“We are potato people.” Must read article from the Catholic Herald

Another wonderful article from this week’s Catholic Herald of the UK.    

Let me give you just a couple of the good bits… go there and read the whole thing.

‘Good Hebridean food – it’s so easy’
Carolyn Reynier meets one of Britain’s oldest priests who rises at five and does all his own cooking in his remote island parish

3 July 2009

‘I’m an old man of 85.

I live on fish and potatoes – we grow the loveliest potatoes in the world. I grow all my own crops; we grow them on raised beds of seaweed called lazy beds."

The speaker is the Very Reverend Canon Angus John MacQueen, the place is the Outer Hebridean island of Barra where he has been a parish priest since 1952.

Does he have other priests visiting? He laughs.

"Yes, oh yes! You can’t keep them away _- friends from my theology days, even cardinals. When I was in one of the other parishes here on the islands, I had Cardinal Hume. He asked: ‘What do I have to do?’ I said: ‘You have to look after the sheep.’ He was an angler and on my croft in South Uist I had one of the finest trout lochs on the whole island, so he had the sheep to look after on the croft and he could fish the rest of the day. …

He still grows his own crops – carrots, onions, early potatoes, main crop.

"The potatoes we like best are something like Maris Piper for a main crop. The people in England they like wet potatoes. The people in the highlands of Scotland only eat dry potatoes. We were quite surprised when that war was on and people came to build airport runways here on the bigger islands. We thought we would sell them potatoes and we grew potatoes for them but they didn’t like them because they were dry. Now, our idea of a potato is something that throws off its jacket once it’s boiled, and is dry and you eat it with your fingers by preference. Those of us who are very old, we eat all our fish with our fingers. We forgive Queen Margaret of Scotland, God rest her soul, for bringing knives and forks from France."

Canon MacQueen does all his own cooking using old-fashioned iron pots, frying pans and griddles. "Good Hebridean food, it’s so easy because we have the best ingredients." His six hens keep him supplied in eggs for his scones. "I do a lot of baking. The fish factory is just down the road. We have the largest red crabs you ever saw, we have lobsters, crayfish sometimes weighing up to six to seven pounds. I can wander along the shore and knowing the fishermen I can always find a fish to eat or a bit of lamb. During the hard time of the winter, we have barrels of herring and mackerel with potatoes. We are potato people.

Reminds me of….

"We are noodle folk!"

Really great article.  I would love to meet this priest, after reading this.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Maureen says:

    There are some wonderful old movies and books set in the Hebrides. Compton Mckenzie’s book Whisky Galore [Fantastic movie!] (part of a long series of really funny Hebrides and Highland novels) is probably the best I’ve read, and the movie was filmed there. Excellent stuff. The priest is a good character, and I’ve heard he was based in part on a very famous priest of the parish who did great and largely uncredited services for folklore. (Tey’s The Singing Sands is sort of the ultimate anti-romantic Hebrides novel, but it also makes you wish to go.)

    The book and movie, with notes on the true wartime story behind both.

    A musical scene from the movie (after the whisky supply increases) which is also a good example of traditional “mouth music”:

  2. Choirmaster says:

    “‘We are noodle folk!'”

    Is that a quote from Kung Fu Panda?

    When the father was explaining to the son why he should run the family business and not go away and study Kung Fu?

  3. I have an elderly parishioner from Barra, who actually drank some ‘polly’—whisky from the famous ‘Whisky galore’ incident when HMS Politician went down off the coast.

  4. Jayna says:

    “We forgive Queen Margaret of Scotland, God rest her soul, for bringing knives and forks from France.”

    Perhaps one of the best quotes I’ve ever come seen. Can he be my priest?

  5. Reminds me of our Parish Priest at St Joesph when I was young, Fr. Robert Stock CPPS, wonderful man, tended his own garden, in his cassock, out there hoeing, canned and froze his own food, us local farmers kept him in meat, and one of us in raw milk. His brother, also a priest with the CPPS was stationed 10 miles away at St Aloysius, they used to help each other put up food and loved to play cards till late in the evening. Fr Stock met the Lord in a traffic accident about 1973 on this way to visit him he was in his later 60’s. You could tell the NO mass was a struggle for him, he never really adjusted

  6. J Hamilton Beamish says:

    In addition to movies and books having been set in the Hebrides, it was while visiting in 1829 that Felix Mendelssohn was inspired to write his Hebrides Overture. For anyone unfamiliar with this overture, it can be heard on YouTube, here.

  7. jarhead462 says:

    I would also like to meet him!
    Sounds like quite a colorful Priest.
    Glad to see he was not transferred after 6 years or so. He became part of the very fabric of that place. Like it should be.

    Semper Fi!

