There have been many prominent figures in Skye Camanachd’s illustrious history but Donnie Martin’s role is second to none.

Donnie was born in Uig, Skye on 30 April 1957, a son to Malcolm (Calum) and Ina who combined work on the croft with a tailor’s business and the running the local post office.

He had a number of early interests but as soon as he was introduced to a caman, shinty and Skye Camanachd would play a major role in his life for over the next 50 years.

When Skye Camanachd came out of a short period of abeyance in 1969, their revival plan was heavily based on youth shinty, largely centred on Portree High School under the influence of DR MacDonald and Donnie was one of his disciples. On-field success soon followed and there was memorable MacBean Cup Final against Lochaber in Plockton in 1973; a match DR and Sorley MacLean said was one of the best youth games they’d ever seen. It was a first of many meetings between Donnie and his direct midfield opponent Hugh Dan MacLennan who would become a great friend. A pattern incidentally that would be repeated with many an opponent over the years. The MacBean Final finished 1-1 and Lochaber won the replay at Drumnadrochit. However the sides also met again in the 1974 MacBean Final at the Bught Park, Inverness and this time Portree deservedly took the honours. Those four and a half hours of shinty in Plockton, Drumnadrochit and Inverness were debated for much longer in the years to come. Portree High would go on to dominate the MacBean over the next few years, evidence that all the youth shinty work was paying dividends.

Progression to the Skye Camanachd senior side soon followed and Donnie was one of a number of players who demonstrated their dedication by travelling, and at times hitching, to and from their work-base at Kishorn to play for the club.

The next phase of the club’s development included securing some tangible success and that duly arrived at Claggan Park, Fort William on 12 May 1979 when Skye beat Kyles Athletic 3-2 to win the Sir William Sutherland Cup for only the second time in their history. Donnie played a key role that day as, with the final moving into the closing stages tied at two goals apiece, the match report read: “Great work by the Tighnabruaich defence delayed the final blow from the Sgiathanaich until the dying minutes. A sustained run through the middle by Skye’s Donnie Martin ended with the ball coming to Willie Cowie, 15 yards out and he drove past keeper Kenny MacDonald to take the cup over the sea to Skye.”

Skye would go on to win the Sutherland on five occasions in total – 1950, 1979, 1981, 1985 and 1988 – and Donnie earned winners’ medals playing in four of them, even managing as well in 1988. He also enjoyed Strathdearn Cup success in 1986 as player / manger. The only Sutherland Final featuring Skye which Donnie wasn’t involved in was the club’s inaugural success in 1950 and we often joked with him that he must have been injured that day.

Donnie was a good team-mate and young players breaking into the senior side, which was a tough environment in the 1970s, spoke of the quiet words of encouragement from Donnie during the match as the battle continued around them.

Marriage to Alice Scott in 1980 had the added benefit of recruiting another pair of willing hands and Alice’s washing machine was no stranger to a set of Skye Camanachd strips whilst her renowned cooking skills fed many a visiting team and catered for many a club function. The birth of daughter Kim and son Scott completed the happy family and snared two more shinty recruits.

It was natural that Donnie would progress into shinty coaching with the youths, second team management and a two-year stint as Skye Camanachd first year manager in 2004-05.

Donnie’s tenure as a youth coach was particularly successful as the Islanders swept the boards. He also helped out at Portree High School when the youth set-up there was in danger of collapse.

His coaching ability was further recognised when he was initially assistant manager to his good friend George Stewart for the Scotland U21 squad before becoming Head Coach in his own right. Many would argue that he could, and should, have made the step-up to manage the senior squad, but that wasn’t to be.

There were many highs and none more enjoyable than in 1990 when Ross Cowie’s Skye side lifted the Camanachd Cup. There was no one more pleased than Donnie of the team’s success and for all that he never won a medal for himself, he was part of that victory.

Donnie was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes in 1987 but continued to play into his 40s and on one occasion in the 1990s, he travelled with the first team to play a match against Kyles Athletic at Tighnabruaich. Skye were very understrength that day and Donnie played full back. Kyles won the match but the winning margin wasn’t as great as first feared.

The social side of the game also appealed to Donnie and he had many friends at clubs across the country and beyond. There were Skye Camanachd trips to Ireland, Cape Breton, along with Kingussie, and California. He was always good company with a story to tell and often a song to sing; most of you will know the ones.

Whilst Donnie enjoyed seeing son Scott play through the ranks from youth shinty to play for the club at a senior level, he also took great pride, along with daughter Kim and son-in-law David, in watching grandson Archie Millar’s progress as he currently follows the same path. Young neighbour Seonaidh-Alex Macleod, who affectionately referred to Donnie as papa from a young age, was another whom he watched carefully.

When Skye Camanachd moved from the King George V Playing Field to their new home at Pairc nan Laoch in 1998, Donnie was again to the fore. The club showed huge ambition, raising over £500,000 to build a clubhouse that was the envy of all in shinty and Donnie led a small group to see the project through.

Donnie took great pride in maintaining the Pairc nan Laoch pitch in his role as groundsman. Over each season the pitch would host games involving both mens and ladies first teams and second teams, under-17s, under-14s and primaries and much skilled work and effort went in to have it in the best condition. This was rewarded when Skye were asked by the Camanachd Association to host Balliemore and Sutherland Cup Finals over the years.

