Included in the parish of Carloway are the towns of Breasclete, Callanish, Dalmore, Doune, Garenin, Garynahine, Kirivik and Tolsta Chaolais and I think Shawbost.
Carloway was hit by numerous revivals, nearly all of them in the Free Church. They were in 1886, 1892, 1900, 1903-13, 1934-8, 1939 and 1950 which was in the Church of Scotland.
When there is a report on what was happening in Carloway, it is likely that the parish is what is being referred to.
The following is the testimony of Roderick M MacKay who died in 2007. There is an account in both books mentioned below, but they do differ slighlty. Tom Lennie notes that it is in the public domain.
I was born in the little village of Tolsta Chaolais on the west side of Lewis in the district of Carloway. Loch Roag was a stone’s throw from my door. I was the third youngest of a family of seven, six boys and one girl. When I look back now on my very young years I often think what anxious moments our parents must have had bringing up a family of seven, being so near the sea and climbing rocks and being such wild characters as we were. Our parents were not Christians at that time and had a very tough time trying to keep all seven of us in order.
I left school at the age of 14 and at that time work was very hard to get apart from our own croft work and a few shillings a day helping others in the village with their Spring work. When I was fifteen I got my first job and that was in the month of May, keeping the sheep away from the crofts of the village and driving them out to the moor three times a day from May until November. My pay was £30 for six months’ work. I had two dogs and they hardly understood anything but swear words. I was really a wild character, every hillock on the moor heard me cursing and swearing at my dogs and at the sheep and I was not very nice to some of the men in the village either. I remember one man giving me a row for swearing when an elder in the church was hearing me, standing outside his house. That gave me a few thoughts at the time; I did not forget it altogether. I sometimes thought that God’s judgement would come upon me and if God had permitted me to carry on like this who knows what depths I would have sunk to.
The Revival started at the beginning of the year of 1936. I was just over 18 years old and my past began to give me some concern. The devil was putting me through dark patches too. The revival started over on the Lochs side of the island around the village of Garyvard and it spread like wildfire to the west side. It made a big impression from Garynahine to Shawbost and across to Bernera. I knew that God’s Spirit was striving with me and although I didn’t know how to pray and nobody ever heard me pray, I tried to ask God for forgiveness and to have mercy on my soul, to forgive me for all my cursing and swearing and the other sins I had committed when I was keeping the sheep away from the crofts.
By this time it was the spring, April 1936, and every day we heard of somebody new coming out to the prayer meetings. There was hardly a day passed without hearing of somebody being converted. I was very much troubled in my soul by this time and I believed that the Lord was awakening me and calling me to come out on His side, but I did not have the courage to come out to the prayer meeting, although I had the most strong desire to do so. I remember saying to my mother on the Wednesday morning that I thought I would go to the prayer meeting that night. Well her answer was not that encouraging; she said if I did go, I would have to keep going, so I did not go that night.
My parents were adherents of the Church of Scotland, and I knew little or nothing about the church, but my desire to know more was growing. There were only about half a dozen families belonging to the Church of Scotland in the village, and at that time none of them were showing any interest in the things of the Church. There was only the one meeting place in the village and both churches shared it. The Church of Scotland minister had a service there once a month. He was a very good man; his name was the Rev. Murdo MacLennan.
In a way I felt on my own as there was nobody in the village of my age with whom I could pal around, but there were many in the surrounding villages of Breasclete, Callanish, Garynahine and Carloway. The church was, and still is, in Carloway. Both churches are there now. The majority were in the Free Church and they were still coming in and being converted, there were twos and threes from the same family being dealt with by God’s Spirit. There were not many households between Garynahine and Carloway that the Spirit of the Lord did not touch, and here I was with the deepest desire to be among them, feeling on my own in one sense and afraid to take the next step. I was praying to the Lord to show me what to do and to give me the courage I required to come out to the prayer meeting; it didn’t matter what Church. The Lord answered my prayers when I could not hold out any longer. I finally plucked up courage to go out to the Free Church prayer meeting on the Wednesday night.
On my way to the prayer meeting that night the devil was trying to make me turn back, telling me I was a fool and that the Free Church elders at the door would ask me what did I want, and what was I going to say to them? But that was the devil trying to stop me from coming out on the Lord’s side. When I got to the door I was welcomed with open arms. We had a house meeting after the prayer meeting in an old Christian’s house, and he asked me when I went in, ‘and what are you doing here?’ Well I can tell you I felt very small, I did not know what to say, but that I had a strong desire to be there, and they soon put me at ease. There were two or three old ladies from Doune there and they were praying for the young fellow who was with them that night.
On the way home that night I felt as if a load had fallen off me, and although I still had my burdens, I felt very glad to have had the courage to be in the prayer meeting. I was at the receiving end at home with criticism from my brothers. They were saying to me that it was because I was hearing of others being converted that I went to the prayer meeting; with that and my doubts, it did not help. However the Lord gave me the strength to go on with my desire growing stronger to be found in Christ. The following Sabbath I got up early, dressed, took my bike and cycled to Carloway to the Church of Scotland. On my way to the church that morning I caught up with other younger people with the same feelings, doubts and fears as myself. Words fail me to tell of the joy I experienced that day in Church. I did not know how the minister and his wife got to know, but they spoke to me after the service and told me that they heard I was converted. I did not know what to say, I felt as if I was walking on air.
For a full year after that I can never explain or find words to tell of the glorious transformation that took place in my life, how wonderfully the Lord was working in Lewis at that time, to be caught up in the Spirit of revival. I got to know young people and old in the surrounding villages by going to house meetings nearly every night in the week, especially in Breasclete and Callanish. It was the most glorious part of my life; I even thought there was something of the Spirit of revival in the animals around me. We had two cows and a few sheep at that time, and I also thought it was in the glorious weather; I was seeing God at work in everything. Although we were in the house meetings nearly every night we didn’t seem to get tired at all.
I remember one night being in a prayer house meeting in Breasclete until six o’clock in the morning and, without having any sleep, I started working on the croft as soon as I reached home. I was getting a lot of criticism from my brothers and also from my parents for coming home at all hours of the morning. I learned that every Christian must expect to be criticised and in some cases to be persecuted by the devil and world, but praise the Lord, He enabled me to carry on when I thought of what He had done for me. The Lord was working wonders every day and a great change was taking place in many young lives and some very rough characters too. There were very hardened men and women softened by the Lord’s Spirit. They could be seen with tears streaming down their faces in repentance for their past sins and some of them felt the Presence of the Lord so strong that they were overcome and went into trances; it was glorious to be with them, and feeling part of it was beyond words.
The years 1936, 1937 and into 1938 were glorious years of spiritual awakening in Lewis and quite a number became ministers of the Gospel in both Churches (Free Church and Church of Scotland). I have had the Lord’s presence without number down the years since then, but I cannot find words for that most glorious and special time in my life. When I look back at these days of Revival I thank the Lord with joy in my heart for the love with which He loved me and died for me, and gave me a real hope of eternal bliss on the other side. Quite a number of those who started on the road with me are now in Glory and in possession of the blessings to which there will be no end. To God be the glory, great things he hath done. He is the same God who is still on the throne and able to save to the uttermost those who put their trust in Him.
For more information see, ‘Glory in the Glen,’ by Tom Lennie, p279, 295-301, 324-46, 382-4, 390-2 and ‘Sounds from Heaven, by Colin and Mary Peckham (for details of the 1949-52 revival), both published by Christian Focus Publications.