Schools in Moidart
by Gordon Barr

A summary of the reports of the Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools with particular emphasis on Moidart.

Schools in Moidart

The First Annual Report of the Society for the Support of Gaelic Schools states in its 1803 report that there are 335,000 persons in the Highlands of which 300,000 understand only Gaelic. The aim of the society was to teach people to read the Bible in Gaelic. It produced its own spelling book.

In 1812 the Society was supporting 20 Gaelic schools, 10 on the mainland and 10 on the islands. The 1812 report (page 2) states that the Rev Daniel Dewar of Strontian made a tour of Arisaig, Moidart, North and South "Morrer" and Knoydart. "None of the common people were able to read English or Gaelic. Between the Parish Church of Ardnamurchan and that of Glenelg there is only one Missionary Minister." Later (page 32) the report refers to school number IX in Moydart. "This tract of country, which is about 18 miles long by 7 broad has already been referred to in this report as standing in great need of education. The Teacher will continue for 5 months in this district and at the station where he can teach with most advantage. No letter has yet been received from this station, as it is only a recent appointment." The report does not state where the school was.

A school at Kilmorie in Ardnamurchan was due to open "next month".

The report notes that the SSPCK is to set up a schoolmaster "in the interior" between Strontian and the Parish School, the distance of which is about 30 miles.

In the summer of 1813 school number XXI in Glenuig was visited by the secretary of the Society and he comments favourably on the progress being made by the scholars and on the fact that the school has the full support of the Catholic Clergyman, Rev Norman MacDonald, D.D. (page 10). The teacher was Mr Peter MacEwan who had arrived in December 1812. Page 51 of the report gives the letter from Dr MacDonald praising the teacher and asking for another school to be established at Langal. Page 52 shows a letter sent by the scholars to the Society thanking it for the school. None could sign their names and their signs were witnessed by Mr Chisholm of Samalaman. They were Ranald MacDonald, Hugh MacDonald, Roderick MacDonald, Archibald MacIsaac, Donald MacIsaac, Ewan MacDonald, Norman MacDonald, John MacLean, Ann Thomson, Donald MacDonald, jun., John MacDonald, Donald MacVarish. (11 males and 1 female). A letter from the teacher of 10th April 1813 indicates that 15 attend regularly and "the others come to get a lesson regularly". Ages ranged from 23 to 4 years of age - 23 (1), 15-20 (4), 10-15 (4), 4-10 (15) i.e. a total of 24. The teacher reports that a school-house is promised and that 50 to 60 scholars would attend. By 31st July 1813 Peter MacEwan is reporting that numbers have increased and that "all the unmarried women in the town have come to the School, except two". On 9th October 13 have been added to the number of scholars, 10 of them women. "A few of the men promise to attend, from 22-24 years old and I expect that 10 or 12 will come from other places."

The 1814 report has only a brief mention of Glenuig school and the hope is expressed that those who have already learned to read will pass on their skills and that they will hire one of their own number to act as Teacher - probably the Ranald MacDonald praised by Norman
MacDonald in 1813. The list of schools made on 29th November 1814 does not mention
Glenuig which seems therefore to have closed by then, having been open for 3 years. Peter
MacEwan may have moved to Monkcastle School or Kildonan School in the Parish of
Lochbroom of Ross-shire.

Page 11 of the 1813 report states that the Committee has resolved to establish a school at Langal. Page 53 reproduces a letter from Dr Norman MacDonald dated 7th October 1813. In it he reports "There are several glens in this country; but, except Glenuig, they are all laid out in sheep-walks, and, of course, have little population." This seems to indicate that Glenmoidart and Loch Shiel had all been cleared by this time. He recommends Langal as the site for the school in south Moidart because it is the most populous, the most "centrical" and has a public road going through it. He says that there are 20 to 30 families who might send children to the school. It is proposed that the teacher would reside at Langal Farm. The main problem he sees is the lack of a School-house, "especially during the Winter season, as then all outhouses are occupied by crop and cattle; and the dwelling-houses are too small for the purpose of a School and other domestic affairs." He offers the use of a Meeting House on Langal farm "at a very short distance from the other houses, where I occasionally officiate."* The report seems to use the word farm as equivalent to "township" since on p55 (1813), in discussing Kentra school, it states that the teacher, Hugh Dewar, will have to go from farm to farm - "they are six in number, containing a population of about 200 souls". However, by 14th October 1814, it has been decided to establish the school at Blain instead of Langal "on account of some families on an adjoining property having removed to an inconvenient distance, which renders that station too eccentric for the purpose". Does this refer to clearance of people from Dalnabreac, Langal or Dalilea? Norman MacDonald states that he will be able to keep an eye on Blain better too because it is closer to where he stays. Blain, Scardoish? Blain opened on 14th November 1814 with 20 scholars and Donald Cameron as teacher. The first Session finished about the 18th of April with up to 61 attending, 40 or 50 of them constantly. One scholar taught his crippled father aged about 50 to read the New Testament, according to Norman MacDonald. At the end of the session there were 41 boys and 10 girls attending aged 5 to 27. The school continued operating at Blain in 1815. Donald Cameron is described as being at Mingary in the 1816 report. Does this indicate that the school had moved from Blain? Page 34 of the 1816 report states that Donald Cameron, Blain, Ardnamurchan, Strontian post town(?), had 49 males, 7 females aged 4 to 27, 4 making good progress reading the Bible and 23 in reading the Guide.

