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I was delighted to learn that last Sunday, the 19th of July 2009, marked the first Sunday sailing between Stornoway and Ullapool.
My friend Kris and I spent a Sunday in Stornoway during a hitching trip round Scotland in 1993. There was little to do and had there been a ferry we would have left the island. In those days the swings were padlocked and there were no pubs that officially opened their doors. Fortunately we had been tipped off by a local that the Crown Hotel unofficially opened its back doors between the hours of 1100 and 1300. As we walked through the deserted streets to the securely bolted front door we felt sure that we had been spun a line, but on turning into the car park at the rear of the premises a faint noise of revelry reached our ears: the chink of glasses; the muffled roar of barroom chat. We entered through a fire exit which lay ajar and passed through the gents’ toilets to the packed main bar. The fun came to an end on schedule at 1300, but the locals left with bulging carrier bags, beer cans straining at the sides, to continue their celidh elsewhere. I realised there and then that Sabbath Observance is not the will of the people; it is a reflection of the fact that in our supposedly secular society an unacceptable amount of power still rests in the hands of the church.
I returned to the Long Isle of Lewis and Harris in the spring of 2007 while cycling the length of the Outer Hebrides northwards from Barra. The sanctity of the Sabbath was being threatened by Sunday ferries and we saw notices advertising a protest that had been planned by the Lord’s Day Observance Society. Protesting the proposed Sunday ferry presented the Society with a terrible conundrum. They could hardly form a picket line on the Sabbath. Accordingly their protest would pass unnoticed, consisting as it did of indoor prayer and sermonising. Was this an echo of the past, destined to grow fainter with every funeral, or were the ranks of the Sabbath Observance Society swollen with earnest young suit-wearing men like Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses?
Those island residents who were in favour of Sunday sailings were quick to point out the double standards of the Lord’s Day Observers. They reported that the very same people who were so vigorously opposed to Sunday ferry sailings had no qualms about using other forms of public transport on the Sabbath, conveying themselves to church by bus and taxi.
I welcome sunday sailings. Not only does it make Lewis and Harris a viable weekend venue from Inverness, it is a sign that democracy is gaining ground over hypocrisy in the Outer Hebrides.