Between the Lynn of Lorne and the Lynn of Morven, at the wide entrance to Loch Linnhe, lies the island of Lismore, eight miles
north of Oban.
In the middle of the sixth century, while St. Columba was establishing himself in Iona, there came to Lismore the saint whose name
has been associated with the island ever since - St. Moluag. Here he built his first cell, and here in after times rose the Cathedral of
the Church of Argyll.
It would seem that, at the Reformation, every vestige of the old faith was swept away. The island was staunchly Presbyterian, and
it must have been with feeling of horror and dismay that its inhabitants learned, in the early years of the nineteenth century, of a
foreign invasion in the shape of a Popish bishop and a Popish seminary. Up until 1803, the seminary for the Highland District had
been at Samalaman in the Rough Bounds of Moidart. It was an unpretentious place, cramped and uncomfortable, with leaking
roofs and unsubstantial walls, altogether unsuited for its purpose. Five years earlier, the vicar-apostolic of the Highland District,
Bishop John Chisholm, had already been looking for another site. Various localities - in Mull, on the island of Eigg and elsewhere
- were considered only to be rejected as unsuitable. But finally a property came on the market on the island of Lismore which
seemed eminently suited to the purpose, except for its price. It was sequestered from the busy world, it included a substantial
house built only a few years before by the proprietor, Campbell of Dunstaffnage, and a fine garden with a few acres of ground.
The price was stiff, almost £5,000, but the Bishop's Edinburgh legal advisers assured him that it was a good bargain. Only the
procurator of the Scottish Mission, Mr. Charles Maxwell, would be in a position to tell us how this poverty stricken Vicariate
could have raised so considerable a sum; but no letters of his to Bishop Chisholm on this interesting point survive.
The removal of the seminary to Lismore did not meet with the unanimous approval of the Highland clergy. Samalaman was
unget-at-able enough, but it had the advantage of being on the mainland and in the heart of a Catholic district. Mr. Reginald
Macdonell, the priest in Morar, voiced his objections. In a letter from Lismore, dated the 10th March, 1804, Bishop Chisholm
replied: "Your novel observation seems to imply my being at a greater distance than I really am. Am more accessible here to the
world than where I have formerly been at Moidart". It is true that there was a direct line for supplies from Glasgow, and the sea
journey from the mainland can have no more hazardous than the mountainous tracks of the west country, though it was still a far
cry from Morar to Lismore. At any rate, the Bishop had not to endure those interruptions to study which his predecessor, Bishop
John Macdonald, groaned over in Glenfinnan, where his house was "full of people every night"; so that he could well add: "We
never had more or so much liberty to apply ourselves to learning and spiritual matters in any other place".
Bishop Chisholm was far from being an infrequent correspondent, but his letters in the Blairs Muniment Room contain the scantiest
references to the seminary. Nor are the Argyll archives any more illuminating. Fr. Odo Blundell, O.S.B., in his Catholic Highlands
of Scotland, devotes a couple of pages to Lismore which add nothing that cannot be found elsewhere in print. Only once, in an
official Report on his district to Rome, dated Preshome, the 15th Aug., 1804, does Bishop Chisholm make any reference to
Lismore, when he writes that he has a seminary in which eight young men are being educated, of whom four are studying rhetoric
and four grammar. One would have imagined that, in the case of a foundation that lasted for some twenty-six years, there would
have been some crumbs of information for posterity to gather up. At Buorblach, the insecurity of tenure which was continually to
haunt the Vicar-Apostolic occasioned several letters from which it is possible to piece together some kind of picture of the
seminary there; while, in the account of building operations at Samalaman and of the repair of its rickety walls, odd little hints
about the students, their number, their master, are sometimes to be found. But life at Lismore was far more settled and secure, far
more humdrum, it may be added, than in the seminaries of the mainland; with the result that Bishop John Chisholm's letters from
Blairs are almost, entirely concerned with the affairs of his Vicariate.
