Midsummer wedding and burial on Canna

misty view across Canna

In the bleak midsummer

On another bleak midsummer John’s remains returned to Canna. By poetic coincidence his coffin made the journey on the Loch Nevis in the company of a wedding party. And now long friends of Canna, Gordon and Julie Galloway return to the island every June to celebrate their anniversary.

It’s a story worth retelling. In June 2006 John’s remains were exhumed from his grave in Fiesole and flown to Heathrow Airport. John’s nephew, Neill Campbell, collected them and travelled to Edinburgh where he met up with Hugh Cheape and they journeyed on to Mallaig. The casket was placed in St Patrick’s Catholic Church overnight and in the morning theparish priest, Fr Joe Calleja, said mass.

It was Midsummer’s Day, a Wednesday, chosen because on that day the ferry Loch Nevis was scheduled to remain at Canna pier for two hours at lunchtime before going back to Mallaig. As a mark of respect Caledonian MacBrayne had donated tickets to those accompanying John and the plan was to complete the burial and return on the ferry. But the day started with a fierce storm and the ship could not leave the harbour. Hugh Cheape and Neill Campbell spent several hours in the Mallaig Seaman’s Mission drinking tea.

The Presbyterian Church on Canna

The Presbyterian Church on Canna

On Canna, Gordon Galloway and Julie Mitchell were also anxiously scanning the sky. They had been on the island for several days preparing for their wedding, which was to be on that day in the Presbyterian church, near the pier. But the humanist minister who was to conduct the ceremony and 30 of the wedding guests were also stuck in Mallaig.

By 3 p.m. the weather had improved and Captain Tony McQuade decided that they could sail. As they reached Canna the sun broke through the cloud, the wind lessened and the evening was fine and warm. While the minister and the wedding party filed into the church, a Land Rover met the Loch Nevis and took John’s remains to a small birch wood behind the Catholic chapel which he and Saturnino (his old friend, Magda’s father) had planted. In spring it is filled with bluebells. Now, on the longest day of the year, the late sun was casting dapple evening shadows. Magda had dug a grave in a small clearing and all the islanders gathered there while Fr Calleja said a blessing and Hugh Cheape and Neill Campbell lowered the box into the earth.

Two years later, the present owner of Taynish House, where John had been brought up, gave permission for a piece of stone to be taken from the garden for John’s headstone. It was set in a small cairn, with the inscription: Iain Latharna Caimbeul, 1.10.1906 – 25.4.1996, Fear Chanaidh

John's grave among bluebells

John's grave among bluebells

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