26th October 1911

Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean is born

Sorley MacLean was born into a large family in Raasay. Gaelic was in daily use, and was thus his mother tongue, but he learned English at school, studied for a degree in English at the University of Edinburgh. After graduating, he became a teacher of English and eventually a school headmaster, although his career in education was interrupted by the outbreak of the Second World War, during which he served in Africa. Once hostilities ceased, he returned to Scotland and eventually retired to Skye, where his mother had been raised.

Sorley MacLean’s poetry

MacLean’s poetry, written in Gaelic, frequently dealt with important issues about Scotland and Scottish history while touching upon contemporary issues. The latter included the Spanish Civil War (which he used as a device for exploring the Highland Clearances), issues surrounding socialism and communism, and wider politics at home and abroad.

The Glasgow Herald of 27 October 1973 noted that although MacLean considered signing up to fight in the Spanish Civil War, he remained at home, “but Spain was a living for to him and his poetry in a way that it isn’t… in the work of the English poets of the thirties… what MacLean sensed in Spain was a situation in some ways analogous to the Clearances and that he was afraid he would return the same grey answer to the Spanish question as so many of the Gaelic poets of the nineteenth century had returned to the exploitation engendered by the Clearances”.

Sorley MacLean recognised

It was only in his retirement that his poetry came to the fore, largely through English translation, despite the fact he’d been writing his whole life and some of his work had been published as early as the 1940s.

He received several honorary degrees and a Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1987, he became the first Freeman of Skye and Lochaish.

MacLean died, at Inverness, on 24 November 1996. He was 85.



Other events that occured in October

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