An empirical study of the factors that make up the distinctive psychology of the community of South Uist, western isles Essay


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‘At the spiritual centre of every culture lies a community’ [Stein] .Indeed this statement sets out the perspectives embraced in the examination of  the ways of living of the community of South Uist, Western Isles, Scotland with regard to its religious affiliation. Historically, the Catholic Church is the dominant Christian religious ministry in South Uist. There is a considerable presence of other religions practised as well in South Uist. They have an impact on the growth of the Catholic Church, but to a lesser degree.

However to accelerate the advancement of the Catholic Church, a few challenges need to be overcome. Chiefly, there is the language problem to be addressed. Indeed there has been a renewed emphasis by the local community of South Uist on the use of the spoken Gaelic language in there daily business. Such sentiments can be viewed as attempts to uphold there unique cultural background. It is also an indicator of the strong emphasis the South Uist community is laying towards distinguishing themselves from other communities in Scotland and the UK as a whole.

Certainly, the statistical reports from the various branches of local government and other administrative institutions, together with an analysis of how they function, will enable conclusions   to be drawn with respect to better management of the community. This will facilitate general progress and serve to provide insightful information to the Diocese on improving the approach to management of the many parishes strewn across the Western Isles and South Uist in particular.

The South Uist

South Uist is the second largest of the islands [] in the Western Isles measuring some 22 miles north to south and 7 miles from east to west. The geography is divided into a series of north-south strips, each running the length of the island. The west coast faces onto the Atlantic and comprises around 20 miles of beach, broken only by a headland at the half-way point. Behind the beach is a strip of machair, or grassy dune land. East again is a strip containing a vast number of small fresh water loc Hans, and a series of dispersed crofting townships. South Uist is notable for its tourist attracting views and range of diverse scenery which are characterised by valleys mingled with deserted villages and interspersed with dramatic cliffs and coastal coves the next [].

The South Uist community bestows a lot of importance towards preserving their Hebridean traditions. In this laidback, Friendly Island, community crofting activities like peat cutting, wool dying and seaweed gathering are still part of everyday life.

One major factor that makes up the distinctive elements of South Uist is its population. Its population density is calculated as the number of people per hectare.   Areas can as well be measured from a modern digital map of the local authorities rather than relying on the doubtful acreages given in historical reports.  The growth rate is measured using the rates by which the population is rising or declining.  The ratio of men to women is also used in calculating the [] population density. With over 49 schools registered and more than fifty eight thousand Gaelic speakers registered in the 2001 census survey, the community of Western Isles is considered to be well populated. This is a significant factor when it comes to effective church management and administration.

The proportion of women [] from the total population who are in employment is quite small. This is because, from the twentieth century, there has been diminishing  perspectives of women in employment. This can be attributed to the prevailing notion that unemployment of women is of limited value. As a consequence, many women were not involved  in paid work, and even those with jobs had problems claiming benefits when they lost them. This has contributed to a higher incidence of poverty in the community. Even though the local administration is addressing this situation through the Poor Law system and the Job Seekers Allowance and Income Support, the National Insurance records still portray a grim picture [].

Incidentally, this perspectives can [] be portrayed as a trend. Taking the affinity for the South Uist community to prioritise education as an example, we see an amazingly low focus on education as a stepping stone to achieving higher earning careers. According to the earliest census data on education, carried out in 1851, which reported the number of male and female pupils on each school’s register, it was otherwise more concerned with how each school was funded than with what the pupils learnt, or even with how old they were. This is a clear reflection of the prevailing thoughts at the time on the role of education in personal career advancement and, by extension economic advancement of the community.

This diminishing role of the importance of education in the community is reflected in the next education census survey carried out almost a century later.  This data was collected in England and Wales [] and came from the 1951 Census of Population. Same as before, the census was mainly concerned with what point in the education system individuals reached. Did they leave school as soon as was legal, without qualifications? Did they get GCSEs? And did they go to university and get a degree? In general, this information covers everyone of working age, so it was basically  an ‘average’ of decisions to stay on at school or leave taken during the forty or fifty years prior to the census.

