The lady pictured here is Màiri Mhòr nan Oran, a nurse from Skeabost, Skye. She was a prolific song writer from the age of 50, writing songs of exile, praise and hope as well as songs of protest about the way the Gaels were treated by others.
Màiri was born Mary MacDonald in 1821 and left Skye for Inverness in 1847 to marry Isaac Macpherson. When he died in 1871, she was left with four children to care for alone. It was during a short imprisonment in 1872 on a charge of theft that she first turned to poetry, protesting her innocence and expressing her anger through Gaelic verse.
Shortly after her release, Mary moved to Glasgow where she trained as a nurse and worked until 1882. While living there, she regularly attended Highland Society ceilidhs and met leading advocates of Highland land reform. She became well known in these circles for her poetry and songs. When she returned to Skye, she was Bard of the Land League agitation of the 1880s. Her personal sense of injustice and empathy with the sufferings of her people gave a unique force to her poetry.
Mary's support for Charles Fraser Mackintosh, candidate in the Inverness Burgh election of 1874, was declared through her early songs. Later, she accompanied him during his tour of campaign for election to parliament. Song was a primary vehicle of popular journalism among Gaelic speakers at that time, for newspapers were available only in English.
In 1891 a volume entitled 'Gaelic Songs and Poems', by Mrs Mary Macpherson (Màiri nighean Iain Bhàin) was published. These were transcribed from Mary's recitation. She was invited to become the official bard of the Clan MacDonald Society.
Mary was a gregarious woman of great physical stature. Among her friends was the great scholar Professor John Blackie. He always wore the plaid she made for him, and it was placed upon his coffin at his funeral. The design was patented as the 'Blackie Tartan', which Mary sold as rugs or wraps.
After a short illness, Mary died on 8 November 1898 while visiting Portree. She was buried in Chapel Yard burial ground, Inverness, where Charles Fraser Mackintosh MP erected a monument to her. A plaque to her memory was unveiled in 1966 at Skeabost in Skye.
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