The Life of John Lorne Campbell of Canna by Ray Perman

The new postscript should not be the end of the story

‘Alone in his attic study John Lorne Campbell made an astonishing discovery. Painstakingly going through old papers, he uncovered the family secret which had caused an unbridgeable emotional gap with his father and burdened his early years with heavy debt.’

So says the new blurb on the back of the new paperback edition of The Man Who Gave Away His Island which arrived in the post today.  Hard to believe it is now more than two years since the hardback was published, even harder to think that it is a full six years since I began the long journey, tracing John’s life story from the house where he was born, through Barra and South Uist to Canna.


Taynish House

Taynish House in Argyll. Secret debt forced the sale of John’s family home – and inheritance

As the blurb continues:

The Man Who Gave Away His Island is an extraordinary story of changing fortunes with unexpected twists and turns. It explores how a disinherited landowner came to buy a remote Hebridean island in 1938 with idealistic and radical aims of preventing it becoming a rich man’s playground, preserving traditional Gaelic culture and showing how efficient farming could work in harmony with wildlife and a sustainable way of life. For much the same reasons he was to give the island away, to the National Trust for Scotland in 1981 – with still uncertain consequences.

Indeed.  Sadly I had a very painful duty of writing a new final chapter. When I left Canna in 2010 the future looked bright but that very quickly changed. The postscript to the new paperback traces the sudden decline of population, the closure of the school and the end of a very welcome and thriving restaurant, The Ghille Brighde.

There is also the challenging question of how best to celebrate and share John and Margaret’s invaluable legacy: the wealth of Gaelic folklore and song preserved and curated with great care and dedication in the now decaying Canna House.  The former home of the Campbell’s is the largest house on the island but the least used, it is now in need of sensitive restoration.

canna house hall

Canna House hall welcomed family and friends for decades

As my new last chapter concludes: “When John Lorne Campbell gave away his island he passed on its problems as well as its benefits. He spent forty years of his life in dealing with them without reaching a settlement which would endure after his death. Can one be achieved now?  Money alone is not sufficient nor are good intentions. Finding a solution will not be easy but all those who care about his legacy will have to try.”