‘s e dol gu astar.

Mharbh mi ‘n coileach riabhach
An t-eun is briagha ann san ealtuinn
‘S Miri ghrinn ga sponadh
Gu biadh ‘dheanamh dha na sagairt.

Mur a biodh am fdair
Air chl nam peilearan glasa
Cha robh h-aon a’s dthaich
Chuireadh smid 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 night,

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.)


  • Antigonish Diocese Priests and Bishops 1786-1925, Rev. A.A. Johnston, Ed. Kathleen M. MacKenzie, Antigonish, 1994.

  • Father Allan’s Island, Amy Murray, Edinburgh, 1936

  • The Clansman, Ed. Alexa Thomson, Halifax, August/September 1994.

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.

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