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Review: Alex O Henley’s Lost Star: Rionnag Chaillte: the untold story of former Celtic, Kilmarnock, Brentford and Scotland great Malcolm MacDonald

James Beaton, National Piping Centre

I am a graduate of Edinburgh University, with a degree in Celtic Studies. I also hold postgraduate qualifications in Librarianship. I am currently Librarian and Module Co-Ordinator for the BA Scottish Music (Piping) degree at the National Piping Centre.

Review: O Henley, Alex. Lost Star: Rionnag Chaillte: the untold story of former Celtic, Kilmarnock, Brentford and Scotland great Malcolm MacDonald. Islands Book Trust, 2013 (ISBN 9781907443541, £25.00)

In this book, written in both English and Gaelic, the South Uist born sports commentator Alex O Henley tells the story of the one of the great Celts, Malcolm (Malky, Calum) MacDonald. The book appears in the year of the centenary of MacDonald’s birth and is a celebration of the man, who, in his obituary, was described by the legendary Scottish football writer, Bob Crampsey, as ‘a synonym for grace…blessed – or perhaps cursed – with almost an excess of talent…above all the purist’s footballer’.

Perhaps less well remembered by current football fans than he should be, on account of his skill, MacDonald was the son of a Gaelic speaking couple from South Uist. As had many before them, MacDonald’s parents had moved to Glasgow in search of work, settling in the Garngad. This tough neighbourhood is evoked in O’ Henley’s Gaelic and English prose, and gives a sense of the hardness of MacDonald’s upbringing. It also focuses on the perceived social and linguistic disadvantage at which he was in danger of being place because of his parents’ native language. Like so many in Gaelic-speaking Glasgow, as a child, when spoken to in Gaelic, he replied in English.

O’Henley’s interest in his fellow Uibhisteach (a native of the Uists) came about through his background on the island. The idea for the book came from the 2011 Scottish Communities League Cup Final, which was contested by two clubs that MacDonald had played for, one of which he had managed on two occasions, Celtic and Kilmarnock respectively. Initially O’ Henley produced a documentary for Radio nan Gaidheal on the subject, and the positive reception he had for this, prompted his further researches for this book.

The book is set out in chronological order, and deals with MacDonald’s early days at Celtic, during which time he was part of the team which won the Empire Exhibition Trophy. After World War 2 he returned o top class football with Celtic, before going to Kilmarnock, and then Brentford. He went into management with Brentford, and then Kilmarnock, a team he managed twice. During his time as manager, he took Kilmarnock into European football. Indeed the great Ferenç Puškas of Real Madrid made his final appearance at Rugby Park, during a 2-2 draw between Kilmarnock and Real Madrid. He was also caretaker manager of Scotland, and his working life ended as a chiropodist and physiotherapist and football scout.

Is mithich do dh’ Ailig an leabhar seo a sgrìobhadh an dà chuid anns a’ Bheurla is anns a’ Ghàidhlig. Tha na freumhan aig Calum stèidhichte ann an eilean a theaghlaich. Chithear seo as fhearr anns na dealbhan. Bidh cuid de na dealbhan a’ nochdadh muinntir Chaluim aig an dachaigh ann an Uibhist, agus bidh ceann-sgrìobhaidhean nan dealbhan anns a’ Ghàidhig cuideachd, agus iad air an eadar-theangachadh do Bheurla fòdhpa. Bidh aireamh nan dealbhan bho Uibhist a’ dèanamh soilleir dè cho cudromach ‘s a bha an t-eilean an teaghlaich dha anns an dreuchd thrang a bh’aige ann an saoghal na ball-coise fada bhon àite as an d’tàinig a shinnsear.

(Translation – It is fitting for Alec to write this book in both English and Gaelic. Calum’s roots are grounded in his family’s island. This is best seen in the illustrations. Some of the illustrations show Calum’s family at their home in Uist, and the captions for the illustrations in Gaelic also, with the English translations below. The number of illustrations from Uist show how important his family was in the busy job he had in the world of football far from the home of his ancestors.)

The bilingual format of the book is very positive from a Gaelic point of view. The book’s Gaelic is straightforward, and it is appropriate that Malcolm’s roots are recognised through the use of the language he was familiar with in his childhood to recount his outstanding footballing career. The only quibble to be found as far as Gaelic is concerned is the use of the loan word ‘stòiridh’ in the book and particularly on the dust jacket as part of the title. Story telling is a well established tradition in Gaelic, and the language has a rich vocabulary related to this art. Indeed, the author uses the word ‘sgeul’, a native word for a tale, practically next to ‘stòiridh’ in his introduction, which personally jarred, as indeed did the use of the loan word on the dust jacket.

The main drawback to having the work in two halves however, is that the illustrations are not found throughout the text. The work is well illustrated, drawing on family photographs, and the photographs, well reproduced, are an outstanding feature of the book. However, they are sandwiched between the Gaelic and the English texts, and despite their value, having them in the relevant section would have added to the pleasure of reading the book.

