Hamish McHamish, St Andrews’ beloved feline friend passed away last Thursday in the arms of his owner. He was struck down by a lung infection at the age of 15. “Peacefully, and with his Mum Marianne by his side, Hamish passed away this morning”, a post on his Facebook page said. “In the end, the chest infection that he had been battling proved too much for him and the kindest thing to do was to let him go.” Thousands of tributes for the ginger tomcat poured in across social media spelling out the collective sorrow and affection felt for the amicable moggy who ruled St Andrews for over a century, roaming its cobbled streets and befriending all whose path he crossed.
Marianne Baird, Hamish’s owner, realised from the start that he wasn’t one for the quiet life. “I picked him out of the litter because he was the boldest,” she remembers. “Arguably that was a mistake”. Hamish flew the nest very quickly, adopting a nomadic lifestyle and eschewing the comforts of home. “Sometimes he’d come home for dinner,” Marianne recalls. “But it wasn’t long before he’d be back in Queen’s Gardens or further afield. The garden just wasn’t big enough for him”.
Hamish soon became the town’s, often stopping at Pagan & Osborne on South Street for breakfast, before dropping into Dynamic Hair for a daily brush. “It became an unwritten rule,” Flora Selwyn, editor of St Andrews In Focus, says. “If Hamish turned up at your door, you let him in”. Hamish was guaranteed a free breakfast, lunch and dinner in any house or business in the town and even learned to use a zebra crossing, according to some. One Madras morning assembly was made memorable by his appearance, crossing the stage and interrupting. But as everywhere in the auld grey toon, Hamish was invariably shown a warm welcome. Earlier this year, Hamish was chased by two dogs and escaped by climbing a tree. He was later helped to safety by students and staff from a local business.
For the town’s starry eyed residents Hamish became a lucky charm, bestowing fortune on deserving businesses and those who offered him food and shelter. According to Flora, The St Andrews Brewery can owe their success to Hamish’s Midas touch: “the workmen weren’t sure they would get everything done in time. They looked down, saw his tail waving and everyone knew everything would be fine”, she says. “That’s the reputation he acquired. He was rather magical in that sense”.
One St Andrews resident, Susan McMullan, was so intrigued by the mystical feline that she wrote a book about his adventures called Hamish McHamish, Cool Cat About Town which became an instant bestseller. He was duly accorded his own ‘Hamish recommends’ section in Waterstones, which was stocked with everything from fish cookbooks to cat-based tales. After conquering the literary world, Hamish strolled onto the small screen to appear on the One Show.
And lest we forget, Hamish was immortalised in bronze. Other than the University’s founder, Bishop Henry Wardlaw, St Andrews has no public statues to worthy politicians, churchmen or academics. Its cobbled and ancient streets may have been trod by some famous feet but none has been honoured with a £5,000 bronze statue. None except Hamish, that is.
When the celebrity feline was immortalised last April, news of the monument, designed and built by David Annand, spread beyond north east Fife: newspapers in countries such as Italy, US, Estonia and Hungary all featured stories about Hamish. Flora Selwyn spearheaded the campaign to raise funds for the statue. “I was quite astonished by people’s generosity”, she remembers. “They knew nothing about me but sent me cheques for hundreds of pounds”. The statue, which stands in Church Square and was unveiled by Provost of Fife, Jim Leishman, has since become a shrine to the roaming tomcat, festooned with bouquets of flowers and lit by candles.
Even Marianne acknowledges that the cult following Hamish enjoyed was slightly mad. “I think the whole story’s absurd,” she chuckles. “He started out as just this little cat and became a positive legend”. For many Hamish bore human qualities, transcending the limitations of simply being a tomcat: one mourner, taking to Facebook, wrote: “Wow, I just can’t stop the tears. The love of an animal, of a pet and partner can be as strong as one humans bond to another”. Flora suggests that Hamish’s fame is an antidote to all the evils in the world. “It has to do with fantasy. It’s just a lovely fairytale”. For Marianne, however, who saw him as the boldest kitten in the litter, a nomadic regal tomcat and finally as an aged furry ginger, Hamish was an adventurous cat who loved St Andrews and was loved by all he met. “He was just a cat who would walk by himself,” she says.