Old Kirk and Graveyard


The following were all ministers of the church William Farquharson - 1580 Patrick Grant - 1585 to 1620s Colin Mackenzie - 1633 Roderick Mackenzie - 1642 John Sanderson - 1656 Colin Nicolson - 1670 Removed from post, but later restored. James Grant -1686 Transferred to Abernethy 1686 from Urquhart. Minister there for three years. Brought before the Privy Council by the Laird Grant for refusing to accept the new King William or Queen Mary, or pray for them. Apparently had Jacobite sympathies. He was subsequently dismissed and had to leave the manse and glebe and deliver the church keys to the Laird. Died 1693. No minister for several years. William Grant - 1709 Appointed 1709. Apparently popular minister, remaining in post 40 years and twice avoiding transfer to Kingussie. John Grant -1765 Died 1820. Served 55 years. Also known as Parson John, his portrait appears in Elizabeth Grants 'Memoirs of a Highland Lady'. He was 'a little merry man, fond of good eating, very fond of good drinking, no great hand at a sermon... For good practical sense, honesty of purpose, kindness of heart, tender feeling combined with energetic action, Parson John could hardly have been surpassed... He was all the more respected for the strictness of his discipline, yet a sly joke against the minister was much relished by his flock'. 1781 - Refused to admit Patrick McQueen and his wife to Communion on the grounds that Patrick was alleged to have committed perjury at a trial in Inverness. When Patrick challenged this in court, the Parson was upheld because he was judged not to be subject to a civil court in ecclesiastical matters. Patrick then sued him for libel. The case went to the Court of Session where the Lords decided that although it was a purely ecclesiastical matter, the Parson should not have discussed the matter publicly. Subsequently, he was found liable for damages and expenses.


Place of Worship

Built by

Heritors for the Church of Scotland

Construction date

Current building early 1770s (previous building 16th Cent).

Location/map ref

Next to Castle Roy on the B970 road, just outside Nethy Bridge.


Saint George is the patron saint of Abernethy. The legend of Saint George and the dragon dates from the 6th Century and Rev. Forsyth believes that George was chosen to replace a previous Celtic saint. It is likely that there had been a church building here, probably for catholic worship, for many years before the 18th Century building. 'Access to any civil court was limited and until the 19th century the Kirk Session was the only administrative body at work at a local level' (Munro). The Session oversaw sexual morals, especially concerning itself with fathers of 'illegitimate' children. Public confession and means tested fines were demanded, mainly as a means of providing for the child and mother (remember there was no welfare state or social security until 1845). Sometimes services to the community were demanded instead of fines - roof timbers for the schoolhouse were procured in this way in 1750. Money from fines was also spent on building timber bridges at many locations in the parish. Certain behaviour on the Sabbath was punished, including timber selling, driving cattle or 'frequenting ale houses'. Enforcement of Morals Misdemeanours at funerals were punished, including 'giving more liquor than what is ordinarily given to people' and 'violing and dancing'.


