Islay Letter with Hugh Smith

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Queen’s Baton Relay

The island pulled out all the stops on August 23 when it welcomed the Queen’s Baton Relay on the second day of its tour through Scotland and en route to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia.

Welcoming pipers greeted the baton bearer team at the local airport  as they stepped off the  morning flight from Glasgow. They immediately headed for Bowmore primary school where the pupils, joined by their counterparts from the island’s other primary schools, entertained the visitors with song and dance  which included a vigorous ‘Strip the Willow’ where the baton was much in evidence.

Students from the local high school formed a sports-themed guard of honour as the children accompanied the baton parade down to the nearby Bowmore Distillery before official bearer Colin Gregor, the former Scotland Rugby 7s captain, led the participants to the village’s Morrison Square  where  the crowds enjoyed the warm sunshine and all that took place around them. This involved further piping, choral music from the Bowmore and Port Ellen primary schools combined Gaelic choirs and lively performances from the Ella Edgar dancers.

This gave the onlookers the opportunity of  having a closer look at the baton which the organisers even managed to incorporate into a sword dance performance.

Colin and baton then climbed into a vintage lorry, owned by former hotelier Duffie MacNeill,

for the next stop at Ionad Chaluim Chille Ìle, the St Columba Gaelic Centre.  The centre’s pleasing setting impressed the visitors as did the entertainment on offer.

Then it was back to the airport and the return flight to Glasgow for the  further preparations for the  baton’s journey.

Team Scotland member  Adrienne Sutherland described the Islay visit and the support received from the Ilich as ‘the very best’, and this was reiterated by Colin Gregor who added, ‘it has been fantastic to come to this awesome wee island  and share the experience with them’.

Gaelic Bible returns to Paris

The Gaelic Bible which belonged to the well known Church of Scotland minister and war hero the Rev Dr Donald C Caskie is going back to the Scots Kirk in Paris where the Bowmore-born clergyman ministered  from 1935 until 1961.

The Bible is being returned to the French capital by Dr Caskie’s nephew Tom and will take pride of place in an exhibition in the Rue Bayard church which will commemorate the life and the ministry of the noted Ileach.

On the lead up to the outbreak of the 2nd World War the Scottish minister strongly condemned  the Nazi regime and when France fell to the Germans in 1940 he knew that he was a marked man and that his life was in imminent danger.

He left Paris and his church behind and made his way to Marseilles where he set up an escape route for  allied service personnel stranded in occupied Europe. Working from a disused seamen’s mission and  using a number of safe houses and dependable contacts he set up means of escape for those trapped which led them through the Pyrennes to Spain and eventual freedom.

This was a dangerous undertaking  but Caskie worked fearlessly and thanks to his efforts over 2000 allied service  people successfully escaped the German threat.

Inevitably, he was betrayed, tried by a German court and sentenced to death. Thanks to the intervention of a German Lutheran pastor Caskie was reprieved but was to remain a prisoner until the defeat of Germany.

He then returned to Paris and a war damaged church and set about the rebuilding of a new Scots Kirk.

His account of his wartime experiences, entitled ‘The Tartan Pimpernel’ and published in 1957, proved an immediate best seller with the proceeds going to the rebuilding of the new  Paris church.

He left France in 1961 to become minister of the Old Gourock Church in Inverclyde and later moved to Skermorlie and Weymss Bay North on the Firth of Clyde. This was to be his last parish ministry as his final years were dogged with ill health. He spent some of his retirement in Edinburgh before making his home with his brother Neil in Greenock. He died in 1883, aged 81, and is buried in his native isle alongside his parents in the Bowmore cemetery.

Hugh Smith, 4 Flora Street, Bowmore, Islay PA43 7JX. Tel: 01496 810658