Sixth annual Colm Cille Lecture

The lecture, arranged by Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (The Ui Church Trust) is being delivered by educationalist Iain Smith, who has Point connections.
The lecture, arranged by Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (The Ui Church Trust) is being delivered by educationalist Iain Smith, who has Point connections.

The sixth annual Colm Cille Lecture takes place in Ionad Stoodie tonight (September 29) thanks to sponsorship for the third year running from Point and Sandwick Trust.

The lecture, arranged by Urras Eaglais na h-Aoidhe (The Ui Church Trust) is being delivered by educationalist Iain Smith, who has Point connections, and the topic is Professor Donald Mackenzie of Aird, ‘Domhnall Seonaid’.

Domhnall Seonaid was one of the 10 characters featured in Saints and Sinners (Tales of Lewis Lives), the book co-authored by Iain and wife Joan Forrest and published by Acair.

The book focused on atypical stories of islanders from the late 19th and early 20th Century and showed how educational opportunity, or otherwise, affected the course of their lives.

What is remarkable about Domhnall Seonaid is that he was the son of a single parent, born in 1882, who went on to became dux of the Nicolson Institute, a first class honours graduate and member of staff at Aberdeen University, a minister and a professor of theology at Princeton.

Saints and Sinners tracks the rise of Domhnall Seonaid from such inauspicious beginnings — his mother was described as “mentally handicapped”, a label that arguably had more to do with her social status than her mental faculties — to his illustrious heights in academe.

He died in 1941, aged just 59.

Since writing the book, Iain Smith, who now lives in Glasgow and was Dean of Education at the University of Strathclyde before he retired, has done more research on Domhnall Seonaid and the lecture will include some of that new material.

Iain said: “The main thing that appealed to me is that he came from such a poor background and nevertheless made a big success of his life.

“To be the son of single parent in 1882 in Lewis was a significant handicap, to put it mildly. His mother was accused as having been someone who was ‘mentally handicapped’. That was a fairly typical attitude of the time throughout Scotland and Ireland.

“Apart from the chapter I’ve written I’m going to add one or two things about him in my lecture.”

The new information will include details of the endowment given to the Nicolson Institute, from Domhnall Seonaid’s family, to create prizes in his memory — prizes that were given right up until 2012 when the money finally ran out.

A collection of papers relating to Domhnall Seonaid was also recently lodged with Museum Nan Eilean by his surviving granddaughter, Kathleen Mackenzie Swaim, who lives in Massachussets.

They have been deposited in the archive and include a lot of pictures from childhood into adulthood plus a 60-page memoir of Domhnall Seonaid, written by his wife shortly after his death.

Iain, who is “25 per cent a Ruadhach” on his mother’s side, spent most of his childhood in Lionel Schoolhouse, where his father was headmaster, before moving to Sandwick and going on to university. His brother is retired Comhairle social work director, Malcolm Smith.

He said: “I’m a quarter Ruadhach and that’s partly the reason I’m looking forward to doing the talk at Garrabost on Friday night.”

Liz Chaplain, secretary of the Ui Trust, said: “I think it will be a really interesting talk about a local boy made good. The decision to have Iain Smith was made over a year ago because we knew he was doing research on the book and is a very good speaker.”

She said they tried to invite speakers who could speak on the subjects of Point, the Ui Church, the history or archaeology of the area or people with connections to the peninsula.

“It’s a very broad remit,” she said, adding that all the previous talks had been “very interesting indeed” and had been immortalised in printed booklets after the events, to preserve them.

“This year we’re selling the booklet of last year’s talk by Calum Ferguson.”

Booklets of previous talks can be available directly from Liz or at local community events, such as the Point Show, when the Ui Trust have a stall.

Liz added: “We’re delighted the last three lectures have been sponsored by Point and Sandwick Trust. We are very grateful to Point and Sandwick Trust for sponsoring us.”

Entry to the event at Ionad Stoodie in Garrabost is free and everyone is welcome.

Light refreshments will be served and donations will be taken. The talk begins at 7.30pm.

The sponsorship, a sum of £300, was given by Point and Sandwick Trust to help with the costs of hosting the lecture, including hall hire, and printing the booklets.