Obituary: Donald Ian MacLeod,  scholar, linguist, broadcaster and psychologist who never forgot island roots

Donald Ian MacLeod, broadcaster and psychologist. Born: 22 August, 1948 in Glasgow. Died: 18 February, 2021 in Faversham, aged 72

Donald Ian MacLeod at a signing session for his award-winning book Eadar Da Shaoghal
Donald Ian MacLeod at a signing session for his award-winning book Eadar Da Shaoghal

Donald Ian MacLeod – originally of Kirkibost, Great Bernera and later of Leurbost, Lochs, Isle of Lewis – who passed away recently at his home in Faversham, Kent – was a man of many talents who achieved much in his life.

His social media profile had him listed as a broadcaster and psychologist – he spent much of his life performing both of these roles but he was involved in much within these disciplines and a lot more besides, that was hidden from public view.

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He was born in Glasgow, son of a sailor from Leurbost, Isle of Lewis and a mother from Kirkibost, Great Bernera. At the age of three the family moved to his maternal grandparents’ home in Kirkibost, to take care of the large croft and livestock there following the death of his grandad.

The following few years of childhood in Bernera would be of great significance to Donald. His experiences then would, in later life, inspire him to write stories based on his childhood – these were titled Eadar Da Shaoghal (Between Two Worlds) – and were broadcast, in recent years, in a series on BBC Radio nan Gaidheal – and then published in 2019. He often spoke of his sense of belonging that islanders have always had.

The family then moved to his paternal grandparents’ home in Leurbost, Lochs, Isle of Lewis in 1956, although there was frequent commuting to Kirkibost, in maintaining the croft there. In his early teens Donald acquired a guitar that he taught himself to play and began to play in dance bands around the Isle of Lewis.

Donald went to the Lews Castle College to study textiles which provided a passport to leave home and attend the College of Textiles in Galashiels. On leaving the textiles college he formed a band and they proved to be very successful – mainly supporting famous, and soon to be famous, acts like the Jeff Beck Group, the Moody Blues, Cat Stevens, Long John Baldry and Robert Plant (later of Led Zeppelin) and his Band of Joy. He was also later involved in playing with a band on the Scottish folk scene and mixed with the likes of Billy Connolly and Gerry Rafferty, Aly Bain and many more.

He married around this time and started his family. Donald’s music career stalled and it was then that he acquired the necessary qualifications to embark on an academic life – he firstly went to Stirling University where he got an Honours degree in Psychology. He then headed off to Liverpool University for a post-graduate degree where he obtained a Diploma in Applied Social Sciences.

He then found work as a Probation Officer in north-west England and worked in prisons where he drew on his knowledge of psychology. He was later involved in a working group that made recommendations on how members of the bereaved families of people lost in major tragedies should be treated – in particular he was involved with people following the Hillsborough football tragedy of 1987.

In the early 1990s Donald got involved in media work relating to his skills as a psychologist. He appeared live for a period on the This Morning programme on ITV when a help-line was set up for the families of Gulf War soldiers.

Shortly after this Donald decided to move with his family to the Aberdeen area to take part in a media course, with particular emphasis on the Gaelic language. It was a government-sponsored scheme jointly run by Grampian TV and the Gaelic college Sabhal Mhor Ostaig. It was during this time that Donald first produced programmes for TV – such as An e Farmad an ni Treabahd? in 1994 about the whole issue of community land buy-out which was in its infancy then.

He also produced a short documentary titled The Count – about Count Robin de la Lanne Mirrlees – landowner of the Bernera Estate who had also bought and lived in his family home in Kirkibost, Great Bernera. From here Donald became heavily involved in broadcasting – on TV and radio and in both his languages of Gaelic and English.

In the late 1990s Donald and his family moved to Kent where he would spend the remainder of his life.

He resumed his career in the public sector. At the same time his media work became multi-faceted. Most notably he became increasingly involved in Gaelic TV and radio programmes on BBC Alba and Radio nan Gaidheal. Among these were series about the the Scottish Enlightenment and the author Charles Dickens. He also was the subject of a documentary about himself. During much of the last 20 years he had been a regular radio contributor, particularly on psychology.

Donald was particularly proud that some of his work is archived permanently to act as a learning tool for students of the Gaelic language.

His broadcast career was aptly bookended by the writing of Eadar Da Shaoghal, inspired by his childhood in Great Bernera. The book won a Gaelic book prize at the Royal National Mod in 2019 and was shortlisted for the Donald Meek Prize in 2020.

So ended the life of my brother Donald Ian MacLeod – a remarkable man who achieved much in life. He will be deeply mourned and sadly missed by his family, friends, colleagues at the BBC and many others throughout the Gaelic speaking community.