We left him at Samalaman looking forward enthusiastically to his new foundation which, he confided to Mr. Charles Maxwell, the
procurator of the Scottish Mission, he planned to make "a renowned Academy where every branch of education should be taught
in style". On the 5th June, 1803, all the gear from Samalaman was already shipped and he was proposing, God willing, to be off
as early as possible the next day, given a favourable wind. Bishop Hay left Scalan very sorrowfully indeed; his episcopal brother
of the Highland Vicariate can have had no regrets as he saw the hills of Moidart fading in the distance, leaving what he himself
described as "ruinous old huts and thatch" for the commodious house at Kilcheran. Whether his hopes were ever realised of
making his new seminary, "the renowned Academy" of his dreams seems improbable; certainly there was no possibility that "every
branch of education should be taught in style", with the masters at his command, sometimes one, or two at the most, some of them
studying theology at the same time they took class. Sir Walter Scott had a poor opinion of the standard of education at Lismore,
but he was in no position to judge. In 1814 he made a tour round the light-houses in the Lighthouse Commissioners' Yacht, some
of whom had acquaintance of the Scottish bishops, and made this entry in his diary: "We coasted the low, long and fertile island of
Lismore where a Catholic bishop, Chisholm has established a seminary of young men intended for priests, and what is a better
thing, a valuable lime work. Reports speak well of the lime, but indifferently of the progress of the students".
The lime kiln appears again in the correspondence of Mr. John Farquharson, the priest in Glasgow, with his friend, Mr. Charles
Maxwell, the procurator. Mr. Farquharson added to his other duties in Glasgow the job of acting for the procurator in the
shipment of supplies to Lismore. It was a task he was far from relishing. "Shipper McLauchlan", he writes on the 24th May, 1804,
"called upon me this forenoon. His vessel will be ready for loading Monday first; his terms are 11/6 per ton to Lismore . . . My
advice unasked for is, come here by the Telegraph Monday morning. I shall meet you stepping out of it at the Buck-head Inn by
one o'clock; the Broomielaw is quite at hand; in an hour's time all matters will be settled; you'll return with me for a hasty dinner
and retake your seat, by the same carriage, by 4 o'clock, so as not to be a night out of your odoriferous close . . . As the shipper,
in place of delivering his cargo of coals and bricks to worthy Mr. Orien (the Bishop) may direct his course to Hibernia, in selling
all for his own profit, I formally decline interfering, still less being answerable, which renders your coming here absolutely
Next month, so much of the cargo still remained to be shipped and with it a deep-rooted suspicion of McLauchlan in Mr.
Farquharson's mind. "With this day's tide at soonest", (the 8th June) "McColl drops down the river loaded with the remainder of
the bricks for your lime kiln, but no coals. I have run about a good deal this morning and advised with severals, relatively to a
report, spread by some (I trust) envious shippers of our harbour, that McLauchlan's vessel had sprung a leak, a few miles
downwards, and was presently at Greenock . . . I hope it will arrive safely; yet with McLauchlan I am far from pleased, having
consigned his vessel to another and run home to Ireland to set his potatoes. Your speculative genius has made you launch into (I
am told) pretty expensive operations, which will leave you a good deal a-do, unless his Lismorean lordship (Bishop Chisholm)
bestirs himself to good purpose, and I am at a loss to reconcile this with his absence during the whole of the fine season."
By next year Bishop John's brother, Bishop Aeneas, found himself saddled with the lime kiln as part of his episcopal duties. It was
like a millstone round his neck. In the rosy dawn of its inauguration, Mr. Charles Maxwell had persuaded some of the clergy to
take up shares. His great friend, Mr. John Farquharson, had declined to contribute; whereupon a coolness had sprung up between
the two. But after events were to prove Mr. Farquharson's caution justified. On the 9th Feb., 1813, there is a gloomy letter from
Bishop Aeneas to Bishop Cameron in Edinburgh. There was nothing encouraging to report, and the future was very black in deed.
