Few who have visited Foulis over the past thirty-five years or so could have failed to have met and been charmed by Abigail Gibb who lived in the Lodge at the Castle entrance and who was always present at Clan Gatherings. Many of you will be greatly saddened to hear of her passing. We are greatly indebted to her family and to The Reverend Donnie MacSween for permission to publish below the address he gave at her funeral on Thursday 7 July at Kiltearn Parish Church, Evanton.
Born Abigail Jane MacLeod on the 25th of July 1916. Abie, Abbey or Gail was one of seven children born and brought up in a crofting community in Achiltibuie, near Ullapool on the remote West Coast of Ross-shire. Her mother tongue was Gaelic, a language she used all through her adult life; in regular conversations with her sister Mairi and friends, helping with translations and even calling in to Gaelic radio programmes which she listened to daily. In the final hours of her life, it was to the Gaelic language that Mrs Gibb reverted, to call for relief and comfort.
Mrs Gibb was a great communicator both verbally and by letter and in 1986 at the request of her family she wrote a brief account of her early life in Badenscallie. Here are a just a few extracts.
“My first recollection is of my sister Mairi’s christening which took place at home. I well remember creeping under the table with our brother Duncan and hiding under the lovely white linen cloth. The table was set with baking and butter and crowdie freshly made by our mother and aunts.”
“I also remember going to school which was about one and a half miles away and how lovely it was to walk barefoot through the thick dewy grass beside the fields until we came to the road. That wasn’t so nice as there was no tarred surface and the little stones hurt our feet although it didn’t take long for our feet to get hardened off! We each got a pair of tackety boots in September and they lasted until the good weather came in the spring!”
“The winters seemed to be colder then and if the school coal was late in coming the pupils each brought a peat to heat the two apartment school.”
“During the summer holidays it was great to get up early and whichever of the children were downstairs first, went down to the field to graze the cows and keep them off the corn and clover. But…many a bite the cows got when we got too interested in our prize books or comics!”
“Another or our summer jobs was peat cutting and gathering. The men cut the peat in May or June and when the peat was dry we all went up the hill to gather them together to be stored in a peat stack on the moss. Later on they were taken home in creels and stacked near the house in readiness for winter. This was like going for a picnic! We took something to eat and my mother would leave something cooking slowly at home. We really had an appetite when we got back!”
In 1934 Abie began work as a clerk in the Ullapool post office and was transferred to Greenock in 1940. Greenock was a lively place and Mrs Gibb often spoke of the happy times she spent ceilidhing with other Highlanders and …the boys based on the Clyde were also an attraction! Wartime communications were understandably poor and Mrs Gibb recalled that this was a difficult time for her family being so far away. Knowing that Clydeside was a main target during wartime, Mairi often made the trip to the post office to wait for news from Greenock saying Abie was safe and well. Good news did come for the family and before war ended Abie had met and married Edward Gibb.
A son Alasdair was born two years later and the family left the town for the peace and tranquility of Gruinard in Wester Ross, where Gail, Ronald and Jean were born. It was in 1955 that the family moved to Foulis when Ed took up the position of estate carpenter and Mrs Gibb became very much part of the rural community.
A double tragedy struck in early July 1969 when Mrs Gibb was diagnosed with breast cancer and three days later her son Ronald died in a car accident. This was a particularly difficult time for the family but Mrs Gibb’s faith helped her through and in fact became even stronger.
Although her operation was successful there were side effects, which Mrs Gibb coped with without complaint for 36 years. During this time she also nursed Eddie through a long and difficult illness until his death in 1987.
Living in the Lodge at the entrance to Foulis Castle meant that Mrs Gibb was often first point of contact for visitors from all over the world hoping to trace their Munro ancestry. Mrs Gibb was always more than delighted to give a ‘not so potted’ clan history to visitors before selling them a few mementoes of their visit and getting them to sign her visitors book. Many became firm friends and regularly exchanged letters and cards with her.
Although Mrs Gibb was content with her own company and pottering about in her beautiful garden she really enjoyed the company of others and her door was always open. Here are some of the quotes from people who spoke to the family shortly before and after their mother passed away.
“A home from home, where you
always left happier; like a second mother; there was a bond; she was a
Mrs Gibb had a very young outlook on life – she was never an old lady despite her 88 years. There were many visitors to the Lodge in Mrs Gibb’s final days and despite her body’s incapacity, her mind was fully alert and her sense of humour ever present. Mrs Gibb touched the lives of many and will be sadly missed by her family, many friends and by Munros from all over the globe.
© 2010 The Clan Munro Association of Canada