Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Notable Lewisman Honoured

Tributes to Mr Roderick Macleod

Mr Roderick Macleod, ex-president of the Gaelic Society of London, with which he has been prominently identified for 40 years, and one of the most representative and prominent Highlanders in the Metropolis, was the guest of honour of one of the largest gatherings of Scots and Gaels held in London for many years. The dinner took place in the Hotel Russell on Wednesday evening; the company comprising fully 200 ladies and gentlemen, over which the Right Hon. Ian Macpherson, K.C., presided. The speeches embraced the progress of the Gaelic movement in London during the past two generations as well as the notable part Mr Macleod took in strengthening, maintaining and consolidating the Gaelic and Highland movement in the Metropolis. [omitting the list of guests]

Mr Ian Macpherson, in proposing Our Guest, said:
-It is my proud privilege to be in the chair tonight presiding over what I regard as one of the largest gatherings that I have ever seen of the Highland community in London. I am peculiarly pleased to be here tonight because I see so many familiar faces, and I am proud to think that a Highlander like myself should be asked to preside at a dinner to one of the best - if not the best known - Highlander in this great Metropolis of ours. I am glad to be associated in this toast with another Islander from further south, Mr Angus Robertson, who comes from the no less delightful and no less wonderful island of Skye. When you find an islander of the south helping to propose the toast of the health of an islander of the north, you may be sure there is nothing wrong with the islander of the north. Our guest comes from the Island of Lewis - a wonderful island which it was my privilege to represent in Parliament for some years. It is an island in many respects unique. Always listening to the surge and roll of the Atlantic, whose billows beat against its shores and rocks eternally, an island without hills and without trees, it is full of spirit , full of manhood and full of everything that has made Highland character and Highland traditions a thing to be proud of. I sometimes think if all the industries of the Highlands were abolished - and alas,  there are only too few of them - there is one which in the Highlands is remarkable, and that is the industry of the Public or Board School. They are factories of the greatest instrument in the development of mankind, and the local school in Lewis is as responsible as anything in the British Empire for the sterling qualities that have made the Empire the finest the world has ever seen. Mr Macleod has had the supreme advantage of a Highland upbringing. What that means to those who have been so brought up is a thing that we all too well know and appreciate; but the world does not. Mr Macleod's father was one of the most respected and religious, and yet the most witty and humorous, son of Lewis. He was for many years Gaelic teacher and catechist in the remote village of Ness. I was particularly struck, when reading, as it is my duty and pleasure to read the descriptions which at times appear of Highland life and vicissitudes, to find the Rev Norman Macfarlane describe Mr Macleod's father as "a gentleman of Nature - rare and spiritual". Those of us who knew the earliest Highlands - my own recollections go back now to nearly 40 years - know what a strong man in the locality was the catechist, what a respected man he was, and how far his word went. When you find combined with profound religious belief, the saving grace of humour, I think you will appreciate the qualities which adorn the life of our guest this evening. They come from his father.

"An Institution and a Personality"

