Ian Paterson (Iain Fhionnlaigh Aonghais 'ic Iain Shomhairle) was born in 1916 at the house 'Geodhu' in Backhill on the island of Berneray (by North Uist). Both his father Finlay Paterson and his mother Christina MacCuish were native to the island, and Ian would have grown up steeped in Gaelic tradition and culture. A primary school teacher for most of his working life, Ian Paterson was a late convert to the School of Scottish Studies and to fieldwork, but his contribution is nevertheless immense. Between the years of 1965 and the 1980s, he recorded hours of song, story, poetry, history, and traditional knowledge, mostly from the people of Berneray. Much of this invaluable record of 20th-century Berneray is now available on the Tobar an Dualchais website, where it provides a rich resource accessible to all.
A veteran of the Second World War, Ian Paterson served in the Royal Navy. On his return to Scotland, he trained as a primary school teacher, and spent many years teaching, and was the headteacher of Coaltown of Balgonie Primary School at the end of his career in 1966. He then joined the School of Scottish Studies, initially as a transcriber of tapes. It was then that he began to carry out hours of recordings in his native island of Berneray. His roots were deep in the community, and his recordings show the unique perspective of someone who was not just observing and recording the people on the island, but of someone who was a part of life on the island. He carried out extended interviews with many residents of the island, including the well-known tradition-bearer and bard Ceit Dix (Ceit an Tàilleir), who even improvised a short humorous song, Do dh'Iain Chan Eil Diù Agam, poking fun at Ian for coming to record her. His recordings of Ceit are testament to the strong relationships he had with the people he recorded.
Ian Paterson was also a frequent contributor to the 'Gairm' quarterly magazine, particularly between 1953 and 1961, often writing poems about community life in Berneray. His poems also feature in 'An Tuil: Anthology of 20th-Century Scottish Gaelic Verse'.
Ian Paterson's recordings on Tobar an Dualchais date from between 1965 and the early 1980s, around the time when he retired from his position as lecturer at the School of Scottish Studies. As mentioned previously, the majority of his recordings were carried out in Berneray, but there are some notable exceptions which include recordings from the Back District of Lewis in 1981, recordings of Sorley Maclean (1911-1996) of Raasay reciting his poetry, recordings of the Rev. William Matheson (1910-1995) of North Uist, and recordings of the Rev. Norman MacDonald (1904-1978) of Valtos on the Isle of Skye.
Other notable contributors recorded by Ian in Berneray include Flora MacCuish (Flòraidh nighean Iain Fhionnaigh Thormoid) (1898-1971) of Backhill; Angus MacPhillip (Aonghas Dhòmhnaill Anna) (1907-1977) of Backhill and Margaret MacLeod (Mairead Ghilleasbaig Thàilleir mhic Iain Dhòmhnaill) (1903-1979) of Borve.
References and Further Reading
Hebridean Connections, 'Ian Paterson', https://www.hebrideanconnections.com/people/105734 [accessed 25 November 2020].