Spiritual Heritage

Spiritual Heritage – Strathdearn

Having mentioned in my last post the Rev. Ewen MacQueen, one time minister of Inverness Free Presbyterian Church and a man closely linked to my mother’s family and also having devoted a recent post to my Aunt, Marjory MacQueen of Dalmagarry Farm, Moy, I thought I would also take time to share something of the spiritual heritage of my own home area, Strathdearn. Interestingly, before passing on, I should note that the Rev. Ewen MacQueen was born (1866) in Camastianavaig, Skye, not far from where I currently live. Indeed there has been a strong historical link between Skye and Strathdearn due to the connection between Clan MacQueen, Skye and Clan MacIntosh, Strathdearn.

The Rev. Thomas James McLaughlin was born on 29 January 1816. His father was the Rev. James McLauchlan (author of the 1845 Statistical Account for Moy and Dalarrossie). Thomas McLauchlan was licensed to preach on 27 January 1837 by the Presbytery of Inverness – becoming minister at Moy, Strathdearn, the following year.

Reflecting something of the apparent evangelical bent of his father, Thomas McLauchlan left the established Church (The Church of Scotland) in 1843 at the time of the Disruption. A historical record recounts this event –

‘Thomas McLauchlan, minister of the parish, ‘came out’ in 1843. On the first Sabbath after the Disruption Assembly the people met in a wood and ‘every man of any consequence in the parish’ was present. After the removal of the minister in 1844, the minister of Daviot preached occasionally in Moy. This arrangement continued, except during short periods when the Highland Committee provided a probationer, until a minister was settled in 1862.’

The minister of Daviot who ‘preached occasionally in Moy’ was none other than the Rev. Archibald Cook – a minister who was to become legendary in the annals of Highland Christianity. In fact, Cook preached in Moy once a month between 1844 and 1862. I suspect it was Cook who first stirred the fires of a vibrant Christianity in Strathdearn – particularly in the lives of my McQueen forebears. Archibald’s brother Finlay Cook, also a man or great renown, was a minister in Achreny (Caithness), Cross (Isle of Lewis), Inverness and Reay (Caithness). (1)

The Rev. James McLauchlan had, in the Statistical Account referred to above, complained of the parish (Moy and Dalarrossie) in 1845 –  ‘There is not much vital Christianity; a sort of rigid, cold morality is the characteristic of their religion.’ Archibald Cook was the man who was to apply an intense spiritual heat to that cold morality!

On a wider front it should be noted that during the years leading up to the Disruption of the Church of Scotland, the Highlands and Islands were in the grip of a powerful spiritual movement during which thousands were converted to a vibrant, living and profound experience of Christianity.

Born on the farm of Auchereoch in the Isle of Arran in 1788, Archibald Cook himself had experienced Christian conversion during evangelical revivals in the southern end of the island. It is said Cook was popular with the ordinary people who found him sympathetic and approachable. Cook’s preaching was said to be ‘searching’ (challenging) and ‘experimental’ (experience-focused).  Of his first charge it is recorded – ‘His Caithness ministry in the bilingual missionary charge of Bruan-Berriedale also affected thousands of seasonal Herring fishermen from the west Highlands and the Isle of Lewis, for whom he organised Gaelic services in Wick.’  It is also recorded that this resulted in ‘the new wave of evangelical ideas in places like Lewis and Skye’.

In 1837 Cook moved to Inverness after part of the East Church there left it to create a new ‘North’ charge in the town; they followed Cook into the Free Church of Scotland at the Disruption of 1843 but saw him leave for Daviot in 1844.

Local historian, the late Andrew Cumming of Farr (1930–2003), takes up part of the story of Archibald Cook as it relates to Strathdearn  –

‘It is not generally known but the wishes of the people of Strathdearn helped to alter history by their strong adherence to Mr Cook whom they desired to be their Minister. The Heritors (the lairds) wanted another man. But the people stuck out and the case went to law; the people lost the case which was rank injustice and it was the injustice that was the final spark that set the blaze of the Disruption when almost half of the Ministers, Elders, Members and Adherents of the Church of Scotland left the church and formed the Church of Scotland, Free or as it has been known, the Free Church.’

