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Extraordinary outpouring of grief for Kirsteen MacLennan – a 'beautiful and kind person'

By Scott Maclennan

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Conductor Kirsteen MacLennan (nee Menzies) at the Royal National Mod, Massed Choirs Event at The Northern Meeting Park.
Conductor Kirsteen MacLennan (nee Menzies) at the Royal National Mod, Massed Choirs Event at The Northern Meeting Park.

The sad passing of Kirsteen MacLennan (née Menzies) aged just 49 has sparked a truly extraordinary outpouring of grief from across Scotland and even beyond.

The pivotal Gaelic conductor, singer and teacher, she died after a 15 month battle with cancer during which time those close to her remarked on her exceptional courage.

More than 1500 people have expressed their sadness in posts online at the loss of Kirsteen who is survived by her husband Jamie MacLennan, and sons Finlay and Hector.

Kirsteen was the daughter of legendary conductor Hamish Menzies, who died just two years ago.

Hamish Menzies with daughter Kirsteen MacLennan.
Hamish Menzies with daughter Kirsteen MacLennan.

She followed in his footsteps conducting the Dingwall Gaelic Choir before setting up the Black Isle Gaelic Choir.

Though it was her incredible musical talent that made her well-known, those that knew Kirsteen well were quick to point out that perhaps her greatest gift was the “generosity of spirit” that made her both an inspirational friend and teacher.

Something reflected in the outpouring of grief from those who knew her well or who had only once met her, as one person wrote: “So sorry to hear this, one of the loveliest, most sincere people I ever met.”

Her talents saw her garner award after award, as a singer she won the highest accolade for learners – the Silver Pendant – at the Royal National Mod in Airdrie in 1993 and then in 2002 she won the Gold Medal at the Largs Mod.

She conducted the Dingwall Gaelic Choir to Lovat and Tullibardine success also in 2002, successes that were repeated both as a member and then conductor of Dingwall Gaelic Choir.

Kirsteen set-up and led the Black Isle Gaelic Choir to almost immediate success in their inaugural Mod at Perth in 2022 by winning the Margrat Duncan Memorial Trophy – an exceptional achievement for such a new choir.

'She was a beautiful and kind person'

The Black Isle Gaelic Choir said: "We are heartbroken after losing our founder, conductor and great friend Kirsteen, who passed away today.

“Kirsteen’s talent knew no bounds as a teacher, musician and as a conductor, and she was recognised as one of the best conductors in Gaeldom. We are privileged to have experienced this talent first hand.

“She was a beautiful and kind person who was always thinking of others, with her family very much at her core. She leaves behind a precious legacy in the world and also in our own hearts.

“We are thinking, in particular, of Jamie, Finlay, Hector, Janet, John and the rest of her family.

“‘Nach truagh an staid sam biodh mi nan siùbhladh tu bhuam, a ghràidh.’

‘’S tusa thug dhòmhsa rian, ’s acair is caladh dham bhàt.’”

'Never one to miss a post-competition sing-along'

Alba Choir underlined not just her musical ability but also her personal warmth, saying: “Like so many others, we're still coming to terms with the loss of our wonderful soprano, Kirsteen Maclennan. Kirsteen was not only a beautiful singer, inspiring conductor and talented arranger but also, a true friend to so many of us. Her musicality was only rivalled by the warmth and kindness that she showed to all.

“Kirsteen also had a wonderful sense of fun, and was never one to miss a post-competition singalong or to go home early if the party was still going. Her support for the Alba Choir was unwavering, and whilst we will miss her terribly, we feel so lucky to have shared such wonderful moments together.”

The Royal National Mòd said: “Everyone at An Comunn Gàidhealach is shocked and saddened by the recent death of Kirsteen MacLennan (nee Menzies). A wonderful singer,” adding: “A shining light in the Gaelic choral community.”

It is a testament to her character that though Kirsteen was professionally primarily dedicated to music, she was warmly embraced by the shinty community as well through her husband and Beauly shinty player Jamie ‘Stork’ MacLennan and sons who both play as well.

The club paid tribute to her online, saying: “It is with great sadness that Beauly Shinty Club announce that they lost one of their most dedicated supporters today with the sad passing of Kirsteen MacLennan (nee Menzies).

“Kirsteen has been battling cancer for the last fifteen months and faced her travails with great fortitude. The family had hoped to spend some quality time together after her most recent diagnosis but sadly it wasn't to be.”

The funeral will take place on Saturday at St Clements Church, Dingwall from 10:30, then on to Mitchell Hill Cemetery before the wake at the British Legion, Dingwall.

Attendees are encouraged to wear a flash of tartan or a splash of pink as per Kirsteen's request. Kilts very welcome.

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