External Late 1500s - Following the Reformation the Heritors were required to provide a safe, comfortable church building capable of seating two thirds of the population of the parish aged over 18. An early church building appears on this site on Timothy Ponts map (1590s). 1724 - Original rectangular church building was small and with a thatched roof. Records of various complaints regarding cramped conditions and poor maintenance. Apparently possessed a gallery and several entrances. 1743 - Kirk Session declared that 'each Gentleman and Tenant repair the breaches and holes above his own seat, seeing it is now too late in the year to have the church fully repaired'. 1748 - the congregation were required to 'carry to the churchyard heather and other materials necessary for compleating the Reparation of the Kirk'. 1762 - Presbytery met with Kirk Session, locals and workmen where it was decided that the existing building was not worth repairing and plans for a new building were made. The Laird of Grant wanted the new building to be placed 'on the muir above Culnakyle'. The stonemasons quoted 97.7.2. Sterling for quarrying, shaping the stones and for providing the lime, with the local people carrying the lime and slate. 26.12.10. Sterling was quoted for other building materials including glass, nails, iron, locks and lead - 'and for manufacturing wood, cutting logs and spars and sawing them, besides that, the parishioners must carry them'. 1767 - following the death of the previous minister and subsequent delays, Alexander Cuie was paid 10 pounds as the chosen mason, with wright work done by Alexander Haston of Grantown. 1773 - plan shows the new rectangular building in its current location. 1784 - Lady Grant received a letter describing the state of the new church - 'a fine situation, a Kirk standing betwixt [the ministers house] and Factor MacGrigor [Balliemore], which must have cost Sir James much money, the doors open and all the large windows broke. I wished the minister set on the stool [form of punishment] and the factor in the pillory [stocks]'. 1874 - repaired and remodelled at the expense of the heritors and at the request of Rev Forsyth. Mr. A.M. Mackenzie, architect of Elgin, was employed. The belfry and bell were added at this time. The back wall was replaced and extended back 10 feet, a lobby and vestry added and existing galleries removed. Internal 1700s Church reformers declared that every church must have 'dores, close windows of glass, thack able to withhold rain, a bell to convocate the people together, a pulpet, a basen for baptising and tables for ministration of the Lord's Supper'. There were no fixed seats and the congregation simply brought their own stools. The floor space was allocated to people depending on the amount of land they owned but, following complaints of lack of space, it was later subdivided according to the amount of rent they paid. Those with higher rents probably had more subtenants, who thus gained space. After this decision, people were ordered to provide their own seats accordingly and those not present were to forfeit their space. This seating was apparently moveable, allowing pulpit stairs and tables to be erected. By the late 1700s a loft and galleries had been built. Following rebuilding in 1767, it is likely that there were at least some fixed seats. 1800s 1835 Statistical Account states that the church was very sufficiently built, well supplied with light and commodiously fitted up with seats. There is a beautiful seat in the gallery, opposite the pulpit, intended for the use of the family of the heritor (apparently lost during renovation in 1873). There is no evidence that Abernethy received rent from the locals for their seats, although this was the case in the more populated parishes. The Presbytery in 1873 stressed the need for heating in view of the climate and the distance people had to walk to get to church, noting that there was no fireplace in the vestry. Choir seat was added to the pulpit in 1887. 1990s Electricity put in as a gift from two families. Outside spotlight fitted to illuminate the church at night. Presently, the picturesque Old Kirk is much valued by members of the community and attracts interest from visitors. However, due to limited funds, location and lack of heating and lighting and with the construction of the second church building on Dell Road (Seafield Place) the Old Kirk has only limited use.

Other references

M. O'Reilly linkto:http://www.exploreabernethy.co.uk[[Explore Abernethy website]] Forsyth, W (1900) 'In the Shadow of Cairngorm' (Inverness) Munro, Dr. J 'The Church in Abernethy' (research document for Abernethy parish church) The Lobban Account, Explore Abernethy Visitor Centre. MacEwan, Rev. J (2005) Local resident

The Disruption and Union

In 1843, following much conflict, about a third of the national Church of Scotland congregation broke away, eventually forming the ‘United Free Church’. They were protesting against the appointment of ministers by landlord and state and wanted to be ‘free’ to choose their own ministers. This is the origin of the second church building on Dell Road. However, the UFC and Church of Scotland joined once again during the Union of 1929.


The Kirk Session consists of the minister, elders, clerk ( usually the schoolmaster) and treasurer. This group is responsible for organising the affairs of the church in Abernethy. The Kirk Session itself is overseen by the Presbytery and then the Synod – covering Speyside and Moray respectively.


1560 (Reformation) – early 1800s – English and Gaelic sermon, possibly lasting more than an hour. Also prayer and singing of a Psalm. Psalms sung by ‘lining out’, where the congregation, most of whom were illiterate, repeated the Psalm after the minister. 1700s – services in Gaelic and English most Sundays, although sometimes the English sermon was abandoned if the weather was bad (the 7th January 1753 record states ‘no Inglish, the day being short and cold’). The Gaelic service apparently was held outdoors in the churchyard, the English one in the church. Notices were given out in the churchyard – often asking for information about strayed livestock ! 1739 – First record of Communion celebration at Abernethy. Began on Thursday with a Fast Day, sermon in Gaelic, lecture and distribution of tokens (small metal pieces given to those eligible to take communion). Saturday was Preparation day with bilingual sermons and many local ministers in attendance. Sunday was the service itself, lasting perhaps all day, with the people sitting at a long table for communion. Simultaneously, an ‘action sermon’ was preached. Monday was Thanksgiving day, with further bilingual sermons. This celebration took place every three to four years, being open to all. 1754 – Exceptionally large number attended Communion, with 19 tables being served and the service having to be cut short to allow people to get home safely. 1866 – Robert Murray, leader of singing for 28 years in English and Gaelic, resigned. 1891 – English services held at 12.00 and Gaelic at 1.30. 1898 – Abernethy acquired their first hymn books for congregation use. Until now, the congregation sat to sing and stood to pray. 1902 – Organ was presented to the church by Lord Strathcona, costing Ìâå£150. 1909 – For the first time, Communion was celebrated only in English. Saturday service discontinued and additional Autumn Communion Celebration introduced. 1912 – Kirk Session decided that although not essential, it was desirable for the minister to be a Gaelic speaker ‘in view of the Celtic nature of the community and the prevalent use of Gaelic throughout the parish’ (until now, Abernethy had been listed as one of the parishes where a Gaelic speaking minister was essential). Money was collected for the poor at every service. This was originally done at the door, then using ‘ladles’ (open boxes on long handles), and then in the early 1900s using bags. References by Forsyth (1900) to the minister serving at the ‘two churches’ refer to this one and the Kincardine Church of Scotland. Services were held at the Old Kirk for two Sundays and then Kincardine on the third. Occasionally, services were held at houses in the remote areas of the parish (Munro). Fast days, Thanksgiving Services or sermons were held on important occasions. Present attendance, divided between the Old Kirk and the Dell Road church, ranges from about 40, including about 20 children, to over 100 during the summer. Modern Sunday morning service at Dell Road church, followed by a more traditional service at noon. The noon services are held in the Old Kirk from last Sunday June until August. Presently, the minister serves at the Old Kirk and the Dell Road Church, Nethy Bridge (the latter having the present manse).

