The church and the highlands



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GUTH NA BLIADHNA

1904.




VOLUME I.



Guth Na Bliadhna.

THE CHURCH AND THE HIGHLANDS

In that general progress of the Catholic Eeligion which is, happily, observable throughout Great

. Britain, the Highlands of Scotland are bearing a proportionate part; and if that progress is com­paratively slow, we are entitled to believe that it is, nevertheless, sure. The havoc wrought by the so-called Reformation is not to be repaired, save at the

' cost of infinite labour, and at the expense of con­siderably more time than was consumed in which to work the ills and mischiefs of which we complain. The iron of discord and heresy penetrated too far into the soul of this nation to permit of its being

. quickly withdrawn, or to allow of a rapid recovery from the wounds which it inflicted.

Political influences, too, have been greatly in favour of opportunism in religion ; and place and power in the Highlands have been largely associated with Protestantism. The Church has been too recently freed from the grievous disabilities which she laboured under, to admit of the full effects of her emancipation being seen and felt. She has scarcely

I yet gathered herself together, as it were; nor are her forces yet sufficiently numerous and disciplined to enable her to effect that great "turning move­ment," which, without doubt, she hopes to conduct.

There is much, however, in the present position of the Church in Scotland which should inspire a

Catholic with hope. Our numbers are increasing, and • bigotry at all events in its more foolish and obnoxious


stages and forms, is disappearing. We have now a fair field; and if favour is lacking, we possess, at least, as much as we have right to expect, on ethical and political grounds. To break down remaining prejudices, to smooth the way for a better apprecia­tion of the religious and political truths of Catholicism, should not cost us much effort. The hostile camp is a prey to dissension and faction. Boundless power, joined to worldly prosperity, have produced their inevitable results, in the shape of indifference and inaction. A huge rabble, numerous but undisciplined, has frequently been put to rout by a force greatly its inferior in point of numbers, but infinitely superior to it in zeal and management. The Catholic party in Scotland, which it will be our endeavour to strengthen and to unite, is in the position of such a force. We must strive to disabuse the minds of our countrymen of the prejudices and suspicions which many of them labour under, in respect of Catholicism, which, we beg leave to inform them, so far from being the species of religious and political nightmare which they think it to be, is really everything that is beautiful, virtuous and ennobling on earth.

There are parts of the Highlands, and there are isles in the west, to which the so-called Eeformation has never penetrated. Moreover, the Protestant religion is even yet somewhat of an innovation, in the Highlands in general. At all events, the history of its establishment entitles us to regard it as such. Presbyterianism is not a plant indigenous to Celtic Scotland, but was an importation which had to be forced on the people, in order to make it take root. So late as 1745, the Highlands were Catholic where the people were most numerous, and Anglican where they were not; and had it not been for the assistance which the civil power rendered it, in its endeavours to bring off the Highlanders from their allegiance to Church and to King, the probability is that Presbyterianism would not have settled in Celtic Scotland, at all events, to the extent to which it obtained.

No Gael, who has the capacity to think, and the inclination and leisure to read, can escape the re­flection, however disagreeable it may be, that the position of his race was infinitely better under Catholic than it is under Protestant auspices. In 1746 was dealt the last, and perhaps the most crushing, of that succession oi blows which has staggered the Highlands, and from which they have not yet recovered. There were to be compensating circumstances, no doubt (for such is ever the easy language of the victor), of which, since they could cost nothing, and were a necessary part of government, the Highlands were invited to partake. But who can honestly say that the promises then held out have been fulfilled, or that the pledges then proffered have been redeemed? Protestantism has been tried and found wanting, even as an excuse for a political system; whilst as a spiritual panacea, its want of success, if not sur­prising, has been striking. The material condition of the Highlands at the present day shows how entirely unsuited to their genius and character is the application of that system, which is applauded else­where. "An ni an ni an dara h-aba subhach, ni e dubhadh an t-aba eile."

