Ui Church Past


3 land

January 2013 News and Events


Before the Reformation of 1560, Ui Church was the parish church of Stornoway. Thereafter, it was still used as a place of worship. It retained its important role largely because of its continuing significance as the burial place of the chiefs. Roderick 7th's successors proved rebellious subjects of the Crown which finally lost patience with them forfeiting their title to the island in the 1590s. King James VI then sold the island to a company of entrepreneurs from Fife (The Fife Adventurers) with full permission to develop and civilise the place, through ethnic-cleansing of the natives if persuasion failed.

The Adventurers were expelled by force. The king eventually employed the neighbouring Mackenzie clan to pacify the islanders. They being themselves Gaels and understanding of the language and culture were the more able to do that. In 1610 the king granted Lewis to the chief of the Mackenzies - who had in any event a prior legal claim of his own to the island.

The final development of the church probably took place around this time. Recent archaeological evidence suggests the addition of the western chapel may in part date from this period. The Mackenzies were then very much in the ascendancy, and their chiefs were created Earls of Seaforth, taking their title from the sea loch of that name. They were well placed to have built or improved the western chapel. They also built churches elsewhere on the island including St Lennan's in Stornoway but it is probable that the western chapel continued to function as the parish church. According to Knott and Thacker (2011) the eastern chapel may have been de-roofed in the 17th or early 18th century

It seems likely that the western chapel became neglected as services moved to St Lennan's. Latterly services were only held every six weeks. Prominent members of the Macleod clan continued to be buried at Ui but so were an increasing number of Mackenzies of whom the most important was William, the fifth Earl of Seaforth, who was buried there in 1740.

In 1794 a new parish church was built in Stornoway and around the same time a new cemetery was opened in Sandwick just outside the town. Stornoway burials now generally took place there, although Point people were still buried at Ui until a new Aignish cemetery opened in the 1920s.

The local congregation moved to a new Telford church nearby in 1827.

The direct line of the Seaforth Mackenzies ran out of heirs. In 1844 they sold Lewis to James Matheson, a very wealthy Taipan from Hong Kong. In 1845 the last service was held in the western chapel. Little money was spent on it thereafter. By 1850 it appears to have been de-slated. Matheson probably intended great things for Ui as he started to build a family mausoleum beside the church but he died before that was completed. The Matheson line itself faltered and 1917 the island was sold to William Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme) who in 1924 gifted the Parish of Stornoway including Ui Church to the parishioners as administered by the Stornoway Trust.

In 2001 Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (the Ui Church Trust) was established to save the site. By 2011/2012 over £300,000 has been raised to consolidate and stabilise Ui Church. Further phases are in contemplation. For further information please visit

Knott, CM and Thacker, M (2011) Eaglais na h-Aoidhe, Isle of Lewis Archaeological Survey, accessed via
Mackenzie, CS (2012) St Columba's Ui Church otherwise Eaglais na h-Aoidhe: an Historical Perspective; Isle of Lewis

The directors of Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe would like to thank everyone who has worked so hard to support us in the work we have done with Ui Church during 2012; the backing of so many people makes a huge difference to us. It can be invidious to mention specific people, but Ken Roddy Mackay, one of the Comhairle's Community Support Officers, has gone well beyond the call of duty to guide and encourage us during the year. Special mention must be made to the almost 70 Friends of Ui Church who support us financially as well as in practical ways and we are also extremely grateful for the help and support of funders, printers, Sgoil an Rubha, grass cutters etc. etc.

Recently the Urras had to calculate the amount of 'Work in Kind' that had been done as part of the project; we were very impressed to discover that 327 hours had been contributed in grass cutting alone! We have done well over 240 hours of administration and we are currently counting the hours Colin Scott Mackenzie spent in writing two books as well as everyone else's contributions - 2012 was a very busy year!

The directors would like to wish all our supporters a very happy New Year and every good wish for 2013!

In 2013 the Urras must decide how best to complete the project within the funding available; we know from our conservation consultants that further funding is required to preserve and display the graveslabs suitably; however it is important that the current project is finished and that the church is open to the public while further funding is sought.

An opening and re-dedication ceremony is planned at the end of this phase of the work; when the consolidation work is complete.


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