Am Bratach No. 251
With the death of Alec George Mackay, of Skinnet, Melness (pictured), on the 22nd of June 2012, Sutherland lost one of the most important custodians of its history and culture. His knowledge of the history, the traditions and the Gaelic dialect of Sutherland, and of the Mackay Country in particular, was encyclopaedic: from the actions of the Clan Mackay at the Battle of Drumnacoub in 1431 to the actions of the 93rd Sutherland Highlanders at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815; from the clearance of the people off the land for sheep, to the efforts made by the Land Leaguers to win the land back.
All the history was told in such graphic detail and with such heartfelt emotion that one would have sworn that Alec George had been present and witnessed many of the events he described, although most had happened long before his lifetime. This was because Alec George had listened intently and absorbed these stories in his youth from the tradition-bearers of previous generations, he possessing something very rare in this era of computers and i-phones: a well-trained memory.
Working for Taigh na Gàidhlig Mhealanais, I had the privilege to visit his home on numerous occasions, where one would always be assured of a warm and friendly Highland welcome. He showed infinite patience in answering my never-ending list of questions relating to the Gaelic dialect of the Mackay Country and often emphasised and illustrated points by quoting from the poetry of Rob Donn and other Mackay Country bards.
Often when I was present, he would be visited by his extremely large circle of friends who came from all walks of life and all age groups. Frequently, people from all parts of the world seeking information about their Mackay Country ancestry would be sent to his door and they never left disappointed he often being able to discern from their physical features which family they belonged to, even before they gave him all their details.
While he loved to discuss the history and traditions of the past, he had a keen interest in present-day national and international affairs and was equally comfortable discussing those. Most of his life was spent as a shepherd and crofter, but with his keen mind and highly-trained memory he could, had he wished, have pursued a more prestigious career in one of the cities of the south, but he chose to remain in his beloved Melness where he enriched the community and the lives of all those who came into contact with him.
Chan fhaicear a leithid a-rithist. A chuid fhèin de Phàrras dha!