McKechnie’s Farewell – a tribute to my grandparents, Granny (Ann) and Seanair (Neil) McKechnie
I love grandparents. They are the coolest. Every encounter with my own or anyone else’s has always reaffirmed my claim. There’s no end to their unconditional love; they love you for being who you are: their grandchild.
I feel fortunate that I knew both of my mother’s parents. My dad’s had both passed away before he married my mum – if I could choose to meet anyone in the world, it would be them.
My childhood memories are full of time spent with Granny and Seanair. They lived in Dingwall, only 45 minutes away from our home near Inverness, allowing my siblings and me to see them on a regular basis as we grew up. We’d often visit on a Sunday afternoon and Granny would invariably whip up a mammoth spread of sandwiches, sausage rolls, scones and homemade cakes which she’d pass through the hatch from the kitchen to the dining room. I’d set the table, laying out all of the food and setting up the pretty fern green china. I’m pretty sure mum used to always insist such a spread wasn’t necessary. I know she didn’t want Granny to make a fuss but I’m glad she did. It was the best afternoon tea I’ve ever had.
my first christmas – with granny and seanair. 1987.
When I was younger, I spent a lot of school holidays with my grandparents. Granny and I would always go down Dingwall High Street and do ‘the messages’ at Somerfield and the other Dingwall hotspots. Inevitably, she would bump into a million people she knew. Dingwall is a small place but I always sensed, even at a young age, that my grandparents were well known in the community. I remember spending time in the Puffin Pool charity shop where Granny volunteered. Every time someone talks about puffins, I think of her. I later discovered that Seanair also played an integral role in the work of the charity, which funds a purpose-built hydrotherapy pool for those less mobile and people recovering from injury.
garden party at cullernie gardens. 2001.
I remember sitting my prelim exams at school. I am the youngest of three and had to follow on from two academically successful siblings. My test-run of exams didn’t go so well. Feeling like a failure, I found myself sobbing down the phone to Granny. In her gentle and calm nature, she reassured me that I didn’t have to be the same as Kenneth and Anna. What was important was that I did my best. That conversation has stuck with me.
Granny wrote letters to us when we were at university. I loved her handwriting and I loved receiving the sheets of written love, filled with snippets of news from her and Seanair’s lives.
granny and seanair celebrate 55 years of marriage. july 2006.
It was at the end of my first year of university that Granny passed away. She had lung cancer and over an extended period of time, we watched her health deteriorate. As we mourned, it was Seanair who comforted us. He was our rock. He put on a brave face for all of us.
Seanair is the Gaelic for grandfather. With Gaelic being the first language of not only both my grandparents, but also my father, it seems natural that this was the name we used. The last postcard I sent to Seanair was addressed to ‘Seanair McKechnie’. He was always Seanair to me.
It’s now eight years since Granny passed away. Seanair moved out of the house he and Granny had lived in for 20 years and we waved goodbye to Clunes Villa, the red-fenced house with the doorbell we would always ring, though we always walked straight in, without waiting for an answer. He didn’t move far away though, and we still visited him whenever we came back home from university and later work locations.
Seanair was always an avid Ross County supporter, as is my father, and in turn, my sister and I followed suit, despite the abuse we received from our Inverness Caledonian Thistle-supporting peers. Growing up, I attended a lot of matches either with my family, or with my friends, and every time post match, I visited Seanair. Granny and Seanair’s house was conveniently five minutes walk from the football ground. We’d return from the match and sit glued to the TV, taking in all of the football scores as they came in from all over Scotland.
Seanair was always on the ball. On his 90th birthday, we had a big family celebration and Mum and Helen bought him a laptop – because he was that cool.
90th birthday celebrations at the golf view hotel. november 2009.
He always took a great interest in my siblings and me, as well as my cousins; he knew exactly what was going on in all of our lives. I was so thankful that I was able to visit him both before and after my recent trip to Japan. The weekend before he passed away, he was lying in bed, barely able to keep his eyes open or speak properly, but he managed to ask me how my trip to Japan had been. He was the perfect grandparent right up until the very end.
spot the japanese wannabes. april 2011.
Upon hearing I was flying back to the castle later that afternoon, Seanair joked, “Well, I’m in my castle too!”. Of course he wasn’t; he was in the nursing home opposite our house in Nairn, but that was Seanair. He made us laugh. My sister Anna is an accountant in Inverness. On one of her visits to see Seanair at the home, she had told him that she had been working up at the Cairngorms. ‘What were you doing there?’ he asked her, his face dead-pan in sincerity, ‘Counting snowflakes?’
He had the most beautiful smile, one which we treasured more than ever in his final days. He never complained. “I’m 94, I’ve had a long and good life,” he’d told me in a precious hour we had together the day before I travelled to Japan.
seanair was renowned for the twinkle in his eye. november 2012.
Seanair passed away peacefully in the early hours of May 10th, 2014. He was 94 years old. He had seen all of us in the preceding couple of weeks: his two daughters, his two sons-in-law, and his five grandchildren. We were all able to spend quality time with a man whom we dearly loved.
mckechnies, macarthurs and oois. may 2013.
Listening to the tribute that was made to my grandfather at the funeral, I felt an incredible sense of pride as I realised all that Seanair had achieved and contributed in his life. He had fought as part of the 56th London Scottish Field Artillery in South Africa, Egypt and Sicily during the Second World War. He had taught as a teacher and led as a headteacher at various schools around Scotland before later using his experience and expertise on more committees and organisations than I can count, including both the district and regional councils. He had worked hard to promote Gaelic music and culture through his roles in An Comunn Gàidhealach and Fèis Rois, where he was Chairman for twenty years. In 1996, Seanair was awarded an MBE in the New Year Honours list for his services to the community.
When Seanair stood down from his role in Fèis Rois, John Somerville wrote the tune McKechnie’s Farewell. It can be heard through the link below.
I believe my grandparents are together now in heaven. Though I miss them and long for the days when they were here with us, I have nothing but good memories to look back on. To quote my cousin Allan, I rejoice that they are together at home with God where there’s “no more death or mourning or crying or pain”, and where one day I’ll join them.