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Pat MacPhail Pat MacPhail of Clashmore, Scottish Borders
Pat MacPhail

Pat MacPhail of Clashmore

Mr Pat MacPhail, Stoer
Published: 24 November, 2006 in Northern Times

The funeral of Pat MacPhail, of 216 Clashmore, Stoer, took place at his home on Tuesday 14th November 2006.

Pat’s life was celebrated at a ceremony attended by more than 200 people, including many from other parts of Scotland, England and France as well as family from Germany and Belgium. In addition, there was a considerable presence from Assynt, not only because of his involvement in the historic Assynt Crofters’ Trust, but because of the regard and affection in which he was held throughout the community.

Pat was a convinced atheist to the end – despite being a son of the manse – but he no more believed it was good for atheists to thrust their beliefs upon others than for the religious to do likewise. Hence it was entirely appropriate that the celebration should begin by those present singing together the 23rd Psalm, which Pat may well have remembered as a child in Mull, where he was born, and which he left, when his father died, with his mother, two brothers and sister, to live in Dollar, near his mother’s sister. Apart from a short spell in Kilchrennan on Loch Awe side, Pat spent his school days in Dollar, although he retained close ties with his mother’s people who lived in Argyll. He also retained a love of fishing, which remained with him throughout his life.

Pat joined the Navy in the last years of the war where he served on minesweepers in the North Sea and in the Far East, spending the last year of the war clearing the Straights and the China Sea of mines. He was among the first allied servicemen to witness the devastation wreaked by the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
After the war he completed a further tour of duty with a Naval survey expedition charting the waters of Borneo and Sarawak far inland into the rainforests among the Dayak tribespeople.

On demobilisation, Pat returned to Loch Awe side, where he worked as a fishing ghillie. As he himself often said: “Out fishing on the loch all day, ten bob and a bottle of beer, what more could I want ?”

But more he did want, eventually graduating from Glasgow University and Jordanhill College before going on to take a post in the geography department of Airdrie Academy. Two years later, however, now married to his first wife Ann, he went to work in Sierra Leone to bring secondary education in preparation for independence, staying there for six years before returning to Scotland, now divorced and with two young sons, Gordon and Alastair.

He was appointed principal teacher of geography at Queen’s Park School, where he quickly rose to Deputy Head. During this time, Pat set up an Outdoor Centre at Lochgoilhead, also acquiring a school minibus so that city children could experience the great Scottish outdoors as part of their education. Finally he took up the post of Rector of Biggar High School where he remained until ill health forced an early retiral in 1985.

In 1965 Pat had married Madeline Graham and the whole family – now numbering six, with the addition of a daughter, Isobel and a son, Murdo – spent many summers in Assynt rebuilding a ruined crofthouse which, in 1985, became Pat and Madeline’s permanent home. There Pat became a crofter with sheep, self catering chalets and a very successful bed and breakfast which earned a well deserved entry in the Taste of Scotland handbook.

In addition, Pat became involved in the historic campaign which led to the establishment of the Assynt Crofters’ Trust; indeed he was that body’s first “crofting administrator” a title he suggested, since with the name “Patrick”, he was not going to accept the title of “factor”, with its Clearances connotation! He also established the fishing on the estate lochs which became the Trust’s biggest source of income.

Sadly, in 1991, a great tragedy overcame Pat and all the family when Gordon, his eldest son, died of Aids.

Latterly, Pat passed the croft on to his daughter, Isobel, like himself a geography graduate of Glasgow University, which gave himself and Madeline time to visit family in Brussels and Berlin as well as journeys to North America, India, Hong Kong and Thailand. In addition, Pat, now a Francophile thanks to Madeline’s influence, spent many happy days in their house in St Marsal, in the south of France, where Pat was as respected by the villagers there as he was in Assynt. Pat’s death was announced by the mayor at the Armistice Day ceremony in St Marsal, leading to many expressions of condolence being sent from that village.

Pat’s family made moving contributions in poems and reminiscences at the celebration of his life and the final act at the graveside in Stoer, with the pipes playing a lament and the reading of the following words, which will long be remembered by all those who attended.

“In spring the grasses will grow around him;
in summer, the trout will rise on the loch;
the autumn gales will blow the salt spray over him;
and in winter, the northern lights will dance above his head.”

As was said: “There may be greater men in Assynt, but none better.”

Pat is survived by his wife, Madeline, two sons, Alastair and Murdo, daughter Issie, and grandchildren in Berlin and Brussels.
Andy Sanders

All content copyright 2006 Scottish Provincial Press Ltd, with whose kind permission this has been reproduced.

Pat MacPhail of Clashmore, Scotland