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Monday, 10 June 2013

An Irish Perspective on the Highlands

On the appearance of Calum Maclean’s only book printed in the spring of 1959, The Irish Times may have been one of the very first papers to have reviewed it. The book had been delayed for quite a while because of Maclean’s illness and it would have delighted him when he read that reviews of his book were so positive and that they all highly recommended this book which had been more than six years in the making:

His heart’s in the Highlands
Calum I. Maclean, a Gaelic speaker from the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, made many friends during the years he spent in this country, studying and collecting folklore.
            They will be foremost among those who welcome his book *“The Highlands,” in which he has done for his own beloved land what, in some ways, Robin Flower and Synge did for parts of the West and South-West of this country.
            This is the book of a scholar and scientist trained in comparative folk-culture. It is also the book of a poet for whom the song, the legend, the tale of old times have their own colour and value and full-blooded life, not just their reference numbers and their exact places in filing cabinet or pigeon-hole.
            It is the book of a Highlander, with not sentiment or cant about him, who genuinely loves his own land and is never far removed from the melancholy fact that old ways have suffered, that the great glens are too empty and the people too few.
            Since the book is splendidly illustrated, the study of the text with an eye on the pictures, means that you have ─ almost been to the Highlands.
            The slightly sardonic “almost” is never far absent from Calum Maclean’s approach to the subject for he is very sensitive towards anything that might possibly be described as a stage-Scot or stage-Hielander.
            A couple of miles west from Callander he enters through the Pass of Leny, goes along the shore of lovely Loch Lubnaig and reflects on the beauty of bonnie Strathyre, and reflects also: “Most Scots, even if they have never seen the strath, have heard about its beauty because of the popular song ‘Bonny Strathyre.’”
            There is, perhaps, a gentle reproach implied just as there may be too a gentle reproach when he comes to the churchyard of Balquidder where Rob Roby MacGregor lies buried.
            “Gaelic,” he writes, “is still spoken in the Braes of Balquidder and this must be about the most southerly outpost of the language now. There is a profusion of beautiful placenames around Loch Vaoil and even in their Angicized form they sound well: Lochlarig, Ardcarnaig, Monachylemore, Craigruie, Murlagan, Strenvar, Achleskine, and Stronslaney. I am sure that only very few people in Balquidder now know what all these names mean. No doubt Rob Roy knew the meaning of them all.”
With learning, love and great beauty, this book reveals the Highlands. Naturally, it is meant, first before all, for Scotsmen. Secondly, it is meant for Irishmen, because of our links with Gaelic Scotland and because of many common problems.
After that it’s for everybody─who wants to know about one of the most impressive areas in these islands.
It’s a treasure of a book: to read, and re-read to look at with delight.

                                                                                                T. J.

*The Highlands: by Calum I. Maclean, (Batsford: 25/-)

TJ, ‘His heart’s in the Highlands’, The Irish Times (25 April 1959), p. 5.

Cover of the first edition of The Highlands (London: Batsford, 1959), showing Glencoe, Argyllshire. The photograph was taken by Noel Habgood.

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