If Protestantism has flourished, it has been at the expense of the people it was introduced to befriend, according to the professions of its advocates. The country is being rapidly depopulated and im­poverished under the nose, as it were, of that very system, political and religious, which was introduced to improve and befriend it, if we are to believe those who were responsible for its importation. It is singular that results so melancholy should have taken their rise from prospects so numerous and flattering; but what is more singular still is, that there should be so many who have neither the sense to perceive nor the courage to acknowledge where the shoe pinches.

In the long life of the Gael, Protestantism and all that it implies, in a civil as well as in a religious way, has been but an unprofitable and melancholy experiment. He has not prospered under it; neither is it adapted to his spiritual necessities. Is not the proof of the pudding in the eating thereof? A smiling and contented country might furnish some excuse for an institution, which, on other grounds, should be open to serious objection. But, in the case of the Highlands, the failure of Protestantism has been complete. It has not contributed to the material welfare of our people, neither has it assisted them spiritually; and if you take away the prop of prosperity from Protestantism, you deprive it at once of one of the "great" arguments which are wont to be urged in its support. Protestant countries are apt to forget that our Blessed Eedeemer Himself was the friend of the poor and the downtrodden ; and that the land of His Sacred and Immaculate Birth was an outcast among nations. His Divine Message was addressed rather to the poor and the friendless, than to the rich and tne powerful. Prosperity is no argument for Protestantism ; neither is Catholicism concerned with questions of trade; but in the case of a country which has been de­pressed and despoiled in the interests of Protestantism, we are entitled to speak out when its failure appears. Another reflection which must inevitably occur to every Gael who has leisure and capacity to think is, that the Catholic period embraces the best of his work. All his historical roots, as it were, all his best efforts and traditions are in that period ; and he would be but barren and unprofitable clay without it. Pray, what has he done that is worthy to be mentioned since he accepted Protestantism or, rather, since the Teutonic persuasion was forced on him ? He has emigrated, and he has helped to rivet his own political fetters by fighting the battles of his political masters; but he has done little (if anything) else. The best of his traditions antedate Protestantism. His literature, his art and his music have come down from Catholic times. His greatest known poet was a Catholic and a Nationalist. Protestantism has frowned upon his imagination, and still continues to frown. She is not even a friend to his language, save in a few laudable cases. Indeed, how is it possible for a system which was the delight of an alien and a hostile race, and which was imposed on him vi et armis, to be advantageous and pleasing to the Gael ? The idea is preposterous. The gorge of all history rises in protest against so absurd an assumption. The Gael is depressed because he was, numerically, not strong enough to resist his subjection. But are we to understand that he has fallen never to rise ? Is he to be always contented with " what is," so that he may refuse to consider what "might and could be"? Will he never see light? Will the scales never fall from his eyes ? Let him look to his former position, and then ponder his own at the present. His Catholic blood is surely thicker than his Protestant water. The glories of the past are surely worth reviving in the future, if only for the satisfaction of being able to say, " I live again and am free!" In Catholic times his country was considerable, and his religion was in harmony with his political aspirations. Nowadays, if aspirations he possesses, beyond a bare living wage and a crop of potatoes, who can honestly say that his religion favours them ? Why, at one time its very existence depended on his virtual suppression; and he would be a simpleton, indeed, who should believe that its character has changed, or that in times of peril and temptation it would rise superior to the principles on which it was nourished.

Let every Gael, therefore, who has the interests of his countrymen at heart, keep to his own tent, in the sense, at all events, of pondering on these things. The Catholic religion challenges comparison, which is not odious in her case, save to the competitor, nor has she anything to fear from the strictest investi­gation. A sober, honest consideration of the facts of history, joined to an impartial examination of her doctrines and tenets, can but result in the Church's triumph. How sad and humiliating, therefore, must be the mental condition of that man who, being Protestant, yet sets forth to view the departed glories of his country; and, discovering them, with hardly an exception, to be the product of Catholic times and the fruit of Catholic thought, passes by on the other side. Is the teaching of history to count for nothing in the manufacture of present day opinion ? We could not think much of that statesman who, in legislating for his country, should take no thought of the lessons and warnings of history. As in our lives, for our encouragement and refreshment, we turn unhesitatingly to the consideration of those deeds which are brightest and noblest; so in the life-story of our country, which, next to our duty to God, we should hold nearest and dearest, we must turn for strength and example to the consideration of those times and events which have proved the most glorious and honourable. It is a fault of Protestantism that it is historically barren. It is cold comfort for the Gael, morally and materially. He has not thriven on it: on the contrary, it found him discouraged, and has confirmed his depression. Let him, therefore, look to himself and to his sur­roundings, lest greater ills and mischiefs befall him in the future, than have already encompassed him in the past.

