Graveside Memories: Balmacara

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It was my Granny’s birthday in June, while we were visiting Plockton, and so we paid her a visit in Balmacara Graveyard. I picked fresh flowers from the garden and we drove the twisting single track road out of the village towards Balmacara, following the trail we had taken behind her coffin many years ago, in the autumn of 1999. That day a long convoy of cars had crawled snake like along the road, blocking incoming traffic, as most of the village headed out towards the burial ground, several miles away. I was humbled by the respect shown by all of these people who had lived and breathed beside my Granny in her life. Today though we had no company, and I clutched the flowers as we pulled into several passing places to allow inbound visitors to pass us by.

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Perched on the edge of Loch Alsh, with views out across the water to Skye, it’s a beautiful place to be laid to rest. Returned to earth, she lies here beside her mother, father and sister in a family lair, as plots are called in these parts, and I can’t think of anywhere more lovely as a last resting place.

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Her headstone is also a memorial to her husband, my Grandfather, who was lost at sea during World War II, and the names of my mother, Aunt and Uncle are also here. Although all of them are still alive, they are scattered to the far corners of the globe, to Canada, Australia and Scotland. There is something deeply moving, and yet comforting about seeing all of these well known family names together in one peaceful green spot, among these familiar hills. A sense of a circle completed, of return, and of renewal, as the dead are gathered together and replaced by the living. Perhaps future generations yet to walk this piece of earth, and yet to draw its air into their lungs, will also visit and remember.

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Fore bearers and descendants of MacKenzies, MacRaes, Mathesons and Murchisons have been placed in this hallowed soil for 1,400 years. Although their individual names and stories are lost to the weathering of time, absorbed into the soft green mound of this ancient sacred site, they live on yet in the blood of the present, and the stories yet to come.

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Deep at the heart of the original burial mound lies this medieval gravestone. It marks the final resting place of an ancient and powerful Clan Chief, and is carved in the local style with his huge claymore sword resting down the centre of his body. This was a Viking Sea Kingdom for 500 years, and power was carved and held at the edge of a sword. There is no doubt that the patterns and traces from this Norse blood flow still through local veins, mixed with the fierce and poetic Gaelic ancestors.

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In the dappled shade of the trees, the leaves whisper stories almost lost, remembering the Culdee monks who first Christianised this holy place of the dead. Thousands of years of human history gathered in this soft green mound, and tales as long and twisted as the threads of your cloak, tracing the rise and fall of kith and kin, weave through the shadows.
‘Remember the men* from whence you came’.
An old Gaelic proverb, which seems fitting.
(*people/ men and women)
Happy Birthday Granny.

These photos were taken in Old Balmacara Graveyard in Kirkton. There is no space left here for burials, and a new site was opened and sanctified a little further along the road towards Balmacara, called New Balmacara Graveyard.
Site records for Scottish Graveyards can be accessed online here: https://www.deceasedonline.com/servlet/GSDOSearch?AcctView=Login&SrchView=Basic&DetsView=Content&ListSource=Contributors&section=CONTRIBUTORS&context=SMI_HIGHLANDS&lang=E&sessionid=8557667
And here: http://www.parishchest.com/balmacara_cemetery_highlands_mis__P91291

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About greenmackenzie

Hi, I'm Seonaid, and I share my home with my husband, my son and a collection of cats and dogs. I am forever snapping shots of things which catch my eye. I love art which is here now and gone tomorrow...like food and nature...but also have a passion for vintage and the ancient past! Nature is my favourite muse, with her wild ever shifting seasons. I have been using and teaching mindfulness and relaxation for over 12 years, and have yet to become any sort of expert :-) I'm a Psychotherapist, and run the Maggies Highlands Cancer Centre, in Inverness, Scotland.
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47 Responses to Graveside Memories: Balmacara

  1. Sharon K. says:

    This post is the reason I love blogging. What a moving tribute and so interesting to learn a bit of your history and life in Scotland. The clan leader’s grave is incredible.

    Just wonderful!! πŸ™‚ πŸ™‚

    • Thanks so much Sharon….I wasn’t sure if it was too personal for others to find interesting….but it’s great to hear such enthusiastic feedback πŸ™‚
      That medieval gravestone is amazing to see…..and there’s quite an atmosphere in that part of the graveyard. My mother finds it creepy!

  2. MJF Images says:

    A beautiful post Seonaid! And that carved gravestone, very cool.

  3. tree girl says:

    This is beautiful. I am always awed by the amount of history, the relics and records, that you have over there. Whitefellas here only have 230 years of history. We think that something that is 100 years old is old.

    Your post sings of triumph, celebration, tragedy, loss, and change.

  4. Jessie Woollard says:

    Seonaid, very emotional reading your entry about the Graveyard and all the family memories.
    Beautifully illustrated ……… Thanks!
    Love, Jess. X

  5. ladyfi says:

    Great shots and a lovely post.

