Biography

Iain Crichton Smith (1928 - 1988): (His gaelic name was Iain Mac a ‘Ghobhainn’) was born in Glasgow in 1928, Smith grew up from the age of two on the island of Lewis. The language of his upbringing was Gaelic; he learned English as his second language when he went to school at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway. Later, he took a degree in English at the University of Aberdeen.

From there he became a school teacher in Clydebank then Oban, where he could contemplate his island upbringing at close range, but with a necessary degree of detachment. He retired early from teaching in 1977 to concentrate on his writing.

Smith won various literary awards and was made an OBE in 1980. He published work in Gaelic under the name Iain Mac a’Ghobhainn, and did translations of Gaelic work into English, much of it his own, as well as Sorley MacLean’s poetry. Smith’s work in Gaelic is generally considered to best reveal his mastery; a good example is his collection of Gaelic poems and short stories, Bùrn is Aran (1960), or his novel An t-Aonaran (1976).

His recurring themes of loss, exile and isolation are also present in his English work. He wrote several novels, the most celebrated of which is Consider the Lilies (1968), a short novel completed in ten days which tells the story of an old woman being evicted from her home during the Highland Clearances. His other novels include A Field Full of Folk (1982), In the Middle of the Wood (1987) and An Honourable Death (1992).

Iain Crichton Smith died in 1998. He famously, and posthumously, played a significant part in the opening ceremony of the new Scottish Parliament on 1st July 1999 when his poem The Beginning of a New Song was recited as part of the proceedings. The poem called for a renewed Scotland to be “Inventive, original, philosophical” – a fitting description for the man himself.