CC BY-SA, The Royal National Mod street sign - Colin Smith

Location: Islay
gaelic culture, gaelic language and placenames

The woman behind 'Mairi's wedding'

Few people who sing or play ‘Mairi’s wedding’ know of the origin of this hugely popular tune and firm favourite at weddings.

The Gaelic original was called Màiri Bhàn (Fair Mary) and was composed by musician John Bannerman to honour traditional Gaelic singer Mary Connel MacNiven when she won the Gold Medal in 1934 at the Royal National Mòd in Oban.

The song was then translated into English by Sir Hugh Robertson of the Orpheus Choir and was first known as the 'Lewis Bridal song', an autographed copy of which Mary MacNiven, or Mary C as she was affectionally known, kept as a prized possession. Born in Portnahaven on Islay in 1905, Mary C was brought up in a Gaelic speaking family with a strong singing tradition.

Leaving Islay for Glasgow, she joined the St Columba’s Gaelic Church choir and sang with the BBC Gaelic choristers. Winning the Mòd Gold Medal started her on a very long and prestigious solo singer. With her elegant figure and soaring mezzo-soprano voice, she became one of the great stars in Gaelic entertainment, equally at ease in ceilidh halls and concert halls. In 1976, before retiring in Portnahaven, she was made an honorary patron of the Glasgow Islay Association in recognition of her years of long and distinguished service to the association. Her last public appearance was at the 135th Islay gathering in the Glasgow City halls in 1997, shortly before her death at the age of 92.

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