[* I spoke to Davie Duncan Sen. recently and he mentioned that a historian he could not identify had said that there was a church in Langal, close to the burn and above the old croft. Apparently there are still some stones there marking its outline. This building may well be the meeting house mentioned by Dr. Norman MacDonald - JD 15/2/03]

Kentraa School and Hugh Dewar had removed to Salen by 1815.

The 1819 report shows former schools at Blain, Glenuig and Mingary. The only active school is Mingray (sic) with Donald Cameron as teacher. 27 males, 19 females aged 5-21.
By 1819 Donald Cameron has been stationed on Eilean Shona where he had 16 males and 11 females aged 6-30.

The 1851 Census shows that there was a schoolmaster, John Maclver, in Glenuig then. He was born in 1809 in the Parish of Gairloch and he was living in Glenuig with his wife Marjory (born 1806 in Argyll) and 3 daughters who are described as having been born on Muck. It is possible that he had been a schoolmaster there before coming to Glenuig. They had a house servant, Jane MacLean who was 20 and also had been born on Muck. The 1861 census does not record a schoolmaster in Glenuig or nearby. The OS name books state "Glenuig School is situated at the Northern extremity of Glen Uig and is supported by Mrs. H. Blackburn, Roshven and the SPCK. Number of scholars 26."(1872). The school and schoolhouse were likely to be the buildings on the east side of the burn next to the school which was later built in 1876.

The 1851 census records that Archibald Fletcher was a schoolmaster at Kinlochmoidart. He was only 20 and came from Salen, Mull. His brother Duncan (14) and a tailor Hugh MacDougall (26) were also in the same house. This was probably the school near the farm which is shown on the first OS map. The 1861 census describes an unmarried Allan MacPherson (22, from Morvern) as an "Assembly Schoolmaster". He lived in a house with 3 rooms.

At Glenaladale a schoolmaster is recorded in the 1861 census. He was George Cameron (born 1821 in Kingussie). Two sons of a shepherd, Thomas Grieve, aged 9 and 6, are described as scholars in Glenaladale.

Archibald MacDonald (26, born in Glasgow) was the schoolmaster at Polnish SSPCK School in 1861. He stayed with his wife, 2 sons and a daughter.

The SSPCK reports provide the following information:

1777 Arisaig, Donald Cameron £12, 26 males, 8 females.
1784 Arisaig, Don Campbell £12, 31 + 4 scholars.
1810 Arisaig, John MacDonald £20, 95 males + 21 females.
1817 Arisaig, John MacQuarrie £20, 92 scholars.
1825-26 School at Blaich, Parish of Kilmallie, Donald Mathieson, £18, 65 scholars.
Locheilside school, John MacMaster, £15 salary, 69 scholars.
Arisaig school John MacQuarrie, £20 salary, 59 male scholars, 10 female scholars.
1835-36 Arisaig, Archibald MacNab, £20
1837-38 Schools at Blaich, Donald Mathieson, £18.
Corriebeg, David Ross, £15.
Arisaig, Archibald MacNab £20.
School for "spinning, sewing and other branches of female industry, Boleskin, Mrs. Fraser.
1839-40 Arisaig, Donald MacKenzie, £20,
Acharacle catechist, John Cameron, £8. Mrs. MacNaughton £4 (new station).
1841-42 Arisaig, Donald MacKenzie, £20.
1843-44 Arisaig, Donald MacKenzie, £20.
1847-48 Strontian, Kinlochmoidart, £15, but teacher not named. (p3)
1848-49 Kinlochmoidart, John Stewart, £18. School no 73
1848-49 Kinlochmoidart, Alexander MacNaughton, £18.
Arisaig, Donald MacKenzie, £20.
1850-51 Presbytery of Mull, Arisaig, Donald MacKenzie, £20 salary.
Kinlochmoidart, Alexander MacNaughton, £18 salary (p3).
Catechist at Achracle, John Cameron, £8 (p7). Mrs. MacCowan received £6 (p 10).
1851-52 Presbytery of Mull, schoolmaster at Arisaig, Donald MacKenzie, receiving a salary of
£20. There was a Catechist at Acharacle, John Cameron on a salary of £8 and a Mrs.
MacCowan at Kilchoan receiving £6. Census shows Archibald Fletcher at Kinlochmoidart.
1852-53 Kinlochmoidart, Archibald Fletcher, £18.

