Appreciation: Allan MacColl, August 16, 1940 – April 17, 2020

Allan MacColl, pictured, grew up as part of a Gaelic-speaking family that had preserved the cultural legacy of bygone generations. NO F18 Allan MacColl
Allan MacColl, pictured, grew up as part of a Gaelic-speaking family that had preserved the cultural legacy of bygone generations. NO F18 Allan MacColl

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Allan MacColl was born on August 16, 1940, in Moidart, the third of five sons of Allan and Mary, who resided in Dorlin, near Acharacle.

Allan grew up as part of a Gaelic-speaking family that had preserved the cultural legacy of bygone generations.

He was descended from crofters, stalkers and shepherds, as well as
acclaimed bards, musicians and tradition-bearers.

It was from this bequeathed legacy that Allan developed his love of singing Gaelic songs, having often listened to his father and Uncle Donald, himself a renowned bard, gather around the table at home to sing their many compositions.

Throughout his formative years, Allan enjoyed the freedom of growing up surrounded by nature. He attended Acharacle Primary school until 1954, when he left to start work with the Forestry Commission. In the late 1950s Allan spent several years in the Merchant Navy, traversing the globe with BP and Cunard, before returning to dry land to undertake a Business Studies course in Durham.

Allan took over the running of Acharacle Village Shop in 1965, along with his brother Charlie, and they became mainstays of the area, involved in organising many ceilidhs and bringing a number of top Scottish acts to entertain the local community.

He would take to the stage on many of these occasions, and, as the possessor of a beautiful tenor voice with a remarkable range, would delight the audience with his extensive repertoire of Gaelic songs.

Allan also wrote verse, both Gaelic and English, continuing the bardic legacy of his family. Often these were witty commentaries on small local or family events, written purely for private consumption, although he could also achieve moving levels of profundity when the occasion so inspired him.

In 1975 Allan married Mary Godsman, a well-known Highland dancer from Caol, and son Allan jnr arrived a year later, followed by Iain and Kirsteen.

In 1976, they moved to Fort William when Allan and Charlie purchased the old MacGruther and Marshall coal yard and began trading in the area.

As this venture expanded, they were joined by younger brother Ewen, all three becoming well-known faces in every corner of Lochaber and supplying coal to the district for more than 30 years, first as Shiel Valley, and later as MacColl Brothers.

Allan combined his business acumen with his love of music when he formed Shona Records along with his old friend and musical legend Fergie MacDonald, accordion maestro John Carmichael and Gaelic superstar Norman MacLean.

The resulting output featured several landmark recordings of the era from Fergie, John and Norman, as well as highly successful albums by Flair, Bill Black and Pipe Major Iain MacFadyen to name but a few.

Entering his fifties, Allan’s lifelong love of Gaelic music and culture came to the fore as he took over the Scottish seat on the International Pan-Celtic Council, an organisation dedicated to enhancing cultural links between the Celtic nations.

This would culminate in a lively festival held in Ireland every April, an event which thousands of Scottish Gaels enjoyed throughout Allan’s 30-year stewardship.

He followed this by reviving the old Lochaber Gathering piping competition, once a prestigious fixture on the circuit, sadly dwindled away to nothing by the mid-90s. With the help of a small group of trusted volunteers, Allan re-established the Gathering as a top draw for the world’s leading pipers.

In his later years Allan maintained his passion for Gaelic culture, even as his health began to decline. He continued to write verse throughout his life, joining his brother Charlie and the rest of the family to record a collection of works written and inspired by their Uncle Donald.

As a devoted family man he took great pleasure in the arrival of his eight grandchildren and would spend many hours regaling them with stories from his long and varied life, ensuring that the language and culture he loved so much would be passed on to a new generation.

Allan will be sorely missed by his surviving family, and by all those he had the good fortune to call friend throughout his life. I.M.