Mr Macleod came to London about 40 years ago, and if I were to describe him, I would describe rather as an institution than a person, and living in the city as he does, I would venture to describe him as part of the Corporation. [Applause.] But he is a personality, a personality that is always interesting, vivid, forceful, eminently responsive to the calls of kindness, with a robust and disarming patriotism and an implacable and sombre foe to any traducer of what he regards as the ideals and traditions  of the race to which he belongs. In a letter I had this morning from Mr W. C. Mackenzie, the well-known historian, he wrote:
-"Roderick is a Lewisman and a Highlander first, last, and all the time".
That is true, but if I know him aright, he has an affection for the Sassenach tempered with a tender pity for the land of his birth and his language. [Laughter.] Forty years in London! What changes have taken place in the Highland community in that time. Notwithstanding the flow of pleasure, the advances of riches, and the desire for the night club, there has been a remarkable revival in the traditions and customs of our people. I have in my hand the programme of a Gaelic and Scottish concert 38 years ago, organised by the Gaelic Society of London. At that time, Jessie Maclachlan was not heard of, but she ultimately came to London, and the first society to give her a chance as a great exponent of genuine Scottish sentiment was the Gaelic Society of London. Two years before she came, Mr Macleod was one of the sterling, stalwart and patriotic committee which started these Gaelic and Scottish concerts. In this programme was a great and powerful committee, and I see that Mr Macleod that comparatively unknown Gaelic singer of Gaelic songs, Mr Roderick Macleod, came to sing at the Albert Hall, he always put after his name "Inverness". [Laughter.] The reason I refer to this first Gaelic concert tonight is that it was unique. From it began the movement that has given us now all other Gaelic concerts, and at no concert held nowadays are we without Gaelic singers, one of the most renowned of whom you have heard this evening in Miss Mairi Matheson. We have now at our Gaelic meetings a real and genuine desire to hear a Gaelic song sun in the way we used to hear it without accompaniment. That concert was the beginning of things, and now we have a Gaelic choir, which goes to Scotland and competes at the Mod. Long may that spirit flourish.

Our guest has been forty years not only connected with the Gaelic movement in London, but during the 23 years I have been in London, I remember him as an ardent and devoted shinty player on Wimbledon Common. Whatever they may say across the Border, it was we in London who got the privilege of the teaching of Gaelic in the schools in the Highlands. I claim for the Gaelic Society of London - and may I put in a little claim for myself? - the right to say that no Society did more to secure the right of Gaelic teaching on the Statute Book than we did in London. I am glad to say that the religious side of the Gaelic movement in London has also advanced, and more than most people, Mr Lachlan Campbell is responsible for the fact that the congregations are now so large that instead of the collection being 17s 1½d, the collection on a Sunday afternoon is now nearly £17. [Applause.] All those things are due to men of the type of Mr Macleod, who has seen all these movements rise, grow, and flourish. Those of us who have been associated with Highland life in London have been many times disappointed, and have many times felt tired of the task, but I think I can speak for our guest this evening, when he sees around him a large gathering of loyal friends like this, when I say that life at its very worst has got its enormous compensation. I make bold to say that I can point to the two things that have most delighted Mr Macleod's heart.

Two Distinctive Honours
One is this dinner gathering tonight. In one's life's work and progress towards an ideal, the compensation is not in gold or bank notes, but if you get the compensation which comes from the kindly flow of affection from your friends' minds and hearts, if you receive their gratitude in however small a degree, you are amply repaid. Mr Macleod is receiving all that from this representative gathering tonight. [Applause]. Speaking as a Highlander whose attachment to the old land is as sincere as that of any Highlander, an attachment to the place of one's birth, however humble that spot may be, I say the fact that some call has been made to you to answer an appeal from there is a thing that inspires you with a soul uplifting gratitude. I remember when the Lewis and Harris Association asked our guest to preside at their great annual concert in Glasgow, the tears rolled down his cheeks. What was that? It was the call of the land, the call of youth. It was the fulfilment of spirit recapturing earlier days. It was the thankful thought that your struggles had not been in vain, that you had worked with some interest and object in life that the people of the old home have not forgotten even in the depths of the Metropolis. His heart would indeed be of iron if it did not soften to those old memories and to the appreciation of the people from whom he had sprung. No man could succeed greatly in life without such a helpmeet as Mrs Macleod. She has come in and out among us quiet unassuming and loving - a genuine type of Highlander. Long may they walk together in the valley of life, happy in the thought that they have done their duty in life, and have always been welcome and have welcomed hosts of friends. [Applause].
Mr Macpherson mentioned, in conclusion, that the Rev. Duncan Macleod, brother of their guest, had been for many years in Formosa, where he was a great power. He was visiting this country next year as a representative of the Presbyterian Church of Canada, and they hoped they would have an opportunity of hearing him in the Scottish National Church in Crown Court. [Applause].

