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 Island Spirituality - Book


Island Spirituality: Spiritual Values of Lewis and Harris

by Alastair McIntosh


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


As this book is out of print, download free in PDF with an addendum of new material 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. Rare 3rd party resource materials

  4. Addendum with new material and minor corrections

  5. Reviews, articles, interviews

  6. Free PDF download of the text (it went out of print in 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. 


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 (that died 2018, so use 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.

18. Highland Clearances on the Isle of Lewis - chapter on Evictions from Macdonald, incl. Trump's ancestral Budhanais & Aird Tong I have added this resource because it mentions that Budhanais in south Lochs (Pairc) was cleared of its inhabitants. These included President Donald Trump's Smith maternal ancestors, who moved to Aird Tong north of Stornoway in appalling conditions, of which the chapter gives a contemporary account. We perhaps glimpse here the intergenerational and global effects of this sad era of Scottish history.


Addendum and Erratum

This is now added to the back of the PDF online edition - the final 12 pages, with some important new material about Lady Mary leading to a partial re-evaluation of her and her husband (to whom I had perhaps given a little too much benefit of the doubt).


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: 13 May 2018

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