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Sorley MacLean


(Somhairle MacGill-Eain)

1911 - 1996

Gaelic Poet. Born at Oskaig on Raasay, MacLean was educated at the school on that island, followed by Portree High School. He read English at the University of Edinburgh, where he began writing poetry, initially in English. His poetry was a side-line; his career was that of a teacher and he taught in Mull, at Boroughmuir High School in Edinburgh and became head-master at Plockton, before retiring in 1972. MacLean re-established Gaelic as a serious literary language, much in the same way his friend Hugh MacDiarmid (1892 - 1978) had done for the Scots language, and became one of the greatest Gaelic poets. He did however translate much of his work into English to permit wider public access.

His politics were left-wing and he felt very strongly about the rise of fascism in Spain and Germany. He drew parallels between these events and the Highland Clearances in Scotland, the latter becoming the subject of his epic Hallaig. MacLean was seriously wounded fighting in the North Africa Campaign of the Second World War.

He had a great love of Skye, where he lived latterly, and the Cuillin mountains, which were the subject of an unfinished poem. MacLean's output was relatively sparse; his published collections include Spring Tide and Neap Tide (1972), Ris a' Bhruthaich (1985) and From Wood to Ridge (1989). In his later years he stopped writing, taking the view that he did not wish to compromise his integrity by publishing what he thought might be inferior work.

MacLean received many accolades, perhaps the most important of which was the Queen's Medal for Poetry. The University of Edinburgh named him as their first 'Alumnus of the Year' in 1991.

MacLean died in Raigmore Hospital (Inverness).


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