Mary Irvine’s blog: Margaret Harrison 1918 – 2015 Safe with her Saviour.

It was a privilege to have known you, Margaret.

My first sight of Margaret was of a physically frail, elderly lady, walking with the aid of a frame, coming through the door of a room at the Community Centre.

It was my inaugural visit to the Alexandria’s Writers’ group.  I quickly learned, at subsequent meetings, that the physical frailty belied Margaret’s razor sharp brain. Gently spoken, she gradually revealed a delightful wit, a joy of life and a firm conviction in her life-long held beliefs –  so strong that she never swerved from the rightness of them. However, she has never shown bigotry and would willingly enter into discussion, always willing to listen to another’s point of view.

Margaret Burnett was born in Dumbarton in 1918 and her early years were an exemplar of life at that time. She speaks with love of her Grannie with whom she spent much of her time as Margaret’s mother looked after Grannie on a daily basis. She writes of collecting milk in a jug from a farm, the beginning of ‘the pictures’, the coloured lanterns and turnip of Hallowe’en, the watch-night service New Year’s Eve and her most prized possession – a wooden scooter, emblazoned with her initials and made by Uncle Peter, who was a joiner. With early generosity she shared this prized possession with all her friends.
She took elocution lessons as a child, taking part in competitions at the Athenaeum in Glasgow. She won certificates for recitation in the Scottish Vernacular, (the Burns Society) for essay writing (the Dickens Society) – crossing borders at an early age!

She writes of the happy times she had with her childhood friends, playing on private Overtoun land and being chased by ‘the gamie’, of holidays in a Tilley lit cottage above Gourdon from where she could see the flashing of lighthouse lights. ‘I loved the wildness of the sea’
Other holidays were spent in Donegal, one of her ‘very special places’.

Margaret saw many changes in her life and recorded them. Not only are her poems a delight to read they are also a wealth of information for future generations.

Her love of the outdoors continued and, during the Second World War, Margaret and her friend, Frances, went on a hiking holiday, staying at Youth Hostels along the way, sleeping on floors if the hostel was full. Eventually they moved to, as Margaret describes it ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’s country’.  ‘It was good to get to the country where the world seemed sane and peaceful.’

It was on this visit she first saw Bobby. And yes, he was riding a bike! Four years later they not only joined as man and wife they metaphorically joined their bicycles, and their tandem symbolised their togetherness. She loved meeting people of all beliefs and never spoke badly of any, always finding the good in each individual. Her diary of the Iona to Canterbury Peace Pilgrimage in 1981 which she and Bobby completed on their tandem reflects her appreciation of the kindness of others. Her love of Iona as another very special place is reflected in Margaret’s own words, also revealing her commitment to Christ and his teachings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                
There is an island in the sea                                                                              
Not so far from land
Where whatever ails you                                                                                   
You’ll find a helping hand

If you feel a failure
Rejected and outcast
You’ll find that here you’re wanted
No matter what your past

For in that small oasis
Safe from the world we see
People start to live again
Their spirit becomes free

Here are no different nations                
Here are no rich or poor                         
The barriers just fall away                      
When you reach this shore

This little glimpse of heaven
Surrounded by the sea
Surely has its origin
In the shores of Galilee

Daughters Ruth and Anne came along and Margaret proved to be a caring, loving parent, later finding more joy and happiness through grand children, great-grandchildren, rejoicing in their success and being there when needed.

She always poked fun at what she saw as the inadequacies of being a housewife as she said in one poem:

I’m no much o’ a housewife.
I hav’na got the knack.
When they were given that talent oot,
I wis at the back.

Bobby was surprised she couldn’t cook but acknowledged she was a busy lady helping others. She worked as a tracer at Denny’s, which she had to stop when she got married. She belonged to the local drama group and performed in plays. She had a Sunday school class and wrote short stories to illustrate the lessons, making them relevant to the lives of the children. Margaret always believed in living her faith as she knew her Saviour would want. I once asked Margaret if she had had ‘A Road to Damascus’ experience which had set her on the path to her peace activities. She smiled her reply. Jesus taught a gospel of peace. How could she do otherwise?

There has been so much more in Margaret’s life than spoken of here, her support of many charities, her concern with the many injustices in the world, her unfailing resolve to support these in any way she could… Throughout life there are people – a rare breed – who touch others that they meet along the way. Margaret was one of them.

Others more qualified will speak of her peace campaigns and all the work she, Bobby and her sister Bea did in that area but we at the Leven Litts Writers knew her not only as a writer. She was our friend who made us laugh, who would listen to our views and arguments without censure and we remember the last time we were all together. Just before her 95th birthday Margaret was leaving her beloved Dumbarton to be more easily cared for by her daughters. We had a farewell meeting. Margaret arrived with a poem written specially for the occasion. It emphasises that she really was ‘A True Daughter of the Rock’

Farewell to Dumbarton

I’ll be sorry tae huv tae leave
The toon beside the Clyde
Wi its rock and castle
And much else beside

But it’s ma freens I’ll miss the maist
For they are the real gold
Especially noo I’m 95
And really feelin’ old

I wis born across the road
But the buildin’s been knocked doon
Dumbarton has been guid for me
For it’s a friendly toon

I’ve many happy memories
For when I go away
I was very lucky
In whaur I had tae stay
So Dumbarton by the Clyde
I’ll aye hold ye dear
Remembering the many freens
I am leavin’ here

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

The Leven Litts will miss you Margaret and, Yes, you’re still a member!

But a greater tribute cannot be offered than one in the words of her beloved husband, Bobby:

Margaret was the kind of person who could never deceive anyone even if she tried, and I have never met a kinder, more trusting or unsophisticated person before or since.

Aye Write 2015: The Midnight Letterbox: Selected Correspondence of Edwin Morgan review by Maggie Graham
Aye Write 2015: Kate Hamer & Lisa O’Donnell: Family Secrets, Fri 24 April

This section: Books, Talks, Poetry and Creative Writing Events, Mary Irvine: Writer and Philhellene

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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