I was thrilled to find a photocopy of
the original manuscript of this story written by my great grandfather
about his grandfather and great-grandparents at the Beaton Institute in
Sydney, Cape Breton. Enjoy!!!
by Francis H. MacNeil)
faigh neach iarratas? Gheibh: ma dh' iarras e le durachd cheart, us air
reir intinn Dhe.
Donald MacNeil (Domhnull
MacRuairigh), great grand-father of the writer, and his wife lived at
Sandraidh, in the Island of Barra, Scotland. When they decided to come out
to Cape Breton, Canada, and while making preparation for their voyage, Mrs
MacNeil with fore-thought imagined the country they were about to come to
as a place where no faith, no priest, or the necessary means for spiritual
welfare could be had. She however, in apprehension of such unfavorable
conditions being her future lot, went to the Church at Creigton, Barra,
and there she prayed with sincere fervor to her God that neither her
husband, her children, nor herself should be destined to depart this life
without receiving the last sacraments and the benediction of the Catholic
Now then let us review the events that followed. They left Barra
and landed in Pictou, Nova Scotia, in 1799. From Pictou they went to
Arisaig that same year, and built huts to live in during the severe
winter. Next summer, 1800, Donald MacNeil (Domhnull MacRuairidh) with his
son Roderick, together with Eoin MacDomhnuill ic Iain and his son John
MacNeil made their way from Arisaig to the North side of Grand Narrows,
where they cleared land, calling the place Sandraidh in memory of where
they lived in Barra. Having staked out some land and made some clearing,
they returned to Arisaig that same year, intending to come back to New
Sandraidh the following summer. But misfortune happened to Donald MacNeil
(Donald MacRuairidh). He took sick and apparently was in danger of dying.
Priests were but few in this new country; none this side of Halifax. But
Father Angus MacEachern, afterwards Bishop MacEachern, happened to visit
Arisaig at the time from Prince Edward Island, and was administering the
last rites of the church to a young lady who was so seriously ill that the
grave for her was prepared and blessed at the time, before the priest left
on his way.
The visit of
Father MacEachern was fortunate for the sick man, Donald MacNeil (Domhnull
MacRuairidh) also was prepared for death by Father MacEachern and strange
incident indeed was interred in the
grave consecrated for the remains of the above mentioned lady, of whom
word will follow again. Mrs. Donald MacNeil had not prayed in vain for her
husband. The MacNeils had intended to return to Sandraidh early in 1801,
but on account of Donald’s death they delayed until the spring of
1802. About 1812, ten years later Domhnull MacRuairidh’s widow, living
at Sandraidh, (afterwards called “Iona”) became very sick. She
implored one of her neighbours John MacNeil (Iain MacDomhnuill), to get
the priest. However, they found Arichat, Cape Breton, was the nearest at the time and John
MacNeil with three other Scots proceeded there, a distance of fifty miles
for a priest, that, due the hard feeling the French people held toward the
Scotts for their ill treatment during the siege of Louisbourg 1758, the
priest of the settlement, though willing to go and attend to the sick
widow, was prevented from doing so by the French parishioners: this, of
course, to satisfy the ill feeling that prevailed.
The Scots started on their
return journey: but before they departed the priest requested John MacNeil
to tell the sick woman that if she was praying for a happy death, and the
last rites of the Church, she surely might have good hopes that God would
grant her request. The following summer this same priest happened to be on
his way going through the Bras D’Or Lakes to visit some of the French
people at Little Bras D’Or; and stopping at the North Side of Grand
Narrows, or Sandraidh, he inquired if this lady who had sent for him the
fall previous, when in danger of death, still living. He was told she was,
and he asked to be immediately directed to her house. The priest found the
old lady still sick in bed. He prepared her for the next world and she
raised her hands giving thanks to God. Shortly, the priest left for Little
Bras D’Or, where on his arrival found the old lady’s son, Ruairdh Mor,
engaged in mackerel fishing. He advised Ruairidh that his mother had just
been prepared for death, and that she had evidently a short time to live.
Rory at once got ready and left for his home and as he arrived at daybreak
next morning, found that his mother had departed this life, passing at
“Gorm choileach”, a little before he arrived.
The good woman died, fully
satisfied and thankful that her petition for a demise fortified by the
last sacraments and benediction of the Catholic Church was granted. She
had prayed for that in the home of her early life and love, in far distant
Barra. She had prayed, and not in vain.
The young lady of whom further
reference was promised and who so fortunately escaped the grave prepared
for her while on her sick bed, got well and married. She became the
grandmother of Father William MacPherson, who died at The Red Islands, a
few years ago, and whose last resting place the writer visited at Arisaig,
Antigonish County, during the month of August, 1931.
The first tea ever brewed in
the first settlement of Sandraidh was at the wedding of Ruairidh Mor, in
the same house where the priest from Arichat called to administer to the
sick lady, and, interestingly enough, the same priest was present at the
wedding two years afterward, and with others partook of the new beverage
In, 1935, a
great-great-grandson of Mrs. Donald MacNeil, the Rev. John Hugh Gillis, on
his way home from Rome, celebrated mass in the very church that this woman
prayed one hundred and thirty six years before, 1799.
This Father Gillis was the first
native of Iona Parish to be ordained to the Priesthood.
Written by Francis Hector
MacNeil and on file at the Beaton Institute.