It is said, that at the battle of Sherriffmuir, a gentleman in the Nationalist ranks, irritated at the want of military conduct displayed on the part of the Jacobite leaders, exclaimed with indignation, " Oh, for one hour of Dundee!" similarly one who is conversant with the spiritual state of the High­lands of to-day might be tempted to exclaim with equal warmth, " Oh, for one hour of St Columba!" But alas ! the ejaculation would be useless. Zeal of that imperious and all-absorbing kind, if not out of date, is apparently no longer acceptable. The genius of our times is hostile to missionary enterprise, which, in the case of a civilised community, it would not hesitate to stigmatise as Proselytism. We live in other days, and amongst different manners, and, to hold the language of the times, we must needs adapt ourselves to altered conditions, if we do not wish to see ourselves neglected. But, though a roving mission, such as St Columba inaugurated, may be no longer possible, yet inactivity and indifference to the spiritual needs of those about us, are still disgraceful. And, fortunately, there is no reason why we should be idle. In the Catholic Truth Society of Scotland, we have an instrument for the edification and enlightenment of our countrymen, which, were it properly supported and vigorously

conducted, might change the religious aspect of the Highlands. Would that that useful institution, which has but recently come amongst us, were more generously supported by the Catholic public! We feel sure, however, that its objects (the principal of which is the conversion of Scotland) and necessities only require to be more generally known and widely advertised, in order to engage the whole-hearted assistance of our people. It is as yet but a small society, whose operations are necessarily limited by the measure of patronage and encouragement which it receives, but, small and young as it is, it has already done good work, and we gladly embrace this early opportunity of drawing public attention to its merits, in the hope that by so doing we may en­courage and strengthen it. The literature which it puts forth is aimed at the dissipation of those fables and prejudices which retard the progress of the Catholic religion. We strongly counsel it to con­tinue in that useful path, always endeavouring to raise the literary standard of its productions, and devoting particular attention to the history of the Celtic people of Scotland, with a view to showing how absurd and illogical is the attitude of many of them with regard to the Church of their forefathers.

Another way to propagate religion in the High­lands would be to increase the number of churches therein. Taken as a whole, Celtic Scotland is but very ill served in this respect, and what with the tendency of our people to go into the towns, it would seem that the omission is not soon to be rectified. No doubt, the great objection to the building of churches is their great cost; but has not expenditure in this direction rather outrun what is convenient and discreet ? Our churches are, as a rule, too big and too ornate as regards their exteriors. The Catholic population is being con­stantly called on to contribute to the erection of new churches, often in countries which are very remote from their own; and the strain on their funds is consequently considerable; but if smaller and less ornate edifices were put up, the probability is that as their cost would be less, so the capacity and the inclination to give would be increased. Half of what is generally spent on a new church could much more usefully be devoted to the erection of another, in some country or district where its absence is being seriously felt. For our part, we see no reason why churches of wood should not be built in the High­lands. The churches of Ireland and Scotland were constructed of wood at a period when their combined missionaries were evangelising Western Europe ; and in this particular, at all events, what was pleasing to the God of our ancestors is surely good enough for ourselves, who would seem to be much their inferiors, in zeal and taste, learning and godliness. A church of wood is a durable, and could be made an exceed­ingly beautiful, structure, at comparatively small cost. We deprecate the erection of large, expensive churches, especially in country districts, as opposed to the interests of religion, and as an unnecessary burden on the faithful. Oratories might well take the place of churches where the population is small and scattered, and these could be built at no very considerable charge. They would be an inestimable boon to the Highlands, which have been too long neglected in this respect. The Light of the True Faith must be distributed from a number of places, if the darkness which broods over many parts of Celtic Scotland is to be dispelled.