Even in 1810, in which year the greatest quantity of lime had been sold, there was a deficit of £60, and that without taking their
original outlays into consideration. Bishop Aeneas Chisholm's successor as Vicar-Apostolic of the Highland Vicariate, Bishop
Ranald Macdonald, was no more successful. Seven years later, the lime kiln was still functioning. A Mr. Loughrey from Glasgow
recommended by the Glasgow priest, Mr. Andrew Scott, had been lately on the island, writes the Bishop to Bishop Paterson on
the 15th May, 1820, with the purpose of "putting our lime kiln on a more beneficial footing than it has hitherto been". What
success attended his efforts is not revealed, but, by this time no doubt our readers will be as sick of the lime as were its unlucky
promoters. To-day they would have earned at least the approbation and the plaudits of the Highlands and Islands Development
On the 15th Sept., 1805, Bishop Aeneas Chisholm was consecrated at Lismore as coadjutor to his brother. Mr. John
Farquharson was in the vicinity and invited to the consecration, but, he tells Abbé Paul Macpherson, "I was miserably prevented
by being wind bound at the time. The Highlanders are greatly displeased to see two mitres in one family, yet, in my opinion,
Brotherhood apart, a better choice could not be made. In the Highlands, in which I chiefly wandered or resided, no changes but
great scarcity of labourers (i.e. of priests) owing to several having emigrated to America, and to their receiving no supply of late;
the infant seminary of Lismore yields in all respects to that of Aquhorties".
Mr. Farquharson would have been still more uncomplimentary if he had learned of a very curious letter sent by Bishop John
Chisholm to Mr. Charles Maxwell, dated the 12th May, 1807, which throws a rather peculiar light on his attitude towards the
Mr. Maxwell was an ex-Jesuit, and the Bishop had spent a year in the Jesuit novitiate at Tournai which, at the suppression of the
Society, he left for the Scots College at Douai where he was ordained for the Scottish Mission. He remained, naturally enough, a
Jesuit at heart, and his correspondence with Mr. Maxwell shows how he was ready to take his part against his ecclesiastical
superior, Bishop Cameron, even to the extent of attempting to muster a Highland phalanx for the meeting of the Administrators of
the Mission in support of Mr. Maxwell, whom Bishop Cameron designed to relieve of his post as procurator.
It must have been felt that the letter alluded to was perhaps too compromising to be sent by post, and it was delivered to Mr.
Maxwell by the hands of Mr. Stewart, the minister of Appin and Lismore, "whom you have seen before. Pay him all the attention
you can. He and I are, as far as I can see, very frank with each other, and write me by his return. He is one of those singled out
for attendance at the General Assembly. If you could, without any impropriety, come to Lismore along with him, I need not tell
you that your visit would be acceptable and agreeable to more than your humble servant".
The relevant passage in the letter is as follows: "Of the two boys I took to keep the seeds of the society alive, the one you thought
of, not the most promising, seems to be in some doubt relative to the propriety of embracing the ecclesiastical state at all. He has
of late signified to a confident that he would either do one or the other of two things, that he would go away or fix himself by
taking the obligations of the Mission. If he is bent on going away, it is needless to strive to keep him; if he asks the obligation of the
Mission I wish to know the intention and will of such as pay board for him here before I grant his request. Neither he nor the other
know that board is paid for them or what they are intended for, no more than any other person from me, agreeable to the
instructions you gave, and of which I could not but approve. The boys are both of a good uptake but Chisholm particularly so.
Their parents or friends keep them in cloths".
It was the common opinion that Mr. Maxwell had secret funds at his disposal for the benefit of the Society. From this letter it
would appear that the two boys were being educated on these funds in a seminary established solely for the secular priesthood.
There is no evidence that Bishop Cameron was cognisant of this arrangement; indeed, it follows from the Highland
Vicar-Apostolic's own words that he had let no one into the secret. It might be argued that Mr. Maxwell kept this letter on his
files; therefore, there was nothing to hide; but he kept other letters which his correspondent from Lismore asked him to burn after
reading. One is left with the feeling that this arrangement, concocted between Mr. Maxwell and the Bishop, not only tended to
defeat the end for which the seminary was founded, namely to supply secular priests for a hopelessly understaffed Vicariate, but
was besides prejudicial to the vocation of the boys concerned, ignorant as they were of the future planned for them.
