Journalist, writer and broadcaster

Born: November 16, 1937;

Died: February 2, 2016

MARTIN Macdonald, who has died at his home in Inverness aged 78, was one of the most respected Highland journalists who spent more than half a century at his trade. It took him from his native Skye to senior positions within the BBC, where he played an important role in the modern development of Gaelic broadcasting.

Coming from the crofting community of Achachork, north of Portree, Gaelic was his first language, but he had originally wanted to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, father and uncles by going to sea. His mother was against it though so they agreed a compromise. He would spend his six-week summer holiday from school as a galley-boy on the MacBrayne’s Outer Isles mail steamer the Loch Seaforth, on which an uncle was skipper. “After a fortnight I retired defeated,” he later recalled, returning to school to pass exams and head for Edinburgh University.

He started his career as Skye correspondent for the Inverness Courier and Oban Times and later wrote a weekly Gaelic column for the local West Highland Free Press which he supported from its establishment in 1972.

He had originally joined the BBC in 1965 and was appointed manager of BBC Highland in the 1980s, having previously worked in Aberdeen as the editor of current affairs programme Northbeat. He was also Scottish editor at Westminster during the pioneering parliament broadcasting experiment in 1975.

He was involved in ground-breaking Gaelic current affairs TV programmes of the 1970s and 1980s, producing, presenting and reporting. His vast experience was important to the establishment and development of BBC Radio nan Gàidheal in the 1980s.

While never entirely comfortable in his managerial role at the BBC in Inverness, he proved an inspiration to many young Gaelic broadcasters who were to prosper professionally.

Until very recently he penned a weekly Gaelic column for The Press and Journal on Highland history. It was a labour of love, as was his Gaelic broadcast series using similar material.

A contributor to a book of essays on Scottish childhood published in 1977, he recalled how in talking to his grandmother, from Kilmuir in the north of Skye, he had discovered that his great-grand-uncle had spent weeks in Edinburgh’s Calton Jail. This was for participating in the Land League’s campaign against landlords in the 1870s and 80s.

He wrote that his grandmother could recall as a girl of 12 seeing “the police advancing on the houses with eviction notices, the solid line of marines behind them with rifles … I had stumbled on the submerged, I now think suppressed, history of the people. At school, of course, no mention was made of it.”

The author of Skye Camanachd – A Century Remembered, about shinty on his island, he was also one of those who crafted the report Cor na Gàidhlig” (The position of Gaelic) in the mid-1980s. It was to influence subsequent language development.

In 2004 his colleagues awarded him the Barron Trophy, which recognises lifetime achievement in journalism in the Highlands and Islands. It was the only public accolade he accepted.

His wife, Catriona, who was from South Uist, died in 1999. He is survived by a daughter, Seònaid, and son Niall Iain, who followed his father’s footsteps into Gaelic broadcasting. There are two grandchildren, Catriona aged 14, and Archie, nine.