Mr Macleod's Individuality
Mr Angus Robertson, associating himself with the toast, said it was appropriate that doing honour to an individual Highlander that the characteristics which demanded the homage should be emphasised with such eloquence by Mr Ian Macpherson. Mr Macleod was a man of unbounded sympathy and generous sentiments. He was a loyal Lewisman and patriotic Highlander. There were many ways to which they could approach this child of their own people. If he did not bring the message, if he did not bring the atmosphere, if he did not bring the tale of his own race, if he had not given back to the race had given him, then he would have failed in his mission and in his loyalty to his people. Mr Macleod typified in a certain and very pronounced way the characteristics which belonged to and dominated our race. He was a spiritual man, and the spiritual message of the Highlander was unique. There could not be too many men of the type of Mr Roderick Macleod, but there were far too few of his kind. Mr Macleod was not a tenderloin when Highland or social ethics were disturbed, and those who knew Mr Macleod's home life intimately knew that he barred the door even to his friends on Sunday, and held Sunday sacred to God and his family. It was such men as he who deserved well of his race. His joy of living could in the future be the joy of remembering things well done. [Applause].

Emotional Highlanders
Mr John Macmillan said he wished first of all to thank the company for their wonderful response to his letter proposing that they should thus honour Mr Macleod. He had known him during all his forty years in London, and on the countless occasions they were together they had never parted without a good friendly shake of the hand. Highlanders were emotional, and some were very impulsive, but Mr Macleod was not impulsive. He was emotional. During their progress in this wonderful city of London, it was very difficult for the best of them to get along and maintain their respectability and be true to themselves. Mr Macleod had done that, because no matter in what society he might be placed, and wherever he was, he always remembered that there was "a wee wifie" waiting him, and that fact kept him steady and steadfast throughout his career. When Mr Macleod became president of the Gaelic Society there were not much more than two dozen members attending the meetings, but during his six years' presidency he had brought the membership and attendance up to its present high position, and that was to his everlasting credit. He was very proud to give testimony to his candid and sincere affection and admiration for Roderick Macleod. He had been one of the most conspicuous figures in Highland circles in London for nearly forty years, and he hoped that he would be long spared to be the head of his house, and that his beautiful wife and daughter would be long spared to be a comfort to him and he to them [Applause].

Sir Murdoch Macdonald MP said they were not only honouring Mr Macleod and paying their respects to him, but they were also showing their respect for a race - the race of the Western Isles. He believed that the Western Isles were the remains of a vast continent which had a civilisation when their ancestors in the Central Highlands were deep in the sea. [Laughter and applause]. That old civilisation produced the flower of manhood which persisted to the present day [Applause] of which Mr Macleod was a very fine example. The late Dr Robertson had asserted that the famous school at Stornoway had produced five times more scholars than any school of its population in any part of this country. He [Sir Murdoch] honoured Mr Macleod because he was one of that race which exhibited such great ability. The Western Isles may be disappearing but they would never cease to produce men of the type of Mr Macleod and in drinking his health they were drinking it as well to the race from which he had sprung [Applause].