Andrew Cumming further records of Archibald Cook –

‘He was much beloved and quite a few prophecies of his day are now fulfilled. He said that though the church then was packed to the door (it seats 950) the day would come when the grass would grow on the path up to it and on the cracks of the doorstep and this we all can see. He said, too, that the day would come when there would not be a gate on the Duntelchaig road. This too we can see: cattle grids are now there instead. He said the day would come when Strathnairn would be nothing but trees and water and the Gospel would not be read or sung from one end to the other. This, in part, seems to be coming.’

Cumming also tells a very interesting story which reveals something of the compassion and wisdom of Archibald Cook –

‘There was a man called Seumas Gorach (Silly James) but he was very pious and was always in church whenever possible. He lived alone near the manse and the minister, I think it was Mr Cook, was very good to him. He asked if he could “come forward to the Tables” (that is take communion) – a big step even for the very pious then and even now. The minister said that he could but he must tell him (the minister) all he saw at “The Tables”. Well, Seumas went to the Table and the minister later asked what he had seen. Said Seumas, ‘while you were putting out the wine and the bread a beautiful man was there and he put his hand on a head here and there and the people he put his hand on were not at the Tables. When he came to me he said ‘Seamais, a’bhalaich (James, boy or lad) be you a good man until I come for you a year from now’. The minister left Seumas, his heart and eyes full. A year to the day the minister was in his study from where he could see Seumas’s house and on going to see, the minister found Seumas in his long sleep.’

Cook is also said to have rebuked a landlord who tried to evict a farmer suffering from mental problems, by warning him that the day the farmer was expelled would see the landlord leave his own home in a coffin. The farmer was subsequently evicted and the prediction came true. Cook was a vociferous opponent of the Highland Clearances and preached against them from the pulpit. Interestingly, he was also an opponent of the ‘Total Abstinence’ movement (alcohol) which was very strongly supported at the time by some of his contemporaries. He saw ‘The Pledge’ as a moralistic alternative to true conversion – as did many Presbyterian Ministers. He was also, it is reported, opposed to any form of cruelty to animals and strongly promoted their welfare.

For a more detailed study of Cook’s life including his years in Daviot and Moy see the book – ‘One of Heaven’s Jewels by Norman Campbell. See also – ‘Memoir and letters of Rev. Finlay Cook and of Rev. Archibald Cook’ – edited by John Kennedy.

Interestingly, the lady who translated Archibald Cook’s sermons from Gaelic to English was related to my mother Isabella McQueen – Marguerite (May) Dunbar (1908 – 2008). She lived at Invereen a short distance from my childhood home at Tomatin. She and her brother Angie (1910-1997) were, it is said, the last native Gaelic speakers in the area. One day in 1936 Angie was ploughing a field at Invereen (near my mother’s family home at Ruthven) when he struck a large stone object. On investigation the object turned out to be a Pictish stone with clearly marked symbols. ‘The Invereen Stone’ is a Class I incised Pictish stone now on display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. But I digress.

While some today, with what Thomas McLaughlin called ‘a sort of rigid, cold morality’ might mock this, I have no doubt that the vibrant and living faith proclaimed by Archibald Cook was the foundation of an attractive Christianity that made a deep impression on that generation in Strathdearn  – including my forebears.

However, I am also under no illusion that this kind of vibrancy, as is so often the case, as Archibald Cook had indeed predicted, died fairly quickly thereafter – only to be replaced once again by much as before. While there were traces of the former during my childhood – the latter was also well embedded once again. Indeed, during an argument in his church over seating, those attending being so numerous, Cook said the the time would come when so few attended that each person could lie on the seat without touching another! That time has passed long since.

The first concrete connection I can find with my Strathdearn McQueen forebears and the Free Church of Scotland, which was formed in 1843, is on 5 July 1877 when my great-grandfather Hugh McQueen was married in Daviot Free Church (Archibald Cook had died some 12 years earlier in 1865 (2)). The Rev. John MacQueen, conducted the wedding ceremony.

Interestingly, John MacQueen, who came to Daviot in 1867, was also born on Skye (1814) in the parish of Snizort where I now live. An obituary to MacQueen records him as being a ‘native of Uig in Skye – to which he returned frequently’.

There is little doubt also that John MacQueen would have known of blind Donald Munro and the other worthies of Skye instrumental in spiritual revival throughout the island during his lifetime. In common with his predecessor it is recorded of MacQueen – ‘His preaching was richly experimental’.

And so, as I have said,  it was this experimental, vibrant, deep and practical faith that so many of my McQueen forebears embraced.

