Eriskay and Scotland are the poorer for Father Calum MacLellan’s passing

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It was a day which had been a long time coming. Eriskay, situated at the tip of South Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, was formally no longer an island.

At the ceremony in the island’s hall to mark the opening of the causeway linking the tiny island to South Uist, the parish priest, Father Calum MacLellen, made a speech.

With a twinkle in his eye he said it was a great day for the people of the much larger Uists to be joining Eriskay and he hoped they would benefit greatly from the new road link.

It was a remark typical of the man. Witty, understated but with a point to it. Father Calum, as he was universally know, and who died on Friday at the age of 86, was far more than a parish priest.

Although there had been understandable opposition to the idea of the causeway replacing a tide dependent small ferry, Father Calum had in his own gentle, persuasive and determined way been at the heart of the campaign for a road link to South Uist.

In this, as in many aspects of the island’s life, he had demonstrated that he did not merely take an interests in matters spiritual - though, of course, he did - but in matters temporal which were important to the island’s survival.

Father Calum’s death marks more than just the passing of a man who ministered to his flock from the church on the promontory but of a generation of priests who were also community leaders.

Most recently featured on An Island Parish, something which brought him fame and fan mail - which amused him greatly but to which he did not reply - Father Calum helped shape the modern Western Isles.

He was prominent in campaigning for the islands to have their own council, and became a councillor where, to his mischievous delight as a Roman Catholic, he often found common cause with Wee Free ministers.

To the end he was busy, not only continuing to say mass in Eriskay and other churches hit by the decline in vocations to the priesthood after he had ‘retired’, but also in more political issue which affected the island.

He played a significant part in the community buy out of the land from South Uist Estates - another major step forward in terms of economic and social development.

Father Calum was a substantial figure, a great man of the islands. For me, I will remember most his wit and wisdom.

As a regular visitor to the island though family connections, I would try to make a point of visiting him to talk over the great issues of the day over a dram or two.

He was always well informed, always had an opinion, and never afraid to express himself, including on politics which he followed closely.

I always came away from these chats with a smile on my face and something to think about as well, which would, I hope, inform me in my day job as a journalist.

With Father Calum’s passing Eriskay will just not be the same for me or for its people.

I will miss those conversations and the whisky or two.

The island has lost a kindly, wise, and respected priest and community leader. Eriskay, the islands, and Scotland are poorer for his passing.

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