SHE was the toast of European royalty and topped the bill at some of the world’s most famous venues – but few Glaswegians know the “Queen of Gaelic song” is buried in a south side cemetery.

A two-year lockdown project to restore the memory of one of Scotland’s greatest singers – and a favourite of Queen Victoria - has come to fruition with the restoration of a magnificent memorial to Jessie Niven MacLachlan.

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It is thanks to three Glasgow Gaels – singer Mary Ann Kennedy and academics Dr Priscilla Scott and Professor Wilson McLeod - who came together to restore both the memorial and Jessie’s memory.

Mary Ann said: “I really couldn’t believe I never knew this lady was buried not ten minutes from where I grew up.

“It’s lovely to see her receive the attention she deserved. Jessie Niven MacLachlan was, in her day, the undisputed Queen of Gaelic Song.”

She adds: “However, this is about more than just the stone, this is about a woman who is a role model for young women, for young Gaels and for young musicians.”

A superstar as famous as Scottish contemporaries such as Harry Lauder and James Scott Skinner, Jessie made the first ever recording of Gaelic song, and performed at the first National Mòd in 1892.

“When you hear her singing you hear a voice that was completely at home, that commanded a stage, and that was completely natural,” says Mary Ann. “She was Gaeldom’s first singing superstar, and she performed in North America, Australia and New Zealand – her career took her round the world, but she died just short of her 50th birthday, following a traumatic journey escaping the outbreak of WW1.”

Jessie, who was born in Oban, was buried in Glasgow’s Cathcart Cemetery, one of Britain’s iconic Victorian ‘garden’ cemeteries which is the final resting place for some 15,000 souls. The graveyard is home to many notable people, including actor Margaret Jefferson, mother of Stan Laurel; Wee Alick Knight, a disabled penny-whistle busker whose stone was erected through public subscription; and Eric Woolfson, co-founder of prog rock band The Alan Parsons Project.

Like many of the memorials, Jessie’s cross had fallen into disrepair and lay on its back in pieces until 2020, when Mary Ann, Priscilla and Wilson launched a public crowdfunder to try to save it.

“Miraculously, the cross had toppled on to soft grass, just inches from the nearest grave stone, and it was intact,” says Mary Ann. “It has a beautiful epitaph at the bottom, on a double plinth upon which stands the magnificent cross.”

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The epitaph, written in English and Gaelic, reads: “While Scots and Gaelic song endures so long will the memory of Jessie N MacLachlan remain fragrant as the heath upon Scotland’s bens and her name and fame be remembered as that of a Queen of Melody.”

The appeal raised more than £4000, including donations from many of the places to which Jessie had toured around the globe.

With match funding from Creative Scotland’s Maoin nan Ealan Gàidhlig (Gaelic Arts Fund), the expertise of fellow Gael and master stonemason Alex MacIntyre of Glasgow company MacIntyre Memorials was engaged and work began on the restoration of the 3.5m, 14 tonne structure.

Despite many challenges and delays, from COVID to finding unique technical solutions, the stone has now been completely restored and cleaned, and stands in a prominent position in the cemetery, looking out towards Jessie’s beloved Argyllshire hills.

The cleaning of the stone has revealed the beautiful pale pink of the Aberdeenshire Balmoral Red granite, a nod to the royal approval of Queen Victoria that helped propel Jessie to fame.

The ceremony featured some of the songs that Jessie was known for, and world-class Argyll piper Angus MacColl played MacCrimmon’s Lament at the graveside, as his grandfather John MacColl did at Jessie’s funeral in 1916.

There will be a further opportunity to learn more about Jessie Niven MacLachlan in an online talk by Dr Scott on May 14, hosted by the Friends of Cathcart Cemetery.

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READ MORE: Records reveal secrets of Glasgow's first Garden Cemetery in Cathcart

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BBC ALBA will also broadcast a documentary on Jessie’s life and career in June 2022, as part of their Trusadh series.

Mary Ann adds: “Now the memorial has been restored, we want to connect with Gaelic communities and schools here on the south side of Glasgow and in the wider Gaelic community further afield to help keep Jessie’s name and story alive.

“As her stone says, as long as Gaelic and Scots song continue, Jessie’s memory will live on - and we want to make sure that happens.”