Bishop John Chisholm died on the 8th July, 1814, and his brother was left in sole charge of the Vicariate. There are some forty
letters of his at Blairs, written during the period when he was Vicar-Apostolic of the Highland district. The last is dated the 12th
March, 1816, so that from the early months of this year until his death at Lismore on the 31st July, 1819, the little trickle of
information about the seminary completely dries up. If he could have had his own way, his brother's dream of a "renowned
Academy" might to some extent have been realised; but as coadjutor he had to play second fiddle and Bishop John, dogged as he
was by continual ill health and the victim of his temperament, was content to jog along unadventuresomely. Already in 1810,
Bishop Aeneas was writing to his friend, Mr. Charles Maxwell, that if only he could get the landlord of the place (i.e. Bishop John)
to begin to improve the premises something might be done in Lismore. The opportunity came with his brother's death on the 8th
July, 1814. No sooner was Bishop John laid to rest in the little consecrated cemetery behind the house that Bishop Aeneas began
to use his new found freedom to put the seminary on a firmer basis. His first action was to transfer the master, Mr. Evan
MacEachen, to Badenoch: "Mr. Evan", he wrote to Bishop Cameron on the 9th Aug., 1814, "may be good enough, but he has
not common sense, and has rendered himself most disagreeable to all the members of this little community". In his stead, he has
appointed John Chisholm who had been ordained at Lismore the previous Easter, "the most promising Eleve that ever came or is
the production of this house, with the assistance of Duncan McKenzie, one of those who came from Spain at the late Revolution,
not yet in holy orders, but near finishing his Divinity. He is a good writing master, and there is no need of him here for they have
not, as least some of them, learnt common English grammar". (Might not John Chisholm be one of the two boys intended for the
Society?) About this time also, the Bishop began repairing and reconditioning one of the small wings of the house, which had been
used as a lumber room, to serve as a chapel for the seminary.
Next year, the work of reconstruction was in full swing. Kilcheran House as it stands to-day is Bishop Aeneas Chisholm's doing.
Writing to Mr. James Sharp, procurator of the College at Aquhorties, on the 10th June, 1815, he tells him that he is anchored to
the island, being in the thick of building operations. These had not prevented him from fulfilling a little commission for the Lowland
seminary. He had brought some beasts for the farm at Aquhorties at a roup at Drimnin. "I trust the bull will give you satisfaction.
Mr. William Fraser from Fort William writes me that he followed the beasts three miles out of Fort William and many others along
with him, calling the Bull a perfect Beauty. I hope they are long before now raxing themselves in the rich pastures of Aquhorties."
The next month he wrote again to the same correspondent who was also engaged in adding to the accommodation at Aquhorties:
"I am quite busy; the first story is about finished; I wish only you could lend me a portion, even a small portion, of your industry".
Still the Bishop was not doing too badly himself. He was in good health and excellent spirits, while "the idea of my building coming
on", he confided to Bishop Cameron on the 13th Sept., "put me in a flow. My chapel is finished and is neat. We begin to officiate
in it this week".
