‘George Campbell Hay/Deòrsa Mac Iain Dheòrsa (8 December 1915-1984):Celebrating the Centenary of a major Scottish poet’

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On December 8, 2015, the Centre welcomed Michel Byrne and Alan Riach (Glasgow) to discuss ‘George Campbell Hay/Deòrsa Mac Iain Dheòrsa (8 December 1915-1984): Celebrating the Centenary of a major Scottish poet.’ The evening was filled with wine, nibbles, and performances of George Campbell Hay’s poetry in celebration of his life. Michel and Alan were joined in these readings by Thomas Clancy, Ian MacDonald, Simon Taylor, Anne Artymiuk, Aonghas MacLeòid, Alasdair Whyte (who also sang us a song in Gaelic), and Niall O’Gallagher.  Below is this listener’s brief summary of the lecture.

Michel began the celebration by describing the events of George Campbell Hay’s life. He was the son of John MacDougall Hay who wrote the novel ‘Gillespie’. His father passed when he wqas four years old, after which his family moved from Renfrew back to his native Tarbert. Tarbert and the Kintyre Peninsula feature prominently  throughout Campbell Hay’s works.

He was sent to school away from Tarbert in Edinburgh and eventually to Oxford, but he always came back to Tarbert on holiday. He learned both Gaelic and the fishing trade from the fishermen of Tarbert, who also are commonly referred to in his works. While away at school he met Douglas Young, who introduced him to the poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid and the work of F.G. Scott, a composer.

Taken from http://www.explorekintyre.co.uk/view-details.php?id=128.
Image of Tarbert, from http://www.explorekintyre.co.uk/view-details.php?id=128.

While Campbell Hay was not a pacifist, he was a nationalist who refused to fight for the Empire, for which he was arrested. After a brief period of incarceration, he was sent to North Africa, followed by Italy and Greece. it was during this time that he seemed to develop his sense of adventure and found his voice. He came back to Scotland in 1946, and he began publishing his poems in Gaelic and Scots shortly after. In 1948 he was essentially incarcerated in Edinburgh hospital, during which time his family helped publish his poetry. Although Campbell Hay attempted to move back to Tarbert shortly before his death, he had to move back to Edinburgh after a few months and died shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, he left the long poem Mochtàr is Dùghall unfinished.

Alan Riach spoke to us about the poetry of George Campbell Hay. He said that, although Campbell Hay’s father’s work in Gillespie reflected the anti-kailyard themes of the time, George Campbell Hay’s poems brought back some of the virtues of the kailyard. This indicates his position in the history of Scottish literature. His poetry uses language which is conversational, in a sense, but which is also has qualities of exuberance. His work includes symbolism, but also materialism in his descriptions of daily life, although this may be a reflection of the Gaelic language itself. His work demonstrates the dynamic between particular histories and permanent symbols.

Another theme in Campbell Hay’s poetry that Alan addressed was that of leadership. In his work, leadership is exemplified not in one single person, but in the context of a community. Typically leadership is demonstrated in his poems by working together on a boat with a community.

Finally, Alan demonstrated that Campbell Hay’s work has roots in the tradition of the long-lined verse of Irish poetry. The metre of Campbell Hay’s poetry reflects an inherent tradition in terms of the bardic voice. This was quite evident in the various readings of his poetry by our guests.

For those who are more interested in George Campbell Hay and his poetry, several books have been published which contain his work, including:

  • Collected Poems and Songs of George Campbell Hay (Deòrsa Mac Iain Dheòrsa), edited by Michel Byrne ISBN:9780748616213
  • Four Points of a Saltire – the Poetry of Sorley Maclean, George Campbell Hay, William Neill, and Stuart Macgregor. ISBN:9780903065016
  • Mochtàr is Dùghall, which is available for only 50p through the department, here.
  • Laggan Days: A series of poems in memory of Tarbert poet George Campbell Hay 1915-84 by Angus Martin
  • Kintyre: The Hidden Past, by Angus Martin ISBN:9780859761192
  • Herring Fishermen of Kintyre and Ayrshire, by Angus Martin ISBN:9781899863907

A video about George Campbell Hay is also available on youtube, here.

Summary by Megan Kasten (PhD Researcher)

Many thanks to all who have made the seminars this semester possible! This was our final seminar for this semester, but we will return with a new series in January.

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