March 2013 News and Events


The Road to Aignish
The next morning, armed with Bill Lawson's publication Croft History, Isle of Lewis, Volume 2, we set out for the village of Upper Bayble to find the croft that belonged to my great-great-grandfather Ruairidh Ban Macleod. Stepping off the bus into this stark, nearly treeless landscape, we were unsure of our prospects for locating the actual plat of land.

Within minutes, however, we found ourselves invited into a nearby household by a very kind couple, eager to lend a helping hand. The gentleman not only oriented us to the croft's precise location (and that of another family plot nearby), but also took time to share his recollections of the farm and its inhabitants. All from a chance encounter, we learned of my cousin Murdo, the "carter" who carried local fish to market (in Stornoway) and returned with goods such as livestock feed. His son Malcolm, a weaver, also plied his trade on the croft. Our informant referred to the croft as "a real hub of activity" ... something we could never have surmised by its present state. The croft has since been sold. The land lies largely dormant, and strangely silent.

Ruairidh was popularly known as the "Pope of the Lewes" for his unique gift of oratory, and he often addressed audiences of up to 4,000 people with a voice that was "powerful and musical". According to one written account, his "vivid imagination drew illustrations from the winds and the storms, the hills, and the seas, and enabled him to rouse his hearers to the highest heights of enthusiasm". When conditions for the crofters grew untenable, these gifts served him well in "advancing the interests of his townsmen".

After wandering for a spell where our forebears had long-trodden, we ventured on foot over the winding roads to Aignish, to witness their final resting place. After locating the gravestone (with some difficulty) amid the overgrown grass, we both wept as we read the inscription:

In Memory of Roderick Mcleod Bain. For many years a ruling elder in the Free Church Congregation at Knock. A Christian of great ability, piety, and mighty in the scriptures. A reformer, conscientious, but fearless in defence of the helpless, and in demanding redress for the injured. As a friend tender and devoted, but terrible in rebuking sin. Died August 14, 1890. Aged 75 years. Also his wife, Ann Mcmillan, who survived him only 14 weeks. Died November 22, 1890. Aged 73 years. Lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, from henceforth.

At that moment they ceased to be mere names we had heard in the tales of their lives. The words on that stone slab reached into our hearts, and brought them to life as people. We reflected upon the rugged reality of their daily subsistence, eked from a small fishing craft and a minute tract of scarcely fertile land. I tried to imagine a day in his life.

I felt pride in Ruairidh's legacy of a life lived in the service of others, but more importantly I felt inspired to honor that legacy within my own life. If I lived a dozen lifetimes, I could only hope to leave a fraction of the mark he left upon the lives of his contemporaries (and his progeny). I was reminded of the meaning of a life well lived. 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 complete the project. Funding is available and it is hoped that the final work will be complete by the end of March this year; after which the church will be re-opened to the public. An opening and re-dedication ceremony is planned shortly after this.

Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe is delighted to have received funding from Comunn na Gaidhlig for bilingual Interpretation Boards and from the Outer Hebrides Small Business Assistance Scheme towards the cost of our website, our historical book - St Columba's Ui Church otherwise Eaglais na h-Aoidhe: An Historical Perspective by Colin Scott Mackenzie (available from Crofters and all local bookshops) and other fund raising ventures. These are in addition to our previous funders: Historic Scotland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, LEADER, Point Community Council and The Stornoway Trust.

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.