Scotland loses “intellectual giant” after death of top Gaelic scholar

Dr John MacInnes. Credit: Louis DeCarlo Photography
Dr John MacInnes. Credit: Louis DeCarlo Photography
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Scotland’s leading authority on Gaelic language, tradition and culture has died aged 89.

Academic and author Dr John MacInnes (Iain MacAonghuis) spent his life studying and championing Gaelic history, folklore, music and spoken word, and was considered “the last of the native scholars”.

He was born in Uig on Lewis, but grew up on Raasay. As well as his native tongue, he was fluent in many other languages.

MacInnes started at the University of Edinburgh in 1948 where he studied Old English and Old Norse. He went on to work at the establishment’s School of Scottish Studies for more than 30 years before retiring in 1993. In 2006, his book Dùchas nan Gàidheal (Traditions of the Gael), won a Saltire Prize.

Friends and former colleagues have paid tribute.

“He really was the oracle, his loss to our scholarly community is incalculable,” said Dr Neill Martin, head of department at the School of Celtic and Scottish Studies.

“We will sorely miss his genial presence, dazzling conversation and mischievous sense of humour – qualities for which he was also justly famed.”

Professor Rob Ó Maolalaigh, vice principal and head of the College of Arts at the University of Glasgow, said: “John carried his formidable traditional and formal learning very lightly. He was a gifted teacher and storyteller who gave generously of his time and knowledge.”

Professor Gary West, also of the University of Edinburgh, is a former student. He said: “Even as a teenager, I could tell we were in the presence of an intellectual giant.” MacInnes leaves behind his wife Wendy, son Ruairi, daughter Catriona and grand-children Sinead and Roddy.