Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Iain Macdonald, Glenurquhart: A Farewell

(It is appropriate before the start of a new shinty season, and particularly before the annual Macdonald Cup match with Strathglass for whom he also played, to pay tribute to a Glen player of yesteryear who passed away towards the end of last season.)
The death of Iain Macdonald broke one of the few remaining links with the successful Glenurquhart team of the late 1950s and early 60s. It is often forgotten that though Glenurquhart has had a rich shinty tradition in recent times, the position of the sport had been precarious in the Glen throughout the first half of the 20th century and the renaissance of the ancient sport did not occur until 8th March 1948 when the Glen club was resurrected at a meeting in the Public Hall at Blairbeg. 
One of the early matches played by the newly reformed Glen side was the very first Macdonald Cup encounter between Glenurquhart and Strathglass, the cup having been put up by Mr James Macdonald, Tomich as a reminder of that ancient rivalry between the two neighbouring clubs which came to a climax with the great challenge matches in the 1880s.
Of the 12 players who lost to a more experienced Strathglass side in that first

Macdonald Cup match which took place on the 13th November 1948 in a field at Borlum farm, the 18 year old Ian Macdonald was the youngest. The team lines indicate he played in the centre-line that day and is remembered as a “fit and skilful player who could pay his way in any of the centre line and half forward positions” His fitness on the field was exceptional in a day when perhaps physical strength was the more obvious mark of the successful shinty player but then Iain had excelled as a teenage competitor at the annual Glenurquhart Highland Games. In the very first post war games, he was successful in the 100, 200 and 440 yard races and in 1951 he won five events. In 1954 he came 4th in the Achmony Hill race having been persuaded to take part against his better judgement given that his forte was the sprint. He was one of the founder members of the Inverness Harriers when it was established in 1947. By that date of course Iain was living and working in Inverness as an apprentice engineer with AI Welders.

His introduction to working life had of course come some years earlier. Born and brought up at Kilmartin, Glenurquhart, one of the eleven children of John and Christina Macdonald, Iain left school in 1944 at the age of 14 and  worked at nearby Shewglie Farm under that great shinty stalwart Danny Fraser. His family had deep roots in the Glen and as such in common with many Highland families they were known throughout out the area by their by-name “the Yanks” to distinguish them from the many other Macdonalds who lived in the Glen. As a result in the Glen throughout his life Iain was always affectionately known as “Iain the Yank.”
It appears that Iain’s grandfather had spent some time in America at the end of the 19th century and on his return the name was attached to the family for the next two generations. Iain’s father John was known as “Jock the Yank” and it was from him in particular that Iain inherited the technical abilities that set him apart from his contemporaries.
In the 1920s Kilmartin House was a grand place under the ownership of wealthy Yorkshire mill-owner Charlie Tinker and when the private Hydro Electricity Scheme was installed by engineers from England they wanted to take "Jock the Yank" (Iain`s father) to their base in the south to train him as he had a natural flair for engineering and things mechanical. His priorities however lay in the Glen but when young Iain became 16 he entered AI Welders to serve his apprenticeship as an engineer. AI Welders were based at the Rose St Foundry and there some incredible work was done for projects throughout the world. Iain was a key operative who was very highly thought of by his employers and referred to in the works as “Johnny the Glen”
In 1951 having qualified, he joined the Merchant Navy as a Junior Engineer and worked his way up to 3rd Engineer. The company he sailed with was the British India Steam Navigation Company.  On joining up he first travelled from Southampton to Bombay, India where he stayed for some time until he was appointed to the SS Karanja. He sailed from Bombay to various ports in India and also to the east coast of Africa putting in at ports like Durban, Zanzibar and Dar-es-Salaam.
After about 5 years at sea Iain left the Merchant Navy in 1957 and moved back to the Glen where he took up employment in the area with the North of Scotland Hydro Board. First he was employed at the construction of the power station at Aigas and when that station was commissioned in 1962 he secured a job as one of the staff who operated it. During that period Iain enjoyed his most successful days as a shinty player with a Glen team that swept all before them in the junior leagues. The reborn Glen side of the immediate post war years had struggled through a lack of players to keep going and they had for a time in the early 1950s ceased to run. In 1956 however they sprang up once more and when Iain came home from the sea the following year he took up the caman once more this time not as a teenager but as a mature player. In 1958 he was part of the side that reached the final of the MacGillivray League final but lost out 2-1 to Kilmallie after a replay. That side had also made it through to the semi-finals of the Strathdearn and the Sutherland Cups. In 1959 the side again made it through to the MacGillivray final but this time lost out at the Bught to Newtonmore after extra time.
The 1959-60 season was the one however when Iain and the Glen finally got their hands on some silverware when they defeated Newtonmore 9-2 at the Bught to win the MacGillivray League Cup at the third time of asking with Iain contributing two goals out of the nine recorded. For the record the other scorers were Eddie McGavin who hit four and Jocky Macdonald who bagged a hat-trick.
A 5-0 win over Kinlochshiel in the final of the Strathdearn a week later rounded off a fine season though some were no doubt disappointed somewhat by the loss at Spean to Lochside Rovers by 2-1 in the final of the Sutherland.

