Wednesday, 10 November 2010


The Yellow Iris is such a beautiful flower, when I see it I think of the Highlands where it can be seen to bloom in abundance on marshy land. I chose this flower today, as I share this personal entry, for a very dear friend whose courageous battle against cancer has come to an end.

Reflecting back on my friendship with Iris - I don't remember when I first met Iris Mather because, quite literally, I was just a 'babe in arms'. However, I do know that we met through my family, visiting Mather's shop in Sutherland. Back then, Durness was an even smaller Highland village than it is today. On the North West coast, over 260 miles from Edinburgh, crossing many miles of single-track road and before the building of the Kessock and Kylesku bridges, it was a very, very long trip to make and pulling our small caravan it took my family around 12 hours to reach there. With so few 'tourists' visiting at that time we were unusal in holidaying there but my family were  so welcomed in to the area that it became for us like a 'second home.'

In these early days the shop was owned by her dad, Jimmy Mather and oh, what a character he was, a really lovely man and Iris grew up to reflect his good qualities, his humour, compassion and kindness. At the heart of the community was Iris at Mather's shop and doing more than one job (as is the custom in small areas) you could meet her when she was driving a bus over to Cape Wrath and also, driving everyone to dances and other events all over Sutherland. In addition, Iris was always to be seen at the Durness Highland Games and, after her many years of involvement in their organisation, most fittingly, Iris was the 2010 Chieftain of the Games. As she had said to me in a phonecall in the lead up to that day, "if I have to get up from my sick bed to make the Games I will do it, this means so much to me". I am very pleased that it was a date that Iris kept!

On the cliff tops, where Durness Highland Games are held

For once the day was about Iris, tho' for me, my memories reflect all the other games, Iris ALWAYS running around, there to help, making sure everything was organised, going as it should and everyone having a great time. She was the sort of woman, as captured in this photo - in the middle of such a busy day, Aly Bain, that year was a Chieftain of the Games and having a drink, I had just been offered one but said "no, but Iris, have you any sandwiches?" and yes, she produced a plastic tub (peoples needs always well thought out so you could ask her and she'd always have a suggestion or a solution, always doing her best to help, with good grace and a warm smile).

2005 Durness Highland Games: Aly Bain, Iris and me

Over my entire lifetime I have called in to see Iris, at her shop or her house, on every trip to the North (it wouldn't have been a proper trip to Durness if I hadn't). On my last trip 'home to Durness' she was the last person I made special time to go and see and to hug goodbye to. And, it was that very special embrace you give a person when you have known them your entire life and... you know they are fighting cancer. Whether they are telling you the latest good or bad news about their condition, inside you quietly speak unspoken words - "please don't let this be our last goodbye". Yet, for us that was farewell and, after a long time blethering to her in her kitchen there she was, waving to me from her garden gate and me tooting the car horn as I set off to drive back to Edinburgh. That day when Iris hugged me she laughed, "ah the baby I held and the toddler I lifted on to the shop counter to choose which sweeties to give you" - "Aye well then, I quipped - it's all your fault I've had too many sweeties" and I gave her an even closer squeeze in my arms.

I feel fortunate to have known this woman, this special woman that you could call - the 'salt of the earth'. From her small shop in the North West Highlands, the relationships that she built up with locals and tourists alike have created many positive ripples out around the world so that Iris will be sadly missed by very many people. For me, like the sunshine Yellow Iris which flowers so brightly in the Highlands, my time spent with Iris Mather has brightened my life.

My thoughts go out to all her family and her many friends -
From her wee shop in the Highlands, Iris touched so many lives


People and places, build up our world

These special friends, that shape us

Their warm smile, that lights our way

Laughter, love and words they say

So when it comes, their time to leave

Their special memories, still live on

And we reflect, how much they gave

For all of that, will keep us strong

Shona McMillan 10.11.10


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