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Faith in a Crisis

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Famine, Eviction and the Church in North and South Uist

by Flora Johnston

The mid-19th century was a turbulent period in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Broad themes of social and economic change, eviction and emigration, famine and poverty and religious controversy were played out on a grand scale across the region.

Many of the judgements which have been made on the key players in the events of the time – the landlords, the factors, the clergy, and the people – have been made on that same grand scale. But when we look more closely at an individual community, the picture becomes more focussed, more complex, and more human.

This intriguing book by Flora Johnston, an experienced freelance writer and researcher, examines the role of the Church in dealing with and responding to the challenges of the mid-19th century in the islands of North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist. It covers the famine, ongoing emigration, the Disruption, and the high profile evictions from Lochboisdale and Sollas. The religious dimension is particularly interesting in these interlinked islands, where the Church of Scotland, the Free Church and the Roman Catholic Church existed side by side.

The clergy, particularly those belonging to the Established Church, have often been attacked for their complicity with the landlords during these years of crisis across the Highlands. Was this a fair conclusion in Uist? Who were the ministers and priests of Uist during these troubled years? What did they say and do in response to the events unfolding around them? Did they betray their people?

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