Maggie MacDonald RIP

Thàinig an naidheachd bhrònach an-diugh gun do chaochail Magaidh Dhòmhnallach - bean, màthair, seanmhair, sàr bhana-sheinneadair agus neach-teagaisg air leth.

Doirbh ’s gu bheil e a bhith a’ smaoineachadh nach bi Magaidh nar measg tuilleadh, tha mi air a bhith a’ dol timcheall fad an latha le gàire air m’ aodann a’ smaoineachadh air an iomadach uair a chuir sinn seachad, còmhla ri caraidean eile, ann an Cliar agus ann an suidheachaidhean eadar-dhealaichte.

Danny Kaye said: “Life is a great big canvas, and you should throw all the paint on it you can.” Maggie Macdonald did just that.

Miss Michie came to Portree Primary School when I was 10 and was my teacher in Primary 5. Young and full of life, we spent a lot of time listening to music and singing songs and as much time outside as in – as should be the case - to learn about plants and animals. She even engaged us in, as she described it herself, ‘sex education through the medium of a hamster’. Having bought a class hamster, she had to explain one morning why, all of a sudden, there were 5 or 6 little hamsters in the cage along with mummy hamster!

Miss Michie’s tenure in Portree was relatively short as she left to marry a Hearach, with whom she was smitten, and so started a relationship that lasted over 40 years.

Now Mrs Macdonald, I would see her around Portree from time to time as her parents had retired to Camustianavaig. Her Mum, Ann, was Gaelic tutor to the Portree Gaelic Choir for many years while I was a member and when Maggie was very heavily involved in the re-establishment of the Inverness Gaelic Choir, Blair Douglas and I played a couple of times at fund-raising cèilidhs at her invitation, experiencing legendary hospitality from her and John.

Maggie won the National Mòd Gold Medal in 1994 and, rightly, her brilliant voice was heard more often. When her wee cousin, Mary Ann Kennedy, and I were putting together Cliar in the late nineties, Maggie was an obvious choice to have in the band. Her children, Shona and Fraser, were of an age that made it possible for her to get away and so we embarked on a journey filled with music-making and good times with others along the way including Blair Douglas, Bruce MacGregor, Chaz Stewart, Ingrid Henderson, Ross Martin and Hector Henderson as well as deps such as Allan Henderson, Pete McCallum, Brian Ó hEadhra and Gabe MacVarish. Over the years we recorded four albums, worked on television programmes and played in Scotland, England, Ireland, Canada, Slovenia, America and Spain. The Bilbao gins were particularly revered by Maggie and Ingrid - though not perhaps the day after they were taken! "Deoch trauma", Chaz would call it.

Maggie was a mother, of sorts, to younger members of the band or, more likely, a wickedly funny big sister. Whichever persona suited the occasion. The exploits off-stage as well as on were all the better for Maggie’s presence and wit.

Maggie continued to sing solo and took part in Pròiseact nan Ealan’s innovative 2007 opera ‘Hiort – Mac-talla nan Eun’ which involved her taking part in a complex, multi-media production singing live via satellite from Hirta, the largest island of the St Kilda archipelago.

In 2009, when Blair Douglas wrote his ‘Aifreann Ghàidhlig – Gaelic Mass’ Maggie and Paul McCallum were his choice of singers to handle the material he had written. Maggie’s was a wonderfully rich, full and supple voice and she sang the challenging pieces with aplomb.

Latterly she sang regularly with her family, Caimbeulaich a’ Ghnìopa, with whom she recorded a further two albums and featured in a wonderful book of the family’s history and repertoire, which formed the basis of a documentary on BBC Alba.

In among all of this, Maggie continued to be a primary school teacher, a wife, a mother and then a granny. Maggie kept going as a regular member of Inverness Gaelic Choir and continued to compete at Mòds and appear at other events with them.

We benefitted from Maggie’s talents in the Fèis movement, too. With her teaching abilities and fun attitude to learning, she made a wonderful Fèis tutor. She worked for the past few years teaching song in Highland primary schools through the Youth Music Initiative delivered by Fèisean nan Gàidheal, via local Fèisean, for The Highland Council. She was always happy to explore innovative ways of teaching and engaging pupils and was extremely popular with children and other tutors alike. Maggie served on the board of Fèis Rois for the past 6 years, happy to give of her time and expertise to anything in which she was involved.

Being around Maggie was invariably a joy. No situation lasted too long without a one-liner being thrown in to lighten any mood and today, although unbelievably sad at her loss, I have been smiling thinking about her.

For all that she meant to me as a teacher, mentor, friend or fellow singer, Maggie was first and foremost a wife, mother, mother-in-law and grandmother and it is with John, Shona, Fraser and Maggie’s wider family that my thoughts are as I remember one of the most wonderful people it has been my privilege to know.

“And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.” Wrongly attributed to Abraham Lincoln, it seems, whoever said that sums up my view of Maggie who lived life to the full, packed a lot in to her years and did good with her time. I hope she thought that, too.

Bidh sinn ag ionndrainn boireannach coibhneil, mùirneach, gasta - agus ga caoidh - ach a’ cuimhneachadh oirre le spèis, gaol, gàire agus lachanaich.

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