Shandon church family of ministers

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A FAMILY which had a home at Shandon for nearly a century included some of the most gifted churchmen that Scotland has ever produced.

The MacLeod family from Fiunary, overlooking the Sound of Mull, gave more than 550 years of ordained service to the Church.

The family produced six Moderators of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, seven Doctors of Divinity, two Deans of the Chapel Royal, two Deans of the Most Ancient and Noble Order of the Thistle, and four Royal Chaplains.

More recently, it included the founder of the world-famous Iona Community.

Local historian W.C.Maughan wrote in “Annals of Garelochside” (1897): “Fiunnery, where lived the well-known family of MacLeods, who have given so many eminent scions to the Church of Scotland, is one of the prettily embowered villas on the Shandon shore, and was the loved abode of Dr Norman MacLeod.”

The spelling of the property is usually Fuinary, derived from a place in the parish of Morvern called Fiunary (right — an early 20th century image).

The family story begins at Swordale, Isle of Skye, where Donald MacLeod lived in the early part of the 18th century. In those days, when Highland society still operated along traditional lines, he was quite highly placed.

Swordale lay in the heart of the Clan MacLeod territory, and Donald held the position of Armourer to the 19th Chief of the Clan MacLeod. He was referred to as “An Gobhain Mor”, which translates as “The Great Smith”, a reference to both his physical strength, and his skill in armour and weapons.

He was also tacksman of several of the farms that were possessed by the Chief. At that time, the term “tacksman” amounted to today’s estate manager.

Donald was married to Anne Campbell, of a prominent family, and one of their children was to become the Rev Dr Norman McLeod (1745-1824), who was born at Duirnish, Skye.

Norman went on to become minister of Morvern parish on the mainland beside the Sound of Mull and had his manse there at Fiunary.

He married Jean MacLeod, and they had a family of sixteen children. History is usually silent when it comes to ministers’ wives, but a grandson said of Jean: “She was one of the tenderest and wisest of ministers’ wives. Her husband and children leaned on her at all times.”

One of the sons was the Rev Dr John MacLeod, and he succeeded his father as minister of Morvern in 1824. Another son came to prominence as the Rev Dr Norman MacLeod (1783-1862) (left — Creative Commons Licence CC by NC).

There are some similarities with his brother John, in that both became Doctors of Divinity, served terms as Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and became Deans of the Chapel Royal, but Norman who came to be the better known of the two.

Norman served as parish minister successively at Campbeltown, Campsie and St Columba’s Gaelic Chapel, Glasgow, but in addition he took on many other roles.

While his calling meant that he lived well away from the Highlands and Islands, he kept closely in touch with what was happening.

Many of his congregation in Glasgow were poor people from these areas, displaced by the social upheavals of the later 18th and the 19th centuries, and on whose behalf he worked tirelessly.

He was instrumental in founding a scheme to provide basic education in remote parts of the Highlands and Islands, places where education was otherwise almost out of reach.

He became known as “Caraid nan Gaidheal”, which translates as “Friend of the Gael”, because of his ability to be even-handed in his attitude to emotive subjects such as the Highland Clearances, in full swing in his day.

He was able to sympathise with many landowners, who had made every effort to retain the people on their land, but equally, he was outspoken whenever he perceived injustice and oppression were being served.

He wrote the lyrics of the well-known air “Farewell to Fiunary”, composed in tribute to those forced to leave the land of their forefathers.

Morvern as a district lost much of its population. The brutal reality was that set against a background of population increase, it became more and more difficult to sustain a viable economy.

However, the human cost of change was huge, and there were many harrowing tales.

Norman was of a strong literary bent, and compiled several books, one of them “A Dictionary of the Gaelic Language”, co-authored with another man. He was also involved with several periodical publications.

He married Agnes Maxwell, who lived across the water from Fiunary, at Aros, Mull, and they had eleven children. She was a Maxwell of Newark, in what became Port Glasgow. A younger son of the laird reputedly found himself compelled to flee during the unsettled times of Graham of Claverhouse.

Agnes’s father, James Maxwell, was Chamberlain of the Duke of Argyll’s estates on the Island of Mull.

