Berneray Bard returns home after 76 years

HE DIED on the other side of the world in reluctant exile, longing for home. Now, 76 years later, Iain Archie MacAskill's wish to return to his native island has finally been granted.

Yesterday the Gaelic poet, known as the Berneray Bard, pictured, was finally laid to rest in his beloved Hebrides in a simple but poignant ceremony that also marked the end of an emotional quest by his great niece.

Alina MacAskill Simpson became intrigued by her renowned relative's life and raised 6,000 to have his body exhumed from a pauper's grave in Western Australia and returned to Berneray.

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She was joined by about 40 relatives as Mr MacAskill was reburied next to his parents after a funeral held in Gaelic.

Ms MacAskill Simpson said she did not want her great uncle to be forgotten by the next generation and now plans to write a book about his exploits and her mission to bring him home.

"All his poems were about wanting to come home to his beautiful island. Now he's back where he wanted to be and I've managed to carry out his unfulfilled wish."

Mr MacAskill was born in Berneray, off North Uist, in 1898, the second son of Donald and Ann MacAskill. In 1914, he lied about his age to enlist in the Cameron Highlanders and was one of the pipers who led the 5th Camerons into action in the Battle of Loos in 1915.

• Extracts from the Homesick Song

From 1919 to 1923, he was a constable in the City of Glasgow Police and a prize-winning piper, before he returned to Berneray to work on his father's croft and began to write. He was later persuaded by a government scheme to try to better himself by taking on a large farm in Western Australia.

He left on New Year's Day 1925, aged 27, but died nine years later. During that time, he wrote prolifically, especially songs and poems about being unable to return home.

The farm venture went bust during the depression and he ended up burdened by debt and working for others in miserable conditions, before dying of kidney failure aged 36.

In 1983, Dr John MacAskill, from Fort William, Ms MacAskill Simpson's late uncle, traced the unmarked grave near Perth, Australia, and erected a headstone.

Ms MacAskill Simpson, 31, began researching Mr MacAskill's life and work after using his poetry as part of her course while she was studying Gaelic in Glasgow.

She had hoped to be able to repatriate his body last year, the 75th anniversary of his death and the Year of Homecoming.

But after working her way through red tape, she flew to Australia to supervise the exhumation and take the body the 9,000 miles home.

She said the man who now owns Mr MacAskill's farm, Gary Struthers, is renaming it Borvedale in his memory. The name came from Borve in Berneray where he was brought up.