There are stories that impact and move us.  This is one of them: the story of Magda Sagarzazu, a Basque woman from Hondarribia who spent a good part of her life working to preserve Gaelic culture on the small Scottish island of Canna, part of the Hebrides.

Magda Sagarzazu y su aita en la isla de Canna
Magda Sagarzazu and her father on the island of Canna

Thanks to The Guardian (how many interesting things do we discover thanks to this extraordinary newspaper), we just heard the sad news of her passing.  But more than that, thanks to the beautiful obituary Ray Perman wrote for her, we were also able to learn about the extraordinary work this Basque woman has carried out in preserving Scottish cultural heritage.

Searching her name on the internet offers us a long list of references that share the same two characteristics.  The first is the importance they all give to her work.  The second is the absence of references in the news from our country about her and her work.

La Ikurriña ondea a media asta en los jardines de Canna House en honor y recuerdo de Magda Sagarzazu
La Ikurriña waves at half mast in the gardens of Canna House in honor and memory of Magda Sagarzazu

Magda Sagarzazu visited the island of Canna for the first time on April 29, 1962.  She was twelve, and she and her sister were accompanying their father, Saturnino Sagarzazu, on his visit to his friend, Scottish folklorist John Lorne Campbell, whome he had known since before the Second World War, and his wife, American photographer and folklorist Margaret Fay Shaw.

These visits were repeated every summer, and Magda ended up collaborating with this couple caring for their work and their enormous collection of thousands of individuals’ articles, including personal diaries, photographs, music, letters, and original manuscripts, as well as a sound archive of Gaelic songs and stories.

This couple bought their home, Canna House, in 1939, and left it and all its contents to the National Trust of Scotland (NTS) in 1981.  Over the years and her ever-increasing commitment to her work, Magda Sagarzazu ended up becoming the official archivist of the collection, named by the NTS.

The mark this Basque woman left on Scotland is deep and lasting.  It will continue on in time thanks to her dedication to preserving Scottish heritage, and for the human touch she left on all those who had to work with her in her almost 60 years with Scotland and its culture.

We’re not saying this because she’s Basque, or because the beauty of her lifelong commitment has impressed us.  It’s evident in the articles we’re reading about her memory in several different publications.

We’ll leave you with the above-mentioned article in The Guardian, as well as the obituary published by the National Trust of Scotland, written by the current archivist of Canna House, Fiona J. Mackenzie, who is also a renowned Scottish folk singer.  The article points out that what is to be remembered are “her colourful life and the immense contribution she has made to Scotland’s heritage and culture.”  We can also find, among many other wonderful things in this text, the poem celebrated Gaelic poet Angus Peter Campbell dedicated to her.

We’ll also leave you with the BBC in Gaelic article about her contributions to Scottish culture, and the tribute article published in The Oban Times.

The ikurriña is flying at half mast in the gardens and Canna House, in remembrance and honor of Magda Sagarzazu.  We shall do the same.

Goian bego –  Fois dhut


The Guardian – 21/6/2020 – Great Britain

Magda Sagarzazu obituary

My friend Magda Sagarzazu, who has died aged 70 of cancer, was a woman from the Basque region of Spain who moved to the Hebridean island of Canna and made it her mission to preserve and popularise the work of the married Gaelic scholars John Lorne Campbell and Margaret Fay Shaw.

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National Trust of Scotland  – 12/6/2020 – Scotland

Magda Sagarzazu: Keeper of Canna’s Flame

The name of Magda Sagarzazu will long be associated with Canna and Canna House. On the sad occasion of her passing, at the age of 70, we’re remembering her colourful life and the immense contribution she has made to Scotland’s heritage and culture.

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BBC – 4/6/2020 – Great Britain

Luaidh ga dhèanamh air Magda Sagarzazu

‘S ann à Dùthaich nam Basgach a bha Magda ach bha dlùth-cheangal aice ri Canaigh bho bha i na nighean òg ‘s i a’ tighinn ann air saor-laithean còmhla ri a h-athair Saturnino, a bha na dheagh charaid do dh’Iain Latharna Caimbeul

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The Oban Times – 18/6/2020 – Scotland

Champion of Canna: Magda Sagarazazu obituary

Tributes have been paid to retired Canna House archivist Magda Sagarzazu who died aged 70. Mrs Sagarazazu  passed away on June 2 in San Sebastion with her husband and family by her side but there are plans to celebrate her life and work with a memorial back in Scotland when lockdown restrictions ease.

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West Highland Free Press – 8/6/2020 -Scotland

Obituary: Magdalena Sagarzazu of Canna and the Basque Country, the Keeper of the Flame

“My idea of an island as a child was a piece of land with palm trees! But I arrived to a beautiful real island. Canna House, the garden, the cats, the Steinway grand piano, books in every room on all topics- it had a great charm for me immediately”.

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Header photo: Magda Sagarzazu and John Lorne Campbell on the island of Canna
Header photo: Magda Sagarzazu and John Lorne Campbell on the island of Canna

Last Updated on Dec 20, 2020 by About Basque Country

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