Political Activist, Founder Member of Gairloch Museum and Collector of Gaelic Cultural Heritage
Kay Matheson is best known for being one of four students who liberated Scotland’s Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey in 1950 and returned it to Scotland. However, she also played an important role in preserving and promoting the Gaelic cultural heritage of the Gairloch area. Kay was one of the founder members of Gairloch Heritage Museum in the 1970s and had a long association with the development of the collection and archive in its early years. An additional legacy is Kay's own books, papers and artefacts, left by her to the Museum. These form an important part of our collections.
Kay was born in 1928 at Firemore, Inverasdale - a small crofting settlement on the western shore of Loch Ewe. There were many native Gaelic speakers still in the area at that time, including Kay’s own family. At home and in the local ceilidh houses Kay developed a love of Gaelic poetry and song. Gairloch Museum is fortunate to have the recordings that Kay made of local singers performing works of the vernacular bards. She also took the time to write down these works when they
Kay Matheson portrait
Image credit Scottish Political Archive,
University of Stirling.
were in danger of being lost, as the oral tradition faded. The recordings are currently being digitised by the Unlocking our Sound Heritage project at National Library of Scotland.
Click image for description and to enlarge.
Kay was a lifelong promoter of the Gaelic language and lobbied for Gaelic medium education in the 1960s and 70s. Her role with An Comunn Gàidhealach, and in particular its youth movement, are well documented within her papers in the Museum’s archive. Her service to the National Mòd is also very evident.
As a fervent Scottish Nationalist, Kay’s personal papers are awash with correspondence from well-known political figures of the 1950s to 1980s. Her campaign for election in the 1980s is well documented.
Among Kay’s papers are countless letters of admiration from sympathisers around the world congratulating her on her heroic deed at Westminster. There is even a letter from Robert ‘Bertie’ Gray, the Nationalist politician and stonemason who repaired the Stone of Destiny after its removal. It purports to have enclosed a small piece of the stone, which sadly has not yet made it to the Museum’s collection!
It is as a teacher in Achtercairn school that Kay is best known locally. She taught domestic science and was
involved in the development of Gaelic education in Gairloch High School. Some of the needlework of her students has been preserved in the Museum’s collection, alongside wonderful examples of handmade textiles, some made by Kay herself, others collected from friends and neighbours.
Apart from her days as a student in Glasgow, Kay lived all her life in the Gairloch area, seeing out her days in Isle View care home in Aultbea. A bilingual (Gaelic and English) dramatisation of her interrogation by police about the removal of the Stone of Destiny was produced by BBC Alba, starring Gaelic singer Kathleen Macinnes as Kay. Several other films and books have also told the story of this incident and Kay’s role in it.
An Ceasnachadh - Interrogation of a Highland Lass (BBC Alba)
Using the Archive & Library
The Archive & Library are normally open Monday-Friday 10am-5pm all year, except on public and local holiday. Use of this facility is by appointment only, so please telephone or email the curator well in advance, to arrange your visit. On arrival the Curator will familiarise you with the available resources.
Black & white A4 : 20p per sheet
Black & white A3 : 30p per sheet
Colour/scanned : £2.00 per copy
If you are unable to visit, please contact the museum with your questions on local history - we are always happy to try and find the answers.