The Loss of a Legend: Sheila Stewart 1937-2014

Last week the Scottish Storytelling Centre and many other traditional arts organisations were saddened to hear the news that Sheila Stewart – the last of the Stewarts Of Blair – passed away (Tuesday 9 December, 2014) after a short illness.

Sheila was a stalwart of the Scottish tradition with her contribution as both a wonderful ballad singer and a storyteller, inheriting her tradition from her mother Belle, father Alex and other family members – read more about her legacy in Jim Gilchrist’s obituary for The Scotsman.

Sheila will live long in the memory of all who heard her and those who have known her as a friend over many years, as Donald Smith states:

‘Sheila Stewart was a never failing well of songs, stories and music. She continued her eloquent and powerful voicing of tradition to the last, and she was a lifelong advocate for a people and culture which Scotland often treated with shameful neglect and abuse. The Scottish Storytelling Centre was honoured to have Sheila as one of our Founding Patrons, and we will miss her hugely – she was and is a big presence in Scotland’s cultural story, an unforgettable voice.’

Sheena Blackhall, Makar for Aberdeen and the North East has penned a poem in Sheila’s honour – which is below.

Sheila Stewart MBE 1937- 2014 by Sheena Blackhall

Born in stable in Blairgowrie
Blessed wi  lear frae a traiveller’s tent
Sheila Stewart,  a hawker’s dother
Sang for a Pope an a President

Berry pickin an besom makkin
Traivellin the glens in a shelt an cairt
Puin the flax an gaitherin corn
Thirled tae the beat o Nature’s hairt

Last o the Stewart tribe o Blair
In Princeton, Harvard, she spakk wi virr
Sang wi the conyach in her sowl
Frae years o warssle in ootlinned smirr

Bullied an thrashed mangst the scaldie pupils
‘I’d burn ye aff the face o the earth’
A government body telt her faimly
Little they kent o the traivellers’ wirth

Tattie-howkin, hawin the neeps
Fresh-watter pearlin, hairstin braw
Hamish Henderson thocht her heirskip
Wis reamin fu as a watterfaa

Kent an heard bi Royals an commons
(Aa the warld is the traiveller’s stage)
Dother o the Queen o the Heather
Mither, traiveller, singer an sage

She’d hair as blaik as a corbie’s wing
The muckle sangs fand a perfect reist
In her, the bairn o a maister-piper
The jewels o Scotia bedd in her briest

Born in stable in Blairgowrie
Blessed wi lear frae a traiveller’s tent
Sheila Stewart, teller o stories
Talent like thon is born, nae lent