This was written for a historical society exhibition. It’s basically a short essay from which we took out good captions for photos etc. It’s far more breezy than my usual style, and lacking in any historical analysis. I had to write for an audience - namely, the religious and fact(as opposed to analysis)-loving average Eriskay person…
(WARNING: You will notice I assume religious faith is a good thing. Again this is called ‘selling-out’ and is sometimes necessary when writing with someone else in mind)
Who was Father Allan, the man? Allan MacDonald - priest, poet, and folklorist - was born on the 25th October 1859 in the luxurious surroundings of Fort William Hotel. Despite having indeed been fortunate enough to obtain a room at the proverbial inn, from a young age his dream was to serve Christ as a member of the priesthood. At first, he studied at Blairs College, Aberdeenshire, and thence to Vallodolid in Spain where he undertook most of his training in the San Ambrosio College.
Following ordination he was sent Oban as assistant priest. The people were fond of this young and popular priest yet, in 1884, he was transferred to Daliburgh parish which, at the time, was the poorest parish in the poorest diocese in all of Scotland. The people depended on him as an educated person to represent them in matters temporal as well as religious. He laboured for ten happy but hardworking years in South Uist. However, A School in South Uist tells us it was always his desire to minister to and then die with “the simple fisher folk of Eriskay,” When, due to exhaustion, the Bishop relieved him of the burden of the St Peters, he crossed the sound to the island of Eriskay. An island he loved despite it being “bare of barley!”
The impact he had on this little island at the edge of nowhere can hardly be exaggerated. But Fr Allan’s greatest legacy )of many) is - of course - the church, which stands imposingly alone atop the hill known as Cnoc na Sgrath.
Prior to Fr Allan’s arrival on the island, the people of Eriskay worshipped in a damp and smoky blackhouse, situated where the statue of Our Lady is now. The roof was full of holes and the visiting priest literally did have to walk on water in order to say mass. There were no seats, therefore the congregation all stood in cramped and crowded conditions. It was obvious to Fr Allan a new building was required, for how could he minister to his flock if the Chapel wasn’t even a worthy home for sheep?
Funds were needed and fast. This was mostly raised from subscriptions paid by Fr Allan’s rich friends plus, most importantly, the pious fisherman donated the takings from one catch a week to the appeal. On the designated day, the people gathered to pray for fruitful fishing, and it is claimed that these Church catches were far larger than the rest of the week’s. The faith of the Eriskay congregation was such that the construction of the church became a community endeavour, with sand being carried by the schoolchildren during their break and the men giving up their time to shift the large stones up the Rubha Ban.
The Church’s positioning on Cnoc na Sgrath was inspired in that it can be seen from all corners (of the populous part) of the island, as if it were a kind of beacon to the people, a physical focal point for the isle and also as a lighthouse shining to the sailors in the sound. Although some might argue it could just as easily be called a watchtower surveying the island!
As well as the Church, Fr Allan’s legacy to Eriskay includes the bringing of the telegraph line, which in turn led to telephone and electricity lines. He also led the people in the construction of a road out to Bun a’ Mhuilinn. This was the first road in Eriskay; “An Rathad Ard,” and it is still used today by walkers. With one road, people demanded more, a desire eventually manifesting itself in the causeway, built in 2000. One could argue Fr Allan, in building the first road, sent us down the road of crossing the sound by causeway. I imagine he would be very pleased to see cars driving across the causeway, thinking of the days he spent by the fire at Taobh a’ Chaolais awaiting a boat to ferry him over to say mass.
Fr Allan was a community leader who loved his community. He loved their Gaidhlig language and his book, Gaelic Words And Expressions From South Uist, demonstrates the meticulous detail with which he recorded the fading Hebridean culture. His notebooks are a treasure trove of observations of the distinctive Eriskay way of life. As a priest he wanted his congregation to understand the message of God and, therefore, years before Vatican II, he decided to translate the mass into Gaidhlig. He composed many hymns which are still heard at mass to this day.
As a collector of folklore Fr Allan was renowned throughout Scotland. However, being a generous man, when Anna Goodrich Freer visited him he quite happily gave her free-reign with his note-books. Years later she published his work under her own name. Fr Allan’s many friends were angered. Fr Allan was upset that people were arguing and, to the loss of Gaidhlig scholarship, he ceased collating folklore for fear of causing more controversy.
Fr Allan is easily the most celebrated person every to call themselves an Eirisgeach His impact is such that it would be remarkably difficult to find someone living on the island today who wasn’t aware who Fr Allan was, even if they were aware only that he built the Church. In his time, Fr Allan was regarded as a kind of father to the isle, ministering to all the needs of the people, be they spiritual, medical or social. But the nature of his work wore him out before his time. Fr Allan died of Acute Pneumonia in October 1905 when he was only 46 years old. In his short life he did more for the people of Eriskay than anyone ever had or will. Despite more than one hundred years having passed since his death, he lives on in St Michael’s his pride and joy, in the hymns sung and mass said every Sunday, and in the great Celtic Cross (erected by the people) which guards his grave. Finally, every summer the boats are blessed in Acarsaid Mhor, a tradition began by Fr Allan for which he received a special papal dispensation. The priest blesses the fishermen’s boats so they will have a safe year at sea, and Fr Allan, that lover of the “simple fisherfolk of Eriskay”, himself a great fisher of men, would be very proud to see that this unique tradition has continued for more than a century. A fitting legacy for a man who braved howling winds to cross the sound every Sunday to say mass.