  8. Jordanes says:

    Shouldn’t that be, “We are a Potato People”? ;-)

  9. Maureen says:

    Re: the link to a “different island” above, that incident was also made into a Mackenzie novel, though I’ve got a feeling it never appeared in the US. It was called Rockets Galore.

  10. Larry says:

    I immeadiately thought “what a great movie this would make!”
    Sadly the ground around my house is too clay to grow potatoes larger than a large button! I would like to see those crayfish!
    Must be just off PARADISE

  11. ssoldie says:

    What a great post, my kind of priest, my kind of food, yea! (I) we are a potatoe people, and thats good

  12. What’s all this philosyphying about his priesthood and talking about movies all about?

    I’d just like to try his food! It sounds great!

    But I hope he’d have butter for the potatoes.

  13. The dry potatoes must be a Celtic thing – they’re the preferred form here in Ireland too. He must a hardy man to have ministered in the Hebridees since 1952! That’s fierce country.

  14. The Gaffer would be proud! Thanks, Fr. Z!

  15. Kradcliffe says:

    I was doing some Googling on the subject of Barra and came across this story in the Guardian starring Cannon MacQueen:


  16. An American Mother says:

    Tha beagan Gaidhlig agam . . . chan’ ann anam ach Ameiricanach . . . but oh my goodness we are potato people too. I would be happy to help the good father dig the plot, or haul in the seaweed, or whatever needed doing.

    – proud descendant of the Mafia of Scotland – the MacGregors.

  17. Maureen says:

    Re: story about unsavory surfers

    Well, good for the Canon! Notice how he attacks on all fronts at once — not just complaining about the state of the surfers, but also mentioning the inconveniencing of others. Thus, he puts the advertising agency firmly in the wrong, according to the values of both the islanders and the outsiders, as well as the inconvenienced tourists and pilots.

    He’s a real character, apparently. (I’ve also been hitting the search engines. You have to search on ‘canon’ as well as ‘angus mcqueen’, because there’s more Angus McQueens than God made little green apples.) He says Mass in (Scottish) Gaelic three Sundays out of four (as was approved in the Hebrides long before Vatican II was ever imagined, btw — heck, before Vatican I). He’s very big on supporting the islanders in continuing to farm and fish, and has even opined that the island educational system should focus more on what they need for that and less on sending kids off to college. (Apparently Hebridean kids face huge culture shock off the islands and usually flunk out, no matter how smart and educated they are.)

    I also found an interesting little piece he wrote for this interesting little zine:

    “While walking back to the church car park I fell in with the writer of what follows. Canon MacQueen, though not quite a TV chef, has been filmed for the small screen in a Uist chapel-house kitchen. When my wife and I first met him at Bornish he was on the point of taking his sheep to market – a real ‘character’, in other words. The Canon is now at Northbay, Barra, and on that walk back from the graveyard I asked if he knew Compton Mackenzie, author of Whisky Galore, who had a house at Eoligarry. His reply was striking: ‘I buried him – at least I half-buried him!’ Canon MacQueen is ‘the priest’ in his own story.

    Death of a Piper

    Angus John MacQueen

    It was a bitterly cold day with frequent hail showers. We were clustered in groups outside the little airport building above the Barra beach. Eventually the small plane approached the sand, and Calum Johnston – in full Highland dress despite the cold – began to play. The plane came to rest below us, hailstones battering the traigh mhor, and as the door of the plane opened Calum sang a lament on the pipes while the mortal remains of Compton Mackenzie were lowered gently. Calum led the coffin and a small procession to the shelter of the airport shed. When we arrived at the newly opened grave in the ancient churchyard of Cille Bharra, we formed a tight group giving some small shelter to each other. The priest began the committal service – in Latin! The Bishop had insisted that (according to Compton’s wishes) all should be in Latin, not Gaelic as expected by the mourners.

    Once again Calum set up his pipes to sing a gentle farewell to his good friend while hail battered the group. Calum was standing on the edge of the grave when suddenly the notes wavered and failed. The priest went to Calum and held him as he was dying. The committal was halted, and the priest gave the Latin service book to his assistant with an instruction to continue. Calum’s mortal remains were carried home for the Vigil.”

    That’s the sort of story you wouldn’t believe in a book. But there you go — truth really is stranger than fiction. God be good to both those men!

  18. Jayna says:

    “He says Mass in (Scottish) Gaelic three Sundays out of four”

    I wouldn’t understand a word he was saying, but I’d still love to see it.

  19. EDG says:

    My late husband’s family was originally from Barra (MacNeils of Barra). It’s a very interesting place, because it ended up Catholic probably because it was a seaweed covered rockpile off the coast and nobody thought it was that important.

    However, in the 19th century, there was an attempt by about 70 Catholic families to colonize Nova Scotia. This is one of the reasons that there are so many Catholics in Nova Scotia.

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