Fans are restoring the gravestone of the Victorian Gaelic singing sensation

The small group went under wet skies to honor the Victorian opera singer on the 106th anniversary of her death and to celebrate the recovery of the once toppled cross of red Balmoral granite that marks her grave.

The ceremony was the culmination of two years of work by singer and broadcaster Mary Ann Kennedy and academic Dr. Priscilla Scott and Professor Wilson McLeod, who have raised thousands of pounds to fix the stone and are now focused on raising MacLachlan’s profile.

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When they arrived at the tomb, a portrait of MacLachlan and her tartan shawl was placed on the plinth, inscribed with words about her enduring memory. Her death at the age of 49 was reported in newspapers worldwide; Still, Kennedy explained, it was largely forgotten within five years.

Jessie Niven, Gaelic singing sensation. Image: Contributed

In her heyday, MacLachlan was a singing sensation, touring the world and drawing crowds in her wake. She also made the first commercial gramophone recording of a Gaelic song performing Mo Dhachaidh (My Home) and Oro Mo Nighean Donn Bhòidheach (Ho-ro My Nut-Brown Maiden) in 1899.

With that original recording by Mo Dhachaidh still in existence, MacLachlan’s soprano voice soared through the trees and through time. Soon after, Kennedy performed the same song – two Gaelic singers stretching across a century.

MacColl, grandson of John MacColl, one of two whistlers at Jessie’s funeral, played MacCrimmon’s Lament, which was heard when she was buried, then the Rev. Donald Michael MacInnes, of Gairbraid Parish Church, Glasgow, read a passage about Lois and Eunice , Two Forgotten Biblical Women – a reminder that Jessie thrived in a male-dominated world.

Also in the audience was MacLachlan’s descendant, Morag Forbes, who brought the portrait and shawl given to the singer in Canada from her home in Nairn. MacLachlan was her grandfather’s aunt. “It’s so emotional to be here. Every time I look at her portrait, which now hangs in the dining room, I will remember that moment,” she said.

Restored memorial to Jessie Niven MacLachlan in Cathcart Cemetery. Image: Dani Garavelli

Restoring the cross and pedestal was a major operation hampered by Covid and the sheer weight of the stones – eight tons in all.

Jacqui Fernie, Chair of Friends of Cathcart Cemetery, said: “We are delighted that Jessie’s stone is the first stone to be restored, the first of many that we hope will be restored. This is a garden cemetery. It was conceived as an open urban green space and we are so thankful to have this nature around us. Hopefully we can help keep Jessie’s flame and legacy alive.”

A film about MacLachlan’s life and the campaign to restore her grave was made by MacTV and will be shown later in the year.

Jessie Niven, Gaelic singing sensation

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