Sunday Evening Reflection: Our Lady of the Isles

Thig crìoch air an t-saoghal, ach mairidh gaol is ceòl.

The world will end, but love and music will endure.

Gaelic Proverb

The Outer Hebrides, also known as The Western Isles, is an island chain off the west coast of mainland Scotland.  These islands are separated from the Scottish mainland and from the Inner Hebrides by the waters of the Minch, the Little Minch, and the Sea of the Hebrides.  There are five main islands, starting from the northernmost Isles of Lewis. If you head south you will reach Harris, North and South Uist,  and finally Barra.  The uninhabited and isolated Island of St. Kilda, positioned 64 kilometres west-northwest of North Uist in the North Atlantic Ocean, is the westernmost island of the Outer Hebrides.

Many myths and legends have originated from the seas that surround the Outer Hebrides.  The storm kelpies aka the blue men of the Minch, the water spirit, Seonaidh, who demanded a goodly portion of ale, and the fairies or Sithchean, a supernatural race of small people, are only a few of the narratives held safe in the folds of Hebridean history.

There is another story, more recent, that has been woven into the fabric of these unforgettable Islands: Our Lady of the Isles.

On the western slopes of Ruabhal, a hill near the northern end of South Uist, the statue of Our Lady of the Isles presides with serene compassion.  She was commissioned in the late 1940’s in response to the announcement by the Ministry of Defence of their intention to establish a Rocket Range on the island of South Uist.  At first, many believed this would bring opportunities for employment, but when the scale of the project was discovered, there was great concern.  Uist would be forever altered, the way of life, language and culture would experience upheaval and families would need to move to make way for the new facilities.

Resistance to the proposals was led by Canon John Morrison, the local parish priest. He commissioned and raised funds for the construction of Our Lady of the Isles, which was completed in 1957 and dedicated in 1958. The statue was designed by Hew Lorimer, and sculpted from granite.

There was a happy ending…

In April 1959, only a few short months after the dedication of  Our Lady of the Isles, the Ministry of Defence agreed that their development proposal was to be scaled down so that the language, culture, and beauty of Uist would continue.  Now fifty years later, the revised project has provided employment opportunities as well as enticing service personnel to make Uist their permanent home.

Our Lady of the Isles is a testament that when we come together, in good faith, much can be accomplished. 

47 Thoughts

  1. Well of course, you had me at Isles, cos I thought this will be Scotland and it was. Wonderful story of the statue, not a story I knew but I have a book on St Kilda and I reread it in the summer, abso fascinating.

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    1. I have always wanted to go to St Kilda, Shehanne. I admire the inhabitants that lived in this type of isolation, up until the 1930’s. How did they survive!?? I understand that travel to that remote island is heavily dependent upon the weather. A friend booked a trip only to be cancelled because of the rough seas. I have great difficulty with seasickness so I took a virtual trip all from my kitchen table with a cup of tea. Come join me!!! https://youtu.be/qmf7OZCe63s

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      1. I’d love to go too. I think it literally is the island on the edge of the world so far as Scotland goes. Their survival sometimes hung in the balance. There was a very interesting bit about plague getting there and how the inhabitants, who could be felled by a cold because they had very little immunity, died, except for these sailors who had been shipwrecked elsewhere. Anyway they finally manged to get back to the island and there was like 2 adults and 24 kids left. But they appealed to other islands for islanders basically and got them.

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      2. I aye hate to say I think you will like it but in this case I think you will. there’s lots of little stories in it, true ones. I know there’s stuff re the island itself but there’s plenty about the people and how they lived and some fascinating info.

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  2. Such a striking statue, and it’s heartening to hear about a happy ending — something that feels so rare these days. 😦 As always, Rebecca, a wonderful presentation that teaches us so much via your words and images.

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    1. Thank you, Dave – you always make my day! We live in difficult and uncertain times that challenge us to look for ways to bring honest debate to a high standard. We all recognize that our world is perilously divided in how we approach complex problems. Looking back on past narratives, reading books, and connecting with people who look for ways to bring positive and beneficial outcomes to all, give me hope. Thank you for your compassion for our world.

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  3. This is a wonderful story. Thank you to the Parish Priest who was interested in saving the location from so much construction. The statue is really lovely, I had a long look at it. Very well done! ! Thank you for this interesting story and a look back into some interesting island history.

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    1. I understand that it was a labour of love, Frances, on the part of the parish priest. It seemed that The Lady of the Isles was a rallying point that brought people together. And it didn’t happen overnight, given the issue first came in the last 1940’s and wasn’t resolved until the late 1950’s. I confess that I am impatient and sometimes feel that resolution or solutions will never come. The Lady of the Isles is a reminder that life will continue to evolve.

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    1. A very good point, Meg! Finding balance, seeing another perspective, looking for new ways to view a problem leads to amazing outcomes. A few years ago I was introduced to Mary Parker Follett’s work on organizational behaviour. (I wish I had known about her before, but better late than never). I love how she approached a complex situation: “There are three ways of dealing with difference: domination, compromise, and integration. By domination only one side gets what it wants; by compromise neither side gets what it wants; by integration we find a way by which both sides may get what they wish.” Thank you for joining me on Uist! Hugs!

