Islay Letter with Hugh Smith week 06

Want to read more?

We value our content  and access to our full site is  only available on subscription. Your subscription entitles you to 7-day-a-week access to our website, plus a full digital copy of that week’s paper to read on your pc/mac or mobile device In addition your subscription includes access to digital archive copies from 2006 onwards

Already a subscriber?


Subscribe Now
Churches unite

The union of three of the island churches was endorsed by an Argyll Presbytery-led act of worship in Kilmeny Parish Church on January 20.

The churches involved in the union are Kilmeny, on the outskirts of Ballygrant; St Kiaran’s, midway between Port Charlotte and Bruichladdich; and Portnahaven, at the end of the Rhinns peninsula.

Although united, each will retain its own identity and its current pattern of Sunday worship.

All now come under the umbrella of the north-west parish and will continue to operate under the ministry of the Rev Valerie Watson.

The Kilmeny service was conducted by Ms Marilyn Shedden, former Argyll Presbytery moderator, and among those in attendance was Presbytery elder Maureen MacKinnon, former local ministers Rev Anne McIvor and Rev Angus Morrison, present incumbent Rev Valerie Watson, and the Argyll Presbytery clerk Dr Chris Brett.

Also present were worshippers from the united churches along with representatives from the other congregations on the island.

The three united churches each have their own individuality and their own faithful membership.

St Kiaran’s was built in 1897 to cater for the spiritual needs of those in the burgeoning coastal villages and as a result of the population decline in the more remote Kilchoman parish and which saw the closure of the hilltop church at Kilchoman in 1977.

Portnahaven church is one of the parliamentary places of worship built throughout the Highlands and Islands to a design by Thomas Telford.

It opened for worship in the mid-1820s and is considered to be one of the best surviving Telford churches still in use as a place of regular worship.

The church at Kilmeny is also based on a Telford design which was adapted in 1828 by Walter Frederick Campbell, laird and owner of Islay at that time.

Before linking with the Rhinns churches in a period of parish readjustment, the Kilmeny church had also been linked in separate arrangements with both Kildalton and Oa and Kilarrow parishes.

Today, these latter parishes are now linked with Jura and the charge remains vacant as attempts to call a minister, following the departure of the Rev Dr Rob Barlow in 2013, have proved unsuccessful.

Book launch

Local author and TV director Les Wilson launched his latest book The Drowned and the Saved at a reception attended by more than 50 in a hospitable Bowmore Distillery last week.

The book is a telling account of life in Islay during the early part of the 20th century and the effect the First World War had on the island community.

And it was fitting that the launch coincided with start of the island’s WWI centenary commemorations which are being marked with a series of high profile events throughout the year.

Much research has gone into Les’s book and he paints graphic pictures of an island coping with its own loss of life on the European battlefields and the impact created by the loss of the troopships Tuscania and Otranto off the island’s coasts during the closing months of the hostilities.

The courage and determination shown by the islanders as they tried to rescue the survivors from the two doomed vessels are praiseworthy, as is the dignity and respect they showed to the many American dead, and British crew members, washed up on treacherous and rocky shorelines.

The fact that these young men, some of whom had never been on a ship before, were on their way to assist the Allies in their fight against the axis of evil, added poignancy to their loss and touched the hearts of all involved in the rescue missions.

While some of the events described are quite harrowing, these are tempered with acts of outstanding bravery and endurance.

The foreword to the book has been penned by Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, whose grandfather, Malcolm MacNeill, was the island’s police sergeant at the time of the tragedies. His efforts in the rescue operations, assisted by three constables, was no easy task as there was no telephone service on the island at that time and limited motorised transport.

His efforts to identify the dead and his contact with the families of the deceased servicemen showed resolve and understanding and he was deservedly honoured by the monarch for his devoted service.

The Drowned and the Saved, a well researched account of loss and tragedy, is published by Birlinn Press and is available at £9.99 from a number of retail outlets, including the Celtic House at Bowmore.

Hugh Smith, 4 Flora Street, Bowmore, Islay PA43 7JX. Tel: 01496 810 658

Caption: Guests at the church union service were, left to right, Maureen MacKinnon, Rev Angus Morrison, Marilyn Shedden, Rev Valerie Watson, Rev Anne McIvor and Dr Chris Brett.