That there was another hand at the helm was also apparent from the number of the students, the majority of whom had been
admitted that year (1813). Mr. Cameron, the Rector of the college in Spain, had lately come to Scotland and was staying with his
uncle, the Bishop, in Edinburgh. "As to his having choice of students from this place, he is heartily welcome to." (Bishop Aeneas to
Bishop Cameron, the 13th March, 1816). "But alas! the pity is that there is not properly a choice to be had. You know the way
or condition I found this place in - and as yet I have not found time to bring forward my plans. I have only eleven in the whole I
could send to any college abroad. Of these two are finishing their divinity, and of course I will have occasion for them in more than
one situation. The rest are all too young, mostly received last year - however, such as they are, Cameron will have the choice of
The Blairs archives contain no further letters of the Bishop's, and it is not until four years later that a gleam of light is once again
thrown on the seminary. By that time there was a new Vicar-Apostolic, Bishop Ranald Macdonald. Bishops in those days had to
turn their hands to tasks from which their successors are happily preserved; and if Bishop Aeneas Chisholm, in the intervals of
visiting the Highland District, had to devote his energies to the unepiscopal function of superintending a lime kiln, Bishop Ranald
found himself in 1820 refurbishing his "old rusty Latin" to take a class of youngsters. He had "seven veterans" who were all very
promising, three of whom he wished to send abroad, and "four recruits of whom I can say nothing good or bad as yet. I have
written to you formerly", he adds in his letter to Bishop Cameron, "that I had been obliged to send Mr. McGregor to Fort William.
Mr. Fraser does all that one can do and more than many others could attempt, but still he cannot do everything".
The next letter in which there is a reference to Lismore is addressed to Bishop Paterson and dated the 5th July, 1824. The
improvements effected by his predecessor had left a legacy of debt behind them. "I must tell you inter nos that this poor
Establishment had been left with such a load of debt, that it will keep me in misery for the remainder of my life, so that in place of
increasing the number of boys here, as I did at first before I knew of my embarrassments, I must reduce the number." He extends
to his confrere an invitation to the West. "When shall I expect to see you in the land of Cakes? Bad as times are, I would
cheerfully bestow a glass of Toddy on you in Lismore yet."
By the end of next year a new teacher had arrived at Lismore. This was Mr. Terence McGuire, of the diocese of Kilmore,
probably the first Irish born priest to be ordained in Scotland for the Scottish Mission. He was ordained in the seminary and taught
there for two years until 1827 when he was sent to Inverness. Another year was to pass and in the meantime Mr. Menzies of
Pitfodels had made his great donation of the mansion-house and estate of Blairs to the Vicar-Apostolic for the purposes of a
national seminary. In June, 1828, Bishop Ranald was writing to Bishop Paterson to discover when Blairs would be ready, since he
wanted to give his boys a month's vacation beforehand. "Of 9 I had, one is ordained, one, MacIntosh from Rome, is dismissed
and another has gone off, not for bad behaviour, but his return is doubtful, so that 6 is likely to be the greatest number I will have
to send." Blairs was not to be ready for another year, and the students at Lismore were eventually to pass to Aquhorties. At least
two of them, as appears from the Catholic Directory, Angus Mackenzie and Archibald Chisholm, entered Aquhorties on the 28th
The Blairs letters and the Catholic Directory between them furnish an almost complete list of the Masters at Lismore. One became
a bishop in Nova Scotia; another ended his days as successor to Abbé Paul Macpherson and Rector of the Scots College, Rome;
a third fell by the wayside and disappeared from the Mission; the most of them lived their lives as hard-working missionaries within
the bounds of the Vicariate. Mr. Angus Macdonald, who went afterwards to the Scots College, Rome, came over from
Samalaman and was succeeded by Mr. Evan McEachen. "In place of my namesake", Bishop Aeneas Chisholm writes to Bishop
Cameron on the 9th March, 1807, "I have now here as professor Mr. Evan McEachen along with your other pupil and favourite
(alluding to the days when Bishop Cameron was Rector of the Scots College in Spain), Mr. William Fraser whom the former
teaches in the Gaelic language." Mr. Angus left for Barra, while Mr. Evan was later to acquire a certain reputation as the translator
of the New Testament and the Imitation of Christ into Gaelic. His supersession by Mr. John Chisholm has already been noted.
John Chisholm entered Lismore in 1805, was ordained there on Easter Sunday, 1814, and taught in the seminary until 1817.
