Highlands & Islands

Woman who took Stone of Destiny back to Scotland dies

Kay Matheson and the Stone of Destiny
Image caption Kay Matheson and the Stone of Destiny

A leading figure in a plot to return the Stone of Destiny to Scotland more than 60 years ago has died.

Kay Matheson was one of a group of four students who took the relic from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day 1950.

The stone was taken back to Scotland from where it had been removed by Edward I in 1296 as a spoil of war.

Ms Matheson, who drove a car carrying the stone through police road blocks, died in Wester Ross at the age of 84.

She had been studying domestic science at the University of Glasgow when she joined the plot to take the stone from London.

The others involved were Ian Hamilton, Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart.

During their raid on Westminster Abbey the stone broke into two pieces.

Police launched a huge manhunt, but driving alone Ms Matheson was able to negotiate road blocks and cross the border into Scotland.

In the weeks that followed, police arrived at her family's croft in Wester Ross and searched the property.

Symbolic gesture

Five months later the students placed the stone, also known as the Stone of Scone, in Arbroath Abbey.

The authorities had it taken back to Westminster Abbey, but in 1996 it was returned to Scotland as a symbolic gesture and is now kept at Edinburgh Castle.

Ms Matheson, who later became a teacher and Gaelic scholar, and the others were not prosecuted.

Image caption Kay Matheson was portrayed by Kate Mara in the 2008 film Stone of Destiny

Mr Hamilton told The Observer newspaper in 2008, when a film based on his book about the 1950s incident was released, that the government had feared Scots would take to the streets if the students had ended up in the courts.

American actress Kate Mara portrayed Ms Matheson in the movie, Stone of Destiny. Charlie Cox, Billy Boyd and Robert Carlyle also starred.

Another film, An Ceasnachadh, focused on Ms Matheson's interrogation by the authorities. Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes played the role of Ms Matheson.

It also told of her dedication to Gaelic and how she drew inspiration from the works of Victorian Gaelic poet Mairi Mhor nan Oran - Big Mary of the Songs.

Ms Matheson was living in a care home at Aultbea, near Loch Ewe, when she died.

Rob Gibson, SNP MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, paid tribute to her.

He said: "Her exploits in retrieving the stone made her one of the immortals in Scottish nationalist history."

Mr Gibson said she had worked hard to revive the use of Gaelic in Wester Ross and was a popular and respected teacher and figure in the local community.

Lib Dem MP Charles Kennedy described Ms Matheson as an "inspirational force".

He said: "The redoubtable Kay was a truly remarkable character, one of whom I was truly fond and someone who was tremendously kind towards me.

"I was apprehensive in the extreme when I first stood locally in 1983 to find Kay - of Stone of Destiny fame - as my SNP opponent.

"In fact we hit it off so well that a firm friendship was formed."