  6. poppytump says:

    Indeed it is a most lovely resting place for those passed and for those who come to pay tribute Seonaid .
    What fortitude so many of that generation seemed to have, bearing so much and yet gathering family around and doing their very best . God bless Granny .

  7. The flowers at your granny’s grave show how she is still lovingly remembered. Are you the one who takes care of her grave or are there other family members as well?
    Graveyards tell us so much about the history of a place – the Clan Chief’s site is fascinating.

  8. LB says:

    Such a powerfully moving post. Your granny much have been such an inspiration – widowed young, a mother, a daughter, a sister, an innkeeper. Quite the woman!

  9. Liana says:

    I love this right down to the lichens . . . this is how good it gets

  10. Leya says:

    A beautiful resting place. I understand your feelings when seeing all the names together. The Clan
    Chief was interesting too.

  11. Ishbel Durno says:

    Thank you Seonaid for your beautiful words about Granny. As you know I have never seen her grave. It pleases my heart to see the beautiful setting she is resting in. I have shown the boys your tribute and hopefully one day they will be able to visit. x

    • It was easy to write beautiful words about Granny, as all my memories of her are good. It’s such a lovely spot Ishbel, I often stop by for a chat with her if I’m passing, but Mum reminded me it was her birthday, so of course I had to take flowers πŸ™‚
      Hopefully one day the boys will be able to visit…..it’s such a long way from Australia πŸ™‚

  12. Nice. Really, nice. Thanks for taking us along on such a personal trek. D

  13. dairiel says:

    Blessed Be your Granny dear Seonaid…. Thank you.

  14. Lucid Gypsy says:

    I’m touched by how long she lived on without her husband.

    • I know Gilly, she was widowed young, and left with three young children, my mum the eldest was only 8, and the youngest was her brother aged only 3 years. Granny continued running the hotel, and then expanded into a second hotel, she looked after her mother and her sister who was slightly disabled, and was a single mum…..I have always found her an inspiration. Strong, and yet full of warmth and fun πŸ™‚

  15. beautifully sad and a glorious memorial post

  16. Amy says:

    A peaceful and beautiful place…

    • It is Amy, and surrounded by so much history….and so many memories. I can still remember my son, who was only 4, being given a cord to lower her into the earth….of course my husband had to help him, but it was very moving to watch πŸ™‚

  17. risinghawk says:

    I love this. Poignant, beautiful photos . . . and I hail from Clan MacRae myself back in the mists of time. Lovely!

  18. A lovely spot to finally rest Seonaid. My favourite is the cemetery on the western side of the Kyle of Tongue adjacent to the road bridge. There is a very touching headstone for a young fisherman who drowned in the Kyle – a fishing bag and rod is carved hanging over the headstone.

  19. gwynnrogers says:

    You wrote a lovely tribute to your grandmother, family, and generations of family. I truly am envious that you have this connection to generations of your family. My families came from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and Germany. There was a book written about my German ancestors clear back to the 1700s. I know a teeny bit of my Welsh family history as I did visit Conwy, Wales, but at the time I didn’t know family still lived there. However, I know nothing about my Irish and Scottish blood. Here in the states, I don’t have any two relatives in the same cemetery. I’m sad I don’t have the same connection to an area as you do through history.

    However, now, here in Poulsbo, I can relate to your Vikings as our village is fashioned after a Norwegian village, as our Vikings celebrate Norwegian Independence Day every year running around with their helmets, capes, and claymore swords. I love the sense of history that you experience both in the area where you live and through your family. Very beautiful post.

    • Thank you Gwynn, I feel lucky every time I visit this graveyard….seeped in family history πŸ™‚
      Many children who might have been buried here lie scattered across the globe, but there are still connections to be made, and I’m certain that your Irish and Scottish blood will make an appearance some day.
      The celebrations in Poulsbo sound wonderful, and the Vikings certainly got around….linking many of us!

  20. ever so lovely tribute to your Granny…. there is such a sweet romance in an ancient graveyard. your way with the words and your beautiful photographs inspire me to visit Scotland as soon as possible.

  21. Seonaid, this is a wonderful tribute to your grandmother. My southern blood is showing; cemetery wandering is a favorite pastime. Never heard of a family plot called a liar before—-like it.

    • I like it too John, a family lair holding all the old bones together πŸ™‚
      Like a den of the dead…..there are some amazing cemeteries here with histories going back thousands of years….I think you might like it πŸ™‚

  22. Colline says:

    I guess that is why tombstones are placed. To give that sense of where people come from and the sense of family.

  23. What a beautiful place, lovely memorial and peaceful resting place.

  24. Sue Vincent says:

    How beautiful a place, and a lovely tribute to your grandmother. Roots go deep into the land of the heart.

  25. Such a beautiful place, and deeply settled into your bones.

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