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Island Spirituality - Book


Island Spirituality: Spiritual Values of Lewis and Harris

by Alastair McIntosh

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184 pages, £10.00, ISBN 978-1907443459, 2013

As this book is out of print as of 2015, text may be downloaded free in PDF at this link



Alastair McIntosh (b. 1955), author of Soil and Soul, was educated at Leurbost J.S. School and the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway. He holds honorary fellowships at the Centre for Human Ecology, the University of Glasgow and Edinburgh University’s (New College) School of Divinity. A Quaker with Presbyterian roots, he often broadcasts Thought for the Day on BBC Radio Scotland, and has spoken at the World Council of Churches and the Holy Trinity Sergyev Monastery in Russia.

  1. Publisher's publicity leaflet

  2. Background and Contents

  3. Launch Events - autumn 2013

  4. Rare 3rd party resource materials

  5. Online erratum and further reflections

  6. Sample First Chapter (PDF) (the full text is now also free in PDF here)

  7. Purchase Options - retail & trade

  8. Reviews, articles, interviews

  9. Free PDF download of the text (as out of print from 2015)


Background and Contents

Since 2009 my main writing project has been work on Poacher's Pilgrimage, a meditation through the islands of Harris and Lewis that reflects on war, religion and spirituality in our times. Writing it has been a major task, similar to the effort that went into Soil and Soul. I completed the text over a year ago, but my literary agent rightly pointed out that it was far too long for modern reading mores, and contained far too much reflection on religious and spiritual issues that are specialised or specific to the Hebridean Islands.

I didn't know what to do. The local material was just so important to me, having been so central to the community in which I was raised as a child, and I felt it would be important to others too. It addresses issues that are focussed by the two-in-one island of Lewis and Harris, but are actually of much wider theological concern, and especially for Christian theology as it enters its third millennium.

Relief came at just the right time. I was contacted by the Islands Book Trust on Lewis (my home island) and invited to give a public lecture on spiritual matters in Stornoway in October 2012. The lecture went well, and the Book Trust said they would like to publish it. To cut the story short, this became the safety valve through which I was able to release all the highly local and specialist material that I'd drafted for Poacher's Pilgrimage, but which were just too much for it. One book has therefore divided into two, and Island Spirituality is coming out before Poacher's Pilgrimage is finished in what will be its new form.

The launch is scheduled for the Book Trust's conference on Lewis: ‘Slighe Chaluim Chille – Exploring the Life, Legend, and Legacy of St Columba in Ireland and Scotland’, which will take place over 20 - 22 June 2013.

Chapter 1 starts by exploring the island’s spirituality as reflected in its sites of ancient veneration.

Chapter 2 moves to Dutch and Westminster Calvinism, exploring how the Reformation washed upon our island shores.

Chapter 3 looks at how evangelical religion came to Lewis in the 1820s amidst military conscription and clearances, and especially at the role of Lady Hood Mackenzie.

Chapter 4 celebrates the island’s deep spirituality that runs beneath historical vicissitudes, and what it offers us today.

Readers of my previous works may be surprised at how "Christian" this book is. It is a book focussed on the spirituality of the community in which I was raised and educated. I do not recommend it to those who might be averse to Christian thought and practice. Neither can I recommend it to those who might be offended by the suggestion that some aspects of traditional religion were spiritually abusive, and developed as a means of social control administered by the powerful.

Everybody from the island knows that to write about its religion is not an easy or a comfortable task. That, in itself, says something.  It is, however, a task that I have found immensely rewarding and endlessly fascinating. Not least, I believe that the religion of Lewis and Harris provides a living insight into much wider social and political forces that continue, largely at unconscious levels, to shape our world today - especially the Anglo-American world. While this book is about a small island on the Atlantic edge it is, ultimately, not an insular work. That is because I see the island standing both in its own uniqueness and as an icon into the wider human condition and world religious history. Organised religion can be riddled with viscissitude, but In the end, in my experience, what the island most profoundly offers is spiritual depth.

I have written this book not because I expect it to have a wide readership, or to be especially  well received, or to make my fortune (the royalties all go back to the Islands Book Trust). I've written it for three reasons.  I love the island, I love its people who taught me, and I cannot help to love that ground of cosmic Being that, for lack of a less-loaded word, our culture calls "God".