She came from a family of poets, and she composed the lyrics of what was to become a rousing folk song, “Sound the Pibroch”.

Norman was the first in the family to describe a journey beside the Gareloch, and over time was to create a home there. He passed that way on his way to begin advanced studies in Glasgow.

His account sheds light on travelling conditions and life generally at the time. He does not give the date of his journey, apart from it being in November, but it was probably around the turn of the 19th century, when aged about seventeen. He was with his father and another man.

The plan was to make the journey on horseback. The first stage, the ferry run across the Sound to Mull, went smoothly, but they were detained for two days until bad weather relented enough to allow the passage from Auchnacraig, near Duart, across to the island of Kerrera.

From there, it was a short ferry trip to the mainland, near Oban. When they arrived there, the horses required to be shod, but they lost a day since they were forced to wait until the blacksmith sobered up.

Their southward journey took them by Taynuilt to Taychreggan, across Loch Awe to Port Sonachan, and overland to Inveraray. The next stage was by the military road to Arrochar, where they stayed at the inn, and visited the local minister , the Rev John Gillespie, whom Norman senior knew from his own student days.

As it was Saturday, the Sabbath saw them remain at Arrochar until Monday, when they progressed by Loch Long side to the Gareloch.

Norman wrote: “At that time there were but one or two houses on the shore of the Gair Loch, but now studded with villas on both sides, and little did I expect that I should ever possess a cottage there.”

There was a detour to the Rosneath Peninsula, to allow Norman and his father to cross over to Greenock, where they spent the night at his grand-uncle’s house. Back at the Gareloch, the journey by Helensburgh and on to Glasgow passed without incident.

As Norman remarked in his account, which was actually dictated to a daughter shortly before his death, the journey took ten days, which he said could now be done in twice that number of hours.

His return journey, solo and on foot, at the end of the session was more eventful.

He set off from his lodgings near Glasgow Cross on the evening of May 1, with twenty shillings in his pocket, and carrying a bundle on his back containing two shirts and two pairs of stockings. In his hand he held a stout staff of oak.

Drenched to the skin on arrival at Dumbarton, a good fire at the inn helped him dry out, but the garret apartment where he slept was tenanted by rats, leading to a restless night. A 6am start saw him on the road to Helensburgh.

On the way he met a man with a “beautiful English terrier” at heel, and he was persuaded to buy the little animal — the price was half-a-crown, or one eighth of what he had started with.

The man gave him a cord to restrain the dog, but he told him that once he was well out of sight, the terrier would happily stay with his new owner.

Norman dutifully followed the instructions, but before he had gone far, he heard “a loud and peculiar whistle”. This was of course the signal for the dog to race off and rejoin his master.

To use Norman’s own term, he had been “swindled”.

Another incident followed before he came to the ferry at Portincaple. He found himself joined by a young man, who like him, was heading in the direction of Inveraray.

Before reaching the ferry, the new-found companion wanted to stop for refreshment, most likely at the old inn at Whistlefield, which at that time was a humble thatched building used by drovers.

It transpired that the young man did not have the money to pay for his drink, angering the landlord, but Norman saved the day and paid on his behalf.

As he put it, he found his new friend “an amusing young fellow”, and besides, he was glad of company, as he had never before taken the hill route over to Lochgoilhead and beyond.

Similarly, he was happy to pay for both of them on the crossing from Portincaple to Mark. Onwards they went, arriving in due course at St Catherines on Loch Fyne, for the next ferry crossing to Inveraray.

Once in the town, the young man asked Norman to wait at the inn, while he checked with his mother that it would be all right for his companion to spend the night at her house. He waited . . . and waited.

He asked the landlord the name and address the young man had quoted, and he was assured that both were “entirely fictitious”. Matters thereafter took a turn for the better, and indeed several people helped him before he safely arrived back home.

At some point, the Rev Dr Norman MacLeod (1783-1862) built, or acquired, the Shandon mansion Fuinary.

In May 1848 his eldest son, also Norman, came to stay for a respite, after being laid low by overwork. This third generation Norman (1812-1872), like his father and grandfather, became a Rev Dr Norman MacLeod.

