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The Highland Line: John Farquhar Munro - a Highlander who enriched Scottish body politic

It was a quiet sadness that met the news that John Farquhar Munro had died this week, aged 79.

Friends and acquaintances knew the former MSP hadn't been in the best of health for a while, but nonetheless most shared the feeling that his passing took something of importance from contemporary Highland life.

The tributes were immediate and generous: a true Highland gentleman, canny, crafty; mischievous; his own man; principled; brave.

They were all true. But it was the fundamental decency of the man which always shone through, with Scottish politics the richer for it.

Michael Foxley, the erstwhile leader of the Highland Council and a fellow Liberal Democrat recalled this week how going out canvassing at election time with JF (as he was always known) was an extraordinary experience. It wasn't the politician who was seeking out the voters to ask for their backing, but rather the voters were seeking him out to say he could rely on their support in the ballot box.

To the people of Skye and Lochalsh, the old parishes of Kintail and his native Glenshiel and beyond, he was one their own. He made his own the constituency of Ross, Skye and Inverness West - which stretched from Neist Point on Skye to Cromarty on the north eastern tip of the Black Isle. He was reputed to have locked up more than 500,000 miles in his blue Merc number plate JFDID. And indeed JF did.

On the old Skye and Lochalsh District Council, to the Highland Council and on to the Scottish Parliament he fought hard for Gaelic, land reform, crofting, transport - the issues which remain crucial yet to the indigenous Highlander of a reforming bent.

His role in helping rid the Skye Bridge of its tolls, was absolutely critical. His threat to resign from his party over the issue was no empty gesture, and the leaders of the then Labour/LibDem Scottish Executive knew it.

He himself had always hated the tolls, but paid them as an elected MSP. However his wife Celia, his constant partner in and out of crime, had not. A decision he entirely supported despite her ending up in Dingwall Sheriff Court along with the other Skye and Kyle Against Tolls (SKAT) activists.

JF of course rocked his own party and others when he came out and backed Alex Salmond as the best candidate for First Minister before the last Holyrood elections. Some took this to be a sign of advancing years. But more saw it as him paying a political debt - the SNP leader's intervention to save the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music at Plockton High School from closure.

Mr Salmond didn't forget, when he spoke of him this week: "John Farquhar Munro was always his own man, campaigning beyond party loyalties, which is one reason he will be remembered with respect and affection right across the political spectrum."

His life's story has been well rehearsed this week. The merchant seaman who tried to stowaway on the Queen Mary to get back the Britain from the US. A civil engineering and quarrying contractor, bus operator, heavy haulage contractor, crofter; he played every role and more.

But it was as an MSP he won a national profile. He remains one of only two native Gaels to been elected to Holyrood. He had hoped for more.

In 2003 he won the Free Spirit/Maverick of the Year category in the Herald's Politician of the Year Awards.

The journalist, broadcaster, shinty historian, Hugh Dan MacLennan, who was a great friend, said he was very proud of the 'Maverick of the Year' title: "And that's some going when you consider the opposition - the likes of Margot Macdonald and Donald Gorrie with whom he struck a great friendship; the kenspeckle Jamie MacGregor and Mary Scanlon."

It is likely that he was, at some point, sounded out about a place in the House of Lords. If so you could bet he would have smiled and said something about being content to remain a commoner. There are different forms of nobility.

Meanwhile, there is an event at Celtic Connections 2014 on Sunday night which JF would have enjoyed.

Shinty's Heroes in the Mitchell Theatre will celebrate many leading shinty players' heroic role during the First World War; their story largely unknown outwith their Highland home areas.

It will remember the teams of Skye Camanachd and Kyles Athletic from Tighnabruaich who lost the equivalent of two teams each, devastating their communities, with Beauly losing 25 players.

It will also highlight the 'missing five' of Kingussie, who never received their commemorative Camanachd Cup winning caps from 1914 because they were killed in battle in France.

There was the loss to Scottish sport of Dr Johnnie Cattanach of Newtonmore Camanachd, a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps, at Gallipoli.

The best Shinty player of his era and the only player from the ancient sport inducted into Scottish Sport's Hall of Fame, Cattanach enlisted shortly after the outbreak but died of wounds suffered in the Dardannelles in July 1915, aged 30.

A great all-round sportsman, he was capped for Scotland in hockey and sprinting and remains the only shinty player ever to score eight goals in a Camanachd Cup final

The night will showcase a combination of music with narration and a large number of archive photographs that have been painstakingly put together by the ubiquitous Hugh Dan MacLennan who will guide a whistle-stop tour through the history of shinty not least uits story in Glasgow itself.

Gary Innes will lead an 11-strong cast of musicians with strong connections to the game, including Duncan Chisholm, Kathleen MacInnes, Allan Henderson, Iain MacFarlane, Norrie MacIver and, of course, Fergie MacDonald who wrote the  hit "The Shinty Referee".

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