I am very aware that what is offered here is a snapshot of work in progress. The writing of it led to fathoms far beyond my anchor chain. It has raised issues that I will continue to wrestle with as I turn now, over the course of the summer, to try and finalise Poacher's Pilgrimage (now published, as of June 2016) covering some of the same ground but in a story-telling way, and aimed towards a much less specialised readership. 


Purchase Options

This book (RRP £10) was published in 2013, reprinted in 2014, and the Islands Book Trust (IBT) have now sold out. It's too much of specialist interest to justify another reprint. As of 2015, I have a handful of remaining copies that can be ordered via Amazon - click here. However, with the OK of the Island's Book Trust, I've now put the full PDF online. This can be downloaded and shared for free, at this link.


Rare 3rd Party Resource Materials

In the course of my research I had to dig out rare materials that are out of print and mostly out of copyright (or never copyrighted in the first place), and have been privately supplied or otherwise hard to find.  As these may be of use to others who are interested in Hebridean spirituality I've scanned them into the PDF files below, as well as linking some key material (such as the Carmina) on other websites. I doubt any of this material has commercial value, but if anybody has any objection to my having posted these files, or is aware of family members who would wish me to seek explicit permission, then please let me know.

I have rendered these files searchable using an OCR program. This means that specific terms like "Barvas" or "Free Church" can quickly be found within documents, but in some cases scanning errors or spelling variations may cause such entries to be missed.

Should you have found one of these files via a Google search you may have been surprised to see that the search query response sometimes gives the appearance of listing me as the author. This is something that Google wrongly assumes because the files are stored on my website. There nothing that I can do to prevent it, and the Properties of each file will reveal that every effort has been made to assert the correct authorship (in the PDF, click on File / Properties to view this).


1. The Rev Murdo Macaulay's Aspects of the Religious History of Lewis (1980) (14 MB file)

2. Arthur Geddes (son of Patrick Geddes) on Isle of Lewis & Harris spirituality and religion, 1955

3. The Rev Alexander Macleod of Uig and Rogart, Diary and Sermons, 1925

4. The Rev Alexander Macleod of Uig and Rogart - Campbell's profile in Disruption Worthies, 1886

5. Angus of the Hills & Callum the Seer, from The 'Men' of the Lews, 1924

6. Murdo Maclennan, Free Church Precentor of Contin (source of Mainzer's French), obituary, 1899

7. Michael Robson on the churches of North Lewis (in print, but with kind permission)

8. Iain Crichton Smith Real People in a Real Place & Between Sea and Moor, 1996

9. The Napier Commission - Volume 5 - Appendices and Warrants - other 4 volumes at this link.

10. Alexander Carmichael's Carmina Gadelica - first 3 volumes in PDF from Project Guttenberg (each over 10 MB)

a. Carmina Gadelica Volume 1 PDF: http://archive.org/download/carminagadelicah03carm/carminagadelicah03carm.pdf

b. Carmina Gadelica Volume 2 PDF: http://archive.org/download/carminagadelicah04carm/carminagadelicah04carm.pdf

c. Carmina Gadelica Volume 3 PDF: http://archive.org/download/carminagadelicah30carm/carminagadelicah30carm.pdf

d. Carmichael-Watson Project Archive: http://www.carmichaelwatson.lib.ed.ac.uk/cwatson/

11. Dr John Kennedy's The Days of the Fathers in Ross-Shire - this is a Canadian edition with different pagination to the print edition I have used, and lacking the footnotes such as my citation of Gustavus Aird. However, as the fourth edition it has interesting new prefaces - especially to the 2nd edition (pp. x - xvi) commencing: "I anticipated all the censure, and none of the praise, bestowed upon my little book" and going on to address "the choir of scorners" especially with respect to claims of supernatural experience amongst "the Fathers" of Ross-shire. In searching for text strings to find my quoted passages watch out for scanning errors that can cause things to be missed. I recommend downloading the PDF version offered here (13 MB) unless your interconnect connection is slow, in which case use "read online".

