Kenneth MacKinnon obituary

Other Lives: Expert in Gaelic who advised the Scottish government on promoting the language

My father, Kenneth MacKinnon, who has died aged 87, was a teacher and lecturer who developed a reputation as an expert on the Gaelic language.

