Mary Moriarty, the late Queen of Leith, left a wonderful legacy – Susan Morrison

Here in Leith, we like to think we’re a bolshie wee Republic, but all the time a queen lived in our midst, and we knew it. We lost her this week.

Mary Moriarty, the Queen of Leith, had boundless energy and an eye for fashion
Mary Moriarty, the Queen of Leith, had boundless energy and an eye for fashion

Mary Moriarty was one of those women every Scottish community needs. She was a force of nature unafraid to scare the living daylights out of anyone who wasn’t doing the right thing by Leith but, being the canny ex-landlady of a pub, she knew that honey works better than vinegar.

Many people, myself included, wound up saying “yep, no bother, Mary”, then wondered why they were wrangling majorettes on Leith Gala Day.

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She seemed to know everyone, and if she didn’t, she wanted to know who they were.

These days we call people like Mary ‘community leaders’, and that's what she was, even though she wasn’t a born Leither. She came here from Corstorphine, a fact that startled me at first, then made perfect sense.

Mary had the air of a lady who enjoyed afternoon tea from a china cup. Mary liked things done correctly, and politely, even things that involved her staff dancing on the bar in the legendary Port O’ Leith.

The Port o’ Leith was more than a pub. One night long ago, I walked in out of a right stormy howler of a night. Unusually, The Port was quiet. And there, at a table under the flags of navies, nations and shipping lines, sat a serenely chain smoking Mary, playing cards with three sailors from three different countries and not a word of English between them. They were passing the time waiting for a job. The Port was their clubhouse and a kind of unofficial labour exchange.

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It was also a pub where women felt safe. Mary didn’t take kindly to her staff or customers being hassled, and wasn’t afraid to shoot a look or snap a word at someone who was stepping out of line.

One word from Mary and you did what you were told. Big bruisers of blokes could be reduced to mumbling schoolboys by a sharp dressing down from the Queen of the Port. She was fearless.

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Like that other recently lost and mourned queen, Mary had boundless energy and an eye for fashion. Few women can carry off a leopard-skin top, cerise trousers and hi-vis jacket combination, but Mary Moriarty on Leith Gala day could.

Accessories included a rope or three of pearls, a diamante brooch and a litter picker. That woman was a demon on the Links. I consider myself no slouch at picking litter, but Mary could show me a clean pair of heels, and a well-picked park. And that was as well as organising all the stalls, a pipe band and the occasional lost child.

When I came back to live in Leith after a decade away, Mary spotted me in the Kirkgate and barrelled up.

“There you are,” she said, “Where have you been? Nice to see you back.”

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I walked on a cloud for the rest of the day. Mary Moriarty had spoken to me.

Leith was saddened when the news came of her passing, but what struck me was that everyone had a story about Mary, and all those stories made you smile. That’s a wonderful legacy to leave.

We’ll miss her.