12. Press reports of the death and funeral of the Hon Mrs Mary Stewart Mackenzie (Lady Mary), 1862

13. Tom Johntston's Ch. 5 from The History of the Working Classes in Scotland, 1929  (On how the barons double-crossed Knox. Johnston became Secretary of State for Scotland in Churchill's government in 1941). His chapter gives insight into relationships between church and landed power both before and after the Reformation. Andy Wightman first alerted me to this source - it plays a large part in his book, The Poor had no Lawyers)

14. Rachel Barrowman's and Janet Hooper's report, Lewis Coastal Chapel-Sites Survey 2005, University of Glasgow, 2006. An archaeological study of Teampall Pheadair (St Peter's, Suainebost), Teampall Mhealastadh and Tigh nan Cailleachan Dubha (the "temple" and nunnery of Mealastadh, Uig), and Airighean na h-Annaid (Sheiling of the Monastery) and another site on the Shaint Islands).

15. Rachel Barrowman's report, Lewis Coastal Chapel-Sites Survey 2007-8, University of Glasgow, 2008. An archaeological study of Teampall Pheadair (St Peter's, Siadar) and Teampall Eoin (St John's, Bragar). A further report of Rachel's is awaiting publication.

16. Rare recording MP3 file of a woman from the Isle of Lewis preaching, Mary Morrison recorded by the Irish Quaker Charles Lamb, at Loughborough College Christian Union c. 1963. [Sorry - I've temporarily had to remove this due to the space it was taking up - email me if required].

17. Donald J. MacLeod's notes on The Clearances, Parish of Uig, Isle of Lewis, and cemetery records from Gisla, Quebec, 2015  Page 5 states that the Timsgarry clearances in 1826 caused the Rev Alexander Macleod concern that his ministry might be adversely affected. The p. 3 description of the Gisla clearances is particularly heartrending, and most of these accounts were news to me. Donald has given me permission to scan his documents to the web as they were otherwise unpublished.


Erratum & Further Reflections

A wide-ranging work of this nature is bound to contain some errors. If readers would be kind enough to notify me of any they might spot (mail@AlastairMcIntosh.com) I would be most grateful, and will list them here (ouch) and corrections made in any subsequent editions. There were also some typos - probably mainly from my last minute edits after it had been proof checked. I've shown here the ones that make a difference but not minor items like a missing preposition.  Please incorporate any relevant corrections if quoting. The major part of what is given here comprise further reflections as I learn more, review my position on certain points, or respond to reader feedback.

  1. The book's cover photograph. I've been asked where this came from, and there's an interesting story. When I walked through the island in May 2009 I passed by a lochan called Loch an Teine (the Loch of Fire) just on the Harris side of the Lewis-Harris border, on the headwater that flows in to the south end of Loch Langabhat. In October that year I returned with my wife and some of the guys from Leurbost to walk out on the stalker's path up Glen Bhìogadiail (from Aline) to Loch Voshimid. There was an incredible storm with a force 9 gale. Langabhat was in complete spin-drift, and we only ventured out because there were 5 of us together. On the way over I asked Rusty (John Macdonald, the Leurbost blacksmith) why he thought the loch was associated with fire. He said, "Sometimes when you see a place in particular conditions you'll see why it got its name - Gaelic placenames are usually very descriptive." On the way back to the car park I turned to take one last look, and saw this huge shaft of sunburst through a gap in very heavy cloud heading for the loch. I grabbed my camera just in time to take a snap, and it was gone before any of the others could do likewise. I turned to Rusty and said, "As you were explaining!" The photographs of Teampall Eòin in Bragar were taken when I passed through in May 2009 - and all these, on a nothing-special automatic camera. It was Dr Finlay Macleod (Shawbost) who told me of the local tradition that associates it with St John the Baptist as distinct from St John the Evangelist, though as Finlay would often emphasise, most such designations have been the subject of constantly shifting layers of meaning over time.

  2. P. 7 and 92, Purvis should be "Purves".

  3. P. 58, 3rd para. The Stornoway distillery's dates. Based on sources as cited I said that the Stornoway distillery failed within a decade. However, Fred Silver (a former editor of the Stornoway Gazette) tells me that in researching his book, Glimpses of Stornoway, he uncovered documents suggesting that it survived for longer. He tells me that: "On June 23, 1833, the distillery was described by the then factor, Alex Stewart, as 'doing well'.  In 1840, according to a document held by Museum nan Eilean, the distillery was seen as a suitable subject for a school visit. In 1851, Lews Chamberlain John Munro Mackenzie was looking for another site for the works. It was closed and demolished in 1857." Fred also cautions against the tendency of some writers to exaggerate the extent to which landowner schemes were failures.

