M.A. Glasgow. Teacher, writer. Spinster in Kyle of Toung. Died in geriatric hospital, Inverness. Major correspondent on Buchanan history.
Dr. John wrote (20/Dec/66): "I have been to see her, but she is living her own life in her own way. She is so very acute intellectually, her memory is almost flawless and her desire for knowledge almost boundless - her last request for books was a Russian Grammar, a life of Rutherford (who split the atom) and an advanced chemistry. I think the latter was to be gift to some English people who had befriended her - they had sent her a Christmas parcel because she had supplied them with water when they had camped at her door. However I see that she has plenty of coal and Maimie has sent her a modern bed, etc, and ample food for a month. I of course have always a sense of guilt about her. But it is a heartbreak for I am such a worker and in no time I would have her house painted".
Later, he wrote 4/Oct/67, I have just seen Helen. I went up to Tongue for 2 weeks at the Glasgow Fair. Later I went back with a friend of mine and put in a new front door. Her house is now watertight and presents a braver front. She is quite content to read and write and is no trouble to anyone. Of course she is absolutely stuffed full of stories, but curiously enough her interests are mainly about the Buchanans. This Buchanan Society was a great influence upon our life - they are so civilised. And then her Gaelic and languages. It would be very daring of you to approach her. I would advise against because as she says herself, she has far too good a memory for the wrong things, and I am also unblessed that way. Actually the generations before our parents were much more romantic". John then mentions Rev. George Matheson, etc.
Kate Grant, her sister, now age 83, wrote: "About my sister Helen. She is indeed the lady who would know more than anyone about our relatives. To begin with, she graduated M.A. the week the Lusitania went down (1915). She also studied for a doctor, and took midwifery in Dublin. Then packed it in. Did very little work, but read all sorts of history volumes, etc. etc. I have heard recently she lives in Tongue. I have not seen her for a long time. Now, Robert, should you get in touch with her don't mention I gave you her address. She is certainly, I'm sure, full of knowledge. For me, I had to work all my days. I think about Helen often. What kind of vocation did she take up? Well, for teaching, not much. However Robert, this is a long story and it is best for me to finish here. I will say she is no doubt a clever woman."
Helen in some of her letters to me: "This long memory of the Celt is of doubtful value. I often wish I could forget. "Happy is the land which has no history" - You (RLM) write of my literary activities. Well. Mostly of the Wild West of Scotia - Eriskay, The Uists, Kintyre and also re Covenanting Country of which Glesca was the Capital prior to the 30,000 Hibernian Invasion during the potato famine, and caused by greed of Anglo-absentee landlords. Burn's boats (a shipping line) and Lord InverClyde from Clyde charged 6d and even 3d, for a one-way ticket from Ireland.
I first saw Aisdale in 1897 with my well-informed race-conscious mother. Met at Ardgay by Grandfather William from Lonachuan.
Don't show the story of John Murray until you get a fairer copy. I'm a perfectionist, not in calligraphy but in good writing. John and a friend were here. They regulated two clocks, put electricity in the only room wanting it, filled up several holes in a newly decorated room wall. Put a new lock in a door. Had a good run-over the electric cooker - the complete "Ceard" tradesman! His idea of Heaven, and there are far worse."
I have only seen and met Helen once. My father told me she was an odd kind of woman, and had been a teacher. Dr. William Mackay had seen her several times and said too that she was odd. She seemed to dash about, had untidy red hair, and was unpredictable in her words and deeds. That was all I knew about her.
In 24/July/63, while touring along the North coast of Sutherland with Sheila, I recollected that Helen was to be located somewhere near Tongue, in either a deserted schoolhouse or a deserted manse (Caldbachie Manse). Meanwhile, Sheila and I had decided to climb a little hill to see the view. When we came down we saw a man walking uphill a bit, on the road and asked him the name of the hill. He said it was the Hill of Mackay. Encouraged by this, I enquired if he knew where Helen Buchanan lived. He directed us back about a mile. Not knowing what we might find, but warning Sheila to be prepared for a surprise we left the car at the roadside and went down a muddy neglected track to an old school/church ? building which had a cottage alongside it. Outside there was disorder, buckets, brooms, cloths, pails, tins, a rug or small ragged carpet. The door was ajar. It looked as if it could not be closed. We knocked. Knocked again, and again. I gave my name in response to an angry voice. Out she came.
In neglect of dress, wildness and disorder she at once reminded me of my idea of the Witches of my childhood. Her stockings were falling down, and she had not washed - for a bit. She recognised me at once from my name, and resemblance to my father. And apologised for her unkempt appearance. Apparently her well had failed. We entered the passage into the house over some "furniture" and went into a room, quite bare, except for a small pair of steps. She was of course very surprised to see us, and immediately interested in us. I gave her such news as I could. She embarked into a vehement denunciation of all politicians and their promises. I did not interrupt her.
She was obviously lacking a great many comforts of civilised life. Knowing of the fierce pride of the Buchanans, I was in a quandary about offering help, in the way of money or groceries, anticipating an outburst if I did so.
We were with her for perhaps ten minutes, all of them a bewilderment to Sheila. I did not make a diagnosis of her mental state, for her conversation was rational. Not knowing her past history I was unaware of what factors may have led her to lead the life of a recluse in a remote Highland Glen. As I saw her she was certainly a case for attention by the local welfare authorities. At the same time I should think she would rebuff any offers of such assistance.
I think it was on our way back through Glasgow on this occasion that I called on her brother Dr. John to let him know I had seen her. The subject seemed to distress him. I gathered from a wink he gave me when his wife was not looking that he may have been helping to a greater extent than she knew. But it was not appropriate to pursue the subject as I was a guest in his house.
Helen has made the best and most vivid contributions to this study of the Mackay family, especially with regard to the earlier generations. I am most grateful for that. I sent her a good fountain pen and ream of paper which she acknowledged very nicely. I understand that she is an even a greater authority on the Buchanans than on the Mackays. Some day we may learn her story.
She must be approaching 78 now, and like him my thoughts often turn to how she is faring in winter time.
John seems to be up at Tongue from time to time giving her help, groceries, repairs, etc. in his holidays. John and his wife then put up at the local hotel.