After this successful season the following two years were lean and by 1963 marriage and work took Iain to live in Kilmorack and his Glenurquhart shinty career was over though he continued to play the game on one notable occasion in the mid-60s in the annual Macdonald Cup match taking the field for Strathglass against the Glen. On that occasion at a time when the Glen were the more dominant side, Iain was left unmarked by his former Glen teammates as they pressed up into their opponents half. Eventually, a long desperate Strathglass clearance found him alone up front and he was able to tap the ball past Glen keeper Tommy McKenna for the only goal of the game.

In June 1967 Iain emigrated with his family to Gowrie Park, Northern Tasmania where he was employed as an engineer at the building of the  Mersey-Forth Power Development Scheme  a huge operation comprising seven dams and seven power stations.
In 1972, he returned to Scotland and for a spell he stayed in Invergordon where he found work in the Distillery. A period in Inverness back working with AI Welders was followed by a return to the Glen in 1975. He then spent a year working at the Flotta Oil Terminal on Orkney before finally getting the post of caretaker at Urquhart Castle where for the last ten years of his working life he was well known to visitors and locals alike as the friendly face of Historic Scotland.
During that period he was also a regular and faithful doorman at the British Legion Club in Drumnadrochit and in keeping with his naval service he was also a keen member of the Not Forgotten Association- a charity which provides entertainment, leisure and recreation for ex-servicemen.
From 1979 Iain lived with his daughters Rosalind and Claire at 19 Balmacaan Road moving to a smaller house at number 41 in 1990.
During that period he also renewed his acquaintanceship with Glenurquhart Shinty Club being over the intervening years until his recent illness a keen spectator at matches and also for a number of years a seller of Lotto tickets on behalf of the Club. To mark his contribution to the Club he was appointed as a Vice-Chieftain of Glenurquhart Shinty Club in 2003.  
In April 2012 Iain was hospitalised for three months having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He then moved into Highview House Nursing Home where he was delighted to hear about the Glen’s historic MacAulay Cup Final win on the 18th August. His illness was aggressive however and the end eventually came on September 15th 2012, Camanachd Cup Final Day. He would have appreciated the co-incidence
The funeral service took place on Friday the 21st September in Urquhart and Glenmoriston Parish Church, Drumnadrochit and as a fitting tribute to a former great of the Club, the crowd stood in respectful silence as the coffin passed a long guard of honour comprised of Glen players past and present on its final journey.
The pictures : the first one shows Iain in the team of the immediate post war years;the second shows the team that lost at the "King George " in Fort William 2-1 to Kilmallie in 1958 ;the next one is the '59-'60 team that won nearly everything. Then there's the boy himself   as a Merchant Navy vet. The last two were taken at the veteran's match at the Inverness Centenary - and the last one couldn't be resisted. Iain and the legendary Billac Kennedy capering , trying to balance their clubs on their chins. What were they like ? Irreplacable!

