Murdo Macleod

5th April 2013 at 01:00
The Gaelic educationalist and former HM inspector of schools has died, aged 83

Murdo Macleod (known as Moirdeagan Aonghais Cheanaidh in his native Gaelic - Murdo, son of Angus, son of Kenneth), who has died at the age of 83, was a former HM Inspector of Schools with responsibility for Gaelic.

He was born in the crofting township of Gress in the Isle of Lewis. It was apparent early on that he was intellectually gifted. From the local primary school, he progressed to secondary education in Stornoway's Nicolson Institute, where he was dux in 1946; then on to the University of Aberdeen, which was popular with Lewis students at that time. He shared digs with one of them, the late bilingual poet and novelist Iain Crichton Smith.

Murdo left Aberdeen with a first-class honours degree in Celtic and Latin, but his thirst for linguistic knowledge took him on to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he again achieved first-class honours, this time in Celtic, Old English Literature and Old Norse. After national service, he took up an academic post in Queen's University Belfast.

But the call of Gaeldom was too strong to be resisted. In 1955, Murdo was appointed to teach Gaelic and Latin in Castlebay Secondary, Barra. In 1959, he was seconded to become Gaelic adviser to the former Inverness-shire authority. In distant Edinburgh, the idea was slowly beginning to permeate the corridors of the Scottish Education Department that perhaps they should try to educate Gaelic-speaking children through the medium of their first language, a reversal indeed of the failed century-long "policy" of forcing Gaelic out of their heads by forcing English in.

Under-resourced, but with the support of some fellow spirits in the teaching profession, Murdo set to with a will. He himself wrote two books for primary school use, Seumas Beag and Laithean Geala (Wee Jamie and Sunny Days). In 1970, as the concept of bilingual education slowly spread from the West Highlands to other parts of Scotland with a Gaelic heritage, he became HM Inspector of Schools with responsibility for Gaelic across Scotland, and for all subjects in Highland schools.

If lingering attitudes thwarted his purpose - as they did occasionally - he managed to conceal his anger. Murdo's approach was ever with an outstretched hand and welcoming smile, and a glint of humour in his eye. That was his strength - that, and the will of steel that underlay it.

His retirement in 1989 simply meant more time to devote to other Gaelic causes such as drama, the Gaelic Society of Inverness and the Scottish Branch of the International Celtic Congress which runs an annual festival of the six Celtic language communities. In these activities he was supported by his wife of almost 50 years, Catherine.

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