Am Bratach No. 248
June 2012


Hughina Mackellar, pictured here on Christmas Day, celebrated her 100th birthday on May 31.

Hughina celebrates her 100th birthday

Last Friday, Hughina Mackellar of Uddingston, Glasgow, celebrated her 100th birthday, writes Donald MacLeod. I am not privy to whether she solved a crossword puzzle on that day or not, but she may well have done for this remains one of the favourite pastimes. This remarkable lady was born on a Strathnaver croft on May 31 1912, six weeks after the Titanic sank.

Hughina has lived for seventy-one of her 100 years in Uddingston, but you would not guess this on hearing her Highland lilt, imbibed round the hearth of her Strathnaver home. She was the fourth of seven Gaelic-speaking children of Donald John and Georgina Mackay of No 22 Syre, one of the new holdings created on the strath by the Board of Agriculture in the first years of the twentieth century.

Donald John had arrived from a small settlement pronounced locally as Ardinglas, but written “Ardvinglass” in official documents. Ardinglas is not far from Lednagullen, on the Farr coast. There Donald John lived with his mother in a thatched house, the ruins of which can be seen to this day. The family had been twice evicted .

In his application for the new croft in Strathnaver, Donald John described the Ardinglas holding as being of three acres and carrying a stock of thirteen sheep, three cattle beasts and a horse. There were sixty acres of shared hill pasture. The dwelling house was in good order with three wood-lined rooms, all with fireplaces. There was also a byre, stable and barn, all in good condition. He felt the value of improvements, for which the family received no help, directly or indirectly, from the landlord, was £50. Donald John Mackay stated he was forty years old and unmarried when he wrote the letter, on February 13 1901. If his application were successful, he would have a much larger croft and would bring his mother with him to Strathnaver, where she had been born in 1817. His luck held out and he and his mother, Barbara, returned close to the spot where she had been born, across the river from No 22, at Rhiloisk. The family believes that this was the only instance of a member of an evicted family returning to live in Strathnaver when it was resettled. Donald John’s father’s family came from Totegan, further up the strath, a name that is still in use today at Strathy Point, where another evicted family settled.

After his mother’s death, Donald John married a young lady from the township of Farr, near Bettyhill. Her name was Georgina, though she was invariably known as Seord on the strath. With six brothers and sisters, life for Hughina at No 22 was never dull and, to this day, she recalls some of the tricks they got up to. She remembers in particular entertaining the gamekeeper, Eòghann, with tea and cake to keep him busy while her brothers went poaching for salmon on the river! She well remembers Strathnaver being emptied of its younger men, conscripted to fight in the First World War. Her father, being older (he is said to have been fifty-two in the 1911 census and his wife twenty-eight), was not called up.

When eleven years old, Hughina left home to attend secondary school in Dornoch, after having received her earlier education at Strathnaver Primary. A friend, my Aunty Mona, from a couple of crofts up the road, also left for Dornoch Academy with Hughina, sharing lodgings with her in the town during their stay there. The headmaster at this time would have been Alexander Moir. The maths teacher, Bill Mackay, was a cousin of Hughina’s mother.

It was not all work and no play, for Hughina well remembers that there were about three dances the scholars, as they were known, could attend in the year. Curfew, where they lodged, was ten o’clock, but Hughina would often get roped into opening the door for the stragglers. She missed Strathnaver dreadfully, desperate for the holidays, as the children were separated from home life for three months at a time.

Hughina received her Higher Education Leaving Certificate in 1931 and set off to study at Edinburgh College of Agriculture. Mona also went to Edinburgh to study and the girls lodged with Mary and Malcolm Gunn. Mary (née Corbett) hailed from Oldshoremore and Malcolm from Laid, in the parish of Durness. The kindly Gunns provided a home from home for their lodgers. In summer, Hughina moved to Auchincruive in Ayrshire where she had a great time undertaking courses in poultry-keeping and dairy-farming. She achieved a diploma in poultry-keep-ing in September 1934.

In due course, the college head asked if Hughina could help run a struggling poultry farm in Uddingston, now a suburb of Glasgow, then a small country town. This turned out to be where first she met her husband-to-be’s sister Mat (Mathilda) and then her husband-to-be, Jack. When WWII broke out Jack Mackellar drove for two days to Strathnaver to ask Hughina to marry him. She remembers her brothers Willie and Angus fighting about which one of them would stay to look after the croft and which would go to war, each saying they’d be the one to go to war. In the end, Angus went. He was captured and interned in a PoW camp in Italy and was never the same after the experience. He died in the early 1950s.

Hughina’s marriage to Jack Baron Murdoch Mackellar had taken place on September 27 1939, in Rutherglen. Hughina is recorded on the marriage certificate as a poultry farmer’s assistant, and Jack, like all his brothers, a butcher. Jack died in 1997. Their only child, named after his father, was born in 1941.
The family lived in North Hanover St off George Square in Glasgow at the start of the WWII and moved to Uddingston in 1941.

Hughina remembers the bombing of Glasgow during the war. Their flat in North Hanover Street was just above Queen Street Station and having come from the countryside she struggled with all the smoke from the trains so used to sit out in George Square to escape it. She also remembers growing fruit in her garden in Uddingston as supplies in the shops were scarce during the war.

Hughina spent a large part of her life caring for people. Her mother-in-law lived with them for 8-10 years, Hughina nursing her through bowel cancer. Her sister-in-law Mat was in every day for her meals, and Hughina helped look after her when elderly. When Jack suffered a stroke, Hughina nursed him, attending to his every need. She had all her neighbours’ children in over the years if their parents were late back from work, or just popping in as she liked to spoil them.

Their son Jack became a doctor and was a consultant anaesthetist at time of his retiral. Hughina has three grandchildren: Jacqueline, Sarah and Craig, who are devoted to their Gran, who still lives in her own home thanks to their loving care. Hughina has six great-grandchildren: Andrew, Finlay, Lachlan, Eloise, Murdoch — and Fergus — born as we were putting this article together, little more than a week ago.

Hughina, the last surviving member of Donald John and Seord’s family, has always loved Strathnaver and on every trip has made a point of stopping to look at the homesteads she knew in her youth. Her most recent visit was made about four years ago with her beloved granddaughters. A rare photo of her old home on the strath, taken in the year she was born, is reproduced on page 23.


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