  4. P. 62 & Note 87 on p. P. 129. Uig 'paganism' and shipwrecking. As I was working on the manuscript I was searching through Martin and Carmichael, trying to find something I'd read that supported Geddes' view that the wrecking of ships in the Hebrides was not a deliberate undertaking. I've since found that I'd been looking in the wrong books. The reference I was seeking is pp. 176-7 of Otta Swire's The Outer Hebrides and Their Legends (Oliver & Boyd, Edinburgh, 1966). Here Swire describes "what was said to be a favourite prayer of the Barra men ... so great was the lack of wood." She gives it in translation: "If ships must in any case perish, do Thou O Lord guide their timber with their tackling and rigging to the Isle of Barra and the Sound of Watersay." Swire's Hebridean folklore collections have a unique timbre and her book about Skye is highly acclaimed by the Gaelic cultural scholar Ronald Black. Her mother used to stay at Stornoway Castle in the days of the Matheson proprietors. Her son is Dr Jim Swire who lost his daughter in the Lockerbie bombing and yet has selflessly campaigned for more transparent justice for Megrahi, who in Swire's assessment, was probably set up.

  5. P. 69, last para. My closing appraisal of Lady Hood Mackenzie. I wrote: "Her real friends were the people. They could always tell a saint when they saw one." However, such lines raise an interesting point of historiography (i.e. how we write history). A friend and reader who is an authority on post-colonial Highland studies has put it to me that in saying this, I have deflated the effectiveness of my own preceding argument about the landed power's use of religion invoking a form of the Stockholm syndrome. I was aware of this danger when I was writing. Was I being sucked in to becoming an apologist? Or was it a decent stance to take given the remarks of Angus "Ease" (p. 60) and the fact that at the end of the day, Lady Mary's sister (while Stewart-Mackenzie was returning from Corfu, just prior to his death) attended the Disruption assembly of 1843 thereby, symbolically on behalf of the family, laying down the power of patronage (p. 68)? For my part, and in the absence of further source material, I just wanted to leave this complicated woman in peace, to give her the benefit of the doubt, and not back her into a posthumous corner. I also felt these lines come up in me with an inner imperative to place them there as her epitaph and to accept not being able to resolve all the seeming contradictions of her life. Since that time I have come across Surtees' biography of Mary's daughter Louisa and while this lowers my appraisal of Stewart-Mackenzie, it leaves unaffected that of his wife (See the extensive additional notes to p. 121, Note 70, below). Perhaps, however, I could more prudently have worded that last line: "Blemishes notwithstanding, they could always tell a saint when they saw one." Additional point: (and sorry, I can't easily put paragraph breaks into this format without screwing up the automatic numbering system) - my said correspondent raised the additional question as to whether the description that I quoted on p. 69 of the size of Lady Mary's funeral might have been an exaggeration on behalf of my source, Alexander Mackenzie. It was a fair question as Mackenzie's portrayal, as I've noted elsewhere in the text, was undoubtedly sycophantic. I've therefore looked in to the matter further by way of contemporary newspaper accounts. Again, these may also be sycophantic (as their tetchiness in dismissing reports of suffering in Sky suggests), but both the Inverness Courier and the Elgin Courier concur that it was a pretty massive funeral - at least 3 miles long. I've put these reports, along with the Inverness Courier's report of her death into a single PDF file along with my other special resource materials - download here. Note that the death notice cum obituary also speaks of her having kept an estimable journal while in India. If that still survives it would be an outstanding source for the swashbuckling biography that awaits the writing.

  6. P. 71, first para. Correction re. my Sgitheanach friend. Delete extraneous comma after "in Chapter 2" as this could be read to suggest that my Sgitheanach friend considers himself to be "Calvinist", which he does not. My apologies for any such confusion.

