Jen MacNeill

Location: Colonsay and Oronsay
the natural world, farming and crofting

Auntie Flora's Great Northern Diver

"My Auntie Flora was such a kind, popular and warm-hearted character that she was known as ‘Auntie’ Flora to everybody. I did my very best to keep this to myself, but I was always, secretly, as proud as punch that the term Auntie was more than just a term of endearment for me, her being the sister of my father’s father, making her my Great Aunt. In her latter years, Auntie Flora and her husband, Uncle Andrew, lived in a house at Glassard, on the East side of the island. Visiting her there was always a pleasure.

"At the top of the stairs, on the landing, sitting there as if it had always been there, and looking perfectly at home, was a Great Northern Diver. He had the most beautiful creamy white breast that called out to be stroked, an incredible dappled brown back, big-webbed feet that were and still are fascinating to wonder at, and a long-pointed beak, which I defy any man or woman not to try out on the back of their hand. He was a magnificent creature, and well worth the death-defying climb up the white wooden staircase.

"The story of how he came to be there is every bit as entertaining to consider as the bird himself, who now lives happily in a glass case in Colonsay and Oronsay Heritage Centre. He was found, injured, by Calum ‘Oronsay’ McNeill (Auntie Flora’s father) in the 1920s, on Oronsay, where the family lived and worked the farm. Calum brought the bird into the farmhouse to nurse it back to health, and, despite making a full recovery, the bird obviously decided that life indoors was a great deal better than life on the wing, and decided to live out his years in the kitchen of Oronsay Farmhouse, with his adoptive family.

"When the magnificent creature finally expired (after what we can only hope was a long and happy life in front of the Raeburn), he was sent off to a family friend, who, happily, was a taxidermist. He was returned to his former glory, stuffed, and delivered back to Oronsay. He continued to live (albeit in more static fashion) with the family there until Flora and her husband Andrew removed to Glassard in the 1970s. He took up his new residence on the landing at the top of the stairs, and there he remained, standing proud, until he was kindly donated to the Heritage Centre after Flora’s death in 2013.

"Visitors to Colonsay and Oronsay Heritage Centre are invited to come and spend a moment in the company of this magnificent beast. If they listen carefully enough, they might hear the whisper of family life in the draughty farmhouse on Oronsay, all those years ago."

As told by Jen MacNeill, resident of Colonsay

More information on visiting the area can be found here.