Finlay Macleod Obituary

  • Published on: 8th November 2023
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With the passing of Calum Ferguson, John Love and now Finlay Macleod, late 2023 has been a rough period for Gaelic culture. Each passing has felt like a body blow, and each deserves a proper eulogy. But the debt of gratitude An Lanntair owes Finlay Macleod goes back to our genesis in late 1984, when he gave us our name. Since which he initiated, was involved in, contributed to, donated, loaned, and advised on multiple projects too numerous to mention here.

Notable among them, was his archive of maps of the Outer Hebrides that in 1989 became Togail Tir (Marking Time.) A seminal exhibition (and book) that toured to the hallowed halls of the National Library of Scotland. In which literal sense, he helped put the islands ‘on the map.’

For all his learning, he was no dry academic. In 1976, when the Tate Gallery exhibited the controversial Equivalent VIII by Carl Andre a.k.a. the ‘pile of bricks,’ he wrote to offer them a peat stack as an ‘equivalent’ artwork. At the same time, a mischievous but serious provocation. Almost forty years later An Lanntair made it a reality when we exhibited a peat stack in an exhibition called Moladh na Mòine (In Praise of Peat.)

He appeared regularly at the Faclan Book Festival where he spoke with eloquence and insight, variously about the semi-mythical murderer Mac an t-Srònaich; North Rona (with John Love) where he had an ancestral connection; the Hebrides in photography (with Guardian photographer and former pupil Murdo Macleod.) He conducted in-depth guided tours to the sites of Norse Mills and Healing Wells.  In 2014, in his first public appearance following a prolonged illness, he shared a stage with Robert Macfarlane, who treasured their time together.

His knowledge and appreciation of photography in the Islands was unparalleled. He was guide, mentor, and friend to Gus Wylie for his photographic trilogy on the Hebrides, and a champion of the work of Robert Adam, James MacGeoch and Dan Morrison.

Finlay Macleod was a man of huge depth. In no particular order, a psychologist, educationalist, archaeologist, playwright, author, historian, mentor, activist, broadcaster, innovator, environmentalist. Not to mention Gaidheal, Leòdhasach. The word most often used is the catch-all, polymath. A kind of jack-of-all-trades and master of all. Today we might even add, influencer.

But he was also an inspiration, a talisman, and the personification of a lanntair (a lantern) who represented and illuminated all the richness and the best things of the Gaidhealtachd. Sàr dhuine, sar Ghaidheal.

– Roddy Murray