Stories from Home Farm: Ina Beaton – a remarkable life of 103 years

Ina Beaton, pictured in 2015. Pic, Willie Urquhart

Ina Beaton was a remarkable Skye woman who lived through the Great War, Spanish flu, the Clydebank Blitz and the early deaths of her siblings.

This week she became the seventh resident of the Home Farm nursing home to pass away, having tested positive for coronavirus.

Mrs Beaton, who turned 103 on the 1st of May, was well-known on the island for her great memory and razor-sharp intellect and had lived independently at her home in Balmaqueen until just two years ago.

Her son Calum said that due to the lockdown restrictions, he last saw his mother in person eight weeks ago.

“After all she had lived through, it’s sad it ended with something like this,” he added. “She had been doing ok up until Thursday of last week, but her condition worsened after that. On Saturday her voice was getting weaker.

“On Monday afternoon we got the call to say she had passed away.”

Born Hectorina Matheson, and one of six children born to Calum and Mary Ann, Ina was marked as a bright student at school in Kilmaluag, though in those days opportunities for further education were limited.

Kilmaluag school in 1927. Ina is middle row, third from the right

In a route familiar to many island girls of her generation she learned the workings of the croft, and had spells of domestic service in the big houses, before heading to Glasgow where she lived during the war years.

As a conductress on the trams she saw first-hand the devastation caused by German bombs, and remembers rushing to pick up children and help them inside to shelter as another raid loomed over Clydebank.

She endured family heartache, losing a sister aged 18, a brother aged 21 and another at the age of 40, and returned regularly to help her parents at Balmaqueen.

“She always said she got the years her siblings were supposed to have had,” Calum added. “That was the way she looked at it.”

Ina and husband Donald, originally from Waternish, came back to Skye to raise their three sons – Calum, Donald and Iain – and played a fulsome role in crofting and community life.

She was well-known in SWRI circles and her prodigious memory helped the Kilmuir History and Heritage Group to produce “Echoes from the past” – two invaluable volumes which traced the social history of her native district.

Her inquiring and learned mind also extended to affairs well beyond island shores, as noted when Ina was interviewed by the Free Press in 2015.

Aged 98 she was engrossed in a copy of ‘The Snowden Files’ – the account of the US intelligence whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose story had in part been brought to British attention by Ina’s cousin, the Guardian journalist Ewen MacAskill.

Ina Beaton’s values– rooted in the crofting community in which she was raised – were well summed up in another interview she had given to Portree High School pupil Charlotte Beckey, as part of a youth project.

“The advice I would give young people is to always be friendly and honest, mix with people and be willing to help anyone,” she told her. “Don’t do anything you think will upset anyone, be one of the community and help out as often as you can.

“Never think you are better than anyone else, everyone is equal and if you work together you will get the job done!”

Ina and family on her 100th birthday in Kilmuir Hall. Pic, Willie Urquhart

Ina’s grandson Ailean, a journalist in Edinburgh, also added a few words in tribute this week.

He wrote: “Her crystal memory and broad experience of life in Skye over several generations meant that she contributed to our shared knowledge of the place we’re from, its language and culture.

“At 103 years old, her perspective is literally irreplaceable.

“My deepest thanks to everyone who was there for her over the years, most recently her carers at Home Farm, who have been through a lot.

“As difficult as these words are to write, I’m glad to find that amongst all the loss I do not feel any regret. I never could have tired of her company, but I don’t feel like I took her for granted in the time that we had.

“We spoke regularly, she was part of my life. She was the first person I wanted to visit any time I travelled home.”

Ina’s husband Donald died in 1983, and she is survived by her three sons and five grandchildren.

Her funeral service, held in private due to current restrictions, will be held on Monday (18th May) at 2pm in Kilmaluag.