Mary Ethel Muir Donaldson (or ‘M.E.M.D’ as she preferred to be known) was born in 1876 in Croydon, Surrey. She was a photographer and ethnographer whose interest was in the Clan Donald country of the Western Highlands and Islands. She visited and photographed the area from around 1908, one of the very first ethnographers to record – and very importantly, to photograph – the traditional way of life of the Scottish northern & western Highlands and Islands.
After visits to Ardnamurchan, she and her companion Isobel decided to make it their home, building a house on the shore in Sanna in 1925, employing a builder from Tobermory and a local workforce, many of whom were crofters. As the road did not reach Sanna at that time, materials were brought in by puffer boat. MEMD assisted in the build herself, helping with the thatched roof and using pails as chimney pots. They stayed here for many happy years, using it as a base for their continued exploration of the Highlands and Islands. Sadly, the house burned down in 1947 and she left to live in Edinburgh until her death in 1958.
Her books and photographs recorded the people and places in Ardnamurchan with apparent sensitivity and technical excellence. Despite a diminutive size, those who knew her describe her as having an ‘original and powerful personality’ never afraid to ‘nail her colours to the mast’. The populace of the Highlands & Islands simply said ‘Herself’, a customary Celtic way of referencing a third party with a degree of respect, reluctant or otherwise, or even cautious affection.
As told by the Ardnamurchan History and Heritage Association
More information on visiting the area can be found here.