Along with him were Duncan McKenzie, John Forbes and James McGregor (all to be mentioned later) who taught classics from
his ordination on the 16th April, 1816, until Nov., 1819. He was transferred to Fort William, and Mr. William Fraser, who had
taught in the seminary in 1807, was appointed in his stead. This is the Mr. William Fraser whose appreciation of the points of the
Aquhorties bull had led him three miles down the Fort William road after it. He later returned to the Mission, and in 1822
emigrated to Canada with many of his flock. He died Bishop of Arichat, Antigonish, on the 4th Oct., 1851. One other name is
supplied by the Valladolid register which mentions Mr. Alexander Macdonald, a native of Lochaber, as teaching at Lismore for a
time. According to Bishop Ranald Macdonald, who had recalled him from Spain to take Mr. Fraser's place, he was "an excellent
scholar", but some misconduct of his forced the Bishop to dismiss him. This is the one black sheep whose name does not appear
in the obituary lists of the Scottish Mission. "When I came home", Bishop Ranald wrote to Bishop Paterson on the 18th Nov.,
1825, "I took the teaching on myself until Mr. Maguire came, so that it is impossible for me to want him as I have no other of the
young hands that I could trust the teaching to, since the one I had so cruelly disappointed me". The name of Mr. McGuire's
successor, the last Master at Lismore, has not come down to posterity.
It may be of some interest to add the names - so far as they have been discovered - of those priests of the Highland District who
received the whole or part of their training at Lismore.
(1). Duncan McKenzie entered Valladolid on the 30th Oct., 1803, but left the following month (presumably on the ground of
ill-health) for Lismore, where he finished his studies and was ordained. He died at Eskadale on the 28th Oct., 1828, 48 years old.
(2). Norman Macdonald studied at Lismore, and the Catholic Directory gives his death as occurring on the 14th Jan., 1837.
There is no other information about him except in a letter of Bishop Ranald Macdonald's to Propaganda on the 4th Aug., 1821:
"Dum hic degeret, optimae erat indolis et studiorum amans".
(3). John Chisholm came to Lismore in September, 1807, and was ordained there on the 16th April, 1816. He may have been
one of the two boys intended for the Society of Jesus. He was, in Bishop Aeneas Chisholm's encomium, "the most promising
Eleve that ever came or that is the production of this house". The Catholic Directory credits him with the building of a church at
Daliburgh in 1827 and another at Bornish in 1837. He died at Bornish on the 22nd July, 1867.
(4). Donald Forbes entered Lismore in 1807 and was ordained there on the 16th Apr., 1816. He was for fifty-two years in the
Braes of Lochaber, where he died at Bunroy, widely regretted. Over five hundred mourners attended his funeral. It is told of him
that, for a period of sixty years, he never failed on a Sunday or Holyday to say Mass and preach.
(5). James McGregor was admitted to the seminary on the 19th April, 1808. He was for forty years at Ardkenneth in South Uist,
with, at the same time, charge of Benbecula. He died on the 15th Feb., 1867.
(6). Neil Macdonald was admitted on the 19th Apr., 1812, and in November, 1816, left for Valladolid. Ill-health forced him to
return to Scotland in 1822 and he was ordained at Lismore the following year. He died at Drimnin on the 12th Apr., 1862.
(7). John Forbes, a native of Glenconglas in Banffshire, was educated at Aquhorties and Valladolid. In 1814 he was lent to
Lismore where he taught for some time, and was ordained at Lismore by Bishop Aeneas Chisholm on the 15th Oct., 1815,
leaving the seminary almost immediately for his own District.
(8). Donald Macdonald entered Lismore in Nov., 1816, and four years later passed on to the Scots College, Rome. He died at
Bohuntin in Lochaber on the 20th Oct., 1872.
(9). Alexander Macdonald, a native of Lochaber, studied at Lismore and Valladolid. He returned to Lismore where he was
ordained and taught for a while. He is the master who "so grievously disappointed" Bishop Ranald Macdonald. He was in Moidart
from 1829 to 1838 and nothing more is known of him.
(10). William McIntosh was born in Glenmuick, Aberdeenshire in 1794. He was a late vocation and went to Lismore on the 20th
Nov., 1821, and from thence to Saint Sulpice. His name is still held in benediction at Arisaig, where he laboured for forty years
and built the present fine church.
