Tobar an Dualchais - Kist O Riches
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'A' Chorra-ghritheach' (‘The Heron’) is the name of the first poem which Sorley MacLean wrote in Gaelic. Image © photomic
Sorley MacLean is regarded as one of the most significant Scottish poets of the twentieth century and the 24th of November marks the anniversary of his death in 1996.
Born on the Isle of Raasay in 1911, Sorley was raised in a Gaelic-speaking family which was immersed in Gaelic culture and song. After leaving school he studied at the University of Edinburgh and graduated with a first class honours degree in English. He then trained as a teacher and taught in Skye, Mull and Edinburgh before being conscripted into the Signals Corps in 1940. After being seriously wounded at the Battle of El Alamein in 1942, he was discharged the following year. He returned to teaching and his last post before retiring was as head teacher of Plockton High School.
He wrote his early poems in English but after writing his first Gaelic poem, 'A' Chorra-ghritheach' ('The Heron'), in 1931 he decided to continue writing in his first language.
His first individual collection of poems was published in 1943, entitled 'Dàin do Eimhir agus Dàin Eile' ('Poems to Eimhir and Other Poems'), which examined the conflicting themes of love and war. It became one of the most important books published in Gaelic in the twentieth century. His other seminal works include 'Hallaig' and 'An Cuilithionn'. 'Hallaig' is a meditative poem on the desolation associated with the Highland Clearances, while 'An Cuilithionn' is a political poem which considers a Europe which is being torn apart by competing ideologies in the mid twentieth century.
Sorley MacLean's lasting legacy is as a national and international poet whose literary work transcended linguistic borders.
In this recording from 1982, Sorley MacLean describes the effect which World War II had on him and his poetry.
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Julie Fowlis and Chris Wright were Tobar an Dualchais' Artists in Residence in 2012