Islanders and friends from far and wide were saddened to learn of the death of Jessie McNeill on Friday 12th December at Lorn and the Islands Hospital, peacefully after some months of illness. Some 1,300 persons registered her passing on Friends of Colonsay FaceBook site alone, and many people paid fulsome tributes. Jessie’s funeral took place on Tuesday 16th at the parish church, despite her reservations as to whether she would manage the steps. The church was filled with mourners, including many from a distance, and there were many flowers. Jessie had chosen her own hymns (Be Thou My Vision and Here I am Lord), had chosen to leave to Highland Cathedral and surprised us all by choosing to preface the service with a lively version of “Grandma’s Feather Bed”, accompanied by the banjo. Reference in the eulogy was made to the film made by Rachel Hendry; to see Rachel’s film https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXvZTuyyoeI , go to YouTube and search on “Colonsay My Friend My Hero”.
After the more formal eulogy (which can be seen in the Magazine section, below), Seamus McNeill paid a fine personal tribute on behalf of the family:
“My first memories of Jessie are when, as a small boy, I would walk the 100 yards from our house to the farmhouse along with Donald McMillan, our neighbour, as he went to collect his milk. Jessie lived in the farmhouse with my Granny and grandfather or “sheanair” as we called him. She spent most of her day working on the farm with my Dad. She could be seen out in the fields tending the sheep, in the byre milking the cows or in the henhouse, gathering the eggs.
“When I left high school and returned home was when I joined the group of young folk going to Jessie’s on a Sunday night for a game of cards and a pancake or two. I have seen as many as 50 people crammed into the dorran house at Machrins on a Sunday night in the summer.
“Jessie used to win her fair share – or maybe more than her fair share – of card games but I think this was probably more down to cheating than skill! Some of Jessie’s longest serving, card-playing friends, including the Binnie family and Alastair and Jane Robertson, continued to visit Jessie to play cards up until quite recently.
“If Jessie’s card nights were famous, her pancakes were infamous. Although I have a different description for them but I cannot use words like that in church. Actually maybe now is the time to confess that I actually enjoyed a pancake or two on a Sunday night.
“Jessie was also famous for some of the wonderful phrases and statements she came out with and I would like to share them with you. While discussing her funeral arrangements she said “I want the funeral to be in the Church of Scotland…och no what am I talking about, I can’t get into that church!!”
“I think one of Jessie’s greatest qualities was that everyone she met, from the youngest to the oldest, was made to feel like a friend and I think it’s safe to say that hundreds of friends have passed through Jessie’s door during her lifetime.
“Not everyone just passed in and out of Jessie’s house. When her cousin, Ross Moodie, decided to stay on Colonsay he shared a house with Jessie. Although Jessie was at pains to point out that they were sharing a house and NOT living together!
“The most eagerly awaited visits to her house were, of course, those made by her sister, Mary. Sometimes Mary would arrive unannounced and sometimes she would come for “a few days” and end up staying for a few weeks. I don’t know how many times I had to change her ferry ticket!
“As a family we feel the deepest heartache at her passing but we also have the fondest memories of all. I am pretty sure that Jessie is up their smiling down on us today as we say our goodbyes and I know that after the initial grief is over we, her family and friends, will remember Jessie with a smile on our faces because that is how she made you feel.
“I would like to finish with a phrase, probably in colloquial Gaelic, that I know my mum and, I am sure, Auntie Mary used when speaking to Jessie:
“Tioraidh a dh’aithghearr, a’ Sheonaid.” Simply: “Goodbye for now, Jessie.””