May 2013 News and Events


The work is almost complete; the grass and gravel are in the Eastern Chapel. In the Western Chapel clear perspex screened will protect the graveslabs from wind and rain. Four graveslabs - Roderick VII Chief of Clan Macleod, the Mackinnon Stone, the Mackenzie stone and a stone with skull and crossbones have been positioned under the canopy in the Western Chapel.

Recently several Directors of Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe were interviewed for a news item about the preservation of the church for STV News. They were all delighted by the way the church is looking and how nearly finished it is. The final event before the project is completed is a visit by John Raven from Historic Scotland. Dr Raven will inspect and hopefully approve the finished work. The Urras is very grateful to Dr Raven for his continued support of the project and to Historic Scotland for their very substantial financial backing. Without their grant of £174k the project could not have even begun.

Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe needs an annual income to cover costs such as the on-going maintenance of the church and graveyard (including grass cutting), insurance, printing information leaflets etc. Payments from Friends of Ui Church are a start with this, but more fund raising is required.

The Family Concert on 19th April was an excellent evening's entertainment as well as being a very successful fund raising event. The Urras is very grateful to everybody who helped that night and especially to the many artistes who gave their time and talents free of charge.

Guided Tours - the Urras has trained a group of people to be Tour Guides. They will all work voluntarily to show locals and visitors round the church and explain its significance both historically and archaeologically. The funds raised from tours will go towards the on-going maintenance of the church and graveyard. If anybody would like a tour please contact any of the Directors or via the address or e-mail address at the top of this article or through the website.


Helen MacDonald's sketch of the "Caberfeidh" Stone from the January article brought back to my mind the oddity that no-one seems to know anything of the provenance of this stone. In the book, St Columba's Church in Aignish, I surmised that it may have belonged to one of the cadet families of the MacKenzies of Lewis, possibly Kildun, but I am now wondering whether it may not be in fact a much more important stone.

The stone shows the conventional symbols of mortality – the skull, the coffin, the mattocks, the crossed bones, the bell, the hour-glass and a hand ringing another bell. You will see the same emblems on several stones in St Clement's Church in Rodel, and on the Baleshare tomb in Kilmuir in North Uist. One of the Rodel slabs bears the date 1725 and this does seem to be the period in which this form of decoration was in vogue. Such slabs usually have the inscription "Memento Mori" "Remember mortality" – the lack of this or any other inscription makes me wonder whether this was perhaps only a part of the original stone, perhaps a central unit, with an inscribed section around or below it.

The Aignish stone also bears a "caberfeidh" – a deer's head – the emblem of the MacKenzies - and the initials "KMK", but the initials are poorly inscribed and I think that they are not original, but were added at some later date. If we ignore the initials, then we have a stone from the early eighteenth century, commemorating a MacKenzie. Is there one of the MacKenzies who died at about this time who was important enough to justify – and afford – such a detailed, and hence expensive, piece of carving, and who does not have any other memorial?

There is one such person – William, 5th Earl of Seaforth – who died in 1740. According to tradition, he was buried in the part of the graveyard to the north of the Church, now covered by the encroaching sea, but no further details are known. Presumably there would have been a caibeal – burial enclosure - and within it a tomb to enclose a coffin, with an ornate carved lid, of the same style as the tombs in Rodel. The Caberfeidh Stone could have been the carved lid of such a tomb. Could it be that the Caberfeidh Stone is a remaining part of the Seaforth caibeal and tomb, salvaged from the sea and re-used by a later K MacKenzie? The idea of re-using a part of a tomb may seem rather bizarre, but it seems to have been fairly standard practice at that time – one of the coffins in Rodel is said to have had fourteen skulls in it!

It is outwith my own area of expertise, but it would be interesting to hear from a specialist in such matters whether my suggestion could be valid. I am pleased to note that this stone is now placed inside the Western Chapel because it is far too important to be left lying where it was, in the grass outside the door if, as I suspect, it is from the tomb of William, the only one of the Seaforths to have been buried in Lewis.


Friday 7th June - the Eaglais na H-Aoidhe Annual Lecture will be at 7.30pm in Sgoil an Rubha, Garrabost. The speaker this year will be Malcolm Maclean. The focus of his talk will be on St Columba and his travels between Ireland and Scotland because this year is 1450 years since Columba first came to Scotland.