Survey of the Baptisms in Ardkenneth Parish 1829-2007

Survey of the Baptisms in Ardkenneth Parish 1829-2007


This survey, which I undertook during the early part of the year, involved recording 2694 baptisms in the parish of Ardkenneth from 1829, when records begin, to 2007. I recorded the baptisms according to the place of residence of the parents at the time of the baptism of the child. I hoped that this work would show how the places of residence of the parishioners changed as they were affected by displacement, eviction, emigration, subdivision of their holdings, congestion and their economic circumstances.

For the purposes of the survey, I excluded Benbecula. Benbecula became a separate parish in 1877. Prior to that date, it was part of the Ardkenneth parish. The early baptismal and marriage records for Benbecula are contained in the Ardkenneth register. Until 1877 the townships of Snishival, Howmore, and Howbeg formed part of Ardkenneth parish. In the re-organisation of parishes which took place on South Uist, Benbecula, and Eriskay, these townships became part of the parish of Bornish. The new parish of Daliburgh was also formed then whose northern boundary was established at North Askernish.

Contray to what is sometimes popularly imagined, the Church does not normally keep records of deaths in a parish unless it owns a graveyard. Under canon law the priest is obliged to keep a record of the administration of the sacraments of baptism and marriage.

Records begin in Ardkenneth parish in 1829 and in Bornish in 1820. These dates mark the arrival of two new parish priests, James MacGregor at Ardkenneth and John Chisholm at Bornish. Catholic Emancipation had taken place in 1828 and it was now considered to be safe to keep records which would identify, without doubt, Catholics living within a particular area. The Church was less frightened of outright persecution than it had been in the past. This sense of optimism is conveyed by the approach of Bishop Scott in a letter to John Chisholm of Bornish over the question of building the new church and house on a croft: ‘For if once you get possession of a croft and build a chapel and dwelling house on it, the days are now gone by when any landlord would think of taking possession of a chapel and dwelling house built by a Catholic clergyman. I would have no dread of that whether you had a feu or not.’

But these records are not just the note of the administration of the sacraments. They also provide us with a great deal of social and historical information. They give the names and occupations of the parents; where they lived; what the occupation was. They give us information on places that were once inhabited and of occupations that have now gone out of existence. They give us the genealogy of the babies baptised – James MacGregor had the habit of noting that down. Sometimes the entries are amusing, rarely are they scandalous, always they are interesting.

I will divide this paper into three parts:

1. General survey and population movement

2. ‘Interesting’ entries

3. The Johnsons of Rossal


It is quite shocking to see the dramatic decline that has taken place in the number of baptisms since the middle of the 19th century:

1829 - 1837 / 299
1838 - 1847 / 370
1848 - 1857 / 237
1858 - 1867 / 262
1868 - 1877 / 208
1878 - 1887 / 216
1888 - 1897 / 205
1898 - 1907 / 177
1908 - 1917 / 139
1918 - 1927 / 106
1928 - 1937 / 86
1938 - 1947 / 81
1948 - 1957 / 67
1958 - 1967 / 45
1968 - 1977 / 36
1978 - 1987 / 69
1988 - 1997 / 56
1998 - 2007 / 35

The grid is divided into ten year periods. The chart shows the decline in children born in the parish of Ardkenneth over the last 180 years approx. The high point of births is 1838 – 1847 when 370 babies were born. The next ten year period, 1848-1857, sees a decline to 230 or a drop of nearly 40%. This coincides with the years of the potato famine (or potato disease as it is referred to in the records) 1846-1848 and the most severe period of eviction 1849-1851. During the previous evictions of 1827-1828 the people were displaced from where they lived to other parts of the parish. This time they were removed to other parts of the parish previously uninhabited, to other parts of the island, or were forced to emigrate. The number of births began to recover during the next ten year period, 1858-1867, and held steady for the next thirty years, 1867-1897. Between 1898-1927 the number of births in the parish declines by 40% from 177 to 106. This is due to the effects of voluntary emigration and the First World War. Through the latter part of the twentieth century and the early part of the twenty first the number of births has declined with a realtive rise in the period from 1978-1997.

Even taking into account the fall in infant mortality rates over the whole period, there has still been a very marked decline in births within the parish area. If the reasons for this decline in the 19th and early twentieth centuries were eviction, hunger, lack of opportunity for advancement, emigration, and the effects of war, the decline in the latter part of the twentieth century is for different reasons. Amongst these, I would suggest, is the tendency towards having smaller families, lack of employment opportunities, and, funnily enough, the placing of practically the whole Estate area under crofting tenure. While, intially, this latter may have helped to stabilise the population or slow the decline, giving to each family a sustenance level of support from crofting and a high density of rural population, it has also led to some unforeseen consequences: the practical impossibility of obtaining rural housing unles one tenants a croft; the inheritance of multiple croft tenancies through family assignation. These are problems which will need to be dealt with by the community if it is serious about increasing the population of the community owned estate.

