Elegies_Hamish_credit Alexander Moffat

11th November 2019


Monday 11 November marks the centenary of HAMISH HENDERSON (1919 – 2002) – poet, folklorist, song maker, educator, and pioneering fieldworker of the School of Scottish Studies.

To mark Hamish Henderson’s centenary year on the date of his birth, a giant artwork, around the size of two football pitches, will be unveiled on the side of Ben Gulabin at the Spittal of Glenshee from 3.30pm-5.00pm. The portrait has been designed by artist Martin Guinness as part of the Hamish Matters Festival, which is celebrating the legacy of the folk legend. George Gunn and Timothy Neat, the two surviving members of the party that scattered Henderson’s ashes at the top of Ben Gulabin, will scale the hillside once more to unveil his portrait.

In Edinburgh, you are invited to join Celtic and Scottish Studies and the School of Scottish Studies Archives at the University of Edinburgh for the unveiling of a permanent commemorative plaque by members of Henderson’s family at 29 George Square, followed by an open afternoon at the archives featuring a selection of Hamish’s field recordings, before moving onto an informal session at Sandy Bell’s and the launch of a new edition of Hamish Henderson’s ‘Collected Poems’.

The timetable is as follows:

14.30 Unveiling of the plaque

15.00 Opportunity to see the Archives in groups

16.30 Informal Session at Sandy Bell’s.

18.30 for 19.00 The ‘Collected Poems’ will be launched by Birlinn 6.30pm for 7.00pm in Augustine Bristo Church, George IV Bridge, Edinburgh

Alexander Moffat’s exhibition ‘Elegies’ shows Henderson as a “remembrancer” of history, inspired by his collection of poems ‘Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica’, which captured the brutalities of WWII during his active service in North Africa, currently on display at the Scottish Storytelling Centre until Tuesday 26 November.

His life’s work transformed Scotland’s view of itself, from the bottom up, and re-affirmed an outward-looking nation.

To do this, Henderson tapped into a geyser of song, music and story that had received scant attention from the official organs of culture, education, broadcasting or religion. An illegitimate child and sometimes vulnerable young adult, scarred by war service, he grounded home, family, work and ideals in his native Scotland. There he became a multi-faceted energiser, inspirer and encourager, while quietly producing his own distinctive body of poetry and song.

Throughout, the artistry is tempered by Henderson’s own radically passionate humanism. In the aftermath of war, he speaks peace,

So the words that I have looked for, and must go on looking for,

are worlds of whole love, which can slowly gain the power

to reconcile and heal. Other words would be pointless.

In the struggle with deathly powers, he affirms life,

Quo life, the warld is mine,

An open grave is a furrow syne.

Ye’ll no keep my seed frae fa’in in.

And in final reflection he pitches his intimate muse as just one voice in a bigger flow,

Change elegy into hymn, remake it –

Don’t fail again.  …………..

Tomorrow, songs

Will flow free again, and new voices

Be borne on the carrying stream.

Once heard, the voice of Hamish Henderson cannot be forgotten, as this centenary year has proved.

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