Address by Colin Scott Mackenzie

Address by Colin Scott Mackenzie, Deputy Lord Lieutenant and vice chair of Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe

Failte oirbh, a chairdean. S'e àm chudromach agus somharaichte a tha seo. Tha sinn à comharrachadh deireadh a ceud ire son an seann eaglais a chàradh.

With that nod to the old language I had better turn to English to save my blushes lest I make too many grammatical mistakes in Gaelic.

Welcome everyone. This is a most important and special occasion and it is indeed appropriate that we mark it properly. This is not the best time of year to keep folk standing about hanging on too many platitudes and in view of the cold wind I hereby cut the ribbon barring our access and invite you all to enter and dispose yourselves in the relative shelter of the interior of the church.

I feel I have to explain for those who do not know that this ancient ruin has been the site of a Christian presence for perhaps 1500 years – ever since Saint Catan first erected his monkish cell here all these years ago. The church walls we now see are of course much later in date but when the very earliest of them were built we were possibly still part of the kingdom of Norway. The majority of the walls that you see in the main part will be between seven and eight hundred years old while the western chapel is somewhat younger again. In its day this was the richest church in the Hebrides – in the shadow of its walls are buried many of the great chieftains of their time – 19, it is said, of the Siol Thorcuil – the clan Macleod of Lewis. I am sure that the earlier Nicolsons would also have found their eternal rest here and we know that the later Mackenzies did too. It was and is a holy place where generations of islanders worshipped and which they regarded with particular reverence regardless of what took place in the outside world. The buildings fell on hard times and the roof eventually had to be removed – deliberately it seems and in such a way that the walls did not decay as rapidly as one might have expected. Time, nonetheless took its toll and what we had was being undermined from the seaward-side quite dramatically. As the site fell out of the public eye, the people of Point developed a particular affection for the old stones and their whole-hearted and generous support has been essential. Just in time the local Urras was formed as a result of local initiative by Point Community Council. The trustees were eventually able to raise funds – over £300K – to stabilise and secure what was left. A huge amount of work had to be carried out – largely unseen alas – but we can be confident that barring force majeure the walls can now be expected to remain standing for many years yet to come – and, if it be the will of future generations, they are of sufficient strength now to take a roof again – on either the main church or the west chapel or both - and so restore the building to possible community use again. That would be my hope though not everyone might share it.

There have been many many bodies who have helped the Urras get thus far. If I mention any at all I know I am giving hostages to fortune, as I will inevitably miss out several, not just someone, whom I ought not to omit - but I feel I have to mention in particular the massive help and assistance we got from Historic Scotland, from the Stornoway Trust, from the Lewis Museum Trust, from the Highland Society of London, from LEADER and of course Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Point Community Council. It is probably even more invidious to name individuals but how could I not mention the particular encouragement we received from Ken Roddy Mackay who kept us on the rails when we might otherwise have given up the struggle. He of course built on the expertise of the specialists who helped us – such as Messrs Simpson and Brown, Architects and John Addison, and the authors of many reports which kept us on track. I must also mention Campbell Mackenzie Architect and Helen Macdonald for their very considerable artistic gifts which they have so freely donated without charge. Also Carol Knott, Archaeologist and Mark Thacker Stonemason who got the project started with their detailed and informative Archaeological Survey, Nic Boyes, Stone Conservator, and Ruairi McKim who treated the old stones as they should have been treated, must not be forgotten and of course all the present and past directors of Urras. Of those our incomparable secretary Liz Chaplin, who could easily be the successful CEO of a multinational, was and is outstanding - as were and are everyone's friend Tarmod who always knows where to find helpful things and all things practical, Wonder-woman Zena Stewart whose apparently undiminishable energy is astounding and Judy Macdonald our genuine whizz-kid IT Guru. They and others all helped us greatly – but perhaps the one person I must not pass over is Krystyna Pytasz, of Addison Conservation and Design, our project manager. She has so many irons in her fires that we might not always have expected her full attention but she always turned up trumps and never ever failed us. Of course, she controlled us, and the works as a whole, with a firm but kindly direction and saw us through to completion of this stage without any noticeable hitch. I personally hope there will be another stage in the not too distant future, but for the moment perhaps we can all rest on our oars just for a little breather while we gather ourselves together for the next stage.

With these few words – for I could go on for much longer – I will stop so that you can hear the Rev. Iain D Campbell address us all.