The led to plenty of scope for confusion so the second Norman is frequently described as “the elder”, while his son is referred to as “the younger”.

To muddy the waters even more, there were yet more Rev Norman MacLeods in the wider family.

The Norman who came to recuperate in 1848 is sometimes described as the most gifted of the family, and he was reckoned one of the most powerful orators of his day.

He was minister at Loudon, Dalkeith and then Barony Church, Glasgow, and it was while at Dalkeith that he came to Garelochside, and he left some fascinating glimpses into his time there.

“How beautiful is everything here!” he wrote. “I have been yearning here for quiet retirement — I got it yesterday.”

During his stay, he enjoyed what he called steeple-chases, effectively cross-country hikes.

On one outing, he found himself in Glen Fruin: “In the midst of sovereign hills, the silence is most becoming,” he wrote.

He had brought with him a volume of Shakespeare “but even he began to be too stiff and prosy — the ferns, the water and the cuckoo beat him hollow.”

He climbed to the top of the ridge overlooking the Gareloch and said: “The power of the hills is over me — the great hills of Arran and beyond.”

Norman kept a journal, published and edited after his death by one of his brothers, the Rev Dr Donald MacLeod. It provides a remarkable insight into his innermost thoughts and feelings, sometimes very frankly expressed.

He always seems to have put heart and soul into whatever he did — but whether this total commitment contributed to the bouts of recurring ill-health that he suffered for the last sixteen years of his life is unclear.

Like his father, his calling meant that he was far from the Highlands, but also like him, he possessed a keen appreciation of the issues there.

From the age of twelve, he went to live with his grandparents in Morvern, to ensure a thorough grounding in the life and culture there.

At the Barony, he had some 67,000 people in his parish, many of whom were displaced from the Highlands. He did his level best to help them wherever possible, even helping some to find employment.

Appointed to be one of the Queen’s Royal Chaplains in 1857, he came to be in great demand, not only by the monarch, but also by other members of the Royal Family. Regularly commanded to attend Her Majesty at Balmoral, he was frequently there in spring and autumn.

He had the ability to provide the Queen with great comfort and companionship, especially through private audiences. On one occasion, she busied herself at a spinning wheel, while he read aloud Burns’s poems, like Tam o’ Shanter.

Whether the Royal Family were aware of his increasingly fragile health is not known, but on one occasion in 1870, the Prince of Wales commanded his presence at Dunrobin.

He recorded in his diary: “Left at 7am by train for Dunrobin, 220 miles away — drawing room, 1.30am, smoking room, 3.30am. Left for train 6am — reached Glasgow 6.30pm”.

Two days later, he confided in his journal: “Again, dead beat, and went to see my old mother, the first time for six weeks.”

Like other family members, Norman was an accomplished writer, and was author of a number of books, still in demand to this day.

He lived to mark his 60th birthday in June 1872, but he passed away just a fortnight later.

For some time before, he had been strongly urged to avoid fatigue, and younger brother George forbade him from tiring himself out. However, he seems to have found it hard to comply, and many people continued to make demands on him.

He married, and one son, John Maxwell Macleod, became the first Baronet of Fiunary, while his son in turn, George Fielden MacLeod (right), became the Very Rev Lord MacLeod of Fuinary, going down in history as the founder of the Iona Community.

The esteem in which Norman was held by the people of Glasgow is demonstrated by an imposing statue of him, by the celebrated sculptor John Mossman, which stands in Cathedral Square in the city. It is thought to be a first-class likeness of him.

The Shandon house passed in 1860 to a younger brother of the third Norman, George Husband Baird MacLeod, born in 1828. In a family so closely associated with the Church of Scotland, George was an exception as his career was in medicine.

George distinguished himself in his chosen field, and he was a senior surgeon in a hospital at Smyrna during the Crimean War.

This war became a byword for disaster from start to finish, but it did propel Florence Nightingale to fame in championing better nursing care for the sick and injured. George would certainly have seen the worst effects of war in his time there.

Back home, he became involved in lecturing, and in 1869 became Professor of Surgery at Glasgow University, when he replaced Sir Joseph Lister. He was awarded a knighthood in 1887.

