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Personal Glimpses of Gravir VII: Church
Personal Glimpses of Gravir VII: Church
An account of life in Gravir, by Calum Macinnes, 8 Gravir.
World War One brought changes to South Lochs, but these were insufficient to affect greatly the traditional customs and usages of what was - and to a certain extent still it - a conservative, closed society. The district is bounded to the east by the Minch, to the south by Loch Seaforth and to the north by Loch Erisort. A narrow strip of land between the end of Loch Erisort and Seaforthhead is the only feature that prevents the district from being an island within an island.
The society was dominated by the church, the Free Church of Scotland (The Wee Frees as its communicants and adherents are described derogatorily in the press) being the main denomination, but a small group of Church of Scotland communicants and adherents existed in Gravir. Their corrugated iron mission hall and missionary's house, painted red, called 'an eaglais dhearg' in the village, gave colour to the west end of the village during the drab, winter months. The Free Church was administered by a coterie consisting of the minister, the elders and the deacons. The elders and the minister constituted the Church Session and the deacons and the minister formed the Deacon's Court. The latter dealt with matters like the upkeep of the property and the former with policy matters and matters of discipline, and although it did not include women the matriarchal influence was strong and affected many of the group's decisions.
There is no doubt that the Free Church of the time presented a front of rigid, and some would say, oppressive fundamentalism, manifested by some petty rules like, eg. no shaving on Sunday, no cooking on Sunday, no shoe polishing on Sunday, no playing of a musical instrument on Sunday, no whistling on Sunday, no working on Sunday. The conformists followed these edicts to the letter; others followed them partially of perfunctorily.
Some cooked the Sunday dinner on Saturday night: almost all filled the water-storage buckets with water from the well on Saturday night; shoes to be worn on Sunday were polished on Saturday night. Indeed it was considered that Sunday should be devoted exclusively to worship and church attendance. In some households it was forbidden to wash dishes on Sunday; they were piled up and washed on Monday.
Young people went to church only if they had acceptable clothing, ie. a two piece suit, shirt and tie and non-tackety boots or shoes, for boys and a coat, etc for girls. This meant that we did not go to church in these early years and we engaged in mild 'mischief' when the adults were safely incarcerated in church. This extended to playing cards, games of a more active nature, making candy from sugar in tin cans, and releasing rams from the byre and allowing them to head-fight for supremacy.
A service was also held on Thursday nights in the church. This was attended by communicant members of the congregation and also by those adherents who, as the local phrase in Gaelic put it, 'were following', ie. they were aspiring to communicant status in the near future.
During the winter months, prayer meetings were held, once a week, in some house in the village, at the householder's invitation. These meetings had a strong element of fellowship; tea and scones were dispensed after the prayers.
Family worship or 'saying the Book' was a twice-daily routine, once after breakfast and once after supper. The head of the household read a chapter from the Gaelic Bible, precented three verses of a psalm and said a prayer. We joined in the singing when we became familiar with the tunes but we sometimes found the routine irksome if it interfered with a game or some other diversion.
It is clear from the above that the church held a dominant place in the lives of the people of the community. We, the young ones, were products of the system. If I were to attempt to summarise the salient characteristics that were inculcated in us by operation of the system - and, of course, by genetic traits as well - the following come readily to mind:
- Dominant paternalism caused us to be both reticent and submissive: children should 'be seen and not heard'.
- A simple, unquestioning belief in right and wrong, truth and lies, with no graduations between these extremes.
- In many cases a characteristic shyness which inhibited the flowering of personality, and
- A sense of navety which, in many cases, continued past the teenage years and led some Pairc young people into situations for which their restricted background did not provide answers.
The navety manifested itself in a too trusting attitude to those they met in urban situations and ignorance of traits that did not fall within the parameters of honesty, right and wrong, good and bad, which the children who grew up in South Lochs, as a rule, accepted unquestioningly. This included total ignorance of such things as deviant sex and caused some young members of the community to be branded as deviant or homosexual when they were doing no more than accepting the friendship of others who, unknown to the youngsters, had deviant sexual motives.
In the Midst of Life ...
The nearest house to the school was that of Kenneth Macaskill (Coinnach Alein). He died, I think, just before I entered school and I can still remember with some awe the day of his funeral. I remember the men assembled for carrying the bier, dressed exclusively in black and most wearing bowler hats. But what impressed me most was the shining metallic handles of the coffin. They glinted in the sunshine when the coffin was placed in the bier (eileatrom). The cemetery to the west of the church was then in use.
Earlier, before the church opened in 1882, some burials were carried out on the hilltop at No 23 Gravir. Before then Eilean Chaluim Chille was a popular resting place. My great grandfather, Iain Ruadh, is buried there. Coffins were transported by sea in favourable weather, but at other times they had to be carried overland. In the absence of a road, this was an arduous task and the mourners stopped from time to time to regain their strength by the administration of whisky from a pig or piggy that the bereaved family provided. Needless to say, by journey's end, the sobriety of some of the mourners was replaced by bouts of hilarity: 'Bidh tiodhlachadh againne fhathast' being a riposte by someone who was thought to have had enough and was refused more!