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International Women's Day 2021: Recognising great women of the North of Scotland

By Alice Prentice

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International Womans Day. Image: Adobe Stock
International Womans Day. Image: Adobe Stock

The 8th of March is International Women's Day, a day to celebrate and recognise the many achievements of women. So, we thought there is no better way to celebrate this global event than to showcase some ambitious and talented Scottish ladies.

From athletes to actresses, going as far back as the 18th Century, we have selected a handful of women who have reached global recognition - despite being born in small communities in the North.

Let's take a moment to champion these remarkable heroines.

Flora Macdonald

Flora MacDonald is a very well known Scottish hero, with a bronze statue of her standing permanently outside Inverness Castle.

In 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie was forced to flee Scotland after the Jacobites were defeated at the Battle of Culloden. He made it to the Outer Hebrides where he met Flora. She assembled a crew and a woman's disguise for the Jacobite King, to elude the Red Coat patrols as they sailed from Benbecula to Skye. The plan was a success and from Skye, Bonnie Prince Charlie managed to sail to France where he could escape the English man-hunt.

Unfortunately one of Flora's crew members later betrayed her and she was captured by the English. She spent a significant amount of time in jail at Dunstaffnage Castle and then, the Tower of London. However, when she was released (despite the terrors of these 18th-century jail cells) she went on many adventures thereafter, including travelling to America.

To this day her efforts of bravery are immortalised in the ‘Skye Boat Song’, used as the main theme song for the popular TV series, Outlander.

Mairi Chisolm

Mairi Chisolm was born in Nairn and at just 18 years old, was saving lives on the Front Line of the First World War.

In 1914 with her friend, Elsie Knocker, they travelled to a first-aid post in the small Belgian village of Pervyse. There they joined Dr Hector Munros Flying Ambulance Corps and, the two ladies were affectionately named The Madonnas (or Angels of Pervyse) due to their outstanding beauty and kindness. They were often mentioned in soldiers’ diaries, poems and songs and are among the most photographed women in the war.

However, they are to be remembered for so much more than just their appearance. For their acts of medical service, they were awarded the Order of Leopold II, Knights Cross and the British Military Medal too.

Karen Gillan

Karen Gillan. Picture: Gary Anthony.
Karen Gillan. Picture: Gary Anthony.

Karen Gillan, who you may have seen in one of many Hollywood hit movies, grew up in the city of Inverness before she reached global stardom.

As a young woman, she had a passion for acting, singing and modelling and studied performing arts at Telford College and the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts. Her big breakthrough came in 2010 when she appeared on the long-running TV Series, Doctor Who, where she played a starring role as The Doctors female assistant, Amy Pond.

Since then, she has only risen to fame at lightning speed. Starring in blockbuster films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Jumanji: Welcome to the jungle, and Avengers Endgame.

To this day, she continues to work exceptionally hard over in the US as her roles increase at a fast pace.

Laura Muir

Olympian Laura Muir. Picture courtesy of Scottish SPCA
Olympian Laura Muir. Picture courtesy of Scottish SPCA

Also born in Inverness, Laura Muir is a globally renowned middle-distance runner. She has had international success, winning many medals throughout her career; including a two time Gold medal in the Diamond league 1500m, in 2016 and 2018.

In addition, she has also achieved quadruple gold medal wins for the European Indoor Championships, winning both the 1500m and 3000m, in 2017 and 2019.

This past year, despite the Global Pandemic she has continued to train. She is expected to be at the Tokyo Olympics and, regardless of the uncertainty on when it will go ahead, she has persevered and strives to reach that goal.

Rose Leslie

Rose Leslie is a high achieving female actress best known for her periodical roles in TV series such as Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey.

She grew up in Aberdeen at Lickleyhead Castle with her parents (father, Sebastian Arbuthnot-Leslie, the Chieftain of Clan Leslie and her mother Candida Mary Sibyl Weld of Clan Fraser of Lovat). At the age of 21, she had her breakthrough appearance for the TV series New Town. For this, she won Best Acting Performance from the Scottish BAFTAS New Talent awards.

She is now working on a lead role for a TV series from HBO, recreating the Audrey Niffenegger novel, A Time Traveller's Wife.

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