Free Presbyterian minister;

born March 5, 1935;

died September 23, 2006.

THE Reverend Duncan MacLean, a fondly remembered Free Presbyterian minister on Lewis and Harris, has died suddenly at his home on Skye.

He overcame aff liction, alcoholism and a fall from the ministry to spend his last years in full communion with his church.

Born in Strome, Lochcarron, and a fluent Gaelic speaker, MacLean pursued casual trades as soon as he could leave school. He was fond of dances, concerts and ceilidhs, and his magnificent singing voice secured a silver medal at the National Mod. He was still only 20 when, in 1955, he married Constance Maginnis, from Dumfries. She is recalled as a wonderful lady of the manse.

MacLean had not long settled with his new bride, near Lochcarron, when he wearily headed out to church on the Sabbath night of a Communion "to keep the old woman happy".

The preacher was the Rev Donald MacLean, and his text was Matthew 5 vv 25-26. Duncan MacLean came home a different man. He would afterwards relate: "I felt as if a knife had been thrust into me and then slowly removed."

He duly made public profession of faith and moved around Skye and Wester Ross with his expanding family. By 1966, he was a student for the ministry and, after studies in Glasgow, Oban and Inverness, was ordained and inducted to the charge of North Tolsta in August 1972.

In October 1979, he was sent to South Harris. His new charge was arduous - Sabbath services were held in five different places. MacLean's firm leadership secured a start on a new, more convenient central church at Leverburgh, as well as an old people's home. He is recalled as a lovely preacher - a master of the seis, the distinctive oratorical chant of the old Highland pulpit - and many also remember his irrepressible sense of humour. He could see the funny side of anything.

"Despite being given detailed instructions by Mr Macinnes and Mr Fraser, " MacLean solemnly told the Free Presbyterian Synod, after a preaching tour of Canada, "I succeeded in taking a wrong turning en route, and in this way managed to visit a part of Ontario that I had no previous intention of visiting."

But tragedy stalked his family. Three of their four sons suffered muscular dystrophy.

Kenneth, their first son, was already using a wheelchair by the time they moved to Tolsta and, in 1975, the couple lost a baby daughter.

It was probably only after Kenny's death, in 1984, that MacLean's occasional indulgence in whisky became a problem. In the autumn of 1985, the press reported an unfortunate incident in Lochcarron and the Church had little option but to suspend him.

The shattered family repaired to Lochcarron, where MacLean found work driving a bus. Years of misery ensued. In September 1989, Connie passed away and their son David died in 1993. The baby of the family, Derek - a jolly, much-loved uncle to the growing grandchildren - collapsed at a Dingwall funeral in 2001. He was 31.

MacLean had, in 1992, remarried - to Catriona Robertson - and moved to Broadford, Skye. For a time he broke with his Church and took communion in the Kirk. By 1996, though, interviewed for a Gaelic religious broadcast, he seemed on the brink of peace and sobriety, and, by 2000, the Free Presbyterians tenderly restored him as a member in full Communion.

A stroke had by then devastated his speech and a return to the pulpit was no longer an issue. His last years saw him contentedly tending Highland cattle and a gentle, humble figure on the Free Presbyterian Communion circuit. Remarkably, after a massive coronary last October, he regained consciousness with his speech much improved. He is survived by his son, Duncan, his daughters, Linda and Margaret, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.