Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Campbell of Inverneill, on Canna

This is a really good book! John Lorne Campbell was a scion of the Campbell of Inverneill family, and if it had not been bankrupt, would probably have succeeded his father as 'laird' of that estate.

In fact, it was John's grandfather, "Old Inverneill" who, at the beginning of the 20th century, placed an unsustainable debt upon the Estate. This fact was kept secret until John's father, Duncan, died in 1954. (Really!) This silence very probably helped destroy Duncan's first marriage (not to speak of his life), and certainly made John Lorne believe that his father had rejected him as a capable successor as 'laird' of Inverneill. He could not understand why he was never given responsibility in overseeing even parts of the Estate. In the meantime, Duncan worked as an engineer, fended off creditors, and rarely saw his John Lorne, or indeed, Inverneill. John Lorne's parents did not attend his marriage to Margaret Fay Shaw.

The story, then, is at heart, about a man who, crippled by his own introversion and sense of failure, became Scotland's leading Gaelic scholar, as well as the owner and finally (in actual fact) the 'laird' of the Island of Canna. Also, he and Margaret Shaw made a solid marriage that lasted until John died. In an attempt to protect Canna's future, John Lorne and his wife deeded Canna to the National Trust for Scotland.

I must admit that I have been cynical about the Gaelic spellings on street signs, and Gaelic language courses, and Scottish Nationalism, etc. However, this book showed me why such a movement is strong. The story of the Norwegian fishing industry being allowed to fish inshore along the Western Coasts, with no reaction by the British government would have certainly made me into a nationalist. It took 30 years of constant hammering by John Lorne and friends to make the government move on this issue, and by that time, the western islands' small populations had almost disappeared along with the fisheries.

Today, Canna has a population of 20 people. It's future is a fragile one, but it exists today and may tomorrow. The school has 4 children! And John Lorne's amazing collection of Gaelic folklore, songs and linguistics is on Canna, an invaluable source for scholars. The photo below is one of Margaret Shaw Campbell, and 2 Spanish girls who were close friends of the Campbells. The girl on the right is Magdalena, who curates the John Lorne Campbell Collection on Canna today.

(I might also mention that Perman cites my knapdalepeople website as the basis for the biography of Archibald Campbell of Inverneill. I am honoured!)

1 comment:

Ray Perman said...

Delighted to find your kind review of my book, almost by chance, recently. Very much enjoy your beautifully succinct summary, how John's reputation as a Gaelic scholar emerged from his crippling shyness and sense of failure.

Perhaps you can write the summary for my next book!

Thanks for such a thoughtful commentary – and invaluable reference material on Archibald Campbell.

best wishes, Ray