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.

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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.”

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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).

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

To be continued...

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If you have a story from Helensburgh and Lomond's past or present you think might be suitable for a future Eye on Millig column, email the details to eyemillig@btinternet.com.