February 2013 News and Events


It has been brought to our attention that some of the artwork used in this and previous articles was not covered by the copyright permissions we had been given. Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe are very sorry for this and have offered sincere apologies to Helen Macdonald and Bill and Chris Lawson for this omission. The Urras is very grateful to Helen, Bill and Chris for their understanding of this situation and for their cooperation and support for the Ui Church Trust.


Near the sea-swept land bridge that holds-fast the Eye Peninsula to the Isle of Lewis, I unearthed a bridge to my MacLeod family heritage.

I was not the first to do so. My grandfather, William MacLeod (1883-1960) would certainly have visited the grave of his grandparents - Ruairidh Ban MacLeod (1816-1890) and Ann MacMillan (c.1817-1890) - when he visited the island circa 1905. My grandfather's sister, Aunt Jessie, visited nearly a half-century later. My mother's sister, Jane MacLeod Walsh, had made the journey during the 1960s. More recently, my second cousin, Jean MacLeod Kuhn, had likewise found her way to that final resting place of our great-great-grandparents. At some point, such a pattern becomes a pilgrimage.

There, among the rapidly eroding ruins of the 14th century St Columba's Church at Aignish (The Church of the Ui), nearly consumed by tall reeds and patchworks of moss and lichen, the gravestone of Ruairidh (Roderick) and Ann MacLeod stands as testament to a legacy of gritty endurance and selfless service. Located in a place of pride, in this hallowed ground where as many as 19 Chiefs of the Macleods of the Lewes are forever interred, this wonderful carved slab provided the emotional context for an unforgettable journey of discovery.

Preparing for the Journey
My Mother (Marianne MacLeod Barker) had been mulling a voyage to the Outer Hebrides for decades. She grew up singing the old Scottish songs, and hearing the family stories about Ruairidh (we pronounce it as "Rory") Ban MacLeod. Ruairidh's active role in the land struggle, faithfully defending the interests of his fellow crofters against rank injustices, had never faded from our collective memory. Moreover, my Mother had watched for years as family members returned from visits to the isles with accounts of a people so warm and inviting as to make one feel they had never left.

At long last it was our turn to go.

I prepared by reviewing the set of hand-written family-tree documents that my grandfather had compiled during his journey to Lewis (c.1905). These ambitious documents trace my MacLeod ancestry through 20 generations in a direct lineage from Leod, notwithstanding the array of modern challenges to traditional understandings of the clan genealogy. In any event, we remained focused upon our more recent family history, and the ways in which that history links us to the places we were preparing to visit.

Thankfully, my research soon brought me to Western Isles historian and genealogist Bill Lawson. For families whose ancestry is rooted in the Outer Hebrides, I can not imagine a more fitting place to begin one's research than Bill and Chris Lawson's Co Leis Thu? Genealogy Research Centre, located within the Seallam! Visitor Centre on the Isle of Harris. The information we obtained from them shaped our experience considerably.

Bill dug into his archives for a copy of the marriage record of my great-grandfather, Angus MacLeod (1850-1914), and noted that his residence on the 1877 document was listed as Providence, RI. The resulting inference adds a romantic tale to our family history: where apparently Angus (the son of a crofter and fisherman) thought it necessary to establish himself as a dry goods merchant in Providence, before returning to win the hand of his wife, Jessie MacKenzie of Stornoway (a shipmaster's daughter). Angus built a thriving business in Newport, RI called the King-MacLeod Company, and in that marriage record I found a potential motivating force behind his business acumen. To be continued.

This article was first published in the Autumn 2010 edition of the New England Regional Newsletter of the Clan MacLeod Society USA and is included here with permission.

The Urras is working with Krystyna Pytasz, the project manager from Addison Conservation and Design, to decide how best to complete the project within the funding available; the restored graveslabs must be preserved and displayed suitably and the church must be re-opened to the public.

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