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Poet and scholar steeped in Gaelic culture

Poet and scholar steeped in Gaelic culture

DERICK S THOMSON, also known as Ruaraidh Mac Thòmais, who has died at 90 in Glasgow, was the greatest Gaelic scholar of his time in Scotland.


He was a poet of substance in his native Gaelic, publishing work of high quality over seven decades, and he was crucial to developing a generation of other writers in Gaelic.

As an editor and publisher, he provided the main outlet available to Scotland’s Gaelic writers for many years. In 1952 he established Gairm, as a quarterly magazine and in 1958 this also became a publishing house.
Thomson edited Gairm, mostly single-handedly, until it closed in 2002. Besides poetry and fiction, Gairm also published every type of writing in Gaelic.

Thomson welcomed not just those who wrote in his style, but all whom he believed had ability. During its existence Gairm published every significant Gaelic writer in Scotland.

Thanks to Thomson, Gaelic poetry in Scotland is vibrant and a significant body of novels and short stories has been developed.

Derick Smith Thomson was born in Stornoway on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis on August, 5th 1921, the younger of two sons to James Thomson and his wife Christina (née Smith), both primary school teachers.

Both were natives of Lewis and Gaelic speakers. James Thomson was a noted Gaelic poet in the traditional style.

Derick grew up in the village of Pabail on Lewis, with Gaelic his first language. After secondary schooling on the island he went to Aberdeen University, studying English and Gaelic.

Thomson was conscripted into the Royal Air Force during the second World War. His superiors believed that his university education made him officer material, but he rejected that belief.

In his interview he was asked had he ever been abroad. “To England,” he replied. He was then asked if he spoke any foreign languages. “English,” he replied. He was not chosen to be an officer.

After his war service, he completed his studies he taught in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow Universities. He finished his working life as professor of Celtic Studies in that university.

As an academic, his An Introduction to Gaelic Poetry and The Companion to Gaelic Scotland are seminal works of Gaelic scholarship.

In 1952 he married Carol Galbraith, a Gaelic singer. He was predeceased by his brother, James, and son Ranald.

Carol, his daughter, four sons, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren survive him.
 
Derick S Thomson/Ruaraidh Mac Thòmais: born August 5th, 1921; died March 21st, 2012.

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