If God really did create the universe, then it’s those of us who don’t believe in Him who are going to Heaven. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good - and all too clever to believe anything without evidence. If He exists, I’m convinced He’ll reward those of us who came to the conclusion that there just isn’t enough empirical evidence to justify belief in His existence. By my reckoning, the only God befitting of the title is one that created a universe without enough evidence of Himself as a part of test to see whether you could make valid inferences from the evidence at hand. He endowed you with reason and free will, and wants to see you use it. So if you rightly conclude that the universe doesn’t provide sufficient evidence for the creator, then you have passed the creator’s test - you have used your head and you’re going to paradise!
When we had RE with Ms Johnson in like S2 she made us memorise the order of books in the old testament and the order of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. :/
I asked my dad, and in spite of four years of priest school, he got it wrong first time…
If the God of the Bible existed, I’d do my best to make him not exist.
If he knew everything and could do anything, I know I’d probably fail. But hey! Better to die than live under that kind of tyranny.
If he had the power to create me with the free will to defy him, he has the power to take that free will away. That’s a worthless form of free will!
If he was all-good and loved me, I still wouldn’t forgive him. Because, you know what, my mother loves me and would do anything in her power for me, but we still don’t let her have the power to do whatever she wants for me, do we? We value our independence!
A benevolent dictator is still a dictator.
I don’t believe in God, but let me tell you this, if a scientific experiment proves tomorrow that the God of the Bible is real, it doesn’t follow logically that I need to worship him. There’s truth in that adjective God-fearing. If God is real, I’d be really afraid, because no matter how good his intentions, no matter how much he loves me, that much power concentrated in one person can’t be good.
God is the ultimate police state. He see and hears everything. God is the perfect totalitarian. He has complete control.
What life would be worth living if it’s not your life to live? If your life is just in the hands of God?
If you can show me God exists, the first thing I’ll do is make the Case For Satan!
He is the serpent, the Great Dragon, Beelzebul, the ruler of this world, the prince of the power of the air, the evil one, and the adversary. He is Satan. And—if you are a follower of Jesus Christ—he hates your guts with a passion. Like a roaring lion he is prowling about seeking to destroy you. How can you stand firm and resist the devil so that he will flee from you? First, do not be naive; you must consider his ways.
1. He may slander God to you in order to cast doubt on God’s goodness and shipwreck your faith (Gen 3:4-5).
He may offer criticisms and arguments against the existence and benevolence of God, as part of a healthy debate.
2. He may corrupt your mind and steer you away from the simplicity of Christ and His gospel (2 Cor 11:3).
He may help you realize that not everything in life is simple or black and white, and that you need to really think through and analyse things to get to the truth.
3. He may wrestle against you, fighting against your progress in Christ (Eph 6:12).
He may challenge you in order to help you see whether you really believe what you say you believe.
4. He may tempt you to commit sexual immorality against your spouse as a result of neglecting the intimacy of the marriage bed (1 Cor 7:5).
He may help you realize that you love somebody else, and that it would be best for both parties if the relationship ended, you both moved on and maintained a cordial friendship.
5. He may harass you with some form of fleshly affliction (2 Cor 12:7).
He may make you realize that true beauty isn’t skin deep.
6. He may blind the spiritual eyes of your unsaved family, friends, and neighbors so that they may not see the glory of Jesus in the gospel (2 Cor 4:4).
He may help your family, friends and neighbours not to believe blindly in the Bible, and instead create an atmosphere of independent thinking in your community.
7. He may keep your unsaved acquaintances in bondage to sins that hinder them from coming to God (Gal 4:8).
He may help your two best mates from the pub realize that they do in fact love each other, and even though you tell them it’s sinful, they enter a civil partnership, and live happily ever after.
He may smite you with a vaccine.
He may offer you the option of choosing to die rather than putting yourself and your family through the grief of suffering from the pain of a terminal illness.
He may sow questions in the minds of the believers in order to create an interesting variety of opinions.
11. He may lead you toward theological compromise by causing you to be friendly to false doctrine and its teachers (1 Tim 4:1-3).
He may help you reassess your beliefs in the light of new evidence flooding in from that new-fangled thing they call science.
12. He may persecute you for your godliness (Rev 2:10).
He may disagree with you.
He may offer you a big red juicy apple as part of your five-a-day.
14. He is—at this moment—prowling about seeking to capture and destroy you, chiefly through pride (1 Pet 5:6-8).
He praises you for your hard work, giving you the weekend off, instead of condemning you every Sunday.
15. He will most assuredly slander you before God in heaven (Rev 12:10).
He may try to tell the apparently all-knowing God that he knows you better.
16. He may ask God for permission to sift you out for concentrated attack and temptation (Luke 22:31).
He may ask the apparently all-good God if he is allowed to do bad things to you.
17. He may use the power of suggestion to move you away from the will of God (Matt 16:21-23).
He may attempt to steal you from the apparently all-powerful God.
18. He may try to cripple your effectiveness through confusion, discouragement, and despair (2 Cor 4:8-9).
He may open your eyes to the fact that world is a complex place and that you need far more than a dusty old book to live a happy life.
“Without the people of Eriskay there would be no pony
but without the pony there would have been no people on Eriskay””
The first time I read His Dark Materials, I wandered around for five days thinking Metatron was going to spear me to death at any moment for reading such heresy. I was actually afraid. That, my friends, is why telling an eight-year old boy that if he dares disobey Catholic teaching he will go to Hell is always wrong.