In this regard, even around the 1940s onwards, the community of South Uist seemed to focus priority on other areas other than there economic improvement. This proposition is supported by government statistics [] that detail the contribution of trading services to the community’s revenue growth. Indeed, if trade is not given a priority, one can suppose only slow growth if ever. This is because of the role that trade plays in enhancing rapid generation of income and investment. In actual fact, government expenditures on investment in trade activities are a clear signal on the priority the government bestows in this sector contribution to the South Uist community. A smaller expenditure outlay implies low significance while a larger expenditure budget means priority focus in this area. The data given below is a reflector of the recent perspectives as to which direction the government is focusing its development goals as regards South Uist:
Government Statistics of Scotland

Scottish Local Government Financial Statistics 2001-2002
TABLE 2A Summary of revenue expenditure and income 2001-021

General fund services
Trading services
Special3 funds
Employee costs
Operating expenses4
Loan charges
Revenue contributions to capital
General fund contributions to housing and trading services5
Support service costs

Adjustment for inter account and inter authority transfers6
Total expenditure
Non-domestic rates7
Council tax
Government grant:
Revenue Support Grant ( RSG)8

Council Tax rebate grants

Other grants and subsidies
Sales, fees and charges
Contributions from general fund
Other income
Increase on revenue balances
Total income
Changes in revenue balances (income minus expenditure)
Source: []
Following from a brief analysis of the financial display above, the government  seems to prioritise what it refers to as ‘General fund services’ above all else. Comparing the allocations of income and expenditure to this service and that in ‘Trading services’, the data provide rests the case in an appalling kind of way.

As a guiding principle, an  inquiry into what these ‘General fund services’ entail may point to a direction that is arguably not far fetched, such as enhancement of social services. It can well be fronted at this point that as a policy, the government is keen to enhance social service provision to enhance general welfare of the South Uist community. This is instrumental for the Diocese to consider, as government support towards the social goals of the church can be more or less guaranteed. Hence the social portfolio in all the Parishes should be given almost equal priority to the other core duties of the Parishes. The underlying principle here is that the community of South Uist is very much interested in this particular area; an area that fits hand in glove with the advancement of religion. For that matter, it is a much heralded fact today that poor communities and poverty-stricken people tend to associate themselves more with religion and the belief of the supernatural [or superstition], than there more affluent counterparts. In a religious perspective, this can contribute to the rapid advancement of religion in the South Uist community in this era.

To date, without the need of another census survey, we can extrapolate with a strong degree of confidence that if the same factors are present [i.e. relatively high poverty levels coupled with a low affinity to pursue economic improvement goals], then the susceptibility of the community towards religious beliefs becomes very high. Of course the assumptions must still hold, that the said factors are a reliable indicator that the community does not prioritise the role of education in relation to economic improvement [the government statistics back this assumption]. Implying that though education is vital for the community, its focus is directed elsewhere, maybe, towards attaining religious advancements.

In order to support government initiatives in enhancing social service provision, the Diocese needs to proceed from a point which will also serve to prosper the advancement of the status of the Parishes and the Diocese in the minds eye of the community. From this view point, several challenges, some historical, need to be addressed. This are listed below:

a)      The Gaelic language.

b)      Education

c)      Tensions between the Catholics and protestant followers.

The Gaelic Language

Scottish Gaelic is one of Scotland’s national languages .Even though its origins trace back to the Celtic [] family, Scottish Gaelic (spoken in Scotland) is different from the other Gaelic Languages e.g. Welsh Gaelic (spoken in Wales) and Irish Gaelic (spoken in Ireland and Northern Ireland) all of which come from a common ancestor i.e. the Celtic family.