He was proud of his Gaelic culture and proud of his roots. He was co-commentator on Radio Skye’s (then Cuillin FM) first live shinty broadcast; the Iomain Cholmcille challenge match at Pairc nan Laoch. However it was a one-off as Donnie preferred his match-day experience to be as goal judge. Some might say that’s because you can’t award Skye a penalty from the commentary box. He did however appear regularly on Gaelic TV and radio broadcasts.

A string of Skye goalkeepers received Donnie’s encouragement as he undertook goal-judge duties by the goalpost and friendships were often made with the opposing goalies.

There were individual awards along the way as Donnie collected the “Scottish Sports Council Services to Sport” award in 1995. He won the Angus Murchison Cup, presented to the person who has done most for Skye Camanachd during the year, so many times that it was hardly worth his while taking in from Treaslane to the club’s annual dinner dance each year as it would inevitably make the return journey home. It’s commonly accepted that Donnie withdrew from selection before the trophy was finally awarded to someone else. He also received the “Lifetime Coaching Achievement of the Year” award at the Highland Coaching awards in 2016. This accolade recognised the outstanding contribution and significant impact of local coaches. He accepted this with his usual modesty, so much so that most of us didn’t know about it until it appeared in the local papers.

And that was Donnie. Always modest and always playing a difficult situation down with his calming influence. Add the total respect he held throughout the club and you can see why he was ideal for the Skye Camanachd Chairman’s role. Donnie’s mentor was always DR MacDonald and they had conversations shortly before DR’s passing on how the club should be run and the standards it should meet both on and off the park. There was always a feeling that Donnie always had in mind what DR would do when making important decisions regarding the club.

Donnie could always be relied on at difficult times. He was the “go-to” person and if he couldn’t fix any particular problem, which wasn’t often, he always seemed to know someone who could.

In truth; Donnie was involved in so many areas of the club that it is impossible to list everything.

No one has ever served Skye Camanachd with distinction in so many positions; Chieftain, Chairman (of both Skye Camanachd & Skye Camanachd Social Club), committee member, first team manager, second team manager, primaries coach, youth coach, referee, goal judge, groundsman, spokesperson, fundraiser and general “go-to” man, no-matter the problem.

Donnie’s working life saw him fulfil a number of positions and after work at the McDermott yard in Ardersier and Kishorn ended, he found employment in Greenock, always travelling home to play for Skye at the weekends. There was a period of self-employment and a period working for Bodach MacKenzie before positions with the Care & Repair scheme, Skye & Lochalsh District Council, Highland Council and latterly Lochalsh & Skye Housing Association where he was always a popular colleague and his job always involved helping people on his beloved Skye.

Donnie was made Skye Camanachd Chieftain at the club’s annual general meeting earlier this year. It is usually an honorary position but Donnie took his usual hands on approach until the end.

And it was an untimely end as Donnie had so much to look forward to. With retirement for himself an Alice imminent, there were travel plans as well as time to spend with grandchildren Emma and Archie who doted on their papa. Donnie had also just bought a new boat and was particularly with looking forward spending more time fishing. And of course more shinty; that was never in doubt.

Expressions of sympathy have flooded in to Skye Camanachd from players, clubs and individuals across the country, and indeed across the globe, and all Skye Camanachd activity has been suspended meantime.

Everyone connected with Skye Camanachd – players, Board members and supporters – are left devastated by Donnie’s passing following a tragic road accident on Thursday 5 May 2022 and we will miss his contribution to shinty and the wider community on Skye, and most of all his friendship. The club will mark his contribution in an appropriate way at an appropriate time.

Donnie was first and foremost a family man and we all send our condolences and deepest sympathies to Donnie’s wife Alice, daughter Kim and son Scott as well as son-in-law David and grandchildren Emma and Archie, his own brother Alistair and sisters Joan, Mairi and Ann.

Donnie Martin’s passing following a tragic road accident on the afternoon of Thursday 5 May 2022 has hit many families hard. It was entirely appropriate that Donnie funeral took place on a bright, sunny afternoon at the Skye Camanachd Clubhouse at Pairc nan Laoch, Portree on Saturday 14 May 2022.

The organisation was impeccable as a massive crowd gathered, with shinty teams from across the country represented, on a warm afternoon and they listened intently as Donnie’s granddaughter Emma delivered a wonderful tribute to her Papa which was both articulate and moving in equal measure.

Donnie’s sister Anne sang a moving tribute whilst his good friend John Finlayson’s eulogy was warm and always entertaining as he recalled just some of his memories of Donnie and they all struck a chord with everyone present.

After the Service, a series of carries took Donnie around his beloved Pairc nan Laoch pitch for one last time. Camanachd Association Grade 1 referee and former Skye Camanachd player, John Angus Gillies signalled a 15 second stoppage at the top goal, just by the goalpost at the Braes end of the ground, where Donnie stood on a Saturday afternoon with goal-judge flag in hand. Dear friends: Ewen “Yogi” Grant, John “Bodach” MacKenzie, Donnie “Digg” MacDonald, Alasdair Bruce, Douglas MacDougall and Calum Matheson held the coffin still in a poignant mark of respect before the circuit was complete.

The turnout for Donnie’s send-off was truly remarkable. The huge attendance said it all really as we gathered to say goodbye to Donald MacPherson Martin; one of the best.