It is not out of place to record a little of the history of our native straths and glens. The people in the following notes have long since passed into eternity, as have several of the generations who followed them. All have passed away as with an overflowing flood. Books, such as Ministers and Men in the Far North and Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire have left on record that there have been clusters of godly men and women in the Highlands of Scotland over a long period of time. Some of those men were outstanding as leaders, having the mind of the Lord in a special way.
One named Joseph MacKay had an honourable place amongst the latter. A native of Strathalladale in Sutherland, he was the son of a worthy catechist in that district. As a young man he joined the Reay Fencibles, and with them he went to Ireland to assist in quelling a rebellion in that unhappy land. He held a commission in the army and was afterwards known as Ensign Joseph MacKay. Possibly he served in the Peninsular War, for he was severely injured at the battle of Waterloo, which took place soon afterwards. It is recorded in Ministers and Men in the Far North by Rev Alexander Auld that, while lying among the dead and wounded, he resolved he would, if spared, divide the compensation which, as an officer, he would receive for his wounds, amongst the Lord’s people at home – a resolution which he carried into effect. After the end of the war he was discharged from the army with a pension.
It is not left on record when he was born again, but the evidences of it were obvious to the godly and discerning people of his parish. And so he was harmoniously called to be catechist of that district. How many years he served in Strathalladale is unknown, but he afterwards moved to the parish of Moy and Dalarossie in Inverness-shire. His home was at Reigbeg, Tomatin, which was central to that extensive parish. Joseph MacKay was catechist there at the time of the Disruption of the Church of Scotland in 1843, but to the surprise of many people who knew him, he refused to leave the Church of Scotland. He most emphatically mentioned that there should have been no separation, and that the people should have remained united and fought the oppression from within. He declared, “This altar shall be broken to pieces”. Some people got up the story that he did not come out for fear of losing his army pension, but he denied that this was the case, and constantly repeated, “This altar shall be broken to pieces”. In 1847, this godly man died at Reigbeg of lockjaw and passed to his everlasting rest. He was buried in the Chapel yard, Inverness. “The righteous shall be had in everlasting remembrance.”
In the year 1845, Rev Archibald Cook became minister of Daviot Free Church and, because the parish of Moy and Dalrossie was vacant, he also preached there. It was approximately 20 miles long and several wide, while his own parish in Daviot was large and thickly populated. The roads were mere hill tracks, and the burns were without bridges except for the odd one erected by General Wade on the old Edinburgh road. His work was surely a Herculean task for any man.
Some time after the Rev Archibald came to Daviot, he had the company of his brother, Rev Finlay Cook, Reay, Caithness, who was assisting him at a communion at Moy. They decided to go and visit Ensign Joseph MacKay. Some of the Moy kirk session were very anxious to know what the chief topic of their conversation would be, for at that time the main talking point was the Disruption. Mrs MacKay had an Elizabeth MacQueen assisting her in the house, who was considered one of the excellent of the earth and highly intelligent. The leading men of the district persuaded her to place herself in a part of the house where she could hear all that passed between these godly men, and to repeat it to them. This she consented to do. The ministers made the visit as intended, while the rest of the company remained outside. When the ministers came out, all that the Rev Archibald would say to the friends who were waiting was, “That is a godly man”. In this he was supported by his brother. Elizabeth MacQueen would never tell anybody of the conversation she heard. Whether she had remorse for eavesdropping on those godly men, or whether she heard something very solemn, it was never known. She took it with her to the grave. She is buried in Moy graveyard, and the inscription on her tombstone records that “she feared the Lord from her youth, lived unspotted from the world”.
1. This article was compiled by Mr MacQueen some weeks before he passed away on 2 February 2001. He was for many years an elder in Farr, Inverness-shire.