By Alasdair Roberts:
Having established a residence in Morar, and conscious of his tenants moving westward, Simon Lord Lovat decided that the time had come to provide ‘a more suitable place of worship than the former inconvenient and unsightly chapel at Bracara.’ The site he chose lay at the foot of Cruach Bheoraid looking across to the islands. Then on 6 September 1887, while out shooting with the Mackintosh of Mackintosh, Lovat had a heart attack and died on the hill. His intentions were carried forward with full vigour by the widowed Lady Alice. Father Walker’s log for 1888 emphasised local discontent: ‘In April the Lord Lovat Memorial Church was begun by Lady Lovat at her own expense. The times were bad and the contractor, Mr Michie, took advantage of the circumstances of the people and paid the labourers at 14/-per week, dearly earned. The most of the stone for the building was taken from the Kinlochmorar Quarries. Boats were paid for carriage at the rate of 5/- and 6/- per day. The people were displeased with this payment.’ Paul Galbraith assembled all the available detail, much of it from family sources. Remarkably Muriel the youngest daughter, who was a Sister of Charity aged 104 at the time of the 1989 centenary, remembered men wheeling barrow-loads from boats. Grey basalt was rowed down the loch’s twelve miles to be dressed on site by the mason Archibald Clachair MacLellan of Mallaig.
A Fraser from the main Lovat estate in Strathglass did most of the joinery. The spectacular roof which from inside resembles an upturned boat was raised by Messrs MacNab. This firm no doubt also slated the tower. It recalls the monastic round towers of Ireland, especially Glendalough, although the church’s style of architecture is Early English. All of the 350 sittings were taken for a High Mass to mark the opening and many people were unable to find seats. The Gaelic sermon of Bishop Angus MacDonald (who grew up at Borrodale in Arisaig) passed over the heads of lords and ladies in the front pews whose thoughts may have wandered to the prospect of luncheon at Morar Lodge. Along with local people they returned for a second service at six o’clock.
Facing the congregation to say Mass in English was a revolutionary change following the Second Vatican Council. Canon Ewen MacInnes, who came to Morar in 1968, ‘did not hurry it.’ The present altar with the Last Supper under it in relief was put in during the incumbency of Fr John Archie MacNeil who died in the sacristy in 1993. Morar worshippers look towards two stained-glass windows honouring St Columba (Columcille) and St Margaret of Scotland. Designed by John Duncan, artist of the Celtic Revival. Windows in the south wall were donated by local people. One commemorates Canon John MacNeill, the army chaplain who survived his wounds at Paschendaele to serve Morar for many years. In recent times a stained-glass tribute to St Cumin was added to the trefoil window by Martin Farrelly who also worked on Canna. He learned his skills at Pluscarden Abbey.
Though a good deal less grand than St Cumin’s, St Patrick’s in Mallaig is also more church than chapel. It was designed by the visionary Catholic architect Reginald Fairlie. He linked church-building with pilgrimage, walking to sites from his home in Fife. Fairlie often slept outdoors, especially at journey’s end when he woke at dawn to contemplate what was to become a new place of worship. An associate at 7 Ainslie Place in Edinburgh (Fairlie’s residence as well as the firm’s office) observed: ‘Nothing seemed to be too difficult to him. Churches were born during the night. As a draughtsman he was unique. The way he was able to create a chef d’oeuvre with the minimum of lines was uncanny.’