Neil Munro, 1908

The prominent novelist and journalist Neil Munro (1863-1930) was born and brought up in a Gaelic speaking household in Inveraray. He spent most of his working life as a journalist in the Glasgow area and is best known for the Para Handy stories and for novels such as John Splendid, (1898), set in the Montrose wars of the mid 17th C, and for Doom Castle, (1901), set in the time of the Jacobite risings of the mid eighteenth century. He wrote a number of other well received novels and short stories and the University of Glasgow awarded him a degree of LLD in April 1908 as a recognition of his achievements.
NPG 928 Neil Munro (1864-1930) by William Strang
 
Painting here of Neil Munro made by William Strang in 1903. This is in the National Portrait Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh and the image is reproduced here with their permission,©Scottish National Portrait Gallery, PG 928.

The ceremony, granting Munro his honorary doctorate, was addressed by the Principal of the University of Glasgow, Professor Sir Donald MacAlister, also a speaker of Gaelic. This is how the Scotsman reported the Principal’s remarks:

‘…As a Celt himself he [Principal MacAlasdair] hailed with special pleasure the honour the University had sought to bestow on Dr Neil Munro (applause). He was seer and bard and seannachie in one. He had, in his subtle art, revealed the Celt to himself and that was much, but he had done more. He had mediated the Celtic spirit to the Saxon in the Saxon’s own tongue…’ [1]

All of Munro’s published works were written in English but he was held in high esteem by his fellow Gaels in Glasgow. This can be seen by the warm tributes paid to Munro following his death in An Gaidheal, the journal of An Comunn Gaidhealach. Like many of his fellow Gaels he seems to have received very little or no education in his mother tongue. He apparently took some classes to brush up his written Gaelic with Duncan Reid (1849-1912), a Gaelic teacher from Kintyre, at the Glasgow High School. Although Munro is not known to have published anything in Gaelic, he conducted some correspondence in that language with Sherrif J. MacMaster Campbell (1859-1938). According to Campbell, he had, in his possession, several letters to him written in Gaelic from Munro. Campbell, who wrote the bilingual tributes to Munro in An Gaidheal, said that although all of Munro’s literary output was in English his deep knowledge of Gaelic language and culture was plain to see.[2]

Munro’s work also seems to have been widely appreciated in Ireland. Sean Tóibín, from Corcaigh wrote a tribute in Gaeilge, published in An Gaidheal, and translated into English by Dr George Calder, the Celtic lecturer at the University of Glasgow.[3] Neil Munro had a collection of 98 Gaelic books. After his death his widow gifted these books to the University of Glasgow ‘for the use of the Celtic class library.’ This was reported in An Gaidheal, who thought that this, ‘action by Mrs Munro will be much appreciated by the Gaelic speaking students attending this University.’[4]

‘The Lerigmore letters’ were novelist Neil Munro’s contribution to a volume published in 1901 celebrating the University Jubilee, 1451-1901. These are said to be letters written by a Highland student attending the University of Glasgow in the year of the Jacobite uprising, 1745-46. Click on the following link to view this on a PDF file: Neil_Munro & the Lerigmore letters

SOURCES:

[1] Ronald W. Renton, ‘Munro, Neil [Hugh Foulis] (1863–1930)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, May 2006 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/40351, accessed 9 Nov 2013]. The Scotsman, 23rd April 1908, p.5.

[2] “…ged is ann am Beurla a chuir e a-mach a chuid leabhraichean, gidheadh, bha eòlas eagnuidh aige air sgrìobhadh agus labhairt na Gàidhlig. Bha e mean eòlach air aigneadh, air smuain, agus air cànan nan Gaidheal” [his literary output was in English, yet he had a great understanding of the reading and writing of Gaelic. He had a deep knowledge of the temper, of the thoughts and of the language of the Gael]. An Gaidheal, 26 (1931), 64-69. D.S. Thomson, ed., The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Gairm, Glasgow, 1994), 34, 250.

[3] An Gaidheal, 26 (1931), 182-4.

[4] An Gaidheal, 26 (1931), 137.

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