The Manse

The House of Abernethy (now Abernethy Trust) was the Manse for the serving minister and its land was part of the ministers income (the ‘glebe’).

The Heritors

The Old Kirk and minister himself was funded by the Heritors on behalf of the Church of Scotland. It was one of the heritors privileges that they could nominate the minister – Abernethy’s main heritor was the Laird of Grant. The minister would then be assessed by the Presbytery – a process involving preaching of sermons and interviews.

The Old Kirk handbell

The following is a quote describing the history of the Old Kirk handbell: This is the handbell which was used to call people to worship in Abernethy Kirk, prior to the installation of the belfry and bell, an improvement carried out in 1874. Miss Dunbar was the last member of the family at Inchbroke who owned the bell. When young, Miss Dunbar walked the five miles to Abernethy Kirk. Then, for two or three evenings, she would visit the old and give them a very good account of the minister’s sermon and happenings at the church, for she had a most wonderful memory. Before she died, she would recite psalm after psalm, including the hundred and nineteenth, from beginning to end. When her effects were sold all the local people knew the history of the bell, which was probably her most treasured possession. It was purchased by Alexander Grant, Ballinluig. He was possibly encouraged to outbid the others because one of his grandmothers, Christina Stuart, came from Inchbroke. The bell then rested at Ballinluig for three quarters of a century. Since Inchbroke and Ballinluig are farms in the parish of Abernethy, the bell has never been out of the parish since leaving Abernethy Kirk. Now it has returned to its rightful home. ‘Blessings on the bell. Also bless Abernethy Kirk, it’s minister and it’s congregation.’ The bell was given back into the keeping of Abernethy Parish Church in 1999 by Mr Alastair Grant, Ballinluig and rung before the Communion service in June of that year – 125 years after it’s last appearance in that role. The Church is grateful to Mr. Grant, and is glad to make the bell available on extended loan to the Explore Abernethy centre

Poor Relief

The poor were supported partly by money from fines and from collections given at the services. Money was sometimes distributed immediately, but usually twice a year. 1597 – 1845 Kirk Session responsible for the poor in their parish and kept a register of those eligible to receive aid. The register had two lists – priority went to those who were incapacitated or were single parent families with very young children. These had license to beg (numbering 40 people in 1839). The second list had those who were able bodied. Money and sometimes food supplies were given to the housebound, foster carers and widows with young children. Money was also provided for workers who had suffered accidents. 1740 – during a harsh winter, the Session appointed 58 people, including many local farmers, who could supply a regular quantity of meal for those on the Poor list. 1845 – Act of Parliament transferred administration of poor relief from the Kirk Sessions to a central authority.

In memory of David Stuart M.B. & C.M. Assistant to the Professor of Pathology in the University of Edinburgh. Born June 21st 1868, Died December 13th 1894. His body rests in hope in the English Cemetery, Bordighera, Italy. A distinguished student of the University. He taught Pathology for three years, until his work was unexpectedly interrupted by illness, and a faithful life full of rich promise, brought to a premature close. As a boy he lived at Balliemore and was educated in the public school of this parish. Posuerunt Parentes 1895.

Captain John Grant who died at Birchfield 1848 (close-up view)

Captain John Grant who died at Birchfield 1848


The replica of the 1881 Dell Nursery Summerhouse is located in a corner of the graveyard. The origional was constructed by Mr Stephen, forester on the estate, using 112 different kinds of wood (Forsyth, 1900).


