By reputation, conviction and action, Finlay McDonell has spent a lifetime supporting all of what Glengarry means to those lucky enough to live there. Born in Greenfield to John Archie and Flora, he was reared in a household where Celtic and Old Tyme music was a fixture. His father played the fiddle and chorded on the piano by ear; his Aunt, Katie Kavanaugh, was a prolific piano player and his distant cousin, Ranny MacLean, played the fiddle at many kitchen parties in Finlay’s youth.
Encouraged by his aunt, John Angus MacDonald and Fr. John McPhail, Finlay started playing the fiddle by ear at the age of 12. He played Bonnie Prince Charlie in Fr. McPhail’s concerts and plays at the Alexander Hall and was even known on occasion to do a few steps or dance the Highland Fling as well as play the fiddle. When Fr. McPhail started the St. Finnan’s Orchestra, he sent Finlay along with others to Agnes Valade to learn to read the notes. In addition, Finlay took a year of classical music training from a teacher at McGill in 1983.
Finlay, his wife Angela and children moved to Quebec where he worked for Shell Canada until he retired. His was quite active in the community of Pointe-Aux-Trembles and often played at parties and small English group living in the area and for Glengarry dances organized by the Glengarry ex-pats lonesome for home. He and Angela held frequent house parties with other Montreal fiddlers as well as visiting fiddlers from Cape Breton and of course, Glengarry. He encouraged his children to take music lessons and his son, Bernard is well known today for his excellent musical talent on the piano and the fiddle and his daughter, Ellen could turn a fancy step.
Finlay and Angela have a home at Loch Garry and they spent their free time there during the summer months and retired there 1985. Their house at the lake was the scene of musical parties with various local and visiting musicians joining in the fun. Music continued to be a priority in the McDonell household and musicians were always welcome.
After his return to Glengarry, Finlay became active in the community and served as President of The Glengarry Highland Games Committee and Reeve of North Glengarry. Musically, he was active in the Glengarry Old Time Fiddlers and the Glengarry Strathspey & Reel Society. While he hasn’t played much in recent years, he has kept active as a strong supporter of all things Scottish.