Obituary: Ian Kennedy, crofter, draughtsman

Renowned musician and crofter who was an unwavering supporter of his son Charles. Picture: Ian Kennedy
Renowned musician and crofter who was an unwavering supporter of his son Charles. Picture: Ian Kennedy
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Born: 29 May, 1926, in Fort William. Died: 5 April, 2015, in Fort William, aged 88.

When former Liberal Democrat leader the Rt Hon Charles Kennedy was asked to choose his favourite music to be marooned with on a Desert Island, he picked The Cameron Highlanders, played by his father Ian.

Ian, whose own father had bought him his first fiddle when he was ten, was not only a renowned musician and Royal National Mod winner but an unwavering supporter of his son’s political career.

So much so that in 1983, during Charles’s general election campaign, he travelled all over the constituency of Ross, Cromarty and Skye playing at public meetings and event venues – to a rather better reception, on one occasion, than his 23-year-old son, who was reportedly exhorted not to let his speech drag on so the audience could enjoy another tune from his dad.

The campaign was a success. Charles became the youngest Member of Parliament and, over the next three decades, was staunchly supported, until ill health intervened, by his father who thoroughly enjoyed being on the road with him.

The younger son of crofter Donald Kennedy and his wife Isabella, Ian Kennedy was born in Fort William and educated at Fort William Public School, leaving the classroom to work on the family croft.

He later became a draughtsman with the North of Scotland Hydro-Electric Board but continued to be closely involved in crofting and remained deeply concerned about crofting matters.

Several years ago he stood up against a local estate at a Land Court hearing in a dispute over access to a planned housing development which, he feared, might result in a parcel of land being removed from crofting tenure.

However, it was as an accomplished musician that he was best known across the West Highlands. Mainly self-taught, he first performed in public in 1937, playing his first ceilidh at the age of 11. By 12 he was regularly accompanying Gaelic singers on his fiddle.

He won numerous competitions, including the Sutherland Cup at the National Mod on three occasions, and toured in the United States of America and Canada with his wife Mary, an organist and keyboard player.

He played with many of the leading lights in the Scottish music world and performed locally with his band, his son Ian and Mary.

A fiddle judge in America and Scotland, a teacher, mentor and inspiration to younger generations, he was also well-known and respected as a composer and music arranger and, though not a native Gaelic speaker, he always maintained he had a “Gaelic-speaking fiddle”.

For many years a wedding, funeral, ceilidh or concert in their local area was not complete without the musical talents of Ian and Mary.

They both played well into retirement at St John’s Roman Catholic Church in Caol, where they were long-time members, and in 2010 their contribution was recognised by Pope Benedict, who awarded them the Benemerenti medal for services to the Catholic Church.

Latterly Ian, who lived on his croft next door to Charles’s home at Lochyside, Fort William, had been forced to give up playing at functions after 
developing a severe allergy to flower pollen, particularly that of large African lilies popular in formal floral arrangements at events, which doctors had warned could be life-threatening.

But his passion for playing the fiddle remained, just as it had done since he was a schoolboy.

A loving father who was extremely proud and supportive of all his children, he was predeceased two years ago by Mary, to whom he had been married for more than 60 years, and is survived by their daughter Isabel, sons Ian and Charles and four grandchildren.