  7. P. 80, My Friend on Point, para 3. Delete, "However, one night, before his passing, she became aware of a benign presence..." and substitue: "On the night of the day in which he passed away she became aware of a benign presence..." This is an interesting correction. As I was finalising the text I tried several times to telephone the elderly woman in question to check on the timing, but I was unable to get her. I settled for using the less dramatic version. However, when I visited her in June 2013 she confirmed that it happened on the actual night. It brought to mind a paper I read about parapsychological phenomena many years ago - I forget in which journal - but the researchers found that when dramatic out-of-the-ordinary things happen people's memory of them tends to become less dramatic over time, as if there is a tendency not to exaggerate such experiences, but to draw them into conformity with more ordinary constructs of reality.

  8. P. 91, Note 5, para 3. Meanings of anamnesis.  Delete the first two sentences commencing "In the gospels ..." as my etymology is misleading without having given further explanation. Substitute instead: "In the gospels, Eucharistic anamnesis is usually translated, "do this in remembrance of me"; but the Greek is far deeper - more akin to "without amnesia" as in Plato's sense of "memory" (mnemnon = "mindful") as the restoration of the past to an ever-living eternal present."

  9. P. 93, Note 10. Mainzer, Maclennan and "French". I refer to Joseph Mainzer's rendition of "a French tune" as originally collected from Murdo Maclennan for Psalm 65. Elisabeth and Alan Jack of the Mull Gaelic Choir, who sung this at the 1450th St Columba anniversary event in Iona Abbey in May 2013, have put me right: I should have said, "the tune known as French." However, while at it, here are some links for original material now on the web. (Some of these have several blank pages at the front and back.) 1) Mainzer's dissertation including French. 2) Mainzer's Gaelic Psalm Tunes of Ross-shire. 3) Macbean's Fuinn nan Salm.

  10. P. 108, Note 45 - the Calvin reference should be dated 1559, as I used the fifth and last edition of the Institutes, not the 1536 first edition.

  11. P. 121-2, Note 70 etc. Lady Hood Mackenzie & James Stewart - further biography from Victoria SurteesIsland Spirituality was launched prior to the dinner of the Slighe Chaluim Chille conference held in South Lochs in June 2013 and in a short address I spoke about my dearth of sources on Mary Mackenzie (The Hooded Lassie) and the complication in conducing research due to her multiple name permutations. A descendent of the family line was present, Colin Scott Mackenzie who is the retired Procurator Fiscal of Stornoway, and afterwards advised me that additional biographical material on Mary can be found in the biography of one of her daughters, Louisa Lady Ashburton, called The Ludovisi Goddess by Virginia Surtees (Michael Russell Ltd, Salisbury, 1984). The first three chapters of this describe Louisa's childhood and family background. Here are the main points of interest:

    1. Maria or Mary? Lady Mary was indeed originally named Maria (see my p. 48 and its Note 70) - Surtees writes: "Of the Hon. Maria Frederika Mackenzie's childhood (or Mary as she was always called) there is little to tell" (p. 11, note also Frederika with a "k").

    2. Her mother. Was Mary Proby, the only child of Mary Russell (a clergyman's daughter) and the Very Rev Baptist Proby DD, Dean of Lichfield (p. 11). Internet research suggests that Mary Proby died in Edinburgh at the age of 74 in 1829, and it would be fascinating to know if any correspondence survives that would shed light on the mother-daughter relationship with respect to religious formation. Dean Proby's obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine of 1807 (Vol 101, p. 275), describes him as a man "not less admired for the urbanity of his manners than honoured and revered for that religious integrity of principle from which he never swerved." One of his sons was in Bengal, having gone to sea and later been "appointed to a fituation in the Honourable Eaft India Company's fervice."

    3. Scott. Sir Walter Scott, a close friend and admirer, took her as the role model for Ellen in The Lady of the Lake (Chapter 2).

    4. First marriage. First marriage to Admiral Samuel Hood portrayed as loving and happy, with no mention (by Surtees) of any suggestion of dissatisfaction or scandal.

    5. Brahan Seer. The Brahan Seer's prophesies of the fall of the house of Mackenzie were treated by both Lady Mary and Sir Walter as having been predicted prior to, and not antecedent to, the actual events that they purported to anticipate (pp. 7 & 22).

