Betsy West's Photo Gallery Index
Betsy West's Photo Gallery

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Betsy West   1915 - 2015



Betsy McNeill is a true daughter of Islay.  She was born 1915, and brought up on Islay, daughter of Malcolm McNeill (1864), (/Malcolm/Duncan/Neil), and Marion McKinnon of Portnahaven,.  She left Islay to train as a nurse (RGN, SCN, RMN, RMPA), at the Western Infirmary, Glasgow.  She married her husband Fred West in 1950 and lived in Fraserburgh until Fred died of cancer in 1976 .  She returned to the island to nurse her brother Malcolm, at the McNeill family home in 'Kishmul', Queen Street, Portnahaven until his death in 1992 (It is interesting that 'Kishmul Castle- on the Isle of Barra, Scotland' is the ancestral home of the McNeills, and title of folk-song "Kishmul's Galley", relate to the family home?)

Betsy then moved to Port Wemyss where she spent her later years.  She had a comprehensive, and with many, a personal knowledge of the families in the Portnahaven / Port Wemyss villages and the Rhinns in general.  From an early age, she pestered relatives for details of her family, and had, over the years, accumulated a wealth of knowledge of her wider family lines back to Donald McNeill, 1740 and Catherine Shaw, whom he married c1780.

Betsy is a Islay Gaelic speaker who clearly supported the notion of the difference between that of the true Islay Gaelic, which evolved from Irish Gaelic, and that of the northern isles, which has been shaped by the Norse influence.  Many a heated discussion has taken place on this subject on and off the island.

When I was first introduced to Betsy in 1996, I was immediately invited into her home in true island style.  Over a cup of tea, and 'something to eat', she hauled out a supermarket carrier bag full of 'written on the back of' envelopes, sheets and scraps of paper, containing information received from related families all over the world.  She led me through my connection with the McNeills and the wider family, sharing what she had in the true genealogist style.  I pulled together her data in a computer program (which we are still 'making adjustments to') of the McNeill, McKinnon, Ferguson and McAllister lines, as well as the inter-marriage between families from the across the Rhinns.

Her 'Photo Album' was created out of photographs, old postcards, paintings and illustrations, scanned from her collection, which she kept in a cardboard box.  The photographs were taken by family and friends over the years, along with others donated from far off family members across the UK and the World.

Betsy died in the Islay Hospital Bowmore on the 13th March 2015 in her 100th year.   In her later years she still maintained an unrivalled enthusiasm for 'sharing' her photographs and information with the steady flow of Islay descendants who were directed to her home in Shore Street, Port Wemyss,  When Steve Gilchrist first suggested the idea of a web album, I thought she might not be interested. "Why not?", she said.  "Who would be interested in me and my life?" "It's really the older generations that I'm interested in.  When I go, I want to know who I will be meeting. . . The next generations can record themselves!" 

Betsy honoured me by bequeathing all her photographs and family papers which I will add to ‘her database’ and I hope that she will remain in the thoughts of her wider family. 

I have recorded Betsy's recollections and family records on 'The Master Genealogist' for these future generations, and in true Betsy style, will share them with all and carry on her tradition her interested in our family lines, and the world our ancestors lived in.

Regards,  Iain MacIntosh    [email protected]     4th   October 2015

Thanks to Iain MacIntosh for compiling this collection.  Also thanks to Iain MacGregor, Alisdair McIntosh, Doug McNeill and numerous others for helping gather these photos!

And a big thanks to Betsy!

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(NOTE: File sizes listed are for the original files, on-line gallery file sizes are smaller for web viewing)