The building we now know as Lismore Parish Church was once the Cathedral Church of St Moluag. It was built by the MacDougalls sometime in the 13th century, although evidence of exact dates is not easy to find. It was dedicated to St Moluag who had chosen the site now known as Clachan as the seat of his worship not long after he arrived with his missionaries in 562. But the Clachan story did not start there. Evidence is emerging, as a result of archaeological digs, that Clachan has been central to island life long before the Christian era. A detailed history of the Cathedral Church of St Moluag can be found on the Comann Eachdraidh Liosmòr website.1
Even in the Christian era it is conceivable that the congregation today sits in the same area occupied by the first Celtic church and that continuity of Christian worship alone may stretch back nearly 1500 years, and pre-Christian possibly as long again. So what remains of the Cathedral and what becomes of the modern parish church are of huge significance locally and internationally.
Because the Church of Scotland has advised2 that it intends to dispose of Lismore’s church building no later than December 2023—just twelve months from now—the present-day islanders have some significant decisions to make. Disposal of churches is happening across Scotland, as the Church reviews its rising maintenance/running costs and reduced budgets.
Lismore is a small community of around 170 souls; the church’s future depends on all of us, regardless of our beliefs.
SO WHAT SHOULD ITS FUTURE BE?
An initial meeting was called about this on 14 July 2022 with 23 people attending. Andy Hough chaired and Bob Hay took the minutes. It was agreed a working group made up of various interested bodies be set up to report back to the island in October/November regarding what needs to be done to ensure the future of the buildings and the glebe (area around the church).
At a much larger public meeting called by the Lismore Community Trust on 13 October 2022 it was agreed that a Lismore Church Working Group should proceed, with discussions with the Church of Scotland, on the basis that the church building, the new manse (the wee manse) and the glebe land should be offered to the community as a package. A further meeting on 7 November discussed organising a community consultation which would be both online and offline, and involve all residents over the age of 16.
Two things make decision-making urgent:
- the parlous state of the building
- the short time for community decisions; funders will want to know what the future plans for the building are before they will support them.
The parish church is an historical building. The earlier cathedral was once the centre of Christianity in Argyll known to and in contact with the Vatican. Today, though numbers attending have fallen, most islanders use it at some stage, whether at Christmas or Easter, for weddings and funerals, concerts, plays, flower festivals and much more. Further complications are that it’s a Scheduled Monument3 and Argyll and Bute Council own the graveyard, which will add to the complexity of managing the building.
The worst outcome would be the building being declared dangerous and banned to all. Lismore has been here once already. In 1749, the parish church building was created out of the chancel of the medieval cathedral, then standing ruined and largely roofless.
Between now and the end of February 2023, the Lismore Church Working Group will prepare a list of islanders’ ideas with the intention of completing this by Easter at the latest. Once the initial consultation is complete there will be a workshop and a community consultation event, to discuss and prioritise ideas. Top options/ideas may also, eventually, be put to a community vote in a closed ballot. The preferred option (once identified) could also be included in the final community ballot. The Working Group has already identified that the preference would be for the community to take ownership of the church building, new manse and the glebe land as a package, as these associated facilities will be key to securing a sustainable future for the church building, while retaining access and use by the community.
Now the key questions are:
- what will the buildings and land be used for, and
- who will manage them and keep them fit for whatever their purpose is.
The Lismore Church Working Group will be working hard to solve the many variables that will arise at every stage. A detailed account of the process as envisaged by the working group is available on the Isle of Lismore website.4
The church has been used for many different events already and it is envisaged that this may be greatly expanded. Images here show some of its varied life in the last few decades
 Detailed history of the Cathedral Church of Saint Moluag
 Lismore Parish Church Building Fact Sheet (as at June 2022) from Rev Dugald Cameron
 St Moluag’s Cathedral, Lismore, Scheduled Monument at Historic Environment Scotland
 Process envisaged by the working group
 Dr Iain G. MacDonald’s talk on the later medieval bishops of Lismore, featured in his book Clerics and Clansmen: The Diocese of Argyll between the Twelfth and the Sixteenth Centuries.