Twenty people assembled in the well planned, light, airy and welcoming atmosphere which are the new premises of the Glasgow Women’s Library in Bridgeton. Their purpose? To dedicate a shelf in memory of a lady who filled a different role to different people. Margaret Harrison, peace campaigner, Freewoman of Dumbarton and so much more.
The Leven Litts Writers’ Group of Alexandria to which Margaret belonged for many years had arranged this event so their friend’s life and work would not be forgotten. The wooden block, now placed on a shelf and proclaiming her a poet, ensures that.
We were welcomed by Morag Smith who had arranged informal seating with refreshments. She spoke of her meeting with Margaret in Castle Douglas when some of Margaret’s memories were recorded. Margaret has also donated a selection of badges accumulated during her long life.
Four members of the writers’ group then followed with their tribute. Using the words in both prose and poetry of Margaret herself they spoke of her first meeting with her husband Bobby. She was on a hiking holiday with her ‘pal’ Frances. Frances’ son, Iain, had travelled up from Walsall especially to be present at the event.
She wrote of her marriage to Bobby in 1934 and of their first home together, one room in a youth hostel, when married and how they ‘made do’. This led to ‘The Auld Tin bath’ poem which raised laughter. Another poem told us how she was ‘no much o’ a hoosewife’. But, after hearing what she could and not do, the lines
‘Ma best freens tell me no tae change
want me to stay the same’
reflected the feelings of all present.
The peace pilgrimage from Iona to Canterbury in 1981 played a great part in Margaret and Bobby’s life. Her poem ‘Iona’ reflected the close, spiritual feeling she had for the island, whilst ‘A Window on the World from a High Rise Flat’, which won a national competition, and the lines,
‘...the Ben, the Leven, the Rock and the Clyde
Have been there in my life, always,
Something solid, unchanging
In a changing world.’
led us to her poem, ‘Changed Days’. She had indeed seen many changes in her 97 years and a hint of nostalgia may be detected in the final lines
'Ther’s an awfu’ lot o’ changes here
An’ they’re no’ fur the best I doot.'
The tribute ended with a poem Margaret wrote at the age of 95 when she was leaving to live with her daughter Anne and family in Castle Douglas. A poignant poem , full of emotion as she recounts everything she loves about Dumbarton, summed up in the final stanza,
'A true daughter o' the Rock
I've been proud tae be
An a pairt o' this auld toon
Which means sae much tae me'
Sally Gorton, now retired, but sometime Priest at St Mungo’s, Alexandria, where Margaret worshipped gave a comprehensive résumé of Margaret’s life, led the group in a prayer and then gave a blessing, during which time a charcoal drawing of Margaret, executed by her younger daughter Ruth was displayed.
Perhaps enjoyable is a strange word to use but the ambience was one of happy rather than sad. For a short while disparate people enjoyed each other’s company. Happy that we had known Margaret – her family, daughter Anne and son-in-law Eric, friends of longstanding from all aspects of her life, to those of us who only knew her for a short time. All had been touched by her. Thank you Margaret.
As it says on the dedication: ‘An ordinary, extraordinary woman.’
Mary Irvine, April,2016.