Obituary: Donnie Ross, crofter, shinty player and community councillor

Born 21 March 1936 in Kingussie. Died 22 January 2017 in Kincraig, aged 80

Donnie Ross Obituary

Donnie Ross who has died at Leault Farm, Kincraig, his home for more than 50 years, was an extremely well-known figure in Badenoch through his long involvement in community life.

He was an outstanding shinty player for Kingussie, a shepherd and crofter there virtually all his adult life, and an accomplished sheepdog trainer and trialist. A champion of the traditional way of Highland hill farming, he was a community councillor for Kincraig for 20 years and latterly a member of the Crofters’ Commission. In 1961 he had the honour of captaining Kingussie to success in the Camanachd Cup final over Oban Celtic, their first win in shinty’s premier competition for 40 years, a historic occasion. He played in two more finals, in 1963 when Oban Celtic avenged their 1961 defeat, and in 1968 when, after a replay, Kyles Athletic prevailed. A noted contributor to the letters pages of the local press on topical issues, he was quick to draw attention to any proposals he saw as detrimental to the crofting, hill and country way of life.

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Born into the crofting life on a small croft in humble circumstances in Manse Road, Kingussie, as one of two sisters and three brothers, his future path in life was shaped by his early days.

After Donnie showed ability at shinty at school, his teacher Mr Mackinnon told him he would only play for the team if he attended school every day, a pact which he ultimately appreciated.

His interest in sheepdogs was sparked as a nine year old watching famous handlers such as JM Wilson, “Dondo” Macleod and Alex Miller training their dogs on Kingussie golf course. The connection with Miller endured as Ross had Border collies at Leault Farm from the same line as Miller’s. With his father Willie, he began training sheepdogs and gathering sheep from the hills. Aged 14 he left school to begin working as a shepherd on Kerrow Farm.

He did his National Service in Benghazi, Libya as a dog training instructor with the rank of corporal in the Army Veterinary Corps, where he formed a particularly close bond with his dog Black Laddie, a dark German shepherd.

Suffering from homesickness, to evoke Badenoch, he wrote a poem, “Beinn a Bhreac”, named after the mountain overlooking Kingussie. He also wrote a song, On the Drove Roads, and both were performed at his funeral, the latter on CD by granddaughter Morwynna.

After National Service he worked as a shepherd at Killiehuntly Farm by Kingussie. About this time his shinty interest was reignited by chance.

One Saturday as he made his way along the village’s Spey Street, he was stopped by Ian Ross of the shinty club and asked if he would play that afternoon for Kingussie’s second team, and agreed. Playing in attack he scored eight goals and his career was well and truly launched.

Thereafter he converted to being a defender, and played for years as part of a renowned Kingussie defence also featuring Andy Anderson, Rab Muir and Willie John Fraser. In the 1970s he played occasionally for Kincraig, whom he also managed for a season, leading them to the Division 4 title.

He was a commanding figure, 6’ 3” tall with a full set of skills and a good hitter of the ball with a tidy swing. On one memorable occasion on the Eilean, arch rivals Newtonmore’s pitch, he backhanded the ball from his own goal line to bounce once in the opposition’s half before running out of play, a prodigious feat.

In 1962 he married Margaret Colocotrini, a local girl who shared his love of animals. The couple enjoyed a long and fulfilling marriage and had five children, Donnie, Peter, Neil, Duncan and Eileen. Once married he began working on the Dunachton Estate as a shepherd and then moved into Leault Farm on the Estate where he remained thereafter.

He became a registered crofter and continued living on and off the land as crofter and shepherd in harmony with his neighbours engaged in the same activities. Initially there were 1,000 sheep on the farm, which he worked with three dogs, and that led to his doing demonstrations. He began taking part in sheepdog trials all over the north of Scotland and elsewhere. Two favourite venues were the hill sheep trials in Gairloch and Skye and latterly he thoroughly enjoyed going all over the country to spectate. He also enjoyed watching shinty, especially the local youngsters.

A remarkable, well rounded individual with a deep love of animals, Donnie made an important contribution in many ways to his beloved Badenoch. His standing and popularity in the community were reflected in the large attendance at his funeral. With his love of the area and its traditional way of life, it was fitting he was laid to rest in a beautiful part of Badenoch with his shepherd’s crook, a red deerskin and the collar of Black Laddie. He is survived by his family, including several grandchildren.