He married Sophia Houldsworth, daughter of William Houldsworth, a Glasgow merchant, and they had five children.

As well as Fuinary, there was another family home at Woodside Crescent, Glasgow, and it was there that George passed away in 1892. Sophia lived at Fuinary until her own death in 1924., and their eldest son, Norman Maxwell MacLeod, also lived there.

With the death of Sophia, the property passed to another son, the Rev William Houldsworth MacLeod.

Born in 1863, and educated at the Universities of Cambridge and Glasgow, he spent his ministry at Buchanan parish in Stirlingshire.

When Shandon War Memorial was unveiled in front of the church in 1919, he co-dedicated it with the minister from Row (Rhu). When Shandon Church was converted to private housing in 1986-87, the Memorial was moved to a new site at Gullybridge.

William took up permanent residence at Fuinary when he retired, and he died there in 1935. The main house then lay empty for some years, which appears to have marked the end of the family’s involvement with the property.

The family had a number of other connections with the district. Two unmarried sisters of the Norman MacLeod who first came to Shandon, Grace Morrison and Robina Catherine, set up home at Row.

Norman’s younger brother, John, who succeeded his father as minister at Morvern in 1824, had a son, who was to become another Rev Norman MacLeod (1838-1911), minister at St Stephen’s Church, Inverness.

This Norman, who also became a Moderator of the General Assembly, married in 1863 Helen Augusta Colquhoun, a niece of Sir James Colquhoun of Luss, tragically drowned with others on Loch Lomond in December 1873.

There is a further local connection in that Norman MacLeod of the Barony was a staunch friend of the Rev John MacLeod Campbell, who was deposed from his living at Row Church in 1831, in what became famously known as the Row Heresy Case.

Although Campbell was cast out by the General Assembly of that year, he was not without friends in the ministry. One was the Rev Robert Story, minister at Rosneath, and it may have been at least partly because of their friendship that Campbell later settled down at Achnashie, Rosneath.

Another good friend was Norman MacLeod, who at the time of Campbell’s death in February 1872, wrote: “Dr Campbell was the best man, without exception, that I have ever known. This is my first, most decided, and unqualified statement.”

The families were also linked through marriage, as a descendant of Norman MacLeod and Anne Maxwell married a son of John MacLeod Campbell, whose middle name stemmed from a marriage with a MacLeod of Raasay, as opposed to those of Skye or Fuinary.

The Iona Community was founded in Glasgow and Iona in 1938 by George Fielden MacLeod, the third Norman’s grandson, who became Lord MacLeod of Fuinary.

His father, John Maxwell Macleod, was a successful Glasgow businessman and Unionist MP who became the first Baronet of Fuinary.

George, heir to the baronetcy, was educated at Winchester and Oxford University. When World War One began  in 1914, he joined the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, rising to the rank of Captain.

He saw active service in Greece, but After falling ill with dysentery, he was sent back to Scotland to recuperate, after which he was posted to Flanders. He saw action at Ypres and Passchendaele, for which he was awarded the Military Cross and the French Croix de Guerre for bravery.

His experience of total war profoundly affected him and led him to train for the ministry. He became assistant minister at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, then Padre of Toc H in Scotland then associate minister at St Cuthbert’s Church, Edinburgh.

In 1930, he become minister at Govan Old Parish Church, and he was a visionary in the context of the poverty and despair of the Depression.

From his dockland parish, he took unemployed skilled craftsmen and young trainee clergy to Iona to rebuild both the monastic quarters of the mediaeval abbey and the common life by working and living together, sharing skills and effort as well as joys and achievement.

This task became a sign of hopeful rebuilding of community in Scotland and beyond. The experience shaped, and continues to shape, the practice and principles of the Iona Community.

In 1957 he was elected Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and ten years later was awarded a peerage, becoming Baron MacLeod of Fuinary in the County of Argyll — the only Church of Scotland minister thus honoured.

He later became the first peer to represent the Green Party. When he died in 1991 The Herald described him as being “possibly the most significant Scot of the twentieth century”.