Aonghas MacNeacail (Black Angus )

Gaelic activist and poet

Born 7 June 1942

Died December 19 2022.

THIS is the officially recognised Gaelic week so it is perhaps appropriate that we honour one of Scotland's leading Gaelic poets of the 20th century who died just before Christmas.

Angeous MacNeacail, who was better known as Aonghas Dubh (Black Angus) was an impish bardic figure with a full white beard and known for his benevolent modest manner and ready smile.

Given his appearance and style it was little wonder that on more than one occasion children assumed Aonghas to be Father Christmas, a role he did indeed sometimes undertake in cold reality through the giving of his many gifts to his beloved Gaelic culture. However, he was also no slouch for he was latterly an award-winning writer broadcaster, poet, songwriter and even dabbled in writing operas.

Aonghas MacNeacail was 80 when he died. He was born and raised amongst those pinky peninsulas that seem to tickle the sea off Skye's harsh very northern shores.

There is a significant story often told of his of his naming in that although when his parents dictated his name in Gaelic to the civil servant responsible for its registration that official evidently had to then register it in English as Angus Macnicol.

Many years later Aonghas, by then a noted Gaelic activist, reversed the process, re-registering his name in its Gaelic spelling and cursing what he saw as the colonialist interference in his parents' civic right to choose his name. Though with his characteristic smile.

As a youngster he knew both the joys and sorrows of a crofting lifestyle for his seaman father had died of cancer when he was but an eight-year-old chiel, leaving his mother Catriona to raise both him and his sister Peigi on the croft.

Primary school wasn't much fun either either for he had spoken nothing but Gaelic at home and was alarmed to find that only English would be allowed at the school. He was similarly slightly unhappy at both his secondary school at Portree and during a later attempt to train him as a radio officer at a nautical college, a career he soon abandoned.

Hard crofting, however, also lent him the rich poetical mine of a memorable childhood and he was later to write heart-rending poems typically describing harrowing incidents such as a factor cruelly stripping a crofter of her back load of bracken as she fought through the trauchle of a hard wind in the snell cold. His early 20s saw him starting various jobs outside Gaelic which including journalism, being a housing officer, a railway clerk and undertaking a number of writers in residences.

It wasn't until he was 26 that he really found his feet and started to study more earnestly at Glasgow University.

By then it was the late 1960s and left wing ideas were sweeping Europe. In line with the times new ways were being found to celebrate Gaelic in a contemporary setting with Sir Iain Noble being only a few years off establishing the innovative Gaelic college on Skye, at which Aonghas was to one day act as writer in residence.

But he was also interested in writing English poetry and would often swither between the two disciplines, often hanging out with the likes of Liz Lochhead, Alastair Gray and James Kelman.

In 1980 he married the renowned actress and musician Gerda Stevinson and they had two children – Rob and Galina. By the 1990s he was a well established figure in the Gaelic world travelling globally to read at poetry festivals as far apart as Russia, Japan and America and winning several significant literary prizes.

He died much loved and celebrated. .

A stone to his cairn.

Maxwell Macleod