    6. Changing titles. After Sir Samuel's passing she called herself Lady Mackenzie (p. 22), but once remarried to James Stewart, according to Sophia Scott, "she has dropped her ladyship, and is now plain Mrs Stewart Mackenzie" (p. 25).

    7. Stewart and anti-Semitism? James Alexander Stewart, her second husband, is described in generally unflattering and scarcely-disguised anti-Semitic terms by, for example, Carlyle who portrayed him as the "dark-complexioned Whig, lean, bilious, whose face consisted almost wholly of a long hook nose and two huge yellow eyes" (p. 24).

    8. Stewart's maternal grandfather. The father of Stewart's heiress mother Georgiana Simha d'Aguilar was Ephraim Lopez Pereira, or Baron d'Aguilar of Highbury as he preferred to be called. A Sephardic (or Iberian) Jew who began his fortune by gaining a monopoly in the tobacco trade, he left Lisbon for Vienna after the Spanish Wars of Succession and was made a baron of the Holy Roman Empire in 1726 for having lent money to rebuild a palace. He left Vienna for London in the mid-eighteenth century bringing his children and slaves with him where his habits were "the most unnatural, inhuman and degrading" and "his name was a byword for bestiality," keeping prostitutes and the women he seduced, along with their daughters, in his house in Shaftesbury Place; and in Islington, running a yard known as "Starvation Farm" where "he kept some wretched animals, deliberately denying them sufficient food so that they expired of hunger, perished of cold on heaps of dung, or else fed upon each other" (pp. 5-7).

    9. Stewart's inheritance. James Stewart is described as having "a very good fortune" and selling Glasserton estate to finance the virtual bankruptcy of Lady Mary's inherited estates (p. 25).

    10. Landseer rocking it. Landseer (the painter's) view on geo-psychology: "There is a stern sincerity about Highland rocks ... a sort of unadorned truth that you don't find in the rich combinations of the Banks of the Conan where everything is suggestive of comfort and tenderness" (p. 26).

    11. Distilling virtue. Surtees says of Mary Mackenzie and her second husband, James Stewart: "Both were dedicated Whigs and Liberals; among their efforts and achievements were concern for education and Church reform, the founding of a distillery to deter unlawful distilling, and a stern regard for Protestant religious observance" (p. 4).

    12. Brahan Gaelic superstitions. Mary's and James' daughter, Louisa's childhood, is described as having been in Edinburgh, Lewis, "and at Brahan where Gaelic was still more generally the tongue, where superstition, belief in the occult and prophecies were rife and where she was allowed an unconstrained freedom which was to determine her behaviour in future years" (p. 25).

    13. Mary's & Louisa's omnipotence. "On their own territory the Mackenzies were omnipotent and Mary retained and passed on to her daughter the quite unconscious tendency of expecting others to submit to her wishes, though in her this was tempered with a keen intelligence" (p. 11).

    14. Choice of Rugby School. Louisa's brother, Frank, was expelled from Rugby for hitting other boys: "Rugby had been chosen with care by his parents. Arnold [the head teacher] was known to be a supporter of the new Broad Church as well as being a great reformer; religious and moral principles took precedence over all other disciplines. Stewart-Mackenzie had been brought up a Presbyterian and Mary was to range herself with the Free Church of Scotland. Both were exponents of Evangelicalism." (pp. 28-29).

    15. Trevelyan's evangelical disquiet: Surtees' description of Pauline Trevelyan's visit to Stewart-Mackenzie's High Commissioner's Palace in Greece: "The house was admired, also the shrubbery of geraniums ... [and] they were driven by an Albanian coachman 'all gold braiding and white kilt' ... [but] recorded with lesser enthusiasm by this follower of Pusey [of the Oxford Movement] were the Wednesday evening Baptist meetings (involving an early dinner) held in the house by Mr Lowndes, 'this missionary sort of man'. Two months earlier there had been riots, caused, it was rumoured, by unwonted proselytizing. He was said, in the judgement of others, to have great influence on the family for they 'have all an Evangelical twist - he sings psalms, expounds false doctrine, heresy and schism and makes extempore orations, by courtesy called prayers.'" (p. 33).