(11). Angus Macdonald was six years at Valladolid when ill-health necessitated his return to Scotland in 1823. He was ordained
at Lismore. His name does not appear in the obituary lists.
(12). Ranald Rankine, born at Fort William in 1799, studied at Lismore and Valladolid. He left Spain in 1822 through ill-health,
and was ordained at Lismore. In 1855 he received permission to emigrate to Australia where he died at Little River, Diocese of
Melbourne, on the 14th Feb., 1863.
(13). Donald Mackay entered Lismore in Nov., 1823, and went on to Propaganda. He had the reputation of a great student,
speaking Latin and Italian fluently, and was something of a Hebrew scholar. He died at Drimnin on the 4th Jan., 1887.
(14). Alexander Gillies was at Lismore from 1825 to 1826. He died at Cliadale in the island of Eigg, on the 23rd Jan., 1880.
(15). Angus Mackenzie, a native of Strathglass and a relative of the two Chisholm bishops, entered Lismore in 1826. When the
seminary was closed, he passed to Aquhorties in 1828 and then to Blairs. He was ordained in Rome in 1836. His death was
tragic and unexpected. When priest at Eskadale, he was invited to dinner by the Provost of Dingwall. A servant, sent to the
garden for radish to serve as garnish for the meat, brought back monkshood by mistake. Three of the party died - Mr. McKenzie,
Mr. James Gordon, the priest at Beauly and a grand-nephew of Priest Gordon, and a Catholic layman.
(16). Archibald Chisholm left Lismore in 1828 along with Angus Mackenzie for Aquhorties, and was ordained at Blairs in March,
1831. He died at Dalbeth on the 21st Dec., 1869.
(17). Donald Walker, a native of Glengarry, studied for some time at Lismore and was ordained at Valladolid in 1833. He died at
Fort Augustus, at the early age of 30, on the 27th Oct., 1838.
(18). Coll MacColl (a Lismore name) was educated at Lismore and ordained there by Bishop Ranald Macdonald in March,
1831, after the seminary had been closed. He remained at Lismore to assist the Bishop who was in failing health. He was at
Arisaig for a time and left under a cloud. Dom Odo Blundell had a story about him from a woman in the parish: "In consequence
of an accusation against him, he had to go to Australia; the woman who made the accusation lost her arm - it went bad, and her
cries could be heard five miles away".
This account of the Highland Seminaries cannot end except on a note of admiration for those bishops who, battling against
tremendous odds and in the face of direst poverty, sought to provide a seminary for the Highlands and to sustain that supply of
priests which was to keep the Faith alive in the West. Loch Morar, Buorblach, Guidale, Glenfinnan, Samalaman, Lismore, are
names to conjure with. Lismore, like Samalaman, still stands with its commanding view across the Lynn of Lorne. The seminary
chapel, still surmounted by its belfry, is now the dining-room of the boarding house - Kilcheran House - that has supplanted the
old college. Behind the house lies the little plot, once consecrated by Bishop Aeneas Chisholm, in which the two brothers, Bishop
John and Bishop Aeneas, await the final resurrection. If, in the words of the New Statistical Account, the seminary they founded
"left no vestige of that religion behind it", they yet builded better than they knew. Across the waters from Lismore, the Cathedral of
the ancient diocese of Argyll and the Isles stands as a monument to them and to the dauntless courage and intrepid faith of a line of
bishops, who "fought with cheerfulness the battles of Israel".
(Our thanks to the Innes Review in which the above article originally appeared)
St Mary's College, Blairs, Scotland's National Junior
Seminary, was founded in 1829, when John Menzies of
Pitfodels, the last member of an old Aberdeen Catholic
family, gave his estate of Blairs to the Bishops of his a
college for the early education of boys who hoped to
serve the Church as priests.
