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Scottish cultural heritage website, Tobar an Dualchais ~ Kist o Riches, is this week celebrating the birth of influential Berneray folklorist Ian Paterson (Iain Fhionnlaigh Aonghais’ ic Iain Shomhairle).

His fieldwork is considered immense and did much to preserve Berneray’s culture and folklore for posterity.

Paterson, a World War Two Royal Navy veteran, spent many years teaching before joining the School of Scottish Studies, initially as a tape recording transcriber, in the mid-1960s.

Remarks the website: “It was then that he began to carry out hours of recordings in his native island of Berneray. His roots were deep in the community, and his recordings show the unique perspective of someone who was not just observing and recording the people on the island, but of someone who was a part of life on the island.”

His work included extensive interviews with many island residents, including the well-known tradition-bearer and bard Ceit Dix (Ceit an Tàilleir). Other notable interviewees Paterson recorded were Flora MacCuish and Angus MacPhillip, of Backhill and Margaret Macleod of Borve.

Between 1965 and the 1980s, he recorded hours of song, story, poetry, history, and traditional knowledge, mostly from the people of Berneray. Much of this invaluable record of 20th-century Berneray is now available on the Tobar an Dualchais website.

Paterson also turned his hand to poetry and often wrote about life on Berneray. He was also a frequent contributor to the ‘Gairm’ quarterly magazine, especially from 1953 to 1961. His poems also feature in ‘An Tuil: Anthology of 20th-Century Scottish Gaelic Verse’.

He was born in 1916 and grew up in a house called Geodhu in the Berneray settlement of Backhill. Both his parents were native to Berneray, and he grew up immersed in Gaelic tradition and culture.

You can hear a 1967 clip of Paterson in conversation with Flora MacCuish about dyeing and spinning wool for Harris Tweed on the Tobar an Dualchais website.