Without knowing it, John Cairney solved a family riddle for me in 2005 with the publication of his book, Heroes Are Forever – The Life and Times of Celtic Legend Jimmy McGrory. My late grandfather had always claimed to be Jimmy’s first cousin but, as he was a man for the craic, I had never believed him.

In the first paragraph of John’s magnificent homage, he confirmed that Jimmy’s father had married my grandfather’s aunt in their hometown of St Johnston, Co Donegal.

I got the chance to shake John’s hand a couple of years later, thank him, and then to enjoy his sincere friendship in the autumnal years of his life.

John was fabulous company. Warm, witty, a raconteur without peer and a supremely erudite individual who oozed charisma. And yet, he remained a lad o’ pairts, never losing his touch with an audience.

I recall a charity evening in the Greenock Celtic Supporters’ Club when John and I had been asked to speak. I picked him up at his home on the southside and we discussed our material. I was doing 25 minutes of stand-up comedy, and he told me, in that unmistakable voice, that he would talk about his lifelong love of Celtic and then close with a couple of poems.

“Poetry? Jeez, John. I live in Greenock – that ship won’t sail!”

What did I know? A master craftsman, at ease with the spotlight and an audience, he regaled the faithful with his stories before performing his poetry to a crowd who savoured every syllable with respect. There were grown men crying!

The rich assortment of characters in John’s multitude of stories included Princess Margaret, Roger Moore, Richard Burton, all the Lisbon Lions, a young Muhammad Ali and so many more.

The Ali story, incidentally, had a Harlem theatre as the backdrop, a worshipful crowd and ended with the soon-to-be “Greatest” and the boy from the east end of Glasgow trading poems with each other. It also allowed John to showcase another of his talents – mimicry – and his Ali was the equal of any professional impressionist.

John never hid his love for Celtic Football Club but, just like his deep, private devotion to his Roman Catholic faith, he was never one to overstate the case.

I was privileged to proof-read the memoirs of his lifelong affair with the team The Sevenpenny Gate where he detailed the birth of his passion and the many years of enjoyment he had taken from that introduction to the club.

His devotion was genuine although John’s Celtic was of the traditional variety, his memories outstripping the modern game and, I remember when I took him to a home match in 2011, he lamented that 21st century football was lacking in “cavaliers”. His was the Paradise of Tully, McPhail, Fallon, Stein, McNeill, Johnstone et al.

He took impish pride in the fact that Lisbon legend, Jim Craig was nicknamed Cairney after John’s 1960s’ television series This Man Craig and came along one night, a few years ago, when I was hosting an evening with Jim at Celtic Park. And so it was, when I called Jim into the room, he came out with his friend John – Cairney and “Cairney” carrying the European Cup between them.

The curse of Covid curtailed our outings as my friend’s frailty became more prominent throughout a difficult period for everyone but we were able to enjoy a memory together in John’s 90th year a mere month before lockdown.

Archie Macpherson set up a lunch in his company for myself and John at the Bothwell Bridge Hotel which gave the three of us a chance to chat, celebrate and, above all, laugh.

For a Greenock boy to sit between these two great Scotsmen, giants in their respective fields, as they discussed politics, history, the arts, football, and life was a pleasure beyond imagination.

The memory of John, slowed down by the advance of the years but still able to reach those range of notes that had so eloquently recited Burns, greeting Archie in the car park that day with a Shakespearian “Hail, Macpherson!” will always be a special one.

John was a polymath. Actor, writer, producer, lecturer, author, artist – he did it all with aplomb and even found time for a PhD whilst living in New Zealand. Yet, more than that almost exhaustive list of talents, he had an ability to stir the soul and inspire the heart.

And now, he has left us, “stage right”, as he might have said.

I will miss those moments relaxing with him and his wonderful wife, Alannah, in their Queen’s Park home, the wireless constantly tuned to Radio Three and the atmosphere of complete contentment.

I will miss the words of wisdom, the stories, the history, and the sheer elegance of his presence.

A Lad o’ Pairts for sure – and one of those pairts, I am honoured to say, was the warmth of his friendship enjoyed by myself and many others.

May you rest in well-deserved peace, my friend John.

Gerry McDade