    16. Stewart's Ionian dismissal: In contrast to what my informant suggested to me (Note 83), Surtees suggests that Stewart-Mackenzie's governorship in the Ionian Islands was not successful, and for the same reasons as in Ceylon. He was recalled to England and dismissed from the post: "The High Commissioner was falling foul of authority at home, largely on account of his policies through his manic evangelizing and and bad temper were also causes for friction" (p. 34). Could it have been that Stewart-Mackenzie overcompensated through his version of evangelicalism for insecurities that may have been introduced through his partly non-Christian and chequered family background as discussed above?

    17. Stewart's passing & Louisa's evangelicalism: He then returned to Corfu to await the arrival of his successor and in the spring of 1843 (the same year as the Disruption), sailed home with his family but became ill and died in Southampton on the way back - possibly from chronic meningitis and/or TB (though given his social and pecuniary embarrassment, one might ponder on other factors). Louisa went back to her mother and she, Mary, sold Lewis (to Sir James Matheson) to cover debts. "Again Brahan provided the home and was the stable background for Louisa till she married.... But though a most devoted and dutiful daughter she was mature for her age, eager for life and determined to ensure that it was led along her own chosen line. Her mother had moved in the aristocratic world [and] Loo found her friends in the same environment and this was to be her course to the end. Religion, of the strongly Evangelical persuasion, was throughout her life an impetus of recurring degree, with occasional forays into the Anglican Church" (p. 35).

    18. Louisa's relationship with F. Nightingale: "Soon after her (Louisa/Loo) return from Corfu she had met Florence Nightingale, who a few years earlier had received 'a call from God'. A friendship had been struck, infatuation had developed such as many romantically minded unmarried women entertained for each other at that time (a tendency to which Loo was never immune) and Florence, the 'beloved Zoe' signed herself 'Ever your dearest life, F. Nightingale', while Loo was 'your truly loving Bird' (p. 35).

    19. Louisa's character and "goddess" descriptor. Virginia Surtees has also written the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry for Loo under her married name, Louisa Caroline Baring (of Barings Bank). She writes: "Many of her [Louisa's] earliest years were spent on the grim moorland island inherited by her mother through the Seaforths.... So faithful were her strong, well-defined features to those of classical nobility that the art historian and critic Anna Jameson credited her with a resemblance to the head of Juno in Rome, the ‘Ludovisi goddess’. Yet, despite her attractions, a streak of pushiness, of ambition, was all too apparent; her emotions were uncontrolled, her capriciousness uncircumscribed, her restlessness inexhaustible. She was romantically inclined, and a readiness to fall in love flourished in conjunction with her eagerness for marriage."

    20. Louisa's eulogy and comparison with her mother. Louisa died of cancer in her 76th year at Kent House, Knightsbridge, 2 February 1903, her finances in chaos, her once "vast fortune" dissipated, the "wandering meteor" being laid to rest in a Highland glen on what had been her own land (p. 185-6 & ONDB). A few years earlier when in ill health Florence Nightingale had written that she "trusted in God that He will raise you up again soon - dearest child of God" (p. 185). Surtees' closing paragraph reads: "If in Louisa was reflected her mother's 'almost lawless spirit of adventure', then surely, at the close of the glen at the foot of rising hills, where the wind sweeps and storm clouds mass, and as so often in her life of contradictions the dark gives place in turn to light, so ardent a spirit would not linger in her massive tomb, free now for some new adventure or some timeless quest, or to make a haven of her lost inheritance, the sea-girt Western Isles" (p. 186).

    21. My appraisal. What I draw from The Ludovisi Goddess largely leaves my appraisal of Lady Mary unchanged, but it hardens my appraisal of Stewart-Mackenzie, and raises questions as to how far the family's evangelical zeal on Lewis was as much, or more, from him as from her. Further, given the dark questions around his mother's family background and his own sad/hard/neglected childhood (as I discuss on pp. 57-8 - his mother appears to have neglected him on her remarriage soon after his father's death when he was 11), one might reasonably ask: how much was his seemingly forceful attitude to religion a psychological accommodation, perhaps not unlike I've discussed with Thomas Boston (pp. 36-7)? If so, ought we judge him harshly, or with compassion? Most of us have not had to walk in anything like his shoes - yet at the same time, not flinching from assessing Stockholm syndrome dynamics as my note on p. 69 (above) discusses in response a colleague's questioning of my leniency towards Lady Mary.