The statistics have shown a practically constant decline in the number of births in the parish over the past 180 years. But they also show, under more microscopic examination, the patterns of movemnet of the people within the parish and, partly at least, explain the pressure for the break up of Gerinish farm in 1907 and the other large farms throughout the estate area after that.

Bualadubh / 31
Ardnamonie / 24
Stilligarry / 23
Howbeg / 21
Carnan / 17
Iochdar / 16
Gearraidhfluich / 15
Snishival / 15
Kilauly / 13
Linique / 12
Kilvannan / 12
Balgarva / 11
Gearraidhganichy / 9
Drimore / 9
Ardivachair / 8
Gerinish / 8
Uishinish/Ournish / 7
Scalligarry / 6
Rossal / 5
Bualualuchdrachd / 5
Drimsdale / 5
Loch Skipport / 4
Kintarbert / 4
Island of Iochdar / 4
Corradale / 3
Rhugashnish / 2
Uachdar Sithean / 2
Rhutornish / 2
Clachan / 1
Moor of Iochdar / 1
Ardkenneth / 1
Kylesduin / 1
Grogarry / 1
Howmore / 1
Loch Carnan
Machar Mor

As we look at this pie chart we can see, first of all, how widely scattered the recorded baptisms were in the period 1829-1837. There were a significant number in Gearaidhfliuch, Kilvanan, and Gerinish. There were none in Loch Carnan or Ardmore and only two in Rhugashnish. Bualadubh, Ardnamonie, Stilligarry, and Carnan were the highest but the percentage relative to the whole was still relatively small 10%, 8%, 8%, 6% respectively.

Howbeg / 30
Ardivachair / 26
Carnan / 22
Balgarva / 20
Stilligarry / 16
Snishival / 16
Ardmore / 11
Bualualuchdrachd / 11
Scalligarry / 11
Ardnamonie / 11
Linique / 9
Loch Carnan / 8
Bualadubh / 6
Kilauly / 6
Drimore / 6
Clachan / 5
Drimsdale / 5
Iochdar / 4
Gerinish / 3
Gearraidhganichy / 2
Machar Mor / 2
Rhugashnish / 1
Loch Skipport / 1
Uishinish/Ournish / 1
Corradale / 1
Cuidhe na’m fiadh / 1
Kylesduin / 1
Howmore / 1
Uachdar Sithean
Moor of Iochdar
Island of Iochdar

This is the pie chart for the years 1848-1857. We can clealry see the effect of the clearances of 1849-1851 on the distribution of population within the parish. No baptisms are recorded on the east side hamlets of Rossal or Kintarbet, nor for Grogarry, Kilvanan, or Gearraidhfliuch, and Gerinish itself only has three in ten years. People are now resident in places which previously were uninhabited e.g. Loch Carnan and Ardmore, while other townships’ population is increasing dramatically e.g. Howbeg, Ardivachair, Carnan and Balgarva.

Baptisms 1868-1877

Ardmore / 22
Ardnamonie / 21
Loch Carnan / 18
Howmore / 17
Bualadubh / 15
Carnan / 14
Snishival / 13
Howbeg / 13
Iochdar / 11
Clachan / 9
Noas / 8
Linique / 7
Stilligarry / 7
Ardivachair / 6
Drimore / 5
Balmore / 4
Balgarva / 4
Gerinish / 4
Bualualuchdrachd / 2
Inver / 2
Drimsdale / 2
Rhugashnish / 1
Scalligarry / 1
Kilauly / 1
Gearraidhfluich / 1
Loch Skipport
Uachdar Sithean
Moor of Iochdar
Island of Iochdar
Cuidhe na’m fiadh
Machar Mor

This table shows how the young population of the parish is concentrated in Ardmore, Ardnamonie, Loch Carnan, Bualadubh, and Carnan. Noas is now realtively heavily populated. Ardivachair had been reorganised in 1854 into ten crofts. These had been let to tenats from Gerinish and Benbecula. Young couples were staying with relatives, helping on the croft, often waiting for the crofter to die.

