Gaelic teacher and singer; Born May 27, 1931; Died October 28, 2008.

FINLAY MacNeill, who has died aged 77, was a Gaelic teacher and piper who became as well known and welcome in the Gaelic communities of Canada and Ireland as he was in Scotland. He was familiarly called Fionnlagh Mor - Big Finlay - in his native tongue, and he was certainly a man of stature, physically and as a teacher and musician, whether singing or playing the pipes.

MacNeill was born and brought up in Port Glasgow to Lewis parentage, in the pre-war days when many islanders sailed on the Clyde. His father was skipper on an inshore lighthouse boat that kept the river's safety beacons lit. Most of the crew spoke Gaelic, and those who did not understood it.

At home, the music came from his mother, Peigi, and his grandmother. Like many Highlanders of his generation, his connections with his parents' Gaelic community were reinforced when he was evacuated to Lewis for a year during the Clydeside wartime bombing.

He began piping as a youngster with Port Glasgow Boys' Brigade, continued his interest at Glasgow College of Piping when at university in the city, and completed his training in the Seaforth Highlanders' pipe band during his two years of national service.Another notable Lewis piper, Donald MacLeod, was his pipe-major.

As well as winning many awards for piping, including the much-prized gold medal at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1971, MacNeill was a worldwide ambassador for piping, and Gaelic music and song. As a performer, teacher and judge, he travelled the length and breadth of Canada, and was a frequent visitor to the Gaelic communities of the eastern maritime provinces of Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island, where he taught in summer schools. He was also a frequent judge at piping events in the US, including the first New York Highland Games in 1983.

Despite his skills in piobaireachd, the classical form of pipe music, MacNeill was no narrow purist. He enjoyed introducing the pipes to the folk scene and did a couple of tours and records with the Boys of the Lough.

His singing career began as a Gaelic tutor and a member of the tenor section of Greenock Gaelic Choir, an interest he later continued with Inverness Gaelic Choir. But despite his choral ability he will be largely remembered as a solo singer, with a glorious light tenor voice with a slight huskiness that enabled him to develop a highly individual style of singing traditional Gaelic songs, of which he built up a vast repertoire.

He was a frequent contributor to BBC programmes and frequently appeared on the ceilidh platforms of expatriate Gaels in the Glasgow area. He made two popular commercial records, and the BBC retains an archive of his performances.

He was often called on by the Gaelic association An Comunn Gaidhealach to serve on music and development committees and was a familiar figure at local and national Mods as an adjudicator. He also worked on producing Gaelic teaching materials, particularly for radio.

The world of piping and Gaelic music could have given MacNeill a full-time career. Yet his prime and lasting dedication was to his profession as a teacher, where his charisma and enthusiasm brought a willing response from his pupils. After a first degree in English language, he taught at Camphill in Paisley, then in Greenock High School, followed by some years as a development teacher in Freetown, Sierra Leone. On his return to Scotland he gained a first in Celtic at Glasgow University, renewed contact with his Gaelic background, and in 1970 moved to Inverness as Gaelic adviser to the local authority, a career that continued in various forms for 20 years. He also researched language immersion courses in Wales, Ireland and Canada, which led to the first Gaelic-medium schools in Scotland.

In summer he continued to preach the twin gospels of Gaelic and piping wherever there was an interest, most notably in Canada. In fact, with his interwoven interests, MacNeill's whole life was one of devotion to the culture his parents - and many other Highlanders - had brought with them to Clydeside.

He was a warm and generous man who gave freely of his time to his many friends throughout the world. His illness of the past few years was offset by the devotion of Morag, his wife and helpmate in Gaelic activities for 44 years, and their children Donald, Catriona and Calum, with their wives and his grandchildren. Bidh moran dhaoine gad chaoidh, a charaid. (Many people will miss you, friend.) By Martin Macdonald