Skip to main content

The network for trade,
training and development 

10 December 2018

John Murray

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 adults.

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 Rubha.

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 memorable.

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.

Finlay MacLeod