Margaret Fay Shaw

Margaret Fay Shaw (9 November 1903 – 11 December 2004) was an American photographer and folklorist. She is best known for her work in the Hebrides of Scotland.

Margaret Fay Shaw
Born9 November 1903
Died11 December 2004
OccupationPhotographer and folklorist
Known forPhotographs and folklore collection in the Hebrides
(m. 1935; died 1996)

Early lifeEdit

The youngest of five sisters, Shaw was born in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania.[1][2] She developed an interest in music from an early age when she learned to play the piano. After her parents died when she was 11, she moved to Scotland as a teenager and attended St Bride's School in Helensburgh. It was there that she was first introduced to Gaelic song and started learning to speak Gaelic.[1] The first performance of Gaelic song she heard was by the famous song collector Marjory Kennedy-Fraser.[3]

She returned to Scotland in the 1920s and eventually came to South Uist. While staying in Lochboisdale, she was entertained by the singing of two sisters, Mairi and Peigi MacRae.[1] They told her that if she came to visit them in their remote cottage, they would teach her the songs they sang for her and many more.[4] Enthralled by their singing, she ended up living with them for the next six years and became a close friend. During this time, she recorded a great deal of information about the songs and stories they knew. Much of this information was published in her book Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist.[1] Two-thirds of the contributors to the book were women. One of the most prominent figures featured in the book's songs and stories is St Bride, about whom many local customs were recorded. The book also preserves many waulking songs.[5]

Later life and legacyEdit

Shaw's photographs highlighted the working lives of women in South Uist, who played crucial roles in their families and local economies.[5] Her photographic work attracted the attention of John Lorne Campbell. He came to South Uist to seek her help in the production of the book about Barra he was working on with Compton Mackenzie. After meeting in 1934, the two of them married. They lived in Barra until Campbell purchased the island of Canna in 1938.[1] They donated their house to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981, though she continued to live there even after her husband's death in 1996.[2] For her contributions to the study and preservation of Gaelic music and culture, she was awarded honorary degrees by the Universities of Edinburgh, Aberdeen, St Francis Xavier, and the National University of Ireland.[6]

Shaw died in Fort William in 2004 at the age of 101.[1][2] In 2007, scholars gathered in a conference in her honour in South Uist called "Gleann na Ceolraidh", meaning "Glen of the Muses" in Gaelic. As part of this event, a CD featuring recordings of folk songs Shaw collected was released. It was recorded by two of her close friends, Paul McCallum and Vivien Mackie.[7] In 2019, Shaw was commemorated in the film Solas, which made use of previously unseen footage Shaw shot in the Hebrides.[3] Today, Canna House, which houses the collections she and her husband made during their lifetimes, remains one of the most important archives of Gaelic culture and language in the world.[3][8] Many of the early sound recordings she made are available online on the platform Tobar an Dualchais.[2]


  • Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist (1955)
  • From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides: An Autobiography (1993)
  • Eilean: The Photography of Margaret Fay Shaw (2018)

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f Wilson, Brian (17 December 2004). "Obituary: Margaret Fay Shaw". The Guardian. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d "Biography – Margaret Fay Shaw". Tobar an Dualchais. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  3. ^ a b c "Photographer Margaret Fay Shaw remembered in new film". BBC. 25 April 2019. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  4. ^ Mackenzie, Fiona (12 June 2019). "Stories, songs and starlings". National Trust for Scotland. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  5. ^ a b Barnes, Lily (27 June 2019). "Margaret Fay Shaw's photographs of the women of South Uist – Canna House". National Trust for Scotland. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  6. ^ "Margaret Fay Shaw". Undiscovered Scotland. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  7. ^ "Gleann na Ceolraidh – a celebration of Margaret Fay Shaw". Stornoway Gazette. 10 May 2007. Retrieved 8 March 2020.
  8. ^ "Canna House". National Trust for Scotland. Retrieved 8 March 2020.

External linksEdit