However, with the growth of urban centres [] and the emergence of Scots as the language of the royal court in the 15th and 16th centuries, Gaelic began to lose its dominance. This was accelerated by the adoption in turn of English as the official language of the country following the 1707 Act of Union []. Gaelic also suffered severely in the 18th and 19th centuries as a result of the Government attack on all aspects of Highland culture following the defeat of the Jacobites in 1746, and from the effects of the ‘Clearances’ which destroyed many Gaelic-speaking communities throughout the Highlands.

The final decades of the 19th [] century saw successful struggles by Gaels for land rights in the wake of savage clearances and brutal landlordism, but it also saw the end of the fragile experiments in Gaelic-medium education, as the Education Act of 1872 brought in English as the sole medium of teaching. Retrospectively, we can argue that the introduction of the English language also led to the growth of the protestant movement. Affiliation to the Catholic Church in  England was weak at the time, and England seemed to favour the Protestant movement, which they supported in there many missionary works. Conversely, it is proper to state that the introduction of English as the language taught in the South Uist area served only to mitigate the entrenchment of the Catholic Church. A parallel can therefore be drawn today that the growth of Gaelic language will serve best the interest of the Catholic Church and its presence in South Uist.

In the mid 1970s, there began a [] grass-roots renaissance of the Gaelic language which aimed to create new generations of Gaelic-speakers. There are now numerous Gaelic playgroups, Gaelic units in primary schools, Gaelic Youth Clubs and many Gaelic television programmes. Internationally renowned bands like Runrig and Capercaillie make Gaelic language and music interesting to a younger audience, and the Gaelic tuition festivals and Gaelic competitive festivals attract hundreds of young musicians. Gaelic writing is flourishing, and the National Gaelic Arts Project is involved in a wide range of cultural activities.

Yet perhaps the real success of this []  movement can be seen in the way in which Gaelic is gradually being reincorporated into public life for the first time in over 200 years. Until recently, the naming of official bodies in Gaelic was virtually unknown whereas there are now over a hundred bodies, including national organisations, local authorities, banks and commercial organisations who have adopted Gaelic name. There is also a new Gaelic development agency, Bord na Gaidhlig, and at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on the Isle of Skye, full-time vocational courses are taught through Gaelic in a Gaelic environment.

Yet there is still much to be done to ensure that Gaelic is seen to belong not to the past but as having a central role to play in Scotland’s vibrant cultural future. The 2001 General Census [] of Scotland recorded 58,650 Gaelic speakers, most of who live in the Outer Hebrides, the Central belt and the northern Highlands. In 2003, the SNP MSP Michael Russell introduced a private member’s bill in the Scottish Parliament which if ultimately successful will grant Gaelic full legal equality with English in public life and see it revitalized as a living entity in Scotland’s social, cultural and political life.

Hence it is advisory for the Catholic church to facilitate the continued use of Gaelic language in South Uist. This can be done in various methods, like implementing the Gaelic language in all Parish masses and other church related activities. Hence, the people will feel encouraged and supported In there quest to bring back their unique language and restore a major component of there culture and society.

Gaelic Medium Education
The Highland Council believes [] that Gaelic medium education represents the best hope for reversing the decline of Gaelic language in the Highlands, especially if it is supported by opportunities for young people to use Gaelic in the home and community. This is a pragmatic approach, especially considering that the English language was introduced with rapid effectiveness in a [] similar way centuries ago. Highland Council is one of the leading authorities in Scotland in the provision of Gaelic medium education [GME], with (in 2006): 18 Gaelic medium nurseries and 5 partner centers providing GME for 226 three and four olds, 19 primary schools providing Gaelic medium education for 710 pupils, with two new classes expected to start in August 2006, 12 secondary schools offering Gàidhlig (Gaelic fluent speaker) classes, or subject teaching through the medium of Gaelic medium, to 349 pupils, and12 secondary schools provide classes for Gaelic Learners for 1,318 pupils. In addition, there are pupils in 40 primary schools receive a basic grounding in Gaelic as part of a programme which trains class teachers to teach Gaelic [].

