GLASGOW'S Govan area ground to a halt yesterday morning amid remarkable scenes of grieving for one of its most inspirational sons, Colin Macleod, founder and guiding spirit of the Galgael Trust, which brought hope and spiritual awakening to so many in the community.

Police held up the traffic for an hour as a funeral procession of several hundred colourful mourners - many dressed in the plaid, some grasping feathers and bunches of heather - stepped solemnly under leaden skies from the Galgael premises on Fairlie Road along the mile or so to Govan Old Parish Church.

It was a startling turnout for a man with such humble beginnings, and a mark of the enormous respect he had garnered for all he achieved in his mere 39 years. The shock at his death, from a suspected heart attack, was palpable.

"He burst his brave heart fighting poverty in the City of Glasgow, " said author and friend Alastair McIntosh, a founding trustee of Galgael in the late 1990s.

Back then, Galgael's purpose was simple yet untried: to give purpose to the lives of Govan's unemployed, recovering alcoholics and former drug addicts while engendering a sense of history, through providing training in traditional boatbuilding skills. The result has been more than just concrete help for the downtrodden of the community; it was repeatedly described yesterday as akin to guiding them toward spirituality.

"Colin's work was his worship, " said Gehan, his wife, who attended the service with their three young children, Oran, Iona and Tawny.

Macleod, said Dr Richard Frazer, minister of Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh, "had the ability to turn a cup of tea into a sacrament and a blether into a sermon that would be with you all day".

Perhaps inevitably, Macleod drew comparisons with his namesake, George MacLeod, the legendary minister of Govan Old Parish Church who preached to the unemployed in the depression of the 1930s and went on to found the Iona Community.

"Colin Macleod has done for spirituality in Govan what George MacLeod did for it on Iona, " said McIntosh. "They both have the same focus."

Rain fell as the procession, led out by a piper playing Leaving Lismore, wound north by the River Clyde.

Eight men carried the oak coffin, hand-crafted by Galgael members in a final act of love for their chieftain. The previous night, Macleod lay in his open coffin as more than 200 friends came to Galgael's boatshed to share a dram amid the galleys and pay respect.

Macleod was described variously as a "warrior-poet", a prophet and a man with special powers; above all, though, he was their chieftain.

To judge from the eulogies and many testaments yesterday, he was an inspiration to everyone he came into contact with.

Colin Macleod came from a family with Hebridean roots and grew up in Pollok in the south side of Glasgow.

After jobs with the Forestry Commission and periods of unemployment - when he would look for bits of scrap wood and taught himself to carve - he travelled as a volunteer for the environmental charity the Scottish Tree Trust to South Dakota.

Here he witnessed the indigenous people's struggle to reclaim native language and traditions, quickly seeing parallels with his homeland.

It was natural that Macleod was at the forefront of a longrunning treetop protest in the early 1990s when the government unveiled plans to drive an extension to the M77 through part of the Pollok Estate public park. The Pollok Free State ultimately failed to stop the road, but it spawned a new era of activism, launching the political career of Scottish Socialist MSP Rosie Kane in the process.

Macleod took a different route, bringing the traditional craftwork classes that were prominent among Free Staters to Govan with the founding of Galgael in 1997. The vision was one of urban regeneration through reconnecting the people with the landscape and waterways on which their ancestral heritage was built, and boats were to be the vehicle of change.

Macleod chose not just any boats, but the Highland galley, or birlinn, which plied west coast waters for 800 years or more. Tomorrow his body will cross those waters to be laid to rest at Gravir on Lewis.

Macleod endured years of struggle to convince outside agencies of the value of Galgael's unorthodox but inspiring programme of selfrenewal through boatbuilding. Ironically, tomorrow, communities minister Malcolm Chisholm and Glasgow City Council leader Steve Purcell are due to attend Galgael's shed for the first official visit.

This visit was mentioned with pride yesterday during a series of contributions from family and friends in an unconventional church service heavy with emotion, yet celebratory in tone.

The Rev Norman Shanks of Govan Old Parish Church paid tribute to a "man of vision and such energy that he was hard to keep up with". Macleod was perplexing, even infuriating, yet filled with compassion, a strong sense of social justice and "engaged spirituality - charismatic in the fullest sense of that word".

"There will be a huge gap in people's lives and in the life of Govan, but his legacy lives on and he lives on through life's inexorable force for good, " he said.

"Colin soared like an eagle, " said one friend simply.

A rendition in Gaelic of Psalm 23, The Lord Is My Shepherd, left many in tears.

Then, with the Gaelic song in their hearts, the 600 or so mourners stepped outside to find autumn sunshine warming this spot by the Clyde.

They may have carried Gehan's words too, uttered through tears toward the service's culmination.

"Colin always dared to believe he could make a difference, " she said with pride.

"That's what I ask everyone here to remember: dare to believe."


The GalGael Trust helps unemployed people and those struggling with addictions to gain work and social skills by learning the traditional crafts once used in boat-building that might otherwise disappear. The charity was formed in 1997 and it has the support of master boatbuilders from Harris, Caithness and Fair Isle. It has inspired a similar project in Devonport near Plymouth.


www. galgael. org