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2010 Iris Mackay

Iris Mackay has been asked and accepted to be this year�s chieftain at the Durness Highland Gathering. For many years Iris has been involved in the successful organisation and running of the event as chairperson of the committee. Iris is a very well known figure in the area running the family shop in Sangomore, driving school buses and providing the Cape Wrath minibus service throughout the summer. This dose not mean she will no longer be involved as the committee have asked Iris to remain but her duties as chair are taken over by Hugh Morrison and vice chair has been accepted by Janet Cordiner.


Iris was born in Morningside Park in Edinburgh and brought home to Durness, Breamar the family house built in 1926, youngest of the family of 3, an older brother Michael and sister Jean at a few weeks old and has remained in Durness apart from being educated in Dornoch staying at Ross house hostel for 4 years and Golspie tech for 1 year. Iris intended to join the police force on leaving school but required to have contact lens as glasses were not accepted. Iris�s mother was not happy about her joining and was unable to help in acquiring contact lenses which put the possibility of her chosen career unobtainable. In 1970 Iris marred Donny Mackay formally of Laid and they have a daughter Yvonne currently studying nursing. Donny has been involved in the family business especially since he retired a few years ago from the Highland Council road squad.


Iris inherited the Mather�s shop in Sangomore which belonged to her grand father known as JS Campbell�s left to her mother in 1959 and ran the shop until she died but Iris became a partner in 1978 prior to her mothers death in 1982 after working in the shop part time since she was 12 years old and then full time. Iris is acknowledged for her hard work and diligent establishment of small enterprise and intimate knowledge of the social history of Durness. She can relate family stories from the past and recall relations and Durness residents with acute accuracy.

Transport has been in the Mather family for years with other members working for the Sutherland Transport and Trading Company driving daily to and from Lairg. Iris�s mother had the local school contract runs. This started with the family car then a Bedford mini bus which Iris passed her PSV driving test. Iris took over that contract and has been the provider of school transport in Durness ever since. Iris developed this transport business in 1989 with contracts service buses running to Inverness and Thurso alternative weekends with local dial a bus taxi services. These services have subsidy support and the future is uncertain in their current form. Private hire has become a popular and much used service. She is a well known and often seen driver on the roads around North West Sutherland and knows all the pot holes and peculiarities of the roads thoroughly. The popular Cape Wrath mini bus excursion to Cape Wrath during the summer months has been a major development put on a regular footing by Iris. The occasional service was operated prior to 1982 but with legal directives being enforced then Iris was in a position to provide a regulated service. A comer was the first bus put to the Cape side following the requests to reach the far North West were being continually made to the local tourist office.


The logistical arrangements require a great deal of organisation. The task not made easier by the narrow and only basically maintained single track road for 11 miles to the Cape. Driving requires specific timing for vehicles meeting and passing on route coordinating with the passenger ferry ensuring people are not stranded and left waiting at the start and destination points. The road takes its toll on the vehicles. Iris has been involved in community activities all her life and has been a strong support for positive improvements with constant representation on the community council for many years.


 Iris recalls the Games in the early 1950s as a competitor also in the 70s when she won the egg and spoon race! Her name in the winners record for posterity! They were always referred to as Sports Day, a great event when everyone looked forward to the competitions. When I was child there was no where near the numbers that attend now. Quite a few changes in the Games have taken place over the years upgrading all the time. Safety has become a paramount issue and the regulations have tightened up. I remember when attending the Games as child during the putting the shot someone got the shot on the side of the head! People just used to mill around. Equipment now that was not available in the early years has made the health and safety better and added further interest. Marquees and sheds starting pistol platform, tanoy systems, and the many stall holders.


When the Games were restored in 1970 Iris was involved as part of the organising committee and she became chair person after Billy Morrison in 1992. She has taken on a lead role in coordination and has become synonymous with the games. This year 2010 Iris has stood down as chairperson and accepted the honour of Chieftain. When asked about who is usually invited to be Chieftain Iris responded by saying that this honour is usual bestowed on people with Durness connections who have made good or supported Durness and the Games in  some manner and usually just retired.


 This is a role Iris will delight in as she is a social and welcoming person. A recent illness has been responsible for Iris giving up a certain level of public service vehicle driving. She is wished a long, continuing happy role in her involvement in the Games and should she ever retire, which she was not making any commitment on, a lengthy and enjoyable healthy future.

Preview of the Games


During the holiday season many faces appear and disappear but towards the end of July, familiar groups of folks start to emerge and mingle ready for participation in the most north-westerly mainland Highland Gathering. Durness bustles with a roused anticipation. The topics of conversations nearly always end with concern and prediction about the weather on Games Day. Durness Highland Gathering is a small event with all the trimmings of traditional Scottish Highland Games. The Durness Highland Gathering Association are members of the Scottish Games Association and registered to accept both amateurs and professionals. 33 trophies are competed for from competitors at all levels. Piping, dancing, athletics, heavy events and novelty games for all ages are included. Revived in 1970, after a break of approximately ten years, only being cancelled once in 1983 due to severe weather conditions the Games are a highlight of the year and a date not to be missed on the local calendar.

The committee meets in January when a chieftain is selected. In the past this has been local dignitaries, people with local and community connections, celebrities who have made Durness a special place and this appointment is a local honour.


This year after nearly a lifetime of involvement with the Games the tribute has been bestowed on Iris Mackay nee Mather. Iris has been involved in the successful organisation and running of the event, laterally as chairperson of the committee since the revival in 1970. The role of Chieftain, at most gatherings nowadays, is an honorary one to encourage participation, welcome competitors and visitors. On the day the Chieftain is received with ceremony and escorted with the music of the bagpipes. They are responsible for officially opening the event and presentation of the trophies. The chieftain is presented with a memento of the day a cranoch, and hopefully going away feeling honoured to have been part of a successful Durness Highland Gathering.


On the day of the Gathering, the parade of officials, chieftain and competitors leaves the Village Square at twelve noon following the pipe band to the game's field. As all the activity proceeds with people participating and mingling among the many stalls throughout the afternoon the pipe band parades around the field in a display that proudly reflects the Highland traditions.


The sometimes-confusing different titles this occasion is referred to often cause debate. The Durness Highland Gathering, Durness Highland Games or what was originally known as Sports Day? The occasion exists for different purposes to different people but creates an opportunity for family and friends to gather for social participation with fun and competitive events to provide the sport, entertainment and activity. Whatever the name and whatever the motive for attending everyone is invited to join in and not to put of their intention to another year.


The Durness Highland Gathering is one of the most spectacular events held in this North West corner of Scotland only possible because of the hard working band of voluntary assistance

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