Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Alexander MacColl

(This obituary originally appeared in the Inverness Courier and was later published in a small book called Highland Clergymen.)

The Rev. Alexander MacColl, Free Church minister of Lochalsh, died on the 22nd of January 1889. Mr MacColl was one of those influential clergymen of the good old school who attained eminence throughout the Highlands by their strong individuality, their earnest devotion, and the power and fervour with which they used their native Gaelic in addressing the hearts and experiences of their countrymen. Mr MacColl was best known in the West Highlands, where he held a position similar to that of Dr Aird in Sutherland and Ross, or of the late Dr Mackay in the neighbourhood of Inverness. For many years, in the time of the late Mr Sutherland, he assisted at the Communion services in connection with the Free East Church, Inverness; but to the younger generation in this quarter his presence was not so familiar. All who knew him personally were deeply attached to him, and speak of him with the greatest affection and esteem. His death at the age of seventy-five was probably due to the excessive labours of his early manhood, which undermined even his vigorous and elastic constitution.

Mr MacColl was a native of Lochcarron, born while the century was young, and baptised by the Rev Lachlan Mackenzie, a name still held in reverence in the Highlands. His father, who was a native of Appin in Argyllshire, acted as sheep-manager at New Kelso in Strathcarron. Alexander was educated at the parish schools of Glenelg and Fort William, and attended the Universities of Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh, passing his last session under Dr Chalmers in the New College. Previous to being licensed, he taught the parish school of Uig, in the Island of Lews, from which he had to retire at the time of the Disruption. On receiving licence in 1844, he was appointed to take charge of Lochcarron, Applecross and Shieldaig, then without a settled minister connected with the Free Church. In this wide district he laboured with untiring zeal, nearly all the population in the three parishes being under his pastoral supervision. In making his circuit from place to place he became intimately acquainted with the people, and large congregations attended his ministry. Seeing the necessities of the district, Mr MacColl remained at his post for eight years, refusing repeated calls that came to him from other places. His work was accompanied by a religious revival, and by improvement in the habits and customs of the people. Taking a lively interest in education, he succeeded in obtaining a first-class teacher for Jeantown, at which school a number of young men who now occupy important positions received their early education. 

In 1852, Mr MacColl was settled in the extensive parish of Duirinish, in Skye, where he laboured for eighteen years. Here also there was a revival under his ministry. From Duirinish he was translated in 1870 to Fort Augustus and Glenmoriston, which then formed a united parish, and which had long enjoyed the services of Rev. Mr. Macbean, who was also an influential Highland clergyman. In this place Mr MacColl remained for seven years; but now in declining life he felt that the charge of such an extensive district to be a tax upon his strength. He perceived that instead of one, the parishes required the services of two ministers (which they now have). Accordingly, in 1877, he accepted a call to Lochalsh, where he spent the last eleven years of his laborious life. Though his health was failing for some years, he continued to preach till within a few Sabbaths of his death. His flock were greatly attached to him, and sincerely mourn his loss.

In personal appearance Mr MacColl resembled the late Dr Macdonald, of Ferintosh; and his pulpit style, both in matter and manner, also recalled that famous preacher. In his early days Mr MacColl excelled in earnest and powerful appeals to his hearers; but as time went on, he dealt more in doctrine and personal experience. He possessed a splendid voice, which in the open air could be heard at a long distance. At communion seasons his services were greatly sought for and appreciated. Though a good English preacher, he was, of course, at his best in Gaelic; it was in that language, indeed, that he could be describes as a true pulpit orator. The fruit of his work was outwardly most apparent in Lochcarron and Duirinish. In his latter days he became more of a student; gathering in less perhaps, but building up with unfailing gentleness and wisdom. His mental gifts were of a high order; and with all his natural fervour, the basis of his mind was solid and masculine. At the University he excelled in mathematics. It is scarcely necessary to say that his theology was of the Puritan type, but it was no mere echo of the views of other men. He was a good Hebrew scholar, and had a wide knowledge of Church history.

A friend who knew him well says – ‘Mr MacColl was a man of sound judgement and wise in counsel. In private intercourse he was one of the most amiable of men. Every one loved him, and children were specially fond of him. He took a great interest in young men, and encouraged those whom he believed to be suited for the ministry. As a companion he was always pleasant, agreeable, and instructive, and without obtruding his piety he was able to guide the conversation to serious matters. Though unmarried, he was eminently social. His hospitable manse was ever open to rich and poor. Every one who came was welcome; and to those in distress he gave prompt and generous relief. Young ministers found him a constant and affectionate friend. Mr MacColl adhered to the principles of the Free Church in their original integrity, opposing Union and Disestablishment. He was fond of quoting an expression of Lord Moncrieff, that the Disruption fathers never contemplated destruction, but reform. His memory will long be cherished by Highlanders alongside that of the late Dr Kennedy and the late Dr Mackay. 

Mr MacColl belonged to a type that is fast passing away. He was one of the last of a race of ministers who left their mark upon Highland character. ‘The old order changeth, giving place to new,’ but those who imagine that the old was feeble or unsuited to its time are entirely mistaken. In a broader sphere, mingling with a larger world, men like Mr MacColl would have attained distinction, and left a more abiding reputation. But they served their generation in the place which they occupied, and no man can seek a better record.

On Tuesday, the 29th of January, the remains of Mr MacColl were interred in the church-yard at Lochalsh, which is situated three and a-half miles from the Free Church Manse. An earnest desire had been expressed by many members of the congregation that the remains should be interred in proximity to the church, but the friends of the deceased decided that the remains should be laid in the public church-yard. The funeral was very largely attended by both clergymen and laymen, showing the high respect and esteem in which the deceased was held in Lochalsh and the neighbouring districts. Representatives were present from Skye, Gairloch, Poolewe, Applecross, Shieldaig, Lochcarron, Kintail, Glenshiel, Glenelg, Glen-Urquhart, and Fort Augustus. The Rev Dr Aird, Moderator of the Free Church General Assembly, conducted a short funeral service in Gaelic in the church, in presence of a crowded congregation. The coffin was laid in the grave amid symptoms of profound sorrow, many of those present shedding tears. By his will Mr MacColl left a sum of £250 to establish a bursary in connection with the Synod of Glenelg, for students who hold the original principles of the Free Church as at the Disruption.

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