47465: An Ceistear Mor na Loch

An account of the life of An Ceistear Mor na Loch, from North Lochs Historical Society

Murdo Macleod was born in Habost, Lochs in 1811.

His parents John Macleod (Iain Ruadh Og) and Margaret (nighean Alasdair Thormoid) moved to Leurbost when young Murdo was in his sixth year. He attended Gaelic School and was taught by Mr John Macleod. He later attended Engish School held at Ranish and was taught by Mr William Urquhart.

In his young days Murdo acquired the art of weaving from his father and when he was eighteen, he joined a crew of fishermen, fishing out of Lochs and Caithness. He also cultivated the croft and was engaged in kelp work.

In May 1831 when the Rev Robert Finlayson was ordained, the preacher was Rev Alexander Macleod of Uig. His hearers were enthralled with the preaching and in the audience was Murdo Macleod, then nineteen years of age, who resolved to give himself up to the service of Christ.

In 1849 Murdo was appoint Catechist for the Parish and was welcomed into every household. He held the weekly village meetings and held the office for nigh on 49 years. These meetings were announced by the blowing of the shell (conachag). When its sound was heard through the village, all work stopped and the people gathered for worship.

The conachag had been a sort of heirloom in the village as it had been brought from abroad by a sailor. It was first used to summon pupils to the Gaelic School. As the Catechist had used the shell for the longest time, it was, years later, handed over to his son Murdo, The Bard, 1837-1914.

When the Free Church celebrated its Jubilee in 1893, the Catechist had been its ruling elder for 50 years. The Church leaders in Edinburgh determined that it was a fitting time to publicly recognise his services. Instructions were sent to him through the Rev Peter Macdonald (a Lewisman who was then minister of the Gaelic Church in Edinburgh) telling him how to get to Edinburgh and where to stay

He was presented to the Assembly and publicly thanked for his devotion to the work of the Church. Dr Rainy then presented him with a memento of the occasion, a handsome silver-mounted Malacca walking stick, on which is inscribed:

To Murdo Macleod, Catechist, Lochs, Lewis

in memory of the Free Church Jubilee Assembly

at Edinburgh, May 1893


The stick and conachag were donated to the North Lochs Historical Society by An Ceisteir’s great grandson, Donald Macleod, now of Tarbert, Argyll. His mother Johnina (Ina) published an article for the Stornoway Gazette in 1961, from which the above is drawn.

North Lochs Historical Society


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