The Herald

Re­nee Maclean

- DAVID ROSS Celebrity Inventors · Supermodels · Celebrities · Edinburgh · Isle of Skye · Inverness · Royal Academy · Scotland · University of Edinburgh · Kenneth D. Cameron · Inverness Royal Academy · Hugh MacDiarmid

Widow of the poet Sor­ley Maclean; Born: Novem­ber 22, 1920; Died: March 9, 2013.

CATHER­INE (Re­nee) Maclean, who has died aged 92, was the wife of the late Gaelic poet Sor­ley Maclean, to whom she was mar­ried for 50 years un­til his death in 1996.

Their friends of­ten pon­dered what might have be­fallen him had he not met and mar­ried her. It was a ques­tion nor­mally met with a purs­ing of lips and a shak­ing of heads, the con­sen­sus be­ing that ev­ery­day life would have been im­mea­sur­ably more dif­fi­cult for the poet.

Although she al­ways kept her­self firmly in the back­ground as her hus­band was win­ning in­ter­na­tional recog­ni­tion, she was his an­chor. Her nat­u­ral charm, hu­mour and well-devel­oped diplo­matic in­stincts were dis­arm­ing, her or­gan­i­sa­tional skills much needed. With her, his ear­lier per­sonal tor­ments gave way to a lov­ing and ful­fill­ing fam­ily life in Ed­in­burgh, Plock­ton and Skye.

She was not the woman/women of whom he wrote in some of his most fa­mous works. But the one poem he did write for her sug­gested a new op­ti­mism. In trans­la­tion it be­gins: “When this auburn head lies on my shoul­der and my breast the dawn of tri­umph opens how­ever gloomy the dark­ness.” A muse was not a role she had an­tic­i­pated grow­ing up in a fam­ily of four in In­ver­ness. Her fa­ther, Ken­neth Cameron, who had a join­ery busi­ness, came from the Kil­muir area of the Black Isle when Gaelic was still spo­ken there. Her mother, Is­abella Buchanan, was from Cal­len­dar.

They lived in the Crown area and she at­tended the then nearby In­ver­ness Royal Academy. It was an In­ver­ness un­recog­nis­able to­day with farm­land al­most on their doorstep, where great swathes of hous­ing now stand.

On leav­ing school she went to Ed­in­burgh Col­lege of Domestic Sci­ence, which be­came known by its lo­ca­tion in Atholl Cres­cent. She re­called see­ing from the col­lege win­dows some of the first Ger­man war planes to fly over Scot­land in 1939. She stud­ied needle­work and qual­i­fied as a teacher.

The war years stayed with her and she would of­ten paint a vivid pic­ture of the home fronts – from the restau­rants that would ad­ver­tise a choice of six main dishes, when they only ever had pow­dered egg omelettes, to the trains packed full of ser­vice­men.

By the time she met Sor­ley Maclean (who later changed his sur­name to MacLean in his pub­lished work) in 1944 the tide of the war had turned. He had been in­jured in the north African cam­paign and re­turned to Scot­land.

He was teach­ing English at Bor­ough­muir High School when they mar­ried. She gave up her own teach­ing ca­reer on be­com­ing a mar­ried woman, as was the norm at that time.

They be­came close friends with the poet Syd­ney Good­sir Smith, both fam­i­lies shar­ing a house in Craig­mil­lar Park for about 18 months. In the folk­lore of the fam­ily this be­came known as the Schloss Sch­midt, and was the fo­cus of much hu­mour. She held Smith the most nat­u­rally funny man she ever met.

Although friends of the Scot­tish literati, from Hugh MacDiarmid to Hamish Hen­der­son, fam­ily life dom­i­nated as three daugh­ters Ish­bel, Catriona and Mary fol­lowed. It was dur­ing his time in Ed­in­burgh that Sor­ley’s mas­ter­piece Hal­laig was writ­ten.

In 1956 he was ap­pointed rec­tor of Plock­ton High School, so they left the cap­i­tal and headed to Rossshire where they brought up their chil­dren with Re­nee throw­ing her­self into com­mu­nity life.

She also man­aged to sus­tain a pol­icy of ef­fort­less hos­pi­tal­ity as a broad sec­tion of hu­man­ity beat its way to the school­house door.

It was the same open-door pol­icy when they re­tired to Braes in Skye. The Maclean house was al­ways a place of warmth and great craic, where she would of­ten hold cen­tre stage as she re­counted some lu­di­crous episode from their lives, of­ten in­volv­ing her hus­band’s ec­cen­tric­i­ties. He loved noth­ing bet­ter.

Be­tween 1973 and 1975 they were back south in term time when Sor­ley was cre­ative writer in res­i­dence at Ed­in­burgh Univer­sity. It was also at this time in­vi­ta­tions were ar­riv­ing for po­etry read­ings around the coun­try and well be­yond.

It all made for a fine re­tire­ment, but they suf­fered the most cruel of blows with the un­timely death of their daugh­ter Catriona. She lived with her fam­ily nearby in Braes and there­after the three young sons she left be­came Sor­ley and Re­nee’s world. She stayed on in Skye af­ter Sor­ley’s death, and only moved in 2007 to Cro­marty to live with her daugh­ter Mary and this writer, her son-in-law.

She is sur­vived by her sis­ter Eve­lyn, her daugh­ters Ish­bel and Mary, six grand­chil­dren and two great-grand­chil­dren.

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