Bringing Gaelic culture to a wider public

With a volatile mix of the visionary and a confrontational style, he campaigned mostly in print to turn his passions into reality.

There is a nice continuity about the review in the Scots Magazine – quite apart from the very generous comments by the writer, this is the publication which carried articles by John for many years.  At times you suspect the editor must have wondered what was coming next.

Over several decades John persuaded editors to take pieces over a wide range of subjects: on Mrs Kennedy-Fraser and Songs of the Hebrides, on the work of Fr Allan McDonald on the remote island of Eriskay (that work incidendentally now celebrated in a fine biography by  Roger Hutchinson) and on Highland links with Nova Scotia.  There were  obituaries of Hebridean bards or storytellers and a two-part account of the founding of the Sea League on Barra by Compton Mackenzie and himself.

John’s rigorously researched work was regularly accepted by leading journals such as Scottish Gaelic Studies published by the Aberdeen University Celtic Department and Eriu, the leading Irish language publication but he was also keen to bring Gaelic culture and history to a wider public and it is to the credit of the Scots Magazine that they gave him his way.

Perhaps the subject matter sometimes looked a little out of place among the more folksy articles which were the magazine’s usual fare (this month’s edition includes cookery, culture and a walk in the Cuillins as well as a long list of book reviews), but John was convinced that there was a curiosity for Gaelic culture among general readers both at home and abroad.  Clearly the editors thought so too. Which may be why the Scots Magazine is the oldest magazine still in publication.

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