John Death, Obituary – John has sadly passed away unexpectedly with loved ones, family and the entire community left heartbroken and in grievance, according to an online publication. There are several fantastic literary events held in Glasgow, and I make it a point to attend a number of book launches and performances. It’s not often that you can find me at poetry events, but I went to see Aonghas MacNeacail at Bar Gandolfi’s Literary Lunchtimes on Wednesday (October 29, 2014), and I had a fantastic time there. I highly recommend going to any of these events if you have the chance. It was well worth the time and energy to make the journey down to the Merchant City, and doing so was a delightful way to spend the afternoon.
The ambiance was excellent, and the host, Chris Agee, had the brilliant idea of seating his guests behind the bar, with the gantry serving as the ideal backdrop for the more personal ambiance created by this arrangement. Aonghas is a pleasant and talented man who is also an excellent communicator. He was born and raised on the island of Skye, and he currently resides in a little town in the Borders. He began by reading some of his more recent poetry, and then he proceeded to treat us to a stunning breadth of work that spanned the previous half-century, reading in Gaelic, Scots, and English. Aside from the occasional “Slainte mhath,” I don’t know a single word of Gaelic, but the combination of the sound of the language and the passion in Aonghas’ voice was quite astounding, producing a sound that was both touching and captivating.
Anecdotes were another form of entertainment that he provided for us, and I found it very interesting to hear him describe his life on the Isle of Skye when he was a child. I also appreciated gaining some insight into his history, including the fact that during his school years, students “in the wee school in Uig, they spoke Gaelic, and then when they went to the big school in Portree, they were taught in English.” When presented with the option of learning a ‘foreign language,’ Aonghas decided to focus his studies on Gaelic rather than French. He made the point that being able to speak Gaelic was originally considered a disadvantage; yet, in today’s society, having a command of both English and Gaelic is considered an asset. He is a firm believer in the maxim that “the more we celebrate who we are, the better things will be.”
Aonghas also spoke on the joy he has found in collaborating with the musician Duncan Shaw to compose songs for the band Capercaille, where the incredible voice of Karen Matheson brings Aonghas’s words to life in song: You Tube Both the Breisleach and the Capercaillie Aonghas was able to deliver his message in a manner that was well-suited to the setting, which was intimate. He also shared with us his personal views, including the fact that he continues to question the quality of his own work and his conviction that “It is healthy to still be vulnerable – creativity comes from vulnerability as much as anything else.” He also discussed the people and works that have influenced his writing, such as Dylan Thomas, whom he described as “a fantastic poet.”
His poetry also represents his personal recollections and his roots, like the fact that his father passed away when Aonghas was just eight years old and that his aunt was the source of inspiration for one of the poems in the shellfish strand that I enjoyed the most. This lovely poem, with its striking image of the woman working on the beach, not only conveys the significance and difficulty of the task she was performing, but also some aspects of her personality and her upbringing in the Presbyterian faith, topics that Aonghas also touched on during their conversation.