A Promising Son
Dr Fowlie said that, like Sir Murdoch, he regarded this gathering too as a back-handed compliment to the race of the Western Isles, and when these speeches appeared in print many a man in the Island of Lewis would walk with a firmer step and higher head when he knew that the greatest islander among them in London had been thus honoured tonight, and they would hear with joy that Mr Macleod was the guest of so large a gathering. These was another island in the Far East to which this occasion would bring joy to the hearts of many. There Donald Macleod, son of their guest, was nobly bearing his share of the white man's burden. He was fortunate to be born of ancestors of vitality, strength, and character, and was now living in an environment that was permeated with the spirit of the greatest of Empire builders, Sir Stamford Raffles. He was living in a part of the Empire where this great Empire builder had taught that the mission of the British was not to subdue the native but to act as trustee for him [sic, ADB]. If Donald's education was not finished in this country, it was finished in Singapore. It was needless to say that Donald Macleod was doing well in the business he had taken up in Singapore. He was one of the founders and now the head of the Scottish Highlanders which were armed for the defence of their adopted country. That was to be expected from him. There was a stranger thing still, and one that appealed perhaps more to him. He had absorbed to an extraordinary extent the spirit of Sir Stamford Raffles. No one had got the confidence and, indeed, the affection of the natives as much as Donald Macleod. It might sound absurd that this young man was trusted so much by the natives, but the fact remained. If there was a feud between any septs, if there was a domestic quarrel, Donald Macleod was called in as arbiter, and the Parsees down from Bombay would not give their daughter away in marriage without consulting Donald Macleod first. [Laughter and applause]. He thought Donald Macleod would become a great man, and he could foresee that they might yet be honouring him as they were honouring that very remarkable man, his father.

Dr Cumming Grant said he was proud to have this opportunity of bearing his personal testimony to the great esteem and kindly regard he had for his old friend. This remarkable demonstration was a slight recognition of the services of a wonderful personality. On one occasion, his brothers James and William were discussing Mr Macleod, and the latter, who had been president of the Gaelic society, described Mr Macleod as the most unique and outstanding Highlander in London. That was his estimate of him too, and he endorsed it. He was proud to think that a good deal of his success and happiness in life was due to his wife, because Mrs Macleod belonged to the same Glen as he [Dr Grant]. Mr and Mrs Macleod were well worthy of the honour being done them that evening. No man had done more for the welfare of Highlanders in London and the cause of Gaelic than Mr Macleod.

The toast was drunk with Highland honours.

Mr Macleod's Reply
Mr Macleod, who was received with loud and prolonged cheers, said:-
I have to thank you for that friendly cheer. I understand that the time has now arrived when I must make some remarks. Without any desire to encroach upon the privilege of the gentleman who is to propose the health of the chairman, I would like to say in the first place what a very great pleasure it has given me that Mr Macpherson is presiding on this occasion. With his ever youthful Highland simplicity and geniality, he never fails to create that desired happy atmosphere on occasions of this kind. [Applause]. I desire you to accept my deep gratitude for the kind and friendly manner with which you have submitted this toast, and to all my friends who have so kindly spoken in support of the toast. I desire to thank you all for the very cheerful and enthusiastic manner you have received the toast of the health of my dear wife, my daughter, my son and my brother. If I were to stand here until all hours in the morning - and even the next morning [Laughter] it would be impossible for me to give expression to all the thoughts that are running backwards and forwards in my overburdened brain at the present time. To be thus surrounded by friends is, I think, the greatest joy and pleasure in life. Until the day I follow those dear friends who have gone before - whose presence we so much miss on these occasions - I shall always remember with a grateful heart this great honour you have conferred upon me tonight. There has been perhaps a good deal of extravagance and exaggeration. I am not going to say who is the most guilty, but I can boast of what I knew before - that my friends are masters of choice language and eloquence, and surely it is not at all surprising that they should go a little beyond the mark in their desire to say something kindly about a friend whom they have known intimately for many years. I forgive them. [Laughter]. I thank you for the kind reference to my wife. I can assure you that she has inspired me ever since I had the good fortune to meet her in connection with everything I have attempted to do [Applause]. You will notice I have said nothing about her patience [Laughter]. You have referred to my father. I thank you for that. I was very much impressed when I was first leaving home. My father placed his hand on my shoulder and said: "There is one thing that I wish you to remember, and it is this - if you can do without another person's friendship, you can always do much better with it." Ever since I have tried to do the best I could to carry out my father's philosophy, and surrounded by so many friends tonight, I am grateful to my father for having giving me such splendid advice. [Applause].

Speeches copied from an article in the Stornoway Gazette of 2 December 1927, kindly supplied by Mrs J. Seymour-Chalk of the Gaelic Society of London. 

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