Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Man Who Gave Away His Island by Ray Perman

This is a biography of John Lorne Campbell, who bought the Scottish island of Canna in 1938 and lived there until his death, though he gave it away to the National Trust of Scotland in 1981, while continuing to live there.

This is a history of the Campbells of Inverneill and the financial problems that lead to John Lorne Campbell being disinherited from his family lands and eventually buying Canna. It's also an account of Lorne Campbell's work as a Gaelic scholar, an entomologist and laird of the island.

At times the book gets very bogged down in the details of financial and administrative issues that plagued both the Campbells of Inverneill and Lorne Campbell himself. Overall though it is a fascinating book. Lorne Campbell's exhaustive work in collecting Gaelic folksongs and folklore from across Scotland, Ireland and Nova Scotia lead to the Canna House library becoming the most important Gaelic language archive in the world. The House also became a cultural centre with writers and artists regularly visiting from across the globe.

The book also looks at the traditional life of Canna and the struggles to keep a reasonable population living on the island, not helped by official attitudes to crofting (the island's traditional way of life) and poor transport links. This takes the narrative into an interesting discussion about land rights in Scotland.

The book all too briefly looks at the wildlife of Canna, noting how the relatively recent eradication of rats from the island has allowed the native sea bird populations to recover to seome degree.

An essential read for anyone interested in Scotland and the islands.

The Man Who Gave Away His Island by Ray Perman published by Birlinn.

As ever, red text contains hyperlinks that take you to other webpages where you can find out more.


Caroline Gill said...

Thank you for this. Birlinn is a wonderful publishing house!

Gerald (SK14) said...

I've heard a few references to this recently - never visited Canna so I don't know much about it.

RG said...

Looks interesting ... the history of land use in Scotland is so different - and much older - than here in the States.

A Cuban In London said...

You always have the most fascinating books to review. Thanks for that.

Greetings from London.