Obituary: Duncan MacQuarrie

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Tobermory-born and educated Duncan MacQuarrie, who has died aged 73, was one of the greatest Gaelic educationalists of the post-war era and a man whose legacy will be evident well beyond the immediate environs of Inverness and Charleston, North Kessock, where he spent most of his family and working life.

Born in 1946 of a notable Mull family, and steeped in the west coast traditions of that famous island, Duncan followed the traditionally perceived paths of exit and opportunity through his formative years in Tobermory and Salen Primary Schools, Tobermory Secondary School (where he was Dux in 1962) and then Oban High School, where he won the Buchanan prize for Gaelic.

He had a distinguished passage through Glasgow University from 1964-68 taking the First Prize in Celtic Studies 1965 and 1966 and added a clutch of educational qualifications as his life evolved, culminating in a Diploma in Public Administration in 1988.

It was almost inevitable that he would make Gaelic teaching his career and he embarked on that path in 1969-1972 when he became assistant teacher of Gaelic at Inverness Royal Academy. He became principal teacher in 1972, also assuming responsibilities for careers and guidance.

Appointed in 1987 as assistant rector, Inverness Royal Academy, he held a further post at Charleston Academy as assistant rector (1988-1990), then acting depute, before progressing to become HM Inspector of Schools with some national responsibilities for Gaelic in 1990.

In 2001, Duncan became HM Inspector of Education with pan-Scottish responsibility for inspecting, reporting and evaluating all aspects of provision for Gaelic education and related developments, a post he held until April 2006.

Duncan’s service to the public sector and education in particular saw him awarded an MBE for services to Gaelic Education in 1989. In 2001, he received a Commenius Fellowship awarded by the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research for ‘distinguished service in the cause of promoting national capability in languages’.

Duncan’s finest contribution to the Gaelic world was his continuing interests in the establishment and sustainability of structures and projects which would have a lasting impact.

Having been a singular influence in the establishment of the important report Cor na Gàidhlig in 1983 and the subsequent formation of Comunn na Gàidhlig, this was never better illustrated than in his many years of commitment to Sabhal Mòr Ostaig on Skye where he was, for eight years (1978-85), chairman of trustees/governors Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and also as chairman of the Academic Council.

His immense contribution to the college in multifarious roles and positions led to his being awarded the Sar Ghàidheal Fellowship in 2013 an annual award given by the college to people who have made exceptional contributions to the Scottish Gaelic Language. Most recently, Rathad MhicGuaire (MacQuarrie Road) was named in his honour in 2018 within the new Kilbeg Village development in Skye.

Beyond his bureaucratic and professional life Duncan was, as Arthur Cormack described him this week ‘uasal, eirmseach, geur and gleusta’ – four outstanding attributes of any Gael, all of which he brought to bear on everything he was involved in. To that can be added a self-effacing nature and thirst for knowledge which made him the best of company as he expounded on his various interests.

He was also, and especially in recent years, a loving and caring husband, father and grandfather to those who will feel this unimaginable loss as only a close family can.

Duncan is survived by his wife Edith, daughters Gwen, Sarah and Anna three grandchildren, his brother Kenneth and sister, Fiona.

’S i Ghàidhlig leam cruas na spiorad
’S i Ghàidhlig leam cruas na h-èiginn
’S i Ghàidhlig leam mo thoil inntinn
’S i Ghàidhlig leam mo thoil gàire
’S i Ghàidhlig leam mo theaghlach àlainn
’S i Ghàidhlig leam mo shliabh beatha
’S i Ghàidhlig leam luaidh mo chridhe
’S i Ghàidhlig leam gach nì rim bheò
Mur a b’ e i cha bu mhì.

Dr Hugh Dan MacLennan