Parson Duncan - Priest, Doctor, and Friend to All

The Venerable Duncan Mackenzie 1783 - 1858
Archdeacon of Moray and Ross, Priest of Strathnairn, Dingwall, Fortrose and the Gaelic congregation in Inverness

In the upper part of the wild and rugged glen through which the river Nairn flows, a numerous body of Episcopalians has existed since the Revolution of 1688. Till the population was thinned by emigration in the early part of the  century, the great majority of natives of the glen were devotedly attached to the Church of their Fathers... particularly so from the associations connected with the life and labours of the venerable “Parson Duncan”, who spent here upwards of 40 years of his life in works of true Christian philanthropy, acting in the most unostentatious manner, not only the part of the Christian minister, but the medical adviser and the trusty counsellor of the whole glen.

 – words from a nationwide appeal in 1875 for funds to build a house for a priest in Strathnairn.


Duncan Mackenzie was born in North Ballachulish around 1783. When he was in his 20s he began training for the ministry.  He was placed with the Reverend John Murdoch, the priest in Keith, learning from him as well as spending the winters studying at King’s College, Aberdeen, from which he graduated with a Master of Arts degree in 1817.
At King’s he became interested in Gaelic studies and was later, during his Strathnairn years, to translate Scriptures and the Prayer Book into Gaelic.
He was ordained deacon in the year of his graduation and appointed incumbent of Strathnairn.  He was ordained priest two years later and immediately was given added responsibility as incumbent of Dingwall, 30 miles away. He remained in Strathnairn until his death 41 years later, although he resigned the charge at Dingwall after 32 years. During those years he was in Strathnairn and Dingwall on alternate Sundays. He also spent eight years as priest of Fortrose (1832-1840) and, for the five years before his death (1853-1858), was priest of the Gaelic Mission in Inverness. In addition to all of this he served as Archdeacon of Moray and Ross and travelled throughout the north, both on foot and on horseback. His silver plated stirrups are preserved at Saint Paul’s.
Parson Duncan was prepared to minister to everyone, without thought of denomination, and was greatly liked and valued for his care, love and generosity. The medical skills he had acquired were as appreciated, and as freely given, as the spiritual ones.
 In Strathnairn services were initially held in a church at Knocknacroshaig, near Brin Rock. The church was built in 1817, the year Duncan Mackenzie came to the glen. It is thought that it was destroyed in a fire and thereafter he held services in the open, while building another church on the site of the present Saint Paul’s at Croachy.
He built this church with his own hands and he and Florence, his wife, lived in two rooms adjoining it.   In later years his generosity to those in need could no longer be funded from his stipend of £15 a year and so, to augment it, he took on the tenancy of a farm at Tullich, looking over Loch Ruthven.  He died, still ministering and farming, aged 75, in 1858 and is buried in the churchyard of Saint John’s at Ballachulish. His wife outlived him by seven years.
The present Saint Paul’s was built on the site of Parson Duncan’s church in 1868 and the west wall contains a rose window memorial to this great priest. At least one of his family members ministers in the Episcopal Church today – the Very Reverend Norman MacCallum is Dean of Argyll and the Isles and Provost of the Cathedral in Oban.

Gerald Stranraer-Mull

 

The Parson Duncan Memorial Window in the west wall of Saint Paul’s depicting the Sermon on the Mount surrounded by the Beatitudes.