On this day: October 26


Scottish writers Albert Mackie and poet Sorley MacLean in August 1983.
Scottish writers Albert Mackie and poet Sorley MacLean in August 1983.

Today in 1911 the Gaelic poet, Sorley MacLean, was born on the island of Raasay.

Maclean was a key force in the revitalising of the Gaelic language and often referred to as the ‘saviour of Gaelic verse’.

After studying at the University of Edinburgh, he took up teaching as a career and was for many years head teacher at Plockton High School.

Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean in August 1990, when he was voted Alumnus of the Year by the University of Edinburgh.

“Mesmeric” was how Seamus Heaney, Nobel Laureate, described the distinctive voice of MacLean - whom many believed should also have been recognised with a Nobel prize.

Heaney recalled his first hearing of the Scots Gaelic poet, at Dublin’s Abbey Theatre, as having “the force of a revelation … The voice that I heard was heightened and mesmeric and weathered and seemed to come in close from far away … rather like the drone of a pipe.”


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His poetry brilliantly demonstrates the capacity of Gaelic to express themes ranging from passionate love to contemporary political and intellectual issues.

While he broke with the conventions for Gaelic poetry that still prevailed when he started writing in the 1930s, his writing very much belongs to the eloquent continuum of the Gaelic oral tradition.

MacLean died in 1996, but his magisterial poetic vision endures, having demonstrated that his Gaelic tongue could grapple with the modern world and create an intellectually engaging body of poetry of international standing.

For many Gaels, MacLean delivered the realisation that their literary culture wasn’t inextricably stuck in the past.

Many regard him as the most important poet ever in the Gaelic language.