Literatures, Languages & Cultures

What Hamish Henderson means to our students

Final year Scottish Studies student, Euan Lownie, reflects on the legacy of one of the most prolific contributors to the School of Scottish Studies Archives.

2019 marks the centenary of the birth of Hamish Henderson, champion of Scotland’s rich oral tradition.

Photo of Euan Lownie
Euan Lownie. Image © Chris Scott

A poet, song-maker, folklorist and activist, one of Hamish’s key contributions to the nation’s culture was his half century of fieldwork collecting for the School of Scottish Studies.

Today, the School of Scottish Studies Archives (SSSA) has one of the finest audio collections of folk culture in the world - a magnet for students, musicians, singers, storytellers, and creative artists of all kinds - as well as a treasure trove of thousands of photographs, films, videos, and manuscripts.

As part of a series of events to celebrate Hamish’s legacy - collectively known as Hamish100 - colleagues from Celtic and Scottish Studies, politicians, members of the Henderson family, the Scottish Poetry Library, the Director of the Hamish Matters festival, and a range of performers came together for Celebrating Hamish Henderson at the Scottish Parliament, entertaining a capacity audience with speeches, songs and music, old and new.

‘His contribution has allowed me to study much of… my degree’

Performers at the Scottish Parliament
Lori Watson, Mike Vass and Steve Byrne performing at Celebrating Hamish Henderson. Image courtesy of Gavin Donoghue.

“Celebrating Hamish Henderson was an extremely special occasion and something I felt very lucky to attend”, says Euan Lownie, a final year Scottish Studies MA (Hons) student, who was in the audience along with a number of other current students, graduates and staff from Celtic and Scottish Studies.

“Hamish was a key figure who played a large role in influencing the School of Scottish Studies and collecting material for the archives. His contribution has allowed me to study much of the contents of my degree to a greater extent and for this he will always be an important figure.”

“Throughout my four years in Celtic and Scottish Studies, Hamish Henderson has been regularly touched upon and his work has been utilised to great extent.”

“It was a fascinating experience to hear accounts from those who knew him well and to see the effect his work had on so many.”

Culture in action

The finale of Celebrating Hamish Henderson
Performers assembling for the finale of Celebrating Hamish Henderson at the Scottish Parliament

Speaking at Celebrating Hamish Henderson, Neill Martin (Head of Celtic and Scottish Studies) issued an open invitation to the audience to visit the Archives, saying “It is all Scotland. It is all Scotland’s”.

Among the performers on the evening were Lori Watson (Lecturer in Scottish Ethnology), Mike Vass (Traditional Artist in Residence), Steve Byrne (Scottish Ethnology graduate) and Margaret Bennett, widely regarded as ‘Scotland’s foremost folklorist’ and a former lecturer in our School of Scottish Studies (now Celtic and Scottish Studies).

Commenting on the line-up, Euan says “It was a privilege to hear from so many talented musicians and some legends of the Scottish folk scene. Seeing Margaret Bennett perform was particularly special for me as I was a huge fan of her son Martyn Bennett and my love for his work influenced my decision to study in our department.”

“The event really enhanced my experience of studying Scottish Studies as after years of learning about Hamish Henderson and Scottish folk culture in the classroom, it was nice to see many different aspects of this culture in action from those who have had a great influence upon it.”

Euan Lownie is a recipient of the University of Edinburgh's Delargy Prize for Scottish Ethnology, one of The Hunter Foundation’s 100 Disrupters, and a member of the BBC Scotland Next project. He has spent years collecting advice from successful Scots for his new book, Never, Ever Take Anybody’s Advice on Anything, which will be published by 404 Ink later this month.


Voice of the People

You can join us for another celebration of Hamish at the Queen’s Hall on Friday 6th December 2019 where we’ll bring together contemporary voices inspired by Henderson’s life and work for a musical and literary celebration. ‘Voice of the People’ will feature performances by Lori Watson, Gary West and many more. #Hamish100

Find out more and book for Voice of the People on the Queen’s Hall website

Are you interested in studying with us?

Home of the School of Scottish Studies Archives, we are the longest established Celtic department in Scotland. Choose from a wide range of undergraduate degrees in Celtic, Scottish Ethnology, Scottish Studies, and Primary Education with Gaelic, or a range of postgraduate programmes, including our brand new taught MSc in Traditional Arts Performance.

Find out more about Celtic and Scottish Studies

Related links

Read / watch our interview with Mike Vass, Traditional Artist in Residence

Find out more about Euan Lownie's new book on the 404 Ink website