The graves here date from the eighteenth century to the present. Many give fascinating insights into the way of life of past generations. A wide variety of occupations are mentioned, including many farmers. Also present are World War 1 and 2 servicemen, and a woman, variously from the Highlanders, Canadian Forestry Corps, Territorial Army and RAF – some killed in action. Also present are children, foresters, a gamekeeper, tacksmen (who managed rent on behalf of the landlords during the 19th century), church ministers, doctors, and a blacksmith. Buried here are one of the only two Inverness-shire policemen ever to be killed on duty. The event happened during December 1898. The following is from The Lobban Account, held at Explore Abernethy – ‘In my early school days, a man, an incomer by the name of Allan McCallum (who had taken up his abode in Tulloch) was summoned to appear in court in Inverness on a charge of poaching. He was what one would describe as not mentally stable. Owing to having spent a period in the Falkland Islands as a shepherd he was affected, like many more, with a kind of depression. He ignored the summons and the result was that he was fined in his absence. As he made no effort to meet the demand, two policemen, Constable King from Nethy Bridge and Constable McNiven from Boat of Garten were sent to get him to sign an interdict order or, failing that to arrest him. Their showing face made McCallum clear out with his gun. McNiven tracked him down and was threatened with the gun and as he was on his own he could do nothing about it. They hunted him all day without result and finally they decided to call it a day and go home. A short distance on their way, word was brought to them that McCallum was seen going into his house. They at once retraced their steps. On entering the house, King was shot dead and McCallum ran out…’ McCallum was apparently at large for a week and eventually found hiding in a barn in Tomachrochar. The farmer who owned the barn was apparently an acquaintance of McCallum’s in the Falklands. ‘As [the policemen] had been threatened first by McCallum he was only charged with culpable homicide. His sentence was fifteen years, which he served wholly in Peterhead.’ (Author and date unknown). Another gravestone is for a Miss Grant, who, aged 97 died ONE HUNDRED YEARS AFTER her older brother. He died in infancy in 1884, before she was born. The following details were kindly supplied by Dorrie Fraser 1st October 2006 I have recently been tracing my ancestors and some are buried in the old Abernethy kirk graveyard. There is a 3rd police officer who died in the district whilst trying to perform his duties in Grantown. James Fraser, police constable, died in 1878, aged 39 years after being stabbed by a “demented drunkard” at the Grant Arms Hotel whilst trying to arrest the assailant [Strathspey News 1934]. He died from his injuries 2 days after the attack from peritonitis and haemorrhage. He left a wife Jane Hopkirk and 3 young children. His headstone is dedicated by his wife and lies next to the grave of his sister Marjory Fraser (Lamont). She died of pnuemonia in 1936 having reached the grand age of 102 years. Both James and Marjory were born and grew up in Corsellach, Cromdale to parents Donald Fraser (Blacksmith, Cotterton) and Marjory McGregor. Recorded in the Stathspey News, Sept 5th 1936: Quote, “A very large company assembled to attend the funeral on Wednesday to Abernethy church yard. The services were taken by Rev Thos Cargill and Rev Mr Anderson”. There is a beautiful speech recorded in Rev Cargill’s sermon the following Sunday with regard to his “good friend” Mrs Lamont. Mrs Lamont is related to myself as being my great grandfather’s grandmother. When she died she resided at Cliff Cottage, Cromdale. There is a picture of Mrs Lamont published in June 1936 with her grand daughter and great grandson. Grantown Museum kindly traced and sent me the information regarding Mrs Lamont. I presently live with my Husband Craig Fraser and 16 year old daughter Holly in Avoch, Ross-shire. I found it interesting when I discovered I had Fraser blood and married a Fraser.

Donald Martin – 1821 Presented by the Laird (then Earl of Seafield) in 1820. James Stewart – 1838 Died 1862 Rev. Dr. William Forsyth – 1863 Died 1907. Buried Abernethy graveyard. Gifted speaker and author. Writer of ‘In the Shadow of Cairngorm’, the definitive work on the history of the parish of Abernethy. Childhood witness of the Great Flood of 1829. Duncan Robertson – 1907 Noted as the last Abernethy minister to preach in Gaelic. First Abernethy minister to be chosen solely by a vacancy committee instead of by patronage (i.e.: nomination by the Laird). The committee was made up of voted in members of the congregation. Rev. Archibald W. Ross – 1922 to 1932 First private owner of the Manse of Abernethy, following the union of the two Abernethy churches. John A. Fleming -1932 First minister to serve in both the Dell Road church and Old Kirk, following the Union of Churches. Ian M. Macalister – 1942 William Gardiner Scott – 1960 James H. Boyd – 1966 Rev. Jim MacEwan -1980 to present Minister of the Parishes of Abernethy, Cromdale and Advie.