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INSIDE TRACK: An eclectic bunch with connections to Skye

Next week will see the Skye Book Festival return with a simulating programme but one event in particular is much anticipated locally:

the launch of The Great Book of Skye: From the Island to the World. People and Place on a Scottish Island by two well known islanders.

Few details are available yet of what sounds like a remarkable work of scholarship. But we learn it contains portraits of 563 people connected to the island; profiles totalling a quarter of a million words from original sources, more than 600 pages long with more than 1,000 footnotes: the equivalent of two PhDs.

To qualify, two criteria had to be met. The subjects had to be dead and the authors had to know when they died. So Agatha Christie is in because she spent time in Broadford.

But Cu-Cuchulainn, the great warrior of Celtic mythology, only makes it into the appendix because nobody knows when he died, or indeed whether he even really existed.

Mao Zedong has an honourable mention because of a Canadian, Dr Norman Bethune, who in 1938 joined Mao's Eighth Route Army as a surgeon in the war with Japan. Bethune's paternal grandmother was a Skye woman.

When he died, Mao wrote an obituary In Memory of Norman Bethune, describing him as "a man of importance, integrity, of virtue, who forsook self-interest for the interest of the people".

It became one of three prescribed articles during the Cultural Revolution, which intriguingly was to be translated into Gaelic in 1969.

Mahatma Gandhi is in because of his connection to a Skye minister's son who was an indigo planter in India.

Ghandi witnessed the exploitative management of his plantation and the experience sparked the great man's embrace of radical politics. Round-the-world sailor Dame Ellen MacArthur features, although she is not dead. But her forbear Donald Macarthur from Luib is. However, that was after he gave evidence to the 1892 Royal Commission into deer forests in the Highlands and Islands, when it met in Broadford.

Mairi Mhor nan Oran (Big Mary of the Songs), Mary MacPherson, the Skye poetess of the Clearances, is profiled, as one would expect. But so, we hear, are many of the less heralded men and women of Skye whose contribution to the life of the island down the centuries has been valued. To many islanders, this will be the book's real significance.

Although in English, it is the work of two native Gaels. Professor Norman Macdonald of Skye's Gaelic college Sabhal Mor Ostaig, taught at universities in Scotland and Canada and was for 20 years on the staff of BBC Scotland.

Cailean Maclean, from South Uist, has lived on his mother's native Skye for more than 30 years. A renowned photographer, he also works as a lecturer, researcher, publisher and broadcaster.

They are publishing the book themselves through their imprint Great Book Publishing, although their original idea was an updated gazetteer of Skye.

They were sidetracked. It appears to have been quite a detour.

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