HE WAS christened ‘First Shepherd’ by his pals when his oldest son, Jack, became First Minister of Scotland in November, 2001, but Willie McConnell never forgot his roots.

Born on April 25, 1937 at Bellsgrove Farm, the second son of James and Barbara McConnell, his family moved to Hoodsyard Farm, near Beith, in 1940. During his Young Farmer years in 1956, he met Elizabeth Jack and he was over the moon when they married in 1959, living first at Biglies Farm, in West Kilbride, before moving to the Isle of Arran, in 1962.

Glenscorrodale Farm was high in the hills above Lamlash and was a dilapidated cluster of buildings with no electricity, phone line or stock. Starting with 74 ewes, the couple set about clearing the fields and farm buildings, and building up a sheep flock.

Despite the humble beginnings, by 1968 he had won the overall championship at Arran Show with a tup, Muldoon. And just to show the more established and larger farms that this young upstart was not a one off, he won again in 1969 and 1971, with Laura.

By 1964, he had started to compete in sheep dog trials and he won the main island trial at Dougarie six years in succession from 1966 with two different dogs. Many more trophies were to follow.

He represented Scotland in the International in 1972 with Moss and that year he re-established the UK’s second oldest sheep dog trial and 46 years later, when he was admitted to hospital for the last time in February, he was still secretary of the Kildonan and District Sheepdog Trial Association.

Willie was a church elder, an officeholder in Lamlash Burns Club, the Arran Farmer’s Society, the badminton club and many more. Despite living so far away, if adults were required to keep activities going for young people in the village, he never held back.

Through the 1970s, he helped Elizabeth create and grow the national award winning tearoom at Glenscorrodale, which is still fondly remembered. But their time there was to end when Arran Estates decided to end their tenancy and plant trees across the hills.

They had won awards and trophies on that farm, but it was at an end. So, they made a big bold decision in 1980 and moved to Blackwaterfoot to run the Rock Hotel. In the mid-'80s they moved back to Lamlash and Willie took over Nags Bar and Bistro, in Whiting Bay, creating a popular Saturday night venue on the island.

Having surviving a terrible stabbing in his neck outside the bar one night in 1991, Willie returned to shepherding for the final working years of his life, even making a successful appearance on Grampian TV’s Sheep Dog Trial and winning again at Arran Show.

He was known for being brave and determined; competitive but never nasty; responsible and fun. His generosity was legendary, so it was appropriate that a packed Lamlash Church said goodbye on May 1 and a collection raised more than £1500 for the Arran War Memorial Hospital and the Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institute.

Willie was father to Jack, Iain, Anne and Calum; a devoted husband for Elizabeth; a daft and loving grandpa and great grandpa.