Highland also has designated Gaelic medium posts in its Community Learning and Development service, which support a range of activities for parents and other adults and for young people in Gaelic and Gaelic medium education.  The Highland Council is a major employer of Gaelic and Gaelic medium teachers, in the primary and secondary school [].

In conclusion therefore it will be wise to suggest that the Diocese, in cooperation with the Parishes, follow on these gains in education by standardizing the mode of teaching the youth in the church on the Gaelic language only. The church can also embark on special educational activities aimed at educating the populace and the clergy on the Gaelic language as a way of supplementing/ supporting the government initiative.

The Tension between Catholics and Protestants

Sectarian tensions have been reported since 1923 when the Church of Scotland produced a highly-controversial (and since repudiated) report entitled “The Menace of the Irish Race to our Scottish Nationality” []. It accused the Catholic population of subverting Presbyterian values and of causing drunkenness, crime and financial imprudence. Such official attitudes started to wane considerably from the 1930s/40s onwards. In 1986 the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland expressly repudiated the sections of the Westminster Confession directly attacking Catholicism. In 1990, both the Church of Scotland and the Catholic Church were founder members of the ecumenical bodies Churches Together in Britain and Ireland and Action of Churches Together in Scotland; relations between church leaders are now very cordial.


The pastoral ministry of the Deacon will best be able to act effectively were it to approach its interaction with the community of South Uist through the foreknowledge of there predisposition as stipulated in this document. This is because, by understanding the strong desires of the South Uist community to restore its culture and society, the pastoral ministry will find itself working in line with the people’s desires in major aspects of social reform. These reforms, such as the introduction of the Gaelic language, will enhance the peoples’ feeling of satisfaction with the leadership both of the political government and the religious one led by the pastoral ministry of the Deacon [].

The results of this partnership in social reforms is an undoubted increase in mass attendees as the community, as analyzed above, favours closer links with religion, a factor that is in line with there history. A strong religious link is vital for the kind of psychology the society is clearly looking for as part and parcel of there culture.


INSTRUCTIONS: The statements listed below describe beliefs which people may hold. There are no right or wrong answers, only your own responses. For each item, indicate the extent to which you agree or disagree with that statement. Use the following scale to provide your responses:

A = Strongly Disagree.

B = Slightly Disagree.

C = Neither.

D = Slightly Agree.

E = Strongly Agree.

Question                                                                    A         B         C         D

1.      It is important to communicate in the locals language. Answer:

2.      I understand the general character of the population. Answer:

3.      All the portions of the church ministrations should be conducted in Gaelic. Answer:

4.      The clergy should only employ those persons speaking fluent Gaelic. Answer:

5.      The church should increase its participation in all social agencies it oversees including institutes, societies, clubs, entertainment’s meetings etc. Answer:

6.      All educational work done by the church must include special gaelic language classes. Answer:

7.      Charitable relief given or administered by the Church and clergy shall always include a Gaelic language translator. Answer:

8.      The clergy should give honors to the Laity who exemplify the Gaelic culture and tradition. Answer:


Eilean Siar through time;c_id=10090283;data_theme=T_WK

[Site last updated 03/08/2007 16:27:00]

Gaelic in Scotland (United Kingdom)  [Last update: 27-10-2006]

Local Government Committee 6th Report 2002 Report on Inquiry into Local Government Finance Volume 2 : External Research Assessment of the Options for Council Tax Rebanding in Scotland

MacLeod. D J. Gaelic medium education

[Last Updated: 25/07/2007]

Sabhal Mor Ostaig: Gaelic medium education

[Site last updated 03/08/2007 16:27:00]

Scottish Local Government Financial Statistics 2001-2002

[Page updated: Thursday, May 18, 2006]

Stein, Edith.
The Irish Gaelic language has been in decline since the 1840’s but progress in recent decades has ensured that it will continue as a living language for many years to come

The Origin of the Celtic Languages

Where the Celtic Languages are Spoken Today.

[Page updated: Tuesday, June 13, 2006]

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