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Hamish Menzies, Freeman of Ross and Cromarty and Gaelic choir conductor, dies aged 84

Hamish Menzies at the Royal National Mod in Oban in 2015.
Hamish Menzies at the Royal National Mod in Oban in 2015.

For a musician, Hamish Menzies, who has died at the age of 84, had the rare distinction of being awarded the freedom of his adopted county.

He was a member of the award-winning Dingwall Gaelic Choir for 40 years and its conductor for 34 years as well as being pianist in the Strathpeffer Scottish Dance Band.

When he stepped down as the choir’s conductor, Highland Council conferred the Freedom of Ross and Cromarty on him in 2008 in recognition of his contribution to music in the area.

He led the Dingwall choir to great success at the annual National Mod and, paying tribute to him, a spokesperson for the choir said: “Hamish will remain central to the history and success of the choir.

Hamish Menzies at the Royal National Mod in Paisley in 2013.

“He was much loved and respected and the choir owes him a tremendous debt of gratitude for the huge contribution he made as a chorister and conductor over five decades. He will be greatly missed by the whole Gaelic choral community.”

With his sense of fun and infectious laugh he was well liked in choral circles and the Association of Gaelic Choirs described him as “a musical legend”.

Church organist

He was brought up in a musical family in Brora where he became organist and choirmaster at Clyne Parish Church.

In 1966 he left Sutherland to take up employment in Dingwall with the North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board.

He joined Dingwall Gaelic Choir as a young tenor and served as its conductor from 1973 until 2007 when he handed over the baton to his daughter Kirsteen, a National Mod gold medallist, in 2002.

Under his leadership, the choir regularly figured prominently on the prize list at the annual National Mod.

Hamish Menzies.

At the 1977 Mod, held in his native Sutherland, the choir for the first time competed for the Lovat and Tullibardine Shield, the top choral award, and were adjudged clear winners.

They have now brought home the coveted trophy 12 times. At the Oban Mod in 2003 the choir won every competition they entered and scored top marks for music.


The choir accepted an invitation to take part in the 1993 Vancouver Mod and a £20,000 fundraising campaign was launched to cover air fares to Canada.

Choir members, along with soloists and Strathpeffer accordionist Hamish Polson, presented an evening concert at the Scottish Cultural Centre in the city and the visit went so well they were invited to pay a return visit, which took place in 2001.

In 1994, the then  Ross and Cromarty District Council presented him with their civic award.

Dance band

Hamish was a popular member of the Strathpeffer Scottish Dance Band. He was the band’s pianist and was always ready to contribute a Gaelic solo as he did on one of the albums recorded by the band.

He is survived by his wife Janet, twins John and Kirsteen and four grandsons. His funeral service took place at St Clements Parish Church, Dingwall, on Friday, September 3.

You can read the family’s announcement here.

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