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Article by Unknown (1986)

The Church of Scotland on Coll
 
The present church's commanding position overlooking the village and the bay suggests that it, or some equally imposing edifice, has occupied the site for hundreds of years. So it's rather surprising to learn that, throughout the eighteenth century, Coll had no public building for Church of Scotland services, which were held in a variety of places including Ballyhough, Breacacha, Cliad, Knock and Gallanach, with sermons being preached at the East and West ends in turn. Strict records of attendance were kept however and people could be fined for failing to attend services. Nevertheless (perhaps because attendance was high?) the Church was always short of funds and at a Presbytery meeting in 1761 it was recorded that the sacraments of the Lord's Supper could only be administered year about in Coll and Tiree owing to the "expense of the communion elements".

There's no record of the exact date when a proper church was built on the island, but the Statistical Accounts of 1843 mention one existing at Clabbach. It is described as being large enough for 350 sitters and services were conducted by various missionaries who tended to come and go frequently, with intervals between. In the decades following the Schism of 1843 the majority of islanders attended the Free Church, but by 1866 there was definitely an established church at Clabbach and the Revd. Archd. Campbell was its Minister.

Church of Scotland services were held there until the arrival of one of its more colourful incumbents -Dugald MacEchern - early in 1900. He was determined on the building of a new church in Arinagour, which was now the main centre of population, and to raise funds a Grand Bazaar and Fancy Fair was held in the Market Hall, Inverness in October, 1905.

Eventually building began and during the course of it, James MacTaggart, son of the redoubtable schoolmaster, who later became a well-known entertainer, was blinded in one eye by a chip of stone that flew from the mason's hammer. This was considered an ill omen at the time, but all went well, and the church, which had a rather fine window, was consecrated in 1907.

Dugald MacEachern, who remained its Minister for a further eleven years, had a reputation as a local bard and, wrote his younger brother Victor, "The manse of Coll which looked out on the wild Atlantic in all its moods... the music of its waves breaking upon the yellow sands of Clabbach inspired some of his sweetest lyrics... It was there that he composed his poem, 'The Harp of the Gael' which won for him the Bardship of the National Mod, that year." Another of Dugald's poems, entitled 'New Year in the Hebrides' probably dates from the same period; here is part of it:-

The Hebrides snow-white lie
Like swans on the breast of the ocean,
The wind of the frozen North
On Coll of the waves is blowing.
High on the castled crag
The wintry seas are breaking -
Beloved, a Good New Year.

Do you remember our youth
And the Hogmanay in the shieling?
The old year dying, the sun
Filling with gold the ocean.
The maidens of Arinagour
And the laughter, the feast and the music -
Beloved, a Good New Year.
Homeward we went, you remember,
At midnight by hill paths frozen,
With Margaret the golden haired
And lily-limbed, sweet-throated Morag.
The Old Year dead and each youth
Kissing his maiden and saying -
Beloved, a Good New Year.....



Victor MacEachern, who lived at Clabbach with his elder brother's family for several years, also fancied himself as a writer and, while there, he produced singlehandedly what was probably the island's very first magazine. It was called 'The Coll Warbler', and in his memoirs Victor writes, "There was a round mahogany table on which I did my printing. I used a cyclostyle, which was a complete success. On the first occasion, however, as I was not acquainted with the instrument, the pages become hopelessly mixed up. The result was embarrassing; for when the issue appeared, the article on one page didn't coincide with what had gone before. For instance, after reading about the good qualities of Mrs So-and-So's baby, the next page says that '..it should be wrapped in a floured cloth and boiled for two hours and a quarter,

when it is ready for the table'. It is some seconds before you perceive that you are at the cookery notes..! (Ed. Note: We haven't equalled that yet, but there's time..)


Victor left Coll for University, served in the Royal Army Medical Corps during World War I and later, as a Minister of the Church of Scotland, lived in Ceylon, Malta and Aberdeen. But, like Dugald, he always remembered Coll and its people with deep affection - Christmas gatherings at the Manse, tea-parties at the Castle, where Colonel Stewart instructed the butler, Burgess,'..to cut big slices of the Madeira cake for the Manse boys', and Sundays when the young minister, his brother, preached his sermons in `the new and beautiful Gothic church'. For Victor, Coll remained:-


The Island of My Youth

The urge is upon me to go once again

To my Island in the West,

Eilean Cholla, home of my youth,
Ben Feall where the seabirds nest;
But I almost fear to land on the shore:
Things may not be as in days of yore.

I shall listen in vain for the welcome shout


Of 'Johnny-the-Post on his round,

And his little croft at the foot of the hill
Is crumbled now to the ground.

The girls who sang in the choir in the Kirk
I shall look for them in vain;
The blue of the sky and sunshine 1 knew
Have changed into cloud and rain.


Gone are the friends of old and the fun
When life was young and gay;

But the waves still break in musical sound

On the sands where we used to play.

So I shall go back and set foot on the shore
Though things may not be as in days of yore.

Images associated with this article:-

The Church of Scotland on Coll

Fund-Raising advert for Coll Church of Scotland

Coll Church of Scotland interior
Coll Magazine - Article by Unknown

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