Fundraising drive sees push to preserve Canna heritage

Repairs to Canna church have been a vexed issue since the 1970s. Picture: Contributed
Repairs to Canna church have been a vexed issue since the 1970s. Picture: Contributed
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A MULTI-MILLION pound fund-raising drive has been launched to preserve the unique heritage of Canna, including repairs to a picturesque church commemorating one of the island’s lairds.

The cash is being sought by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), which now has ownership of the Hebridean island and the important Gaelic archive held there.

The archive was compiled by the folklorists John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw Campbell, who lived in Canna House for many years.

Money raised will go towards digitising the archive and making repairs to Canna House to enable it to host researchers seeking to study the literature and recordings built up by the Campbells.

Funds will also be spent on Canna Rhu church built in memory of Robert Thom, a member of the family who sold the island to the Campbells in 1938.

The state of the church has concerned descendants of Robert Thom, who have complained to the Church of Scotland’s head office in Edinburgh about damp in the roof and cracking in its tower.

The NTS’s plan could see the church done up to showcase memorabilia from the Thom family, who invested much to make Canna a living island.

Patrick Duffy, the National Trust for Scotland’s director of properties and visitor services, said: “We have launched a major fund-raising initiative and as part of this we have produced an investment prospectus we can share with potential donors around the world so that we can show them exactly what can be achieved with their generous support.

“In the case of Rhu Church, we have included a property we do not actually own which nevertheless requires investment. The total investment required will run into millions of pounds.”

Canna Rhu was dedicated to Robert Thom in 1914, three years after his death. His daughter-in-law, Johanna Thom, was the driving force behind the construction of the church, which became an outpost of Presbyterianism on the largely Catholic island.

For many years the condition of Canna Rhu has been a bone of contention between the Thom family and the Church of Scotland.

The long-standing nature of the concerns has been underlined with the discovery of Thom family letters from the 1970s claiming offerings made to the church collection plate did not go into a special repair fund as they should have.

Gilmour Thom, the grandson of Johanna Thom, has written to the Kirk to register his concern about the contents of the correspondence involving his uncle Robin Thom and the Campbells.

One letter sent from Mr Campbell in the mid-1970s said: “Cheques made out to the Church of Scotland and crossed Canna Church Repair Fund have not been paid into any such fund, but have gone instead to some general fund of the Church of Scotland. I think this is a matter of genuine complaint.”

But the most colourful contribution came from Mrs Campbell, who wrote in a letter dated July 1975 that: “One might as well try to deal with the seagulls as the Church of Scotland. I would like to know what they are doing with the cheques I send marked for repairs.”

A Church of Scotland spokesman said: “The Church is fully behind the National Trust of Scotland’s campaign to secure funds for the development of Canna. The church on Canna remains in ownership of Trustees from both the Church and the National Trust for Scotland.”