A dram, a fag, a piper – here’s to a remarkable life full of music

Pictures of Margaret with kind permission of Kildonan Museum.

“Margaret Fay Shaw I always remember from a 100th birthday photo in the South Uist museum: fag in hand, dram on the arm of her chair!”

Memories, memories. With the anniversary of Margaret’s death coming up these pictures gain special significance. Martin’s comment – which I found quite by chance on the excellent Scottish Island Explorers blog – got me searching through pictures and memories of my own.  I had also seen that 100th birthday photo in the very fine Kildonan Museum on South Uist, or Comann Eachdraigh Uibhist a Deas in  Gaelic.

Hard to believe that first visit (I hope there will be more!) is now more than four years ago when I was just tentatively opening up an extraordinary treasure trove of information about John and Margaret, a store of memories collected from people across the world.

Many of them came together at Ceòlas a centre of dance and music with an annual summer school in Daliburgh community centre on the edge of the machair in South Uist. In 2007 Ceòlas summer school was dedicated to Margaret Fay Shaw and it was an unforgettable occasion with speakers from as far as Nova Scotia and New Zealand – and quite a few from Scotland and the Hebrides too.

Every day was filled with stories from a dauntingly qualified bunch: old friends, local experts; academics and scholars of many disciplines speaking in English and Gaelic with equal fluency. Every night was filled with music and dance as the crowd in the hall regrouped for yet another ceilidh.  Many of the songs would have been collected by Margaret when she lived on the island more than 80 years ago, before she met John Lorne Campbell.

South Uist comes to Canna for Margaret’s 100th birthday

Margaret’s music and photographs, her life and work, are celebrated in a warm-hearted exhibition in Kildonan Museum.   And at the centre of it is the tribute written by John Love, author, naturalist and long-time friend of John and Margaret; the man who was responsible for reintroducing sea eagles to Rum. And from there to Canna.

Kildonan Museum also records the great boat trip from South Uist on Saturday 27 September 2003 when ten islanders made the journey to Canna at Margaret’s invitation  – it was an advance celebration of her 100th birthday in November that year, they wanted to make the trip before the autumn gales began in earnest. What could they take the woman who had everything she needed?  They brought essentials for a good party: a piper, a bottle of whisky and a sackful of potatoes from the machair.

Margaret would no doubt be delighted to discover that Ceòlas is taking a band of musicians and dancers to perform in Celtic Connections 2012 in Glasgow.  Among them Paul McCallum who also made the Daliburgh hall ring during that Ceòlas summer school.

Margaret stayed on South Uist for ‘four winters and six summers’ until she met John and moved to Barra. She never lived on South Uist again, but in a real sense she never left it – returning frequently to visit her friends and inviting them to stay with her. It was where she chose to be buried.

 

 

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