21 November 2018
The esteemed Gaelic writer and educationalist John Murray died
on Saturday 17 November 2018. For some tributes, see the We Love Stornoway website. The following
testimony is by Finlay MacLeod.
Remembering John Murray
It feels strange for me to be writing about John Murray in
English since we never spoke a word in English one to the other: we
just never thought of it. It is also strange since our lives ran in
parallel in so many ways. Yet I had not met him until we were both
The outward pattern of his early life was not atypical of his
generation: a generation that felt more than any other the reality
of the social changes taking place in Lewis. He spent his boyhood
years in Barvas in the late 30s, tolerated the acerbic Nicolson
Institute of his time, graduated in Edinburgh University and went
on to teach in a secondary school in that city.
From there he entered into the range of new initiatives arising in
the Gaelic world at that time. He spent a fruitful time as editor
with the newly established Gaelic Books Council set up by Derick
Thomson at Glasgow University. He often told that his most
satisfying and crucial work there was the editing of Angus
Campbell/ Am Puilean's magnificent book, Suathadh ri Iomadh
From there he returned home to Lewis to head the emerging
Bilingual Education Project. From this platform he entered into the
vision of the recreation of a gestaltic Gaelic social
infrastructure that harked back to the long-lost Kingdom of the
Isles/ Tighearnas nan Eilean. This involved the setting up of a
whole range of new secular initiatives of which the publishing
company Acair, the Comainn Eachdraidh and Radio nan Gaidheal
continue as the most lasting examples.
So what kind of man was he? His was a multifarious personality fed
by an unusually rich imagination which had him attempting to
rearrange the world around him rather than accepting it how he
found it. Like others in his setting he didn't look to religion to
frame a meaningful life for himself, but continued to seek new ways
of being to make sense of the world around him. His singular
imagination led him to perceive things in ways that weren't always
easy for others to follow, and yet his personal charm was such that
it led to people respecting and adoring him. They felt enchanted by
having encountered him.
And this, of course, was the same imagination and cognitive
seeking which expressed itself in one of the most pointed and
succinct contemporary writing that we have in Gaelic, and this will
be his lasting legacy. His book of short stories, An Aghaidh
Choimheach, is a classic.
Part of his charm and attraction was that he was exceedingly
witty, given his imaginative way of understanding his world. And
this wit fed into the various plays he wrote for stage and radio.
Everything he did had style and presence and a singular stamp that
was all his own. His work as with all his thinking stays
His dear wife, Nora, passed away some eight years ago and his life
was not the same since then. But even in the very last stages of
his life when his short-term memory had atrophied, his alacrity for
new story spoken in beautifully rendered Lewis Gaelic remained
intact to the end.
Like so many others, I'm going to miss him terribly, for to me he
was a kindred spirit.