Death of NI woman inspires memorial in Scottish Highlands

The Shieling memorial
The Shieling memorial

A memorial which was recently unveiled in the Scottish Highlands marks the fulfilment of a promise made to a talented Belfast artist before her death.

Perched 1,500 feet up a mountain overlooking the village of Glen Etive in the Argyle region of western Scotland, The Shieling was created by Sam McDonald for his late wife Evelyn.

Sam and Evelyn McDonald in their younger days

Sam and Evelyn McDonald in their younger days

Evelyn, a former student of Belfast Art College, and Sam met at Trinity College in Dublin as kindred artistic spirits.

Sam said: “We stayed in Dublin for a year then went to America where I worked as a journalist for the Middletown Press in Middletown.

“We had a very exciting time in America before coming back to Dublin.

“I gave up journalism and trained as a horticulturist, which took me to Denmark.”

In 1977, the couple eventually settled on a small farm in Taynuilt in the west of Scotland where they set up a nursery business for 30 years.

Sam said: “In 2016, out of the blue, I was contacted by the Smithsonian Institute who wanted to use my material from the Middletown Press in their museum. Something I’d done 50 years earlier had caught up with me so dramatically. It was the most magical evening when the exhibition opened – a night Evelyn and I really enjoyed. Not long after she got cancer.”

He continued: “Evelyn was a very talented artist. Before she died I’d talked about a memorial to her. My brother Angus McDonald was a journalist killed during the Suez Crisis. There’s a memorial to him in our garden but it was in danger of becoming a mausoleum so I promised her the memorial would be different.”

The Shieling is based on a love story that had captured their hearts – Deirdre of the Sorrows tells the tragic tale of two young runaways who fled across the sea from Ireland to escape an angry king and hid themselves away in Glen Etive.

The standing stones in the memorial symbolise the two lovers facing each other at the top of the memorial’s steps that lead down into arm-like walls with a Celtic knot seat at the heart of it.

Tucked into the wall will be a statue of a man and woman clasped in an embrace.

Sam said: “Evelyn would be horrified to think The Shieling was a memorial to her. It is a memorial to someone else’s love story that we both fell in love with.”