Island turns out for Mary’s 90th birthday

Mary was overwhelmed by the generosity of her friends and neighbours on Easdale in helping her celebrate her 90th birthday.

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Easdale islanders turned out to sing Happy Birthday to their oldest resident, Mary Withall – keeping a social distance, of course.

Mary, who turned 90 on April 16, had been looking forward to a big family celebration, with visitors coming from as far away as Hong Kong, until coronavirus put paid to that.

Flights had been booked since October, holiday cottages reserved on Easdale over the Easter week and hopes were high for a meal out at one of Oban’s best hotels, but COVID-19 called the whole birthday off – or so Mary  thought.

‘I anticipated nothing more than a lonely day spent messaging by email but around 10am I was summoned to my door to find the entire population of the island scattered around the square, the statutory two metres apart, and at my door a pile of presents, cards, cake, chocolates, bottles and flowers,’ said Mary.

‘The island’s resident musicians struck up a note and the crowd sang Happy Birthday. In all my 90 years I have never received such a marvellous birthday present. I would like to thank all my friends and neighbours for their support, their generosity and the love they displayed in ensuring my day would be such a memorable one,’ she added.

Even before Mary’s birthday, Easdale residents had turned volunteers, shopping and baking to make lives of the island’s elderly and those self-isolating a little better.

‘To say Mary was overwhelmed would be an understatement,’ said friend Alice Clayton.

Easdale has been Mary’s home since 1988 after she bought a cottage to retire to.

For a number of years, Mary and her husband helped run Jean Adam’s Easdale Folk Museum before becoming founder members of the Slate Islands Heritage Trust which opened its heritage centre in Ellenabeich in April 2000.

Mary has written seven novels linked to the lives of the slate quarrymen and following the course of medical practices on the islands from around 1870.

Her  most recent novel recorded the adventures of a group from nearby Belnahua island who emigrated to the South Island of New Zealand after the Disruption in the Church of Scotland in 1843.

The Islands that Roofed the World, The Easdale Doctor and the Villages of Northern Argyll are among her non-fiction work.