View Record Number 400

View Record Number 400 - Dr. Margaret Fay Shaw

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Name:Dr. Margaret Fay Shaw
Maiden Name:(married name is Campbell)
DOB:01/09/1903
DOD:11/12/2004
Age:101
Address:Isle Of Canna
Place of death:Belford Hospital, Fort William
Date of funeral:16/12/2004
Funeral Location:St. Peter's RC Church, Daliburgh
Presider:Canon John Angus Galbraith
Occupation:Folklorist and Photographer
Additional Info:"Your kind prayers are asked for the repose of the soul of Margaret Fay Shaw who died recently in the Belford Hospital, Fort William, at the age of 101 and who was buried in Hallan cemetery on Thursday after the funeral Mass in St. Peter's, Daliburgh. It was by her own request that she was buried beside Peggie and Mairi Andra, South Lochboisdale, with whom she spent her Uist years in the 30s. She never forgot their great kindness to her. Nor did she forget her indebtedness to them. Margaret produced a book, Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist, which is a scholarly and classic work about the language, song, culture and heritage of South Uist. Much has been written about Margaret Fay Shaw in the last few days. Many obituaries have appeared in the local and national papers. Our interest in her is her great love ~ of our Island expressed on countless occasions in her life-time and in her desire to be laid to rest among the people that she loved most. May she rest in peace." Written by Canon John Angus Galbraith in 2004)


The following obituary was written by Brian Wilson, Journalist of the Guardian Newspaper in December 2004:
"Margaret Fay Shaw, who has died at the age of 101, was one of the most notable collectors of authentic Scottish Gaelic song and traditions in the 20th century. The arrival of this young American on the island of South Uist in 1929 was the start of a deep and highly productive love affair with the language and traditions of the Gaels.
Shaw was also an outstanding photographer, and both her still pictures and cinematography contributed to an invaluable archive of island life in the 1930s. She met the folklorist John Lorne Campbell on South Uist in 1934; they married a year later and together helped to rescue vast quantities of oral tradition from oblivion.
She came of Scottish Presbyterian and liberal New England stock. The family owned a steel foundry in Pittsburgh and her parents were cultured people. Margaret was the youngest of five sisters and her early years were idyllic. Her first love was for the piano and she continued to play throughout her life.
By the age of 11, however, she was orphaned and obliged to develop the independence of character which was to lead her into a life's work far removed from her upbringing. At the age of 16, she made her first visit to Scotland at the invitation of a family friend and spent a year at school in Helensburgh, outside Glasgow, where she first heard Gaelic song.
Wanting to hear it in its "pristine" state, in 1924 she crossed the Atlantic again, this time engaging in an epic bicycle journey, which started in Oxford and ended at the Isle of Skye, where she remained for a month. It was during this trip that she began to use photography to earn a living, selling prints to newspapers, and magazines such as the Listener.
But it was not until she arrived on South Uist that she found her spiritual home. She was invited to the "big house" in Lochboisdale for dinner, and two sisters who worked there, Mairi and Peigi Macrae, were brought in to sing for the company. Margaret had never heard singing like it. For the next six years, she became their lodger and dear friend. They shared with her all of their immense stock of oral tradition which she faithfully transcribed, learning Gaelic as the work proceeded.
Her most important published work was Folksongs And Folklore Of South Uist, which has never been out of print since it was first published in full by Routledge and Kegan Paul in 1955. Not only was it a scholarly presentation of the songs and lore which she had written down during her sojourn on the island, but also an invaluable description of life in a small crofting community during the 1930s.
This classic work was undoubtedly the centrepiece of Shaw's career, though she also wrote several other books, including an autobiography, From The Alleghenies To The Hebrides.
On the neighbouring island of Barra in the early 1930s, an extraordinary social set - a kind of Bloomsbury in the Hebrides - had developed around the presence of Compton Mackenzie. One of his closest collaborators was John Lorne Campbell, who came from landed Argyllshire stock and had developed his interest in Gaelic at Oxford.
The two patricians set about producing The Book Of Barra, a collection of the island's history and traditions, to raise funds for an organisation called The Sea League, which they had established to campaign for the exclusion of trawlers from Hebridean waters.
Hearing great reports of an American woman's photography on South Uist, Campbell crossed over by ferry to seek her involvement in illustrating The Book Of Barra. He walked into the Lochboisdale Hotel one rainy evening in 1934 and found Shaw sitting at the piano; a suitably romantic initiation to a relationship which was to last for more than half a century. They married the following year and made their home on Barra until, in 1938, Campbell bought the island of Canna, where they lived for the rest of their scholarly lives. The island was given to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981, and John Lorne Campbell died in 1996.
There was nothing dry or academic, however, about Shaw. She travelled regularly to America until her late 90s. The fearsome ferry journey between Mallaig and Canna was regularly undertaken with equanimity, and she fortified herself to the end with the finest Kentucky bourbon. Her love of the Hebrides was, above all, for the values and lifestyle of the crofting people, and, particularly in South Uist in that 1930s heyday, it was deeply reciprocated. It is there that she will be laid to rest."
Death Register Number:04/11
Lair Number:495
Section:6
Gravestone Inscription:Dr. Margaret Fay Shaw
Born 9-11-1903 - Died 11-12-2004
Beloved Wife of John L. Campbell
Of Inverneill.
Fear Chanaidh
"Thainig Sibh A-Nall Thar Chuantan Is Chuir Sibh Urram Air Ar Dualchas Chruinnich Sibh An Dileab Luachmhor A Bhios Buan Acainn Mar Storas"
Additional Grave Info:The inscription, when translated from Gaelic, reads:
"You came across the ocean
And you gave respect to our history
You gathered our precious legacy
Riches that will endure."

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