September 2012 News and Events

Stone Conservation Work
A team of stone conservators worked on 8 grave slabs during two weeks in August. The slabs were chosen by Nic Boyes, stone conservator, as being the most important, but the Urras is well aware there are others needing similar treatment. The work of conserving the stones starts with lifting them very carefully then continues with cleaning them; this is very painstaking work – using water, a toothbrush and very fine tools.

Grass Cutting
A team of volunteers, ably headed by Norman (Tormod) Macleod, undertook the enormous task of cutting the grass in time for the Open Day. This was particularly difficult because power cutters cannot be used near gravestones due to the risk of damaging them. It was a huge achievement – there were up to 12 volunteers working on it at any one time and they transformed the place. As Tormod said "it was a very good example of the community responding to a real community need". Maybe Tormod was a sergeant major once – he certainly has an outstanding ability to get people doing things!

Open Day
The Open Day on 11th August went very well indeed. The weather was perfect and about 200 people came to see the church and graveyard. The stone conservators were working that day, so people were able to watch them work and to discuss some of the stones with them. During the day two very familiar slabs – Roderick VII and the Mackinnon slab were cleaned and work started on the Mackenzie Stone; a stone with a sword was identified as belonging to a Knight Templar and the outline of a bishop was identified on another stone. Also another, more recent, stone inside the church was discussed in depth, with relatives of those buried there discussing family history in some detail.

Visitors had a chance to discuss future options and how best to conserve the most important grave slabs with the Project Manager - Krystyna Pytasz of Addison Conservation and Design, Graeme Brown, Stone Mason and directors of the Urras.

The Urras had a stall which made well over £700 between people becoming Friends of Ui Church, sales of Colin Scott Mackenzie's book as well as other merchandise and donations. The overwhelming mood of the day was positive, with numerous complex discussions about family histories and who is buried where. Many people commented on how good the graveyard looked with the grass cut. The idea of the Urras focussing on the graveyard when the current project is finished provoked much interest and enthusiasm – it was noticeable that although people were very appreciative that the church is now secure, it is the history contained in the grave stones that really fascinates people – both locally and nationally.

Local Connections
There have been two local youngsters working on the project:

Graham Campbell is from Back; he is the son of Etta and the late Norman Campbell and he was recruited by Graeme Brown, Stone Mason, at the beginning of the project. Graham explained that he has always worked in the building trade but that he had been out of work when he started with Graeme Brown. He said that until now he was working mainly on new builds but he always felt there was something missing. He said it was really rewarding to work on old buildings – the work is less repetitive and more interesting.

Graham said that he has been working on the Eaglais na h-Aoidhe project since he began; he has learned lots of new skills and now that the project is coming to an end he has started working with the company in Invermorriston – repairing old bridges on military roads. He particularly enjoys having to use an Argo-cat to get to work! He said he hopes that things will continue from here for him. Graeme Brown said that Graham has "progressed well from never being involved in historic work to being a competent young man in the field of historic conservation" and that they were delighted to have him working with them.

Ruaidhri McKim is from Aiginis; he is the son of Derek and Gillian McKim. Ruaidhri is an apprentice stone mason with Nicholas Boyes Stone Conservation. As an apprentice he spends two weeks in Telford College, Edinburgh and two weeks on site. He has already done 18 months and he has another three years to go before he becomes a time served stone mason. Ruaidhri said that their main project is in Rosslyn Chapel, but that he is really glad to be working somewhere where he played as a child and that he is really enjoying being at home.

One of the hopes of Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe is that the project might enable young people to learn new skills and to gain local employment and it is delighted to have Graham and Ruaidhri on board.

FRIENDS OF UI CHURCH
The Urras is very pleased to see that we now have Friends in Canada as well as the United States of America. Two of the grandchildren of William Donald MacKenzie, known as the 'Bard of Shader' have become Friends. William Donald MacKenzie's wife, Mary-Donald Alister MacKenzie, is buried in the graveyard at Eaglais na h-Aoidhe in a small iron grilled enclosure near the door of the church

Why you should become a Friend – by becoming a Friend you are supporting the on-going consolidation, preservation and maintenance of one of the oldest and most interesting historical sites on the Isle of Lewis. Eaglais na h-Aoidhe is of prime historical and archaeological significance, being one of the best preserved pre-Reformation churches on Lewis.

In addition, as a Friend you will get free access to in-depth reports and minutes of Directors' meetings in the Friends' Section of the website, you will receive regular newsletters and you will get discounts on future publications.

You can become a Friend through the website – www.uichurch.co.uk or by sending your contact details (including e-mail address) plus £10.00 (cheques payable to Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe) to Friends of Ui Church, Innis Mara, Garrabost, Isle of Lewis, HS2 0PN.