Ardnamonie / 30
Bualadubh / 29
Carnan / 24
Loch Carnan / 22
Ardmore / 19
Linique / 12
Stilligarry / 11
Clachan / 9
Noas / 8
Rhugashnish / 7
Howmore / 7
Balgarva / 4
Kilauly / 4
Ardivachair / 4
Snishival / 4
Balmore / 3
Scalligarry / 3
Machar Mor / 3
Gerinish / 3
Loch Skipport / 2
Bualualuchdrachd / 2
Inver / 2
Drimore / 2
Howbeg / 2

In this chart and table for 1878-1887 we can see that 56% of the total number of baptisms in the parish are of babies from 5 villages – Ardnamonie, Bualadubh, Carnan, Loch Carnan, and Ardmore.The Crofting Act was passed in 1886 giving security of tenure and the other rights of crofters but the problem of overcrowding had not been resolved.

Ardnamonie / 45
Carnan / 32
Clachan / 18
Rhugashnish / 17
Loch Carnan / 15
Linique / 13
Bualadubh / 12
Ardmore / 10
Noas / 9
Bualualuchdrachd / 5
Loch Skipport / 4
Balgarva / 4
Gerinish / 4
Stilligarry / 4
Kilauly / 3
Drimore / 3
Scalligarry / 2
Ardivachair / 2
Machar Mor / 2
Balmore / 1

In this table and chart we can see how overcrowded Ardnamonie and Carnan have become. The same applies picture applies roughly to the period from 1898 – 1907.

Gerinish / 31
Bualadubh / 24
Loch Carnan / 15
Balgarva / 9
Ardnamonie / 8
Ardmore / 7
Carnan / 7
Linique / 7
Rhugashnish / 6
Stilligarry / 4
Dun / 4
Balmore / 3
Clachan / 3
Noas / 3
East Gerinish / 3
Kilauly / 2
Ardivachair / 2
Loch Skipport / 1
Machar Mor

22% of the baptisms during the ten years 1908-1917 are of babies born in Gerinish. Ardnamonie and Carnan have fallen.


The first child to be born in the new settlement of Gerinish was Angus Morrison, son of John Morrison and Mary MacIntyre, born 23rd August 1908. Two years later five children were born: Ann Morrison, daughter of Alexander Morrison and Mary MacIntyre, on 5th June; Johanna Morrison, sister of Angus, on the 19th; Mary Ann MacDonald, daughter of John MacDonald and Flora MacIntyre, on 19th August; John Connely, son of Charles Connolly, shepherd Mull, and Christine MacKay, on 15th October; Archibald MacPhee, son of Hector MacPhee and Catherine Campbell, on the 15th October.

The first Iochdar triplets are to be found in the year 1829. The entry reads: ‘Angus MacAulay, Catherine MacAulay, and John MacAulay were born all three at one birth in the order in which they are here named: Angus being born on the 21st and Catherine and John on the morning of the 22nd of September 1829, being the children of Lachlan MacAulay crofter in Bualadhu, Iochdar, and of Marion MacPhee his wife. The three said infants were baptised on the 22nd September 1829. John mac Millan and Christina Ferguson being sponsors for Angus; Catherine MacPhee being sponsor for Catherine; and Neil MacPhee and Mary MacPhee being sponsors for John.’

Moving to 1830 we find the birth of Rory Monk, son of John Monk, alias Englishman, in Uachdar of Benbecula It may be that at least some of the Monks of Benbecula are descended from this man.

We can identify some of the people who lived in Gearraidhfliuch, Gerinish, and Kilvanan in 1829-1830. John MacLellan was a crofter in Gearraidhfliuch; Norman MacLeod, the shoemaker in Kilvanan; Archibald MacLellan, the taylor (sic) in Kilvanan, Gerinish, and Gearraidhfliuch; Donald MacLeod, grasskeeper in Gearraidhfliuch, from whom the present Angus MacLeod at Rhugashnish is descended in a direct line.

A picture is presented of life before organised crofting. Each village or group of villages has its own tailor and its own shoemaker, its own blacksmith and its own grasskeeper.

By the late 1840s we find new names in the register which show the beginnings of integration between newcomers and the local population: 1849 Margaret Patterson, daughter of Donald Patterson, Tailor, Balgarva; 1851 Joanna Grieve daughter of George Grieve, shepherd in Corradale, and Mary MacLellan. At that time, girls followed the denomination of their mother, boys the denomination of their father.

Occasionally, the priest gives a little more away. I was amused by the entry for 25th December 1857: Baptised Donald MacIntyre, born 15th, first child of Donald roy of Donald of Donald roy of Duncan mor, the notorious deerhunter, crofter in Scalligarry. I wonder if the infant inherited the talent and reputation of his great great grandfather who must have lived in the 1720s or 1730s.

Rare references are made to scandals, one or two of which, even today, would be serious.

The terms ‘legittimate’ and illegittimate’ are not used until the late nineteenth century. The terms that are used are ‘natural’ and ‘lawful’. The father is almost always recorded not for any prurient reason, I suspect, but because of the importance of the knowledge of blood lines and blood relationships.