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      1. Oh Liz! Mary Parker Follett was extraordinary. This is from Wikipedia, and will give you some background: “Mary Parker Follett was an American social worker, management consultant, philosopher and pioneer in the fields of organizational theory and organizational behavior. Along with Lillian Gilbreth, she was one of two great women management experts in the early days of classical management theory.” She was from a Quaker background and was the personal consultant fo Theodore Roosevelt. She come from Quincy Mass. but travelled to England for a great deal of her work. Her major work was The New State written in 1918. If I could travel back in time to meet one person, it would be Mary Parker Follett.

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  4. Oh what an beautiful story. “Serene compassion” and “come together, in good faith,” epitomize this example of what can be accomplished when people address their differences in creative ways. Our Lady of the Isles stands like a beacon in the storm, as the clouds behind her suggest, calling us to courage. Your posts displaying so much beauty at the top of the world always resonate deeply with me. Our Lady connects the earth with the sky, our humanity with the divine whom she is embracing, which is that story after all. Thank you so much, Rebecca, for sharing this!! I recall another story similar to this about a chapel being built in a WWII prison camp in another remote area? I’m foggy on the details 🙂

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    1. Oh Mary Jo, you have a poet’s heart. “Stands like a beacon in the storm, the clouds behind her suggest, calling us to courage.” Courage is indeed what we need for we will continue to face a world that is perilously divided on how to approach the issues of climate change, inequalities, shrinking resources. Humanity has never had a time of certainty. Our greatest gift is our ability to look for ways in which to live boldly, with compassion and hope – to harness our courage for the betterment of our communities, both local and global. In a world filled with noise, it is the still small voice that has the power and strength to bring us together. Yes – the Italian Chapel located on Orkney. The interesting connection that ties these two locations is “remoteness” even a form of isolation. It seems that when we pause, consider, and quiet our minds, we become more creative, more open to new ideas even as we experience hardship. Something to think about in our current reality. This is the link to the chapel: https://ladybudd.com/2020/04/19/sunday-evening-reflection-the-italian-chapel/. Sending many thanks along with my hugs!!!

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    1. Thank you, Paul, for your heartwarming comments. The thought that came to me when you mentioned music is by Vincent Van Gogh. “In the end we shall have had enough of cynicism, skepticism and humbug, and we shall want to live more musically.” Here is to the joy of living musically! Love our conversations.

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  5. That sculpture is to say the least, magnificent, standing on its own without any need of wordy description or analysis. The majesty of its design and size, for me takes it beyond its singular religious connotation, reflected in its title of Our Lady of the Isles.
    A most impressive work of art and story of its reason d’être,
    Thank you Rebecca for your detailed and enlightening post…

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    1. I am so pleased that you enjoyed this post, Jean-Jacques. The sculpture could be seen from miles away, solitary, resilient and a reminder that there are ways in which we can come together to solve complex problems. I am going to look more into the life of Hew Martin Lorimer, the sculptor. He sculpted the artwork adorning the facade of the National Library of Scotland. He also lived in a castle, so there is an interesting story to be found. One story leads to another and another and another.

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    1. I am thrilled that you joined me, Teagan. The power of stories continue to influence so it is essential that we remember, we write, we share for that is how we live our best lives. I am thankful for writers for they hold our stories safe. Hugs coming back on grateful wings.

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    1. A very interesting question, Graham. You have me on a mini research project because this sign seems to be universal. When I travelled in Asia, I looked for a small statue of Guanyin (or Kuan Yin – there are many spellings), the goddess of compassion, of mercy. She has a remarkable resemblance to Our Lady of the Isles. I have yet to look deeply into the narrative, but I have it on my important “to do” list.

      “If with kindly generosity
      One merely has the wish to soothe
      The aching hearts of other beings,
      Such merit has no bounds.’
      Kuan Yin

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  6. Such a wondrous statue and a very heartwarming story, Rebecca. The Outer Hebrides has hitherto only been a place I used to hear of on the weather forecast and shiver. Now, thanks to you, I have learned something of its history. 🤗

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    1. There was a lot of shivering going on!! We always go off season to avoid crowds so we bundled up and enjoyed the amazing scene. Everywhere we went there was a warm welcome and it was hard to leave. If we stayed, we would always be known as “incomers.” People who are born in the Outer Hebrides are called “islanders” – no matter if they go away for a few years. When they come back, they are still “islanders.” Whether you are an islander or incomer, the Outer Hebrides is a wonderful place to call home!

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    1. There are so many stories that are hidden in the folds of history. I love going on a “story” treasure hunt. I want to remember and celebrate what has come before!! Sending many hugs!

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    1. How very well said, Brenda! I agree wholeheartedly that we have the strength, resilience and courage to create positive outcomes. You reminded me of Joseph Campbell’s words about A Hero’s Journey:
      “We have not even to risk the adventure alone
      for the heroes of all time have gone before us.
      The labyrinth is thoroughly known …
      we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.”

      Many thanks along with my gratitude for your visit and comments.

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