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It was with great sadness that the village of Ballachulish received the news of the death of Norman MacKenzie (Naggy), at the Belford hospital, on April 1 2021, one day after celebrating his 79th birthday.
Norman was born in Ballachulish on March 31 1942, the fourth child of the late Norman and Doreen MacKenzie. He was pre-deceased by his older siblings, Flora, Donald and Marion.
Norman, like his siblings, attended St John’s Primary School and then went on to complete his education at Kinlochleven Secondary School. Sadly, his father passed away when he was very young, leaving Doreen to bring up her four children at 6 Park Road, Ballachulish.
While times were hard after the war ended, young Norman helped supplement the family income by working with Iain Skillen, Invercoe Farm, Glencoe, as a milk-boy, with early morning starts in all kinds of weather, before starting his schooling at 9am.
At the age of 15, he left school and started work as an apprentice plumber with Archie Whyte, Plumbers, Ballachulish, serving the North Lorn community. He later joined the firm of Cameron Plumbers, Fort William, working throughout the Lochaber area.
In 1962 he met the love of his life, Joan Singleton, who was holidaying with her sister in Ballachulish and they married on July 16 1963 setting up home at West Laroch, Ballachulish, where they raised their three children, Stephen, Doreen and Annette.
In 1976 he and his family decided to emigrate to Canada. Such was his popularity in the village, he was presented with a Silver Mounted Caman, prior to leaving the village.
His son Stephen recalls that when they were dismounting from the plane in Canada, his father turned and said to him, ‘I think this may be a big mistake’.
Such was his love for his native village, one year later he returned and set up home, first at 9 Argyll Cottages, before moving on to 16 MacColl Terrace. In 1988 the family moved to 38 Park Road, his final home.
On returning from Canada, he continued to work as a self-employed plumber, doing contract work for many firms in the Lochaber area. Such were his plumbing skills and dedication to hard work, he was never idle.
Sadly, Joan passed away in 2010 and Norman spent his final years living with his daughters, Doreen and Annette.
He had two great passions, music and shinty and he excelled at both. In the mid-fifties, he and his great friend Iain MacNab, along with Alexander MacDonald and Ian Lockhart, formed a skiffle group and they often performed at concerts in the village hall.
Their claim to fame was playing at a Peter Finch farewell concert, when the actor was leaving the area after the making of an Allan Breck film. Later, he played guitar in Charlie Campbell’s local dance band, playing at dances throughout Argyll and Lochaber.
Ballachulish shinty was Norman’s real passion. As a child, his home at 6 Park Road overlooked Jubilee Park and he would admire the skills of the great Ballachulish post-war team who were regularly winning trophies, such as the MacTavish Cup, Celtic Society Cup and the Dunn League, as well as many others.
This obviously whetted his appetite for the game and from the age of five he and his brother Donald, his neighbours, Iain and Dochan MacMillan, Iain and Duncan Cameron, Ewan MacDonald, Gillies Nicolson and many others could be seen at the top end of the Jubilee Park practising their shinty skills.
Norman was a member of the Ballachulish juvenile team that won the MacKay Cup in 1951 and 52. They also won the MacDougall Cup for under 14s in 1952. Sadly the shinty club folded in 1958. However, the club was reformed in 1963, playing many friendly matches before entering the junior competitions for season 1964-65.
It was agreed at the outset that their goal was to win the Sir William Sutherland Cup (The Junior Championship) before they would enter the senior competitions.
Norman – who will be referred to as Naggy from now on as that is the name he was known by throughout the shinty playing areas – was an excellent shinty player and was at ease whether playing in defence or attack.
However, it was as a forward he made his mark in the Ballachulish team. He and his brother, Donald (Honda) were always a first pick for the selectors.
In the 1965 Sir William Sutherland Cup semi-final against Kyles Athletic, Naggy scored four goals in a 5-3 victory.
Sadly, the team suffered their only defeat of the season in the final, losing 3-1 to an excellent Lochaber Camanachd. However, he was part of the team that won the Bullough Cup, The Munro Shield and the Campbell Cup that season.
Throughout the 1960s and early ’70s he formed a great forward partnership with Dochan MacMillan. They were a perfect foil for one another. Naggy, being the hard working, uncompromising player, while Dochan was an out-and-out goal scorer.
The highlight of his playing days would have been season 1970-71, when Ballachulish did a clean sweep of the junior trophies in the North, winning the MacGillivray Junior League, the Strathdearn Cup and the Sir William Sutherland Cup. Naggy scored in all three finals.
In season 1971-72, the club entered the senior competitions and Naggy was never lagging behind his senior peers. Many clubs tried to entice him to join them but there was only one club for Naggy and that was his beloved Ballachulish.
To sum up his shinty career, he was a great team mate but for the opposition a nightmare to play against.
After his playing career finished, he and the late Willie MacDonald managed the club in the early 1980s, winning the Munro Shield and Bullough Cup in season 1979-80, and again in season 1980-81 and South League Two winners in 1983.
Naggy, thank you for your contribution to our great shinty club, which will never be forgotten.
I am sure I speak for all in the village and the wider shinty community, when I offer my sincere condolences to his daughters, Doreen and Annette, his son, Stephen, his daughter-in-law, Carol, his grandchildren, Holly and Connor, of whom he was so immensely proud and his extended family.
Rest in peace, dear friend. IMP.