Looking back at the life of Margaret Mackay 1934-2023…this remembrance was compiled for her funeral service last week. We are grateful for the family's permission to publish this more widely.
Born in Argyll, Margaret began her working life as a midwife in Glasgow. She moved to Lewis to become a district nurse in the 1950’s, little knowing that she had found her home.
She left her career when she married Murdo Macarthur in 1961, and they set up home in Dalbeg. Turning their hands to weaving, they gathered the finances to start a dairy, which eventually expanded to deliver milk from Ness to Uig. Her nursing skills and farming background were still put to good use when the vet was unavailable, as she could be called out at all hours to assist with sick animals across the Westside.
With one daughter, and another on the way, they moved into a new house they had built in the village. Sadly, Murdo was tragically killed in a car accident only a few months after the birth of their second child. Never one to be thwarted by adversity, Margaret continued delivering milk until the mid 1970’s.
She married Angus Mackay in 1979, when both their families were grown, and he settled with her in Dalbeg, where they spent happy years until his passing in 1987.
In 1976, she started a minibus run taking Carloway students to The Nicolson Institute, so they no longer needed to stay in a hostel. This evolved into Dalbeg Coaches, which serviced the West Side run, and much else besides.
Throughout this time, she guided tourists around the island, and drove Wallace Arnold and Shearings coaches to give their drivers a day off. She was also responsible for organising coach tours for the many cruise ships which had begun to call in to Stornoway.
Having grown up in the Brethren church, Margaret became a Christian who took her faith seriously. She struggled to find an English service after moving to Dalbeg, until Rev Jack Macarthur became the minister in the Carloway Church of Scotland, and began an early morning English service every Sunday. Margaret became an active member of the church and lifelong close friend of Jack and his wife Cathy.
Her involvement in the local church and community extended to working with the Women’s Guild, the Girl Guides, and the Council Social Work Committee. She pioneered an Old Folks Christmas Dinner in Shawbost, when these were not commonplace on the island and was involved in setting up a meals on wheels service for the elderly in the community. She later drove the minibus for the Sunshine Club in Carloway and was affronted when the time came that she was asked to join their ranks. Always up for a challenge and ever ready for an opportunity to try out the controls of another mode of transport and having virtually exhausted the list of ground-based vehicles from a scooter to a coach and everything in between, she was delighted on her 60th birthday to discover she had been gifted a short flight behind the controls of a small plane and took to the sky, thankfully landing safely at the end of her first flying lesson.
Somehow she found the time to be a keen traveller, making trips to Israel, Europe, the US and Canada, forging lasting friendships with those she met. It was Romania, however, that always held a special place in her heart. It first came to her attention when she was asked to take a busload of aid there in the late 80’s. Ever since that first fateful journey, she felt compelled to return, sometimes making multiple trips a year. Her buses would be stripped of their seats and packed with aid and toys for the children of the orphanages. She built enduring relationships with Romanian friends, who remained in touch even when she could no longer travel.
On one memorable occasion, she was held at gunpoint by Hungarian border guards, as they ransacked the bus and helped themselves to anything of value. Ever fearless, she didn’t spare them her customary sharp tongue, and the dictionary was frantically searched to find a translation for “You brats!”
Her charitable work and contributions to the community led to her attending three Queen’s Garden Parties, and she was delighted to be seated beside the Queen at lunch on Her Majesty’s last visit to the island. She was also honoured with an award from the Rotary Club that had hitherto been reserved only for men.
In her later years, as Parkinson’s and the accompanying dementia took their toll, she had to be cared for, just as she had always faithfully done for others. For the last five years of Margaret’s life she was a resident of Blar Buidhe Nursing Home in Stornoway where she was well cared for during a time of declining health, which she bore with her usual resilience. It was obvious to all the family that, although not engaging in much conversation, that she still had perfect hearing as she always enjoyed her visits and was very much a part of the craic that went on around her!
It was compassion for others that drove her all her life and she shared her home with any who needed it. Margaret didn’t see problems, she just saw things she hadn’t turned her attention to yet. She was fearless, she was joyous, she was kind. She was Margaret Dalbeg.
Margaret's funeral service took place on Wednesday March 1 at the Carloway Church of Scotland. It is available to watch on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l-0u6oH_F_E