However, the tradition and history of the National Junior
Seminary can be traced back a further 117 years. Blairs
indeed was the last in a line of small 'secret seminaries'
where young men had been educated for the priesthood in
out of the way places in the Highlands and Islands. After
the Protestant Reformation in 1560, it was dangerous to
openly train boys for the priesthood. Boys began their
education in Scotland, then went on to one of the Scots
Colleges on the Continent to further their studies. Those
who were completely trained in Scotland were
affectionately known as 'Heather Priests'.
In 1716 Bishop Gordon, realising the need for a school
geared towards the rudimentary education of boys
preparing for the seminaries abroad, set up a tiny turf built
seminary at Scalan in Glenlivet. In time the college moved
to Aquhorties near Inverurie and it was this college that
gave way to the original Blairs College, at its site just
outside the City of Aberdeen.
Many thousands of students passed through the portals of
Blairs during the century and a half in which it was open,
and many went on to carry the message of the Christian
faith around the world.
Indeed, at one time more than half the priests ordained in
Scotland had been to the college for all or part of their
secondary education. For those who did not become
priests, Blairs provided an excellent Catholic education,
acting as a strong foundation and spiritual influence for
their future life.
The undeniable value of this is witnessed by the notable
success of so many in countries throughout the world.
In addition, a thorough grounding in their faith provided
many with the opportunity, as lay-people, to participate
more fully in the life of their church and society.
Although life at Blairs was necessarily disciplined, old
college magazines bear tribute to a group of young men
enjoying their way of life, with a dedicated and paternal
staff and a host of clubs and societies; encouraging them
to build and develop the very special community spirit that
enveloped the college through the ages. The college was
finally closed in 1986, though the building, chapel and
estate still remain.
life at Blairs - St Mary's Chapel - still remains.
The foundation stone for the Chapel was laid in
September 1899 and after 2 years of building works,
funded by generous gifts from Monsignor Lennon of
Liverpool, it was finally opened in 1901 and immediately
began to play a key role in college life.
At the daily celebraton of the Eucharist, the boys of Blairs
used to occupy the fine oaken choir benches and wonder
at the intricately detailed interior of this beautiful Chapel.
Based on the neo-gothic style of the time the Chapel has
many notable and unique features, such as the fine
polychrome marble lining the walls and the carved
wooden reredos and baldachin, with its figures of the
Evangelists and the Scottish patron saints Andrew and
In many ways the Chapel became the national face of
Blairs as it was there that in the 1980's several notable
television broadcasts were filmed, including 'Scotspraise',
'Highway' and 'The Liturgy of the Word for Palm Sunday,
1980', broadcast live from Blairs by the BBC.
For over 170 years Blairs College was home to a
Jacobite memorabilia which belonged to the Scottish
Roman Catholic Church. When the College closed in
1986 a trust was set up to preserve and exhibit this
The most famous items are those from the House of
Stewart. As well as a magnificent portrait of the Old
Pretender, James III, by the Italian artist Trevisani, there
are personalia relating to that most romantic of rebels,
Bonnie Prince Charlie - a ring with a lock of his hair, a
silver snuffbox presented to one of his supporters, and a
beautiful enamelled watch featuring the portrait of his
daughter, Charlotte, Duchess of Albany. The museum is
also the guardian of the Memorial Portrait of Mary
Queen of Scots, painted after her execution and saved
from the mob at the French Revolution by being hidden
up a chimney.
The European colleges all had collections of fine and
decorative art which found their way to Blairs. For
example, during the French Revolution at the end of the
18th century, the Scots College in Paris, like other
religious institutions, was suppressed, and its property
and treasures were threatened. Enterprising men
managed to save the bulk of the library and fine portraits
and vestments and ship them to Scotland, where they
were hidden until a safe place could be established for
both them and those training for the priesthood. Other
items were collected by the priests and bishops of the
secret Catholic schools.
|THE HIGHLAND SEMINARY AT LISMORE, 1803 - 1828
By Very Rev. Alexander S. MacWilliam
The Innes Review, 8, 30-38, circa 1958