Follow the trail to meet famous islanders (and others). From a guided tour by Robert Hay
Enter the graveyard by the east gate (to the left of the church entrance) and walk towards the minister’s enclosure on the far wall of the graveyard.
In the enclosure is the gravestone of Rev Donald McNicol (1735-1802). Minister of Lismore 1766-1802. He was a leading Gaelic scholar, and a collector of ancient Gaelic poetry and traditions, most of which are now lost. He wrote the Defence of MacPherson against Samuel Johnson, was a Correspondent with Thomas Pennant as well as a Theologian, Song Writer, and Amanuensis of Duncan Ban McIntyre. His literary and theological work can be found in the National Archives of Scotland, the National Library of Scotland and Glasgow University Special Collections.
He is best known in Lismore folklore for his successful courting of Lilias Campbell at Lochnell Castle, in competition with the son of the Earl of Breadalbane. They had fifteen children, eight of whom died in infancy. Their relationship is celebrated in well-known Gaelic songs: Mo shuil a’d dheigh – My eye following you. Mo nighean dubh – My dark lassie.
Station 2 Walk south east towards a neglected square of iron railings surrounding a flat sandstone slab which is now almost indecipherable, but records the burials of Alexander and Mary Carmichael and their son Dugald.
When Captain Dugald Carmichael (1772-1827) was growing up on Lismore Donald McNicol was the minister. Dugald was a clever boy from a modest home and his abilities were recognised by church and school. He matriculated at Glasgow University aged 15, moving on to study medicine at Edinburgh University.
Captain Carmichael was a soldier, military surgeon, naturalist, explorer and diarist. He collected plants in South Africa, Mauritius, Réunion and Tristan da Cunha, as well as being an International expert, in his time, on fungi and algae. His scientific colleagues included Robert Brown, Joseph Hooker and many other leading scientists of the day. Charles Darwin cited his work, which today is in the Archives and collections at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Edinburgh. Extensive sections of his travel diaries were published.
Walk towards station 3 and come level with the south gable end of the new manse across the road. Go towards the wall and see a proud rough stone in which there is a cup, sometimes called the baptismal cup. To quote Domhnall MacIlleDhuibh (Donald Black) in his book “Sgeul No Dha As An Lios ( A tale or two from Lismore) in which he ahs a chapter on St Moluag : here yesterday’s Christians were baptised using the soft rainwater which gathered quietly in the beautifully sculpted hole in the rock” .
Station 3. Return to the west wall and it follow round to the top of the graveyard to a tall granite gravestone with a circular Celtic feature.B
Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912 was a native of Lismore but, although not a close relative of Dugald, he preserved a physical description of the naturalist in his diaries (now digitised by the Carmichael Watson Project), as fair-haired and referred to in later life as Dùghall Bàn or an Dotar Bàn. Alexander was an exciseman, a folklorist, an antiquarian and author of the first volumes of Carmina Gadelica – a compendium of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, literary-folkloric poems, songs, proverbs, etc . He was also a leader in the “Celtic Revival”.
Alexander’s diary records that, on a trip to the island in 1868, he visited the MacGregor sisters at Baligarve, where Seònaid Mhòr (Big Janet) dictated to him the words of the song Chunna mise bruadar glé shuaimhneach a-raoir (I saw a very gentle vision last night), which had been composed by Donald MacNicol for his wife Lillias.
Station 4 Walk to the stone wall at the back not far behind Carmichael’s gravestone to a prominent obelisk erected by her son to Big Janet
Janet MacGregor/ Seònaid Mhòr (1806-1883) was a cotter in Baligarve, a servant at the Manse, as well as a Tradition Bearer. She was the sister of Isabella MacGregor ‘the most beautiful singer of Gaelic songs [Alexander Carmichael] had ever heard”, and the unmarried mother of Hugh Anderson (the minor bard, ship captain and friend of Carmichael).
Station 5 Return to Station 1 the McNicol grave and find the gravestones in the north wall of the enclosure.
The memorial to Mary Cameron MacGregor (1814-1871) wife of Rev Gregor MacGregor, minister on Lismore from 1836 for 48 years. Her (published) diary for 1868 records a stormy relationship with Big Janet MacGregor (above) who was a non-resident servant at the manse, and supplier of eggs.
Finally, outside the graveyard, you can visit the West Highland medieval graveslabs in the shelter by the roadside.
- White A M. Transcription of the Gravestones in the Old Graveyard. Available at the Heritage Centre.
- Carmichael I. (1947). Lismore in Alba. Perth: D Leslie. Chapter 19 on Donald McNicol.
- Hay R K M (2019). Dugald Carmichael (1772-1827). Explorer and Naturalist. Appin Archive 48, 4-18; Hay (2020). From Schoolboy Naturalist to Island Explorer. History Scotland 20, 33-35.
- Hay R K M (2017). Rewriting History: The Childhood and youth of Alexander Carmichael, the folklorist. History Scotland 17, 24-28. See also: https://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/library-museum-gallery/crc/research-resources/gaelic/carmichael-watson
- Captain Hugh Anderson (1837-1909) a Lismore Bard at: https://www.lismoregaelicheritagecentre.org/captain-hugh-anderson-1837-1909-a-lismore-bard/
- Mary MacGregor’s Diary for 1868 at https://www.lismoregaelicheritagecentre.org/object-of-the-month-november-2015/