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

It’s nearly that time of the shinty year already

“I always thought that shinty teams bonded after the games,” said the former Chairman “in the bar usually or on the bus - but it seems that nowadays they do it before the season even starts”
“What do you mean?” said the Wing Centre.
“Well that’s the reason for the meeting today up in the conference room at the school. They have all come together to communicate and bond. It’s the latest thing.”
They looked up the road to the bonding building. There was a large group of players and camp followers coming down the road towards the Astro: the bonding was clearly over and soon they would be knocking lumps out of each other in the practice match. There was a thick crust of hoar frost on the artificial surface.
“I wonder what Peter would have made of it?”
“The best. That’s what he made of everything. It’s the only thing to do. Just get on with it.”
“Whatever….. “
“One good thing. At least Terry Butcher is staying with Caley Thistle.”
The Wing Centre looked puzzled. This was unusual. You were not supposed to talk politics in Glen shinty club circles because it only caused disputes. Football was undoubtedly politics and without football why the Glen would have had Ikey and Kelvin and goodness knows how many other players turning out in black and red and doubtless would have won the Camanachd Cup on many occasions. Indeed the possible future growth of football was the strongest reason he could think of to oppose the suggested massive increase in new housing proposed for the village, though a large five figure donation from the developer into Club funds could affect his opinion.
“Why would that be good? “he said hesitantly.
The Chairman eyed him like a housewife who has just found a shredded tissue in a dark washing.
“Because if Caley had lost Butcher, they would undoubtedly have made an offer for Drew MacNeil. Let’s face it; we could not afford to pay what Caley can offer. Probably only Strathglass or at a push Kingussie could match the figures Caley can come up with.
Then if MacNeil went he would want to take his backroom staff, Gemma and Corky and Hendo”

“What about the two Fraser Mackenzies?”
“One would definitely go – if it really comes down to that, perhaps we could ask them to take the second one as well.”
“But it’s not going to happen?”
“No. Though Strathglass are a worry”
“Why is that?”
“They are off on a spending spree. They have an open chequebook and they’re signing players left right and centre. We can’t match that money. You see the toffs on the estates up there who bankroll them regard shinty players as being like stags: they’ll fork out big money for any player that has the shinty equivalent of a ‘good head’. We can’t compete with that.”
"You mean there are actually estate owners up there who fund Strath the same way Abramovich backs Chelsea?”
“Yeah. Don’t you remember when they helicoptered in a guy for a match once? ”
And it was true, though the image of Strath attracting players the way a gamekeeper attracts stags over the march into his estate by scattering bags of pony-nuts in the high corries seemed a bit far-fetched but it does make you think.
“I think ‘Glass have even signed up that journalist guy Kenneth Stephen to do their publicity too”
“What makes you think that?”
“Well, he was on the BBC the other night wearing tweeds and a wax jacket. It’s clear he signed up with them”
“He was on TV as a spokesman on behalf of the Scottish Gamekeepers’ Association, that’s all”
“Well if that’s true, then how did ‘Glass’s new manager get on the BBC Alba Hogmanay show? Prove to me that it was not a smart Kenny Stephen stunt. One minute they don’t have a manager-next minute they have two; then they start signing up all sorts of players and next thing the manager is on TV while the journalist guy is wearing the club tweeds. It all makes sense.”
The Wing Centre didn’t quite think it actually did, though he did admit to himself that it took fewer co-incidences to convict al-Megrahi of the Lockerbie bombing.
There were however times when the former Chairman and all Glenners over a certain age became paranoid over the very idea of Strathglass and that could lead at times to them becoming delusional. It was best to move the subject on.
“I see there’s a new Shinty Year Book out”
“What? Already? The old one’s only just come out”
“No. There is definitely a new one.”
“Good grief. You wait all year for a Shinty Year Book and then two come along at once. “What’s it look like?”
“It’s not out till then end of the month but there is a picture of it on the World of Shinty Facebook page”- and the Wing Centre took out his i-phone and googled up the appropriate url.
The former Chairman put on his glasses and had a look. Then he gasped.
“Well would you believe it? They’ve done it again.”
“What? There’s nothing wrong with that. Neale Reid takes a nice photo. That’s him doing the Usain Bolt at the MacAulay final. Good shot. What’s bothering you?”
“Strathglass are on the front cover yet again- same as last year. That’s two years in a row Strath have been on the front of the Yearbook. Last year it was a picture of young George Phimister- and you can see for yourself they are on it again. That Kenny Stephen is smarter than he looks and he’s certainly bringing them into the public eye.”
“It couldn’t just be him.”

“Of course not. They’ve got the whole press thing sewn up. There’s Roy Mackenzie and Steve Harvey as well: they are two of the biggest shots in the world of the media. There's no mistake about it, Strath are making a big push this year.”
The Wing Centre couldn’t quite see it himself but the former Chairman’s words did cause him to pause a little. Then he brightened up. The Macdonald Cup fixture wasn’t far away. Real shinty-as opposed to paranoia- wasn’t far away.
But if you’re not too sure have a look at the two Yearbook Covers for yourself. See what you think. The other pics are of the boys bonding in the frost. There are Chairmen and Vice Chairmen and former Chairmen in one of the shots but not the former, former Chairman.

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