Sorley Maclean

Gaelic poet, teacher, Writer in Residence, honorary Doctor of Letters, alumnus.

Sorley Maclean at his graduation in 1934 © The Maclean Family
Sorley Maclean at his graduation in 1934 © The Maclean Family


Sorley Maclean was born in 1911 on the island of Raasay, near Skye.

He grew up in a household noted for its knowledge of Gaelic song and, although he studied English at the University of Edinburgh, he also took Celtic classes.

Outside the classroom, Maclean was keen shinty player and also very much part of the political and literary circle of writers in the city, who would often meeting in the pubs of Rose Street to discuss the latest politics of the day.

He met his lifelong friend, Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, during these years.

Maclean graduated with a first class degree in 1934 and returned to Skye.

War poet

Following teaching posts on Skye, Mull, and in Edinburgh, Maclean was called up to fight in the Second World War. After being seriously injured in North Africa, he returned to Edinburgh in 1943.

The same year saw the publication of Dain Do Eimhir agus Dain Eile (Poems to Eimhir and Other Poems), a series of 48 love poems. While Maclean found he was able to express his ideas best in Gaelic, he did translate much of his work into English himself.

Maclean balanced his writing with his career as a teacher. Recurrent themes in his work include history, politics, love, landscape and war, with the Spanish Civil War and his hatred of fascism featuring prominently.


Sorley Maclean was Creative Writer in Residence at the University from 1973 to 1975. His services to Scottish culture were acknowledged when he was made an honorary Doctor of Letters in 1980. Maclean was subsequently named the University's first Alumnus of the Year in 1990.

Maclean died in Inverness in 1996.

Part of the Gaelic tradition, but not afraid of innovation, his mix paved the way for new possibilities in subject and technique in Gaelic literature, and his influence can be seen in the work of Gaelic poets who are writing today.

The plaque

Maclean's plaque is on the facade of 19/20 George Square.


In honour of Sorley Maclean


Gaelic poet and man of letters, graduate of the University