Banker Sir Iain Noble, champion of Gaelic, Skye and Scotland, dies at 75

TRIBUTES were paid to Sir Iain Noble, the 3rd Baronet of Ard-kinglas and Eilean Iarmain, yesterday, after his death on Christmas Day at the age of 75.

• Sir Iain on his beloved Skye. He developed many businesses there, but was concerned about the effect of tourism Picture: Mike Williams

A merchant banker who co-founded the Edinburgh-based bank Noble Grossart in 1969, he was also a noted Scottish Gaelic activist who used his position as a landowner on the Isle of Skye to support the development of the language by founding the Gaelic medium college, Sabhal Mr Ostaig, in 1972 in Sleat.

It is understood that Sir Iain had been ill for several years.

Born in Berlin in 1935, the son of a British diplomat, he attended Eton and then Oxford University, before going into merchant banking.

After being bought out from the bank he had founded, Noble Grossart, he used the proceeds to buy the MacDonald Estates in Skye and went on to develop many businesses on the island and elsewhere. He established a boutique bank, the Noble Group, to help finance his ventures, including Hotel Eilean larmain and the whisky company Praban na Linne.

Ben Thomson, the recently- retired chairman of Noble Group, said that Sir Iain had a deep-seated belief that Scotland was capable of creating its own successful businesses. "He was always looking to see how he could help develop a sector or develop something new based in Scotland.

• Obituary: Sir Iain Noble

• Tribute: Sir Maxwell MacLeod on Sir Iain Noble

"He was an inspiration to many about how you could develop Scottish companies. He was a great ideas man; he had lots of them, and threw himself into them all enthusiastically. Some of them were 50 years ahead of their time and still haven't come to see the light of day.

"He believed entirely in Scotland empowering itself ... that Scotland (would] thrive under its own steam."

Mr Thomson said that while Sir Iain had created a legacy of his own in the business world, it was in promoting Gaelic as a language that he would best be remembered.

He was directly responsible for the introduction of the first Gaelic road signs in Scotland.

Prof Norman Gillies, who was director of Sabhal Mr Ostaig for 25 years, said that Sir Iain had continued to take an interest in the college up to the end of his life.

"I think he was the man who made the link between social-linguistic and economic development," he said.

"He not only theorised this idea but practically implemented it, not only with Sabhal Mr Ostaig, but with his own estate as well.

"I think that's the sort of contribution he's made in Gaelic development.

"He was instrumental in building a confidence in the supporting culture. That, I think, was an very important factor - giving people confidence in their own culture, which in the past centuries, had been bashed about a bit.And he was coming, as it were, from the outside and saying, 'look, see what you've got. Be proud of it. Do something with it'."

Not afraid to court controversy, Sir Iain spoke out against over-reliance on tourism on Skye, stating in one speech that he would glad to see it decline on the island.

Prof Gillies said that in taking up causes such as Gaelic road signs at time when there was little official support for them, Sir Iain had done much to help the language.

"He wasn't making himself popular by taking on people who were pretty entrenched in their views of the language," Prof Gillies said.

"It is that promoting and proselytising at a very difficult stage that is his legacy, because from that people gained confidence and made things happen because of the sort of example he led."

Sir Iain is survived by his wife Lucilla.

Back to the top of the page