The Gaelic Chapel – an ambiguous gesture

It is an impressive ruin, a reminder of Cromarty’s past and the people that lived in it. There are others in Scotland, one in Glasgow and one in Aberdeen, all built for the Gaelic speaking community that had arrived in these places after being cleared out of their Highland homes. They were Gaelic speakers and found themselves in places where Gaelic wasn’t spoken.

The Gaelic Community in Cromarty

The Gaelic Chapel, The Paye in Cromarty was built in 1783 for those displaced Highlanders that had to get used not only to new surroundings but a new language as well. The Gaelic Chapel was built so they could worship in the language they were accustomed to. A language that has been spoken by their ancestors for centuries.

“Based on medieval traditional accounts and evidence from linguistic geography, Gaelic has been commonly believed to have been brought to Scotland, in the 4th–5th centuries CE, by settlers from Ireland who founded the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata on Scotland’s west coast in present-day Argyll.” (The Herald, 30.7.2022)

The Gaels came to Cromarty to find work and workers were needed. The town prospered and needed labour. The language spoken there was English, now they had a church were they could worship in their own language in a new chapel.

“George Ross acquired the Cromarty Estate in 1767 and within twenty years had built a hemp and rope factory, a brewery, the courthouse, and a new Georgian mansion – Cromarty House. Ross was able to build upon the trade and harbour improvements carried out previously by local merchant William Forsyth (1722-1800).” (am baile – Highland History and Culture)

George Ross of Cromarty

Who was this George Ross of Cromarty?

He died three yeas after the chapel was built April 7th, 1786 at the age of 86 and left his fortune to his nephew: “Will of George Ross of Cromarty [and of Conduit Street Hanover Square] proved 26/04/1786. The will is concerned mainly with the entail of his Scottish estate and his provision for his nephew Alexander Gray (later Alexander Ross), and refers in passing to his real and personal property in the West Indies, which he instructed be sold to fund the annuities he left and from the residue to raise £30,000 for his nephew Alexander Gray.” (ucl.ac.uk)

“George Ross was for many years confidential clerk to Duncan Forbes of Culloden, lord president of the court of session, before setting up in business in London. On Forbes’s death Argyll took Ross under his patronage, assisted him in his career, and employed him on occasion as his military secretary. In 1754 the convention of royal burghs appointed Ross their London agent, and during the next 25 years he was their chief negotiator with the ministry. He had influential connexions in the city, in the army, and in politics, with whose assistance during the seven years’ war he built up an army agency business (by 1763 he held some eight regimental agencies) and amassed a considerable fortune.

Ross now began to use his great wealth to purchase superiorities in Ross-shire and create a strong electoral interest in the shire and in the northern district of burghs. George Ross purchased the estate of Cromarty and the superiority of several other properties in Cromarty’. In 1768 he took into partnership his half-nephew and heir Alexander Gray of Over Skibo. Business increased, particularly during the American war, and by 1780 the firm were agents for 21 regiments. In 1780 Ross was returned for Cromarty (at the age of 80), apparently unopposed, having previously transferred his agencies (a disqualification for membership) to his nephew’s firm, Gray and Ogilvie.

In Parliament he consistently supported Administration until the fall of North, whom he followed into opposition, voting against Shelburne’s peace preliminaries, 18 Feb. 1783. He supported the Fox-North Coalition, voted for Fox’s East India bill, and remained faithful to them in opposition during Pitt’s minority Administration. He is not known to have spoken in the House. (The History of Parliament)

Cromarty and the Caribbean

“In his autobiography, Hugh Miller – the Cromarty stonemason who became one of the nineteenth century’s most distinguished geologists – wrote of sitting next to a ‘mulatto lad’ from the West Indies at his Cromarty school. This reference encouraged Dr David Alston of the Cromarty Courthouse Museum to look more deeply into the connections between the Highlands and the West Indies, and last week he shared his findings with the January meeting of the Cromarty History Society.

In fact, markets in the Caribbean were vital to the growth of the Scottish economy in the late eighteenth century. Exports of linen in particular, along with much of the hemp produced in Cromarty’s hemp factory, went to the West Indies, and many Highland families began to acquire land in the colonies there to establish sugar, coffee and cotton plantations. George Munro of Poyntzfield, George Ross of Cromarty and Macleod of Geanies, for example,  all became major plantation owners.

But it was the country now known as Guyana – formerly the colonies of Demerara, Berbice and Essequibo – that had the strongest links with the Highlands. According to one report in 1807, the majority of sugar estates in Demerara were being run by merchants from Scotland, and – of the five estate managers who gave evidence against the abolition of slavery there in 1824 – four were Scots. Plantations in Berbice and Demerara had names including Foulis, Novar, Tain, Fearn and Cromarty. (Cromarty History)

an ambiguous gesture

The Gaelic Chapel was a kind gesture to the Gaelic speaking Highlanders who had come to Cromarty. It was financed by exploiting people and nature in the colonies. However, it did not last long and is now a ruin.

“The Gaelic Chapel (…) features a bell tower, and is situated on a raised beach above a town. It is now disused, and the roof has fallen in, leaving only the walls upstanding. The bell tower and porch remain intact. The walls are made from harled sandstone, and the roof was slate.” Researched by D. Alston, compiled by J. Dowling, 28/8/03. (Scottish Churches)

Liked the read? There’s more here…

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available @Amazon ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for my blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. Find treasure all over Scotland with my latest book. I am Nellie Merthe Erkenbach, journalist and author.

My main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share my passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps. 

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