IAN NIALL, the Scottish writer who died on June 24, aged 85, left a legacy of more than 40 books, among them a number of minor classics, as well as sev-

eral decades of weekly nature journalism in the pages of the dentists' favourite sedative, Country Life.

If the natural history essay was his true metier, as found in such volumes as The Poacher's Handbook (1950), and his memoir A Galloway Childhood (1967), dramatic fiction also featured in his output and was where he first made his mark.

Ian Niall was the pen name of John McNeillie, under which name his first book, Wigtown Ploughman: Part of His Life, was published in 1939. Its author was then 22. Serialised in a Sunday newspaper, the book caused a furore with its account of the impoverished lives and of what was seen as the ''immorality'' of the cotters in the Machars of Wigtownshire. The book, still in print, and regarded as essential reading for all Gallovidians, played a key part in the instigation of housing reforms in the region. Hugh Walpole, writing in the Daily Sketch, though disturbed by its violence, none the less found Wigtown Ploughman ''shot through with beauty'', and praised and envied its authenticity.

McNeillie's controversial debut was followed a year later by Glasgow Keelie, a story of young hooligans in Glasgow in which Hollywood and the gangster movie play a vital role. McNeillie had a cinematic eye and ear and this book was a film just waiting (in this case, in vain) to me made.

A second agricultural novel, Morryharn Farm, followed in January 1941. By then McNeillie had moved to North Wales where he spent the duration of the war working in a precision-tool engineering works. He settled in the region, and spent the next 40 years there.

A fourth novel, No Resting Place, proved too violent for his original publisher, Putnam & Co, but it was seized on eagerly by Heinemann and appeared in 1948, as a first novel by Ian Niall. McNeillie's second debut proved no less remarkable than his first. Set in southwest Scotland, though the location isn't precisely disclosed, No Resting Place relates the fortunes, feuds, and misfortunes of the Kyle family, a tribe of ''tinkers''. The celebrated documentarist, Paul Rotha, took the book up and filmed a treatment of it, in County Wicklow, with Michael Gough in the key role, and a cast of Abbey Players, including Jack MacGowran, Noel Purcell, Eithne Dunne, Maureen O'Sullivan, and Diana Campbell in support.

The film, released in 1952, became a classic of Irish cinema. A smattering of Irish was interpolated into the script, which otherwise draws much of its

dialogue verbatim from the novel itself. Critically acclaimed at the Venice film festival, the film fell a casualty to what Rotha would lament as the politics of the British film industry and never enjoyed general distribution. A recent showing, in May 2001, at the Irish Film Centre in Temple Bar, Dublin, drew a considerable audience, among them representatives of traveller communities, for whom the

film gives the first unsentimental cinematic account of their way of life, told from their side of the story.

There was a strongly reclusive and self-effacing element in John McNeillie's character and the acquisition of a pen-name came to suit him well. He can scarcely be said ever to have made much attempt to promote himself or

his work. During the 1950s and 1960s he wrote not only for Country Life, but also at the same time contributed to the Spectator. In this period he also edited for IPC magazines the fishing monthly, Angling, all from a small semi-detached house off the Abergele Road in Old Colwyn while holding down a full-time job at the Ratcliffe Tool Company. He was a passionate fly fisherman.

Born in Old Kilpatrick on November 7, 1916, John Kincaid McNeillie was the eldest son of Robert McNeillie and of Jean McDougall. Robert McNeillie, a blacksmith's son from Garlieston in Wigtownshire, was then apprenticed in the shipyards of the Clyde.

Some 18 months after his birth, during an outbreak of meningitis, in which his younger sister died, the infant McNeillie was sent to Galloway to be cared for by his paternal grandparents, John and Elizabeth McNeillie, then tenants of the Vans Agnew family of Barnbarroch, at North Clutag farm. It was in this horse-drawn time-warp, closer to the world of Robert Burns both in speech and custom than to the twentieth century, that McNeillie spent his childhood. It was a world and time he would never escape, an Eden that formed the backdrop to almost all he wrote, and almost all he cared dearly to talk about.

John McNeillie was made a Doctor of Letters by Glasgow University, for his contribution to Scottish literature, in 1998. He leaves a wife, Sheila, and a daughter and two sons.

John McNeillie born November 7, 1916; died June 24, 2002.