Am Bratach No. 230
December 2010

Farewell Cathie Barbara

Cathie Barbara Mackay, Whin Cottage, Tongue, died in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness, on Thursday, November 18. Aged 74 at the time of her death, she is survived by her husband, John, and two sons, Graeme and Iain.

Cathie Barbara, as she was known far and wide, spent her working days in public service where she was an admired and respected nurse and county councillor. In her retirement she was a popular bean-an-taigh (chairwoman) at concerts and ceilidhs where her ready wit and love of Highland tradition shone out. With a twinkle in her eye, she would brandish a soup ladle to keep order, as can be seen in the photo below. It always had the desired effect!


Cathie Barbara’s background was two fishing communities, bilingual in Gaelic and English.

She was born in Embo, the only child of Williamina Mackay from Eilean nan Ròn, and Thomas Mackay, an Embo man. Her father was killed in World War Two when she was a toddler of two-and- a-half. Cathie was brought up by her mother and grandparents in Embo.

For her secondary education she attended Dornoch Academy where one of the subjects she studied was Gaelic. On leaving school, she attended nursing college in Elgin. Cathie then worked in the Lawson Memorial Hospital, Golspie, spending her later years as a district nurse in the Tongue area, where she and Johnny brought up their family of two boys.
Early exposure to local politics in Embo through her paternal grandfather would surface in later life when she was talked into standing for election representing the people of the parish of Tongue on Sutherland County Council. She was elected in 1967 and remained a member until a large-scale reorganisation of local government in 1975.

She talked of this particular period of her life with great pleasure, often recalling the friendships she made with fellow councillors, many of them of her parents’ generation. If they were on an overnight stay, the councillors would often enjoy a ceilidh. “Donnie Mac-Bain, convenor, would take out his boxie and Christy Campbell would sing in Gaelic. And Donnie MacLeod had his fiddle,” she told Am Bratach in 2008.

But though she appreciated the social side of politics, she was not one to neglect the needs and aspirations of the people who voted her into office. In 1971, she opened the Kyle of Tongue causeway and bridge, an idea said to have been proposed by the first Lord Reay hundreds of years before and now carried into effect by Cathie and her colleagues.

Friends, family and former colleagues who attended the funeral service in historic St Andrews Church in Tongue on Wednesday, November 24, heard a touching tribute from Cathie Barbara’s granddaughter, Eilidh Mac- kay, Inverness. Eilidh recounted her grandmother’s forthrightness, sense of fun, generosity and other fine qualities, a fitting testimony to a life lived with great gusto, passion and purpose.

The church service was conducted by Rev Tony Thornthwaite, Bettyhill. The interment was at East Cemetery, Dornoch.


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