The odd entry makes one wonder what was going on. Over a few days in 1886 the nine children of Neil Maclennan, living in Gerinish, were baptised by Bishop Angus MacDonald (four of them), Fr Alan MacDonald (four of them), and the futre Bishop of Aberdeen and brother of Bishop Angus, Hugh MacDonald, (one of them). Their ages ranged from a few months to eighteen years. Why were they baptised all together? Why not by the parish priest, Donald MacColl? Who was Neil MacLennan? Was there any connection with the MacLennans that Fr Allan was friendly with? What was the story? These are just a few of the questions that I have about this entry.

The baptismal records of Ardkenneth parish show simply the record of theadministration of the first sacrament of Christian life. Indirectly, they are an important genealogical and historical resource. They show where people lived, what they did, who they married, what children they had. They show where they moved to and how the events of the 19th and early 20th centuries impacted on their lives. They remind us, too, that history is not just dry statistics but is the story of people; individuals, their lives, their hopes, their struggles.


To illustrate this point I want to tell briefly the story of the Johnstones of Rossal. I use this spelling of ‘Johnstone’ because that is the way that it is found in the register. Rossal was a hamlet behind Heckla which has not been inhabited since the Clearances.

I found three marriages which set off my interest:

  1. June 15th 1830 Donald Johnstone residing in Rossal and Janet MacInnes residing in Bailemore Iochdar
  2. 26th November 1833 Angus Johnstone in Gearranamone and Mary Johnstone in Rossal….. Rory Johnstone Seaman in Rossal, the best man
  3. 5th May 1836 Rory Johnstone son of Alexander Johnstone residing in Rossal (big hill) and Marion MacDonald.

These are two brothers and a sister. There was at least one other brother, Angus, who had already married Christina Munro, before marriage records begin in 1830. Rory was a seaman as also probably were Rory and Donald. They were ‘clann Alasdair Aonghus ruidh’. We know this because this is the genealogy given in the baptismal records.

Let’s take the family of Angus who had married Christina Munro. They had eleven children: John, Murdoch, Donald, Margaret, Catherine, Mary, Margaret, Donald, Archibald, Alexander, and Rory. They are listed as residing in Rossal until they moved or, rather, were moved, to Loch Carnan before 1846. The records show that they were in Loch Carnan for the birth of their last two children, Alexander and Rory, in 1846 and 1848 respectively. This family then disappears from the records. It appears that they emigrated from Loch Carnan in the early 1850s but we do not know their destination or whether or not they made it.

Donald Johnstone and Janet MacInnes, who had married in 1830, had nine children: Rory, Donald, Christy, Margaret, Murdoch, MalcolmMary, Flora, and Ann. The first, Rory, is born at Rossal. He is named after the last priest to live at the Gearraidh, Roderick MacDonald, who died there in 1828. By the time of the birth of their second child, Donald, in 1833, Donald snr is described as a crofter in Bualdhu, Iochgar, possibly having taking over his wife’s father’s croft. By 1840, when Murdoch is born, they have moved to Fiackle (Holmar) where Donald is described as Grasskeeper.

Mary, who had married Angus Johnstone of Garranamone had five of a family of which we have records: Donald (Rossal), Catherine (Rossal), Margaret (Cambusfaochag, Loch Skipport), John (Baghnafaolin), Donald (Manach, Loch Skipport). They had been on the east side of the parish but had moved from Rossal to Manach, Loch Skipport. After 1845 there are no further records. They may well have been ‘cleared’ between 1846 and 1851.

Rory, the seaman from Rossal who had married Marion MacDonald of Ardivachair in 1836, is recorded as residing in Ardivachair. He and his wife had six children: Margaret, Oighrig, Angus and James, Alexander and Ronald. It appears that Rory and his wife and children were removed from Ardivachair in 1849 and went to reside at Fiackle with his brother, Donald. They emigrated from Fiackle in the 1850s but we do not know their destination, whether or not they arrived or what became of them after that.

We do have records of three of the children of Donald Johnstone, the grasskeeper at Fiackle, and his wife, Janet MacInnes: Rory, Donald, and Malcolm

Rory married Christina MacPherson and was residing with her father in law in Bualadubh when their first born, Colin, entered the world as the entry says ‘about 2-o-clock Am 12th April and baptised the same day’ in 1858. Their second child, Catherine, is born in 1860. The family then move to Kinglanavat, Ardmore. Mary Flora is born there in 1862. There are no further records of the family of Ruaridh. Colin is Ruaridh Beag Ruaridh Chailean’s grandfather. So, Roddy Johnson is son of Rory of Colin of Rory of Alexander of Angus Roy as Father James MacGregor would have put it.