This is a book which shows the author’s fondness for his subject. The reader is left in no doubt about Malcolm MacDonald’s skills as a footballer, and as a manager. It certainly will enhance, not only the shelves of Celtic fans, but fans of Scottish football in general, as MacDonald’s contribution extended beyond Celtic. For those for whom Gaelic is important, this book will allow them to read about a rarity, a Gael who achieved great things in football, in Gaelic which is straightforward, flowing Gaelic.


The [Scots]Man Who Cycled The World

Duncan R. Jamieson PhD, Professor of History, Ashland University

Review: Beaumont, Mark. The Man Who Cycled the World. London: Transworld Publishers, 2009 (Corgi Edition, 2010, £8.99)

When the high wheel bicycle appeared in the 1870s young men began riding prodigious distances, which set the standard for others determined to break the record. In the United Kingdom, the popular long distance route became the ride from Lands End to John O’Groats, a ride of approximately 1,000 miles. In North America it is a transcontinental ride, the mileage depending on the route chosen. In the 1880s several people had set and broken records for Lands End to John O’Groats, but no one had yet crossed North America. In April, 1884, the English-born Thomas Stevens set out from San Francisco bound for Boston, which he reached one hundred three days later. Once there he convinced Colonel A. A. Pope, owner of Columbia Bicycles and Outing, a leading sporting monthly, to sponsor him to continue the rest of the way around the world, the ultimate long distance destination. In December, 1886 Stevens reached Yokohama, Japan, having pedaled and walked and carried his sixty inch Columbia 19,312 kilometers across three continents; but soon many people challenged both the time and the distance, going faster and farther.

In the early 1950s Sir Hugh Beaver, managing director of Guinness Breweries, frustrated by the lack of a standard reference work to determine records, created what’s become Guinness World Records, the authority for all sorts of natural and human achievements. One such record is around the world bicycling. In 1984 the Englishman Nick Sanders became the first person to hold the record, riding 20,921 kilometers around the Northern Hemisphere in 78 days. In 2003, however, Guinness changed the rules; to qualify, the rider now needed to cover at least 28,968 kilometers over four continents, plus an additional 12,875 kilometers by sea or air. The rider finally needed to pass through two points on opposite sides of the world. Though a surprising number of men and women bicycle around the world annually, very few are interested in speed or setting a record. Under the new rules the Englishman Steve Strange circumcycled the globe in 2004-2005 in 276 days, covering 29,651 kilometers. That record lasted only three years when Scottish cyclist Mark Beaumont shattered it, completing 29,446 kilometers in 194 days, averaging 161 kilometers a day.

Born on January 1, 1983, Beaumont grew up in the foothills of the Scottish Highlands. His first long distance bicycle ride took him across Scotland from Dundee to Oban. He followed this by conquering the John O’Groats to Lands End trek and then undertook a charity ride from Sicily to the Alps, 2,092 kilometers up the Italian peninsula. Though not a dedicated cyclist, during his junior year at the University of Glasgow he determined to follow his dream and ride around the world. After graduation he began a serious training regimen and the arduous task of identifying sponsors for his attempt to establish a new Guinness Record. He also needed to establish the logistical support to make sure he had adequate proof to meet the rigorous Guinness standard. Though many people who cycle long distances do it to disappear — Irishwoman Dervla Murphy has many books of her cycling adventures on three continents in which she leaves her normal life behind — Beaumont remained in almost constant contact via cell phone and computer with his mother who maintained his base camp in Scotland. The hardest part of the journey was the physical loneliness for days on end. As he traveled on a strict budget, camping and preparing his own food were necessities.

He started in Paris and rode southeast through Europe to Istanbul, Turkey and then across Asia to Calcutta, India. There he flew to Bangkok, Thailand and cycled to Singapore. He flew then to Perth, Australia, riding across to Brisbane before flying to New Zealand to ride the length of both the south and north islands. Next he flew to San Francisco, California to cycle across the southern United States to Saint Augustine, Florida. The last leg of the journey saw him flying to Lisbon, Portugal and riding north to Paris. Throughout the hardest aspect was maintaining the mental focus; though he took days off, approximately one every two weeks, he had to maintain the schedule, not matter how interesting and inviting a diversion might be. Much of the time he rode alone, though in some places guides or police escorts accompanied him. Such was not the case in the United States where he had his worst experiences, first hit by a car and then shortly afterward mugged. Still he persevered.

Two and one half years after Beaumont gained the title Englishman Vin Cox reduced the time by 31 days to take the record, only to lose it the same month to another Briton, Alan Bate, who reduced the time by 57 days, though unlike Beaumont and Cox who rode unsupported Bate had support for at least part of his ride. Though he no longer has the Guinness record, Beaumont’s The Man Who Cycled the World remains a great read.