My maternal grandfather  Alexander (Alex) McQueen (1882 – 1955) was marked as a godly man. He and his wife Jessie (nee Ross) spend their married life at Ruthven, near Moy south of Inverness where Alex farmed. The family worshipped at the MacQueen Memorial Church in Inverness, the minister being the Rev. Ewan MacQueen (mentioned above and in the last post). Ewan MacQueen (3) and his congregation had split from the Free Presbyterian Church in 1936. In 1956 this independent grouping joined the Free Church of Scotland becoming Greyfriars Free Church.

My late aunt, Margaret (McQueen) Adamson, recalled that as a child, on a Sunday afternoon, Alex would gather his family round to teach them the Shorter Catechism or read from one of his favourite books – The Sermons of Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. His favourite Psalm was Psalm 1 which he often sang in its metrical form, part of which reads of the godly man, which was true of the one who sang it –

‘He shall be like a tree that grows
near planted by a river,
Which in his season yields his fruit,
and his leaf fadeth never.’

My earliest childhood memories are in Tomatin Free Church of Scotland. Looking back, two of its ministers had a profound influence on my life – the Rev. Malcolm (Calum) MacRae who was from Kyle of Lochalsh, one time missionary to Peru (and his wife Anabella) and the Rev. Malcolm (Calum) Lamont, also from the North West. What influenced me most was not what they said but how they lived – humble, spiritual, open hearted and kind men who lived Christ.

Calum and Anabella MacRae were lifelong friends of my family – giving us, at one point, rooms at Tomatin Free Church Manse for some months when my parents were, quite heartlessly, made homeless, from the Croft/Farm in which my mothers forebears had lived for many generations. For about a year before his death Calum was blind. I remember the last time I visited him. The atmosphere in the small living room of the house he had built with his own hands in Ardersier was heavenly – the peace and presence of God was so real. I will never forget what he said – this man of God who had studied all his life, (for a time at Dallas Theological Seminary ) built two Bible Colleges in Peru with his own hands and was never never idle –  ‘I have learned more of God in this last year of blindness than I ever did in all these years of study’. He went on to say that he would not exchange his blindness for anything and that he was more than content in his circumstances. He died some months later. These words have remained with me ever since they were spoken and indeed they ultimately set my spiritual life on a completely new course.

Likewise, I have very happy memories of the Rev. Calum Lamont. I specifically recall as a young child being taken to some meetings in Carrbridge in his car. He sang choruses with us for most of the way! Calum was such an unpretentious man. One of the last times I recall seeing him was walking towards me on Union Street in Inverness. He was dressed in his usual black suit and dog collar – but in his hand he held a very large ice cream cone which he was obviously relishing – taking no regard to the passers by who might have thought this somewhat amusing!

O Lord, You are the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You maintain my lot.
The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places;
Yes, I have a good inheritance.

Psalm 16


1 – Soon after moving into the Free Church Manse at Reay, the Rev. Finlay Cook wrote a letter in July 1844, in which he said this –

I am here in a lonely part of the vineyard, but I have a large house, and a good many rooms in it.

The first room I have is “Who can tell?” This is a very large room, but a very cold one, and I would not advise my friends to stay long in it.

The second room I have is “Good hope through grace.” This is a very fine room and I like to sit in it; but through my neglect the robbers come in and put the furniture out of order.

The third room is “Love.” This is a beautiful room, and there is always a fire in it, but I can seldom get access to it.

The fourth room I have is “The secret chamber.” The King Himself sits here and we cannot get in until He opens the door and brings us in, and makes His banner over us to be “Love”.

2 – Cook died in 1865. Later that year his congregation built a nine foot high monument at his grave in Dunlichity churchyard. Part of the inscription reads – ‘A man of great shrewdness, of placid temper, and primitive simplicity of manners; a Christian of a prayerful spirit and an unblemished life ..’

3 – From F.P. Church website – Ewen MacQueen (1866-1949) born October 1866, Camastianavaig, Skye; FP student 1894; Glasgow University 1897; irregular student November 1898; taking services in Fraserburgh and Peterhead 1899; licensed 17th May 1901; ordained and inducted 31st July 1901; Harris 1901-1903; Lairg, Rogart, Dornoch, and Bonar 7th August 1903-1912; Kames 22nd August 1912-1919; Inverness 2nd April 1919-1938; Moderator of Synod July 1907, 1928, 1933; connexion severed 1938; died 27th November 1949; buried Tomnahurich Cemetery, Inverness.

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