Derick Thomson

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Derick Smith Thomson (5 August 1921 – 21 March 2012), known as Ruaraidh MacThòmais in his native Gaelic, was a Scottish poet, publisher, lexicographer, academic and writer. He was originally from Lewis, but spent much of his life in Glasgow, where he was Professor of Celtic at the University of Glasgow from 1963 to 1991. He is best known for setting up the publishing house Gairm, along with its magazine, which was the longest-running periodical ever to be written entirely in Gaelic, running for over fifty years under his editorship. Gairm has since ceased, and was replaced by Gath and then STEALL. He was an Honorary President of the Scottish Poetry Library, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the British Academy. In June 2007, he received an honorary degree from Glasgow University.


Thomson is originally from Upper Bayble (Pabail Uarach) on Lewis, the same village that produced two other Gaelic writers of note, Iain Crichton Smith and Anne Frater. His parents, James Thomson and Christina Smith, were both primary school teachers.[1]

Educated at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, he went on to the Universities of Aberdeen; Cambridge and Bangor University. He would later teach at Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen. He became Professor of Celtic at Glasgow in 1963, and retired in 1991. He was Chairman of the Gaelic Books Council 1968–91; President Scottish Gaelic Texts Society; former member of Scottish Arts Council and was the first recipient of the Ossian Prize in 1974. Professor Thomson was Chairman of the SNP's Gaelic Committee in the Seventies.

He is the author of numerous books including An Introduction to Gaelic Poetry, The Companion to Gaelic Poetry, European Poetry in Gaelic, and collections of Gaelic poetry, including his collected poems Creachadh na Clàrsaich (Plundering of the Harp/clarsach) which shared the Scottish Book of the Year Award in 1983. He also edited The Companion to Gaelic Scotland. His English-Gaelic dictionary came out in 1981, and was for many years the most practical reference of its kind. He has published seven collections of Gaelic poetry, with many English translations, including Meall Garbh/The Rugged Mountain (1995), Smeur an Dochais, etc.

His publications are many and varied, and include such seminal works as the Gaelic Sources of Macpherson's Ossian, An Introduction to Gaelic Poetry, The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (edited by him) and Gaelic Poetry in the Eighteenth Century; his contributions to Welsh studies are also noteworthy. No less important has been Professor Thomson's work for the promotion of Scottish Gaelic literature, not only, to take one example, as founder, editor and publisher of the quarterly Gairm since 1953. He was elected Fellow of the Academy in 1992 and gave last year's Rhys Lecture on Scottish Gaelic Traditional Songs from the Sixteenth to the Eighteenth Century. Thomson was also tireless in his support of other writers in Gaelic and helped bring to publications works such as 'Gaelic Verbs' by Colin B.D. Mark,.

Derick Thomson died in 2012, at the age of 90.[2]

Positions held


Poetry (own work):

  • An Dealbh Briste / The Broken Picture (1951)
  • Eadar Samhradh is Foghar / Between Summer and Autumn (1967)
  • An Rathad Cian / Far Road (1970) – ISBN 978-0-901771-15-5
  • Saora agus an Iolaire / Freedom and the Eagle (1977) – ISBN 978-0-901771-60-5
  • Creachadh na Clàrsaich: Collected Poems, 1940–80 (1982) – ISBN 978-0-904265-57-6
  • Meall Garbh: Rugged Mountain (1985) – ISBN 978-1-871901-37-5
  • Bàrdachd na Roinn Eòrpa an Gàidhlig (1990) – ISBN 978-1-871901-05-4
  • Smeur an Dòchais: The Bramble of Hope (1992) – ISBN 978-0-86241-351-4
  • Sùil air Fàire (Surveying the Horizon) (2007) – ISBN 978-0-86152-335-1

Poetry (anthologies):




  • Nyvaigs (2000) Jennifer Margaret Barker, Composer's Recording Inc./New World Records, CRI862, NWCR862 [3] (recitation of his own poem Geodha Air Chùl Na Grèine)


  1. ^ "0 Poet and scholar steeped in Gaelic culture". Gaelport. 7 February 2015.
  2. ^ "Obituary: Professor Derick Thomson; writer and scholar who was the most important voice in Gaelic poetry in the 20th century – News". Retrieved 3 April 2012.
  3. ^ Nyvaigs CD liner notes, Retrieved 25 October 2018.

External links

  • Scottish Poetry Library entry
  • BBC Bio – Làrach nam Bàrd has a picture
  • Audio clip: obituary and tributes to Thomson (in Gaelic)
  • Appreciation of Professor Derick S. Thomson: funeral oration by Donald Meek
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