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Worship in Uig
Worship in Uig
Written by Maggie Smith for Hebridean Connections
Sea Roads for Faith
Isabella Macdonald (1861-1956) and her three sisters Annie, Mor and Dolina lived in Tobson in Bernera (Teaghlach a Gheinach) In their young days the sisters rowed twice each Sunday to Miavaig in Uig to attend a church service. Though the oars were heavy and the swell was often broadside on, the girls thought nothing off it. Isabella later became Mrs Macleod of 1 Enaclete and years later related that the service was held in Valtos Glen and that the minister used to preach standing on a rock or hillock.
The place name Aite nan Ordaighean in Valtos Glen is still known today and a rough cairn is all that remains in this place of worship. Foot paths descending down the steep sides of the Glen to reach the place of worship are still visible. Those paths indicate the various directions from which many worshippers approached. People walked for miles to hear the gospel being preached in this sheltered spot.
There are few written records about the open air services in Glen Valtos it is thought that services were held there whilst the church at Ceann Langabhat in Miavaig was being built, or later whilst the church was being repaired.
But a spiritual hymn written by a Geshader woman reveals the anguish behind a split in the church which meant services were preached in the Glen. One of the preachers mentioned helps to date this composition. The Reverend Donald Macarthur served at the Parish Church of Uig 1899-1910.
Bha ar caraid Dòmhnall Macartair
Air a dhearbhadh le droch cheartas
Nuair a chuir iad e Ghleann Bhaltois
Gus an soisgeul chuir an cèill ann.
Ged a thug iad bhuaithe am mansa
Cha do sleamhnaich fodha a chasan
Bha fear saoraidh dluth g' a anam
'S a bh'ann g' a anam beitir.
Chuir iad Daniel gan gharadh
'S chuir iad Eòin a dh'eilean Phatmos
Chì sibh mar a rinn sin tachairt
Ma nì sibh an eachdraidh a leughadh.
Nuair a thigeadh àm an òrdugh
Bhiodh ar caraid caomh Macleòid ann
Nuair a chuireadh e chainnt an òrdugh
Cha robh beò na gheibheadh grèim air.
An uair a bhiodh an sluagh ri tionail
Is tric a rinn mo shùilean sileadh
Ag èisdeachd bhriathran ceòlmhor mhilis
Bho Mac Ill'innean Dhun Eideann.
The churchs at Baile na Cille and Ceann Langabhat were the main churchs of the parish of Uig. Ministers in Uig are said to have a had a boat to take them to Bernera once a month, to take a service there and at communion time people travelled to Uig from the east, from Callanish, Breasclete, Carloway and Bernera.
A man who lived at Earshader related that on a fine June morning, the Sunday of the Uig communions, that he counted seventeen boats under sail, between Stròn na h-Eorna and Stròn Rubha na Monach.
Donald Maclennan, Dòmhnall an Seònaid from Kneep had a sail boat which went to Bernera to collect people at communion time. On Friday morning the boat would collect those coming to hear the men speak aig a'Cheist. This tradition still continues at island communions at the Friday morning church service, with the men speaking to the question in Gaelic. On a Sunday morning the Uig boat would return to Bernera and collect more people for the Sunday services. Then they would all sail home again on Monday morning. Donald Maclennan's boat continued up until 1939.
Every house in the district had an open door at communion time and wedders and chickens were killed, duff and marags were prepared to make a great spread for the visitors. The tradition of travelling to the communions meant they were also social occasions and cousins would acknowledge and strengthen the blood ties by coming to stay at the twice yearly communions.
The inhabitants of the remote hamlets of Ard Beag, Crola, Luachair and Hamnaway would come, so would people from Hushinish, Bedersaig and other villages in Harris. The Harris people would travel across to Scarp and sail the eight miles in an open boat to Molinginish at Brenish. In bad weather the boats would head for Gob na h-Airde Mor to get the shelter of the mountains and then work their way up the coast to Brenish.
There is an account of being at the Miavaig pier on the Monday morning after the Uig Communions where people from all over Lewis were returning to their homes. A missionary began precenting a psalm as the boat left the pier and everybody joined in. This was forever locked in the memory as the most amazing sound as the singing carried over the sea as the boats sailed out the loch.