A further way of assisting the progress of the Church in the Highlands would be to pay more attention to the profane education of priests destined to labour for the conversion of souls in Highland Missions. At present, our Highland priests receive no particular education qualifying them for work in that field, which, we do not hesitate to say, is a grievous mistake. The circumstances of the High­lands are peculiar, and they require particular treat­ment, if the Church is to regain that which she has lost. A chosen, active body of men, versed in the language and in the literature of the Gael, and well-qualified to preach the religious and social mission of the Church in accordance with Celtic susceptibilities and Highland traditions, would do more to re­establish religion in the Highlands than is presently realised. The Gaelic argumentum ad hominem is not sufficiently plied. Beligious sentiment is, as a rule, strongest where national sentiment runs high. The Irish hierarchy and priesthood are in active sympathy with those who believe in the possibility of a regenerated Ireland, through the medium of the restoration of the country's nationality, and all that it implies. And why should not the Scottish hier­archy and priesthood be equally sympathetic, equally solicitous to preserve and to strengthen those great barriers of language and custom which are the natural obstacles to infidelity and scepticism ?

Such are a few of the means that might be embraced to assist the progress of religion in the Highlands of Scotland. Others there are, doubtless, which will suggest themselves to our readers, as they have done to ourselves ; but, for the present, the above must suffice. It is very important that the work of the Catholic Truth Society should be more widely known, and more generously supported. We venture to hope, too, that our other suggestions will recommend themselves to those whom they concern.

We have published them in all honesty and sincerity of purpose. We have a love for our country, which can not be gainsaid, and will not be denied. To see it considerable and respected, to see it prosperous and glorious, to see it happy and contented ; but, above all, to see it re-united to the one and true Faith —these are objects we should set ourselves to acquire; these are the blessings we should endeavour to obtain, no matter whether men call us dreamers, or stigmatise our ideals as the nebulous creations of unsound and impractical minds.

THE MORMHAOR AND HIS FUNCTION

Closely connected with the Pictish question, and in a very particular sense its peculiar offspring, is an interesting group of subsidiary and collateral historical problems, which intimately concern the social con­dition of the Pictish people, and their subsequent relations with their conquerors the Scots. These problems are, for the most part, unsolved. The dim uncertainty which characterises early Scottish history, is, of course, the principal cause of this unsatisfactory state of affairs in which, however, the bewildering controversies of historical specialists are undoubtedly aggravating circumstances.

Of this group of inferior questions, one of the most obscure and interesting is the determination of the institution of rank among the Picts, and the infinitely greater and more important one of the character and extent of that institution among the

Celtic people in general. In the Scottish kingdom as originally constituted, which was the result of an amalgamation of Scot and Pict, and of a fusion of many of their respective national institutions and customs, following on conquest, it would appear that the Mormhaor was a personage next in rank to the King, with whom, indeed, he was, especially by the Irish annalists, frequently confused ; an error which may have owed its existence to the fact that in Scotland there was no Ard-Rìgh or High King as there was in Ireland,1 nor any dignity precisely corresponding to the Irish Oir Rìgh or under-king, which was the nearest equivalent to the Scottish Mormhaor.

Robertson in his Scotland under her Early Kings translates the word Mormhaor as meaning "Lord High Steward" ;* but this is a rendering which partakes too much of the spirit of feudalism, and of that learned author's theories respecting the function of a Mormhaor, to be altogether acceptable. Dr MacBain, on the other hand, says the word Mormhaor signifies "Lord"; but perhaps a more correct, certainly a more literal, translation would be great ruler or officer. The word itself is a hybrid appella­tion, being composed of two Gaelic words, mòr, meaning "great," and maor signifying an officer or one who, like the Scriptural centurion, has authority.

Dr MacBain accounts for the absence of this



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