Article on 1872 Act and Gaelic Education TGSI LI, 1978180 p1

Teaching of Gaelic, Special Report by An Comann Gàidhealach, 1936.

Education in the Highlands in the Olden Times, Wm. MacKay, TGSI 1914

Wall Display Map in Inverness Library of SSPCK Schools came from GD95 13 21/1

1876 Val. Roll is first to show schoolhouse at Mingarry. Teacher Donald MacCormack

1876 Val. Roll shows Polnish schoolhouse, Archibald (?) teacher

No. XXI Glenuig School.


I. From the Rev. Norman MacDonald, D. D. Roman Catholic Clergyman, dated Moidart, 22d April 1813. - Sir, Please permit me to inform you, that Peter M'Ewen, the hearer hereof, has given entire satisfaction in regard to his moral conduct, which has been irreproachable since he came to this country; as also in teaching the Gaelic language, in which branch of education, his pupils, I find, have made an unexpected progress, during the short period since he came here, having, by all appearance, paid the utmost attention to the trust you and the Society reposed in him. I give this character of him entirely unsolicited by himself; but, from the little acquaintance I have had personally with him, and the report of my parishioners with whom he lodged. He is now, I am told, about to depart, and though to return soon hereafter uncertain; he says, whether or not to be appointed again for this country. The whole of this country are Roman Catholics committed to my care, with the exception of a few of the established religion. The difference of our creed, I understand, makes no difference in the universal benevolence you shew towards all mankind; and, therefore, if you and the Society do not find it convenient to restore Mr M'Ewen to us, I beg leave to propose another candidate, who is his principal Scholar. I have examined the boy, and have made him read different parts of the Bible, besides his ordinary lesson, when I found him as expert in reading the Gaelic, and as fluently, as you or I could read English. As I see, by the public Papers, that your funds are continually increasing, this being but a poor country, if you and the Society could find it convenient to give an encouraging salary to this young boy, for teaching the Gaelic in other parts of this country, I would be most willing to employ him for that purpose, as I think him sufficiently capable of doing so. The local situation of this Country is very disadvantageous to any kind of public School, being cut up a considerable way by the Sea, so that the Youth and Children cannot, at the same time, attend on either side; but if you can find it convenient to employ Ranald M'Donald, Mr. M'Ewen's pupil, he will in a short time hence, teach all the Youth of the country to read the Gaelic Scriptures, which I wish for very much. When Mr. M'Ewen returns, please let me know your proper address, in case of future correspondence. Meanwhile, I am, Sir, your most obedient humble servant.

2. From the Teacher, dated Moidart, 10th April 1813 - I am very glad to tell you, that I have great pleasure in most of the Scholars. They are learning pretty well. Some of them could read some words when I came here (In December last); five or six of these read the Bible now with all ease. I have ten or eleven reading the New Testament, and the rest are reading the Spelling-book. Fifteen of them attend very regularly, and the others come to get a lesson every opportunity. One of them is about 23 years of age: four, from 15 to 20; four, from 10 to 15; and fifteen, from 4 to 10. The people are glad on hearing that I am coming among them again; they were afraid that I was not to come. Others have been speaking to me, and they promised a School-house, with every accommodation. As far as they knew, they were thinking that 50 or 60 scholars would attend, I hope this will give satisfaction to you and to the Society.

3. From the Teacher, 3lst July l8l3 - I have the pleasure of letting you know, that the number of my Scholars has increased since you visited us. All the unmarried women in the town have come to the School, except two. I hope they will read pretty well before the Session be over, as they are very anxious to learn.
9th October. Thirteen have been added since you had the opportunity of seeing us; ten of these are women, who knew not A from C when they entered; but now, some of them can read pretty well. A few of the men promise to attend, from 22 to 24 years old - and I expect that ten or twelve will come from other places.

4. Letter from the Inhabitants, dated Moidart, 22nd April 1813. - We, the under subscribers, and tenants In Glenuig, humbly beg leave to return our grateful thanks to the Society, who had the humanity of sending us Mr. M'Ewen, to teach our children the Gaelic language. May the great God reward them for their good and laudable Intentions! We are so well pleased with Mr. M'Ewen, that we would rejoice at his coming among us again, if the honourable Society would think us worthy. We remain, most gratefully, your most obedient humble servants,

Ranald X M'Donald. Norman X M'Donald.
Hugh X M'Donald. John X M'Lean.
Roderick X M'Donald, Ann X Thomson.
Archibald X M'Isaac. Donald X M'Donald, jun.
Donald X M'Isaac. John X M'Donald.
Ewen X M'Donald, Donald X M'Varish.
Their marks. Their marks..

The above in presence of Mr Chisholm of Samlaman.