  12. P. 129, first para - "the word killeth but the letter giveth life" should read "the Spirit", not "the letter".

  13. P. 141,Note 105 - correct 2 spellings of "Rustenberg" to "Rustenburg" - also at foot of p. 73, top of p. 74, biblio on p. 163 and index on p. 172.


Launch Events & Talks Related to the Book


2014 (ordered by latest date)

Geneva, Salle Théodore de Bèze (above the Auditoire de Calvin), sharing on Island Spirituality and future of Christianity with the Church of Scotland,1930 hrs, Mon 13 October 2014.

Iona Abbey & Macleod Centre, Sat 20 - Fri 26 Sept 2014, Leading week on The Pilgrimage of Life,  bookings here (nearly full as of April). Island Spirituality is one of the recommended reading books for preparation, as well as Soil and Soul and Adomnan's Life of Saint Columba (Penguin Classics). The pilgrimage on the Tuesday will be open to all, so do come along if you can't get or afford a place (rough terrain, see below).

Greenbelt Festival, Kettering, Sunday 24 August 2014, talk on Island Sprituality, report from Church Times here.

Iona Abbey & Macleod Centre, Greenbelt Week, Sun 25 - Wed 28 May 2014, leading sessions on the theme of Island Spirituality. Programme and bookings info here. The pilgrimage that I will be leading around the island on the Tuesday morning, assembling at St Martin's Cross beside the Abbey at around 10 am, is open to anyone who wishes to come along (though presumably at own risk, as some of the terrain is rough).

National University of Ireland, Maynooth, evening of Wed 16 April 2014, public lecture on Island Spirituality at Centre for the Study of Irish Protestantism, National University of Ireland (and the following morning, Thur 17 Apr, Masterclass in Radical Human Ecology at the Department for Adult & Community Education). Both events open to the public but please book for the class.

Leurbost, Isle of Lewis, 13 February 2014, 7.30 pm, talk to the North Lochs Historical Society - Growing up in Leurbost - how childhood at the surgery in the 1960s and 70s shaped my work, including various books (with signing) - in the North Lochs Community Centre.

Black Isle, Tuesday 11 February 2014, 8 pm, The Old Brewery, Cromarty, details and directions.



Island Spirituality was launched at the Ravenspoint Centre in South Lochs, Isle of Lewis, as part of the IBT's St Columba festival on 20th June 2013. Further regional events are scheduled as follows:

Edinburgh - Thursday 24th October 2013, 5 pm, Centre for Theology & Public Issues, New College, University of Edinburgh, based around a talk entitled Island Spirituality: Rethinking Westminster Calvinism - in the Martin Hall running until 6.15 and then drinks reception and book signing in the Rainy Hall. 

Barra, Tuesday 29th October 2013, 7.30 pm, Castlebay Community School, Islands Book Trust Faclan Hebridean Book Festival event, based around the theme, Pilgrimage and Island Spirituality.

North Uist, Wednesday 30th October 2013, 8.00 pm, Taigh Chearsabhagh, Lochmaddy, Islands Book Trust Faclan Hebridean Book Festival event, based around the theme, Pilgrimage and Island Spirituality.

Stornoway, Friday 1st November 2013, 5.00 pm, An Lanntair, Islands Book Trust Faclan Hebridean Book Festival event, based around the theme, Pilgrimage and Island Spirituality.

Glasgow, Tuesday 26th November 2013, 6.00 pm, Centre for Human Ecology, Pearce Institute, Govan, presentation on theme of Island Spirituality.




Reviews, Articles & Interviews about Island Spirituality

  1. Interview with Cathy MacDonald on BBC Radio Scotland (includes follow-on interview on perinatal loss)

  2. Article by author in Third Way magazine (Church Times)

  3. John Randall's feature in Scottish Islands Explorer

  4. Review by former Moderator Finlay A.J. MacDonald in Life and Work

  5. Donald Macleod in West Highland Free Press

  6. Review in Scottish Friend (Quakers)

  7. Reader reviews on Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com

  8. Church Times report on Island Spirituality talk at Greenbelt, 2014 (and audio out soon)





Alastair McIntosh

Updated: 9 September 2013

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