Tag Archive: Arisaig


AMDG

English: View to Eigg. from Sleat, Isle of Sky...

The Island of Eigg is part of the Inner Hebrides

There is an archetypal story of the flower or plant that is very rare but exceedingly beautiful, or has mystical healing powers. In order to pluck this treasure you have travel to a remote spot, a high mountain perhaps or a lost island to locate it. The Church of St Donan on the Isle of Eigg feels like the ecclesial equivalent of that magical flower or plant. The Isle of Eigg has a population of 88, mostly nominal Catholics and the parish is served here from Arisaig, which means weather permitting (it’s a one hour boat ride) the get mass once a month. So two of us set out yesterday not knowing what to expect. What we found was truly a rare flower, overlooking the stunning Bay of Laig. There has been no resident priest on Eigg since the fifties, so a sporadic service from nearby mainland parishes probably accounts for the small active congregation – but as is often the case it is quality not quantity. I was very inspired by their commitment and their plans.

When you walk into the church you are hit by the delightful smell of the pine floor. The Church clean and recently renovated is beautiful. Such work is not cheap however, on enquiry theirs was a fascinating story about how the church renovation was paid for. The former priest had left a beautiful painting in the adjoining presbytery (recently demolished as it had fallen into disrepair). In his will he had stipulated that it only be sold to pay for renovation of the church. Removed to Oban and hung in the bishops house – the painting went into a bit of limbo.

St Donan who was massacred with over 50 of his monks by a Pictish Queen in 617

Meanwhile the small and tenacious group of parishioners were fretting about the state of the historic church, exposed to the raw Atlantic winds and harsh winter storms. Recently they heard about the renovation and rededication of the Catholic Church on the neighbouring Isle of Skye. They went to visit to get tips for fund-raising and they were told the best thing to do was to pray to their patronal saint. This they duly did, and the forgotten about painting came back onto the agenda – with one of the final acts of the retiring bishop to get it valued. With the value coming back at between 15,000 – 20,0000 it seemed that they would still fall short by a long way. They kept praying and the painting went up for auction at Sotheby’s two days after the feast of their parish saint. It was sold for nearly £250,000! Mairi, one of the parishioners told me with a beaming smile they are convinced it was due to the intercession of St Donan.

Inside the newly refurbished church

Now their plans are to get more priests visiting the islands to say masses on a more regular basis. They are even considering raising money to build a small chalet next to the church for the visiting priests. Meanwhile however they will be treated to island hospitality! So if you know any priests looking for a week away – in a beautiful spot – with wonderful walking, fishing, sea kayaking opportunities please tell them to contact Mairi at the following address.

Mairi Mackinnon , Maranatha

7 Cleadale , Isle of Eigg, PH42 4RL

Of course all arrangements should also be made through the Parish priest, Fr Andrew Barrett, the Parish Priest at Arisaig whose takes responsibility for the parish on Eigg. I left Eigg inspired by their story and keen to help them. A small but incredibly committed group of faithful. They are not asking for money but simply for priests so they can practise their faith… let’s try and help them!

Arriving for mass on a quad bike

AMDG

Many of the Catholic parishes in the Highlands of Scotland were also ‘crofts’ – which allowed the priest to support himself and the parish by living off the land. A croft is a small free-hold of land which allows sustainable living. As communities have got wealthier, the need for the parish to sustain a croft has diminished. However I now in many places the vestiges continue. I have had the joy the last few years to go to the Outer Hebridean island of South Uist for a few weeks supply in the summer at this parish click here.  The priest still has his own flock of sheep, real not metaphorical, and last summer I was presented with my own lamb, butchered and prepared by the parish shepherd!  Here in Arisaig  the priest keeps over 40 chickens, and ably assisted by the wonderful Winnie (left) we have a regular supply of ‘holy eggs’ which parishoners pick up and are enjoyed at breakfast. I have really enjoyed feeding the chickens with Winnie and learning about poultry-care.

Even better of course is enjoying the fruits of their labour. The parish house is equipped with a magnificent double egg-cup – first time I have seen one!  Not only does it allow you to be greedy – but also to compare tastes. Today I tried the light blue shelled egg along side a Polish chickens classic brown colour egg.  The Pole edged it slightly – with one of the richest yolks I have every enjoyed. It is true that free-range tastes much nicer.

There is a serious point – the growing movement of eating locally sourced and in-season products. Not only does it support the local economy, the food is healthier and tastier!  Scotland seems to be leading the way with this and the influential Fife Diet.  Asking local people to sign-up to eating food from the region of Fife, for a year,  and to monitor their progress and share their experience. The project has developed from a voluntary network into a funded body and in its development has changed from a small amount of people dedicated to eating ‘from Fife’ for a year, to a much larger network of people trying to re-localise more generally and to explore what sustainable food might be. It has won awards for ethical consumption.  Seeing the parishioners donate money and pick up their eggs  on Sunday was very inspiring – particularly as the younger contribute a bit more so the older folk can get their eggs very cheaply.  This could be a great idea for other parishes to take up!

AMDG

Arisaig – just to make you jealous ….

I am spending an unexpected week up in the West Highlands of Scotland in a beautiful place called Arisaig, helping out with a supply for the parish.  I am relishing the beautiful blue seas,  white / silver beaches and a welcome re-acquaintance with the sun ( I just saw on the news Edinburgh only had 1.6hrs of sun shine the first 10 days of July!).  Another great part of being up in the ‘remote’ highlands is that there is very little light pollution up here – so the nights can be very dark – perfect if you are an enthusiastic stargazer like me. There is nothing like spending an hour – in a comfortable spot, wrapped up warmly to gaze at the immensity of the heavens, counting shooting stars, identifying constellations, working out asterisms within the constellations,  squinting and trying to split binary stars with binoculars.  Planet spotting is great fun too – especially with the new apps on smartphones that effectively give you a portable planetarium.  Of course the planets do not generate light (unlike stars) but reflect the light from our star, the Sun, back to us.  I learnt that the technical term for the amount of light a celestial body reflects is Albedo and it is low for the Earth, as we reflect only about 0.36 percent of the light that comes in. The Moon is a bit better though and this week we can get the chance to see ‘Earth-shine’ reflected on the moons surface.

Earth Shine and the Old Moon in the New Moons arms – coming soon to a sky near you!

This week, everywhere, a new Moon is rising giving us a chance to bathe in this Earthshine, the light from the Earth that illuminates the Moon.  Right now is the perfect time to look for this enchanting phenomenon.  So if you look at the photo to the left – you will see a  new moon with about 10%  positioned so the sunlight hits it and bounces down to Earth (the bright bit).The rest of  the Moon, however, is positioned just right for the light from the sun to hit the Earth, bounce to the Moon, and come back down to the Earth again (the greyer 90%). That’s why we see, “The Old Moon in the New Moon’s arms.”  The best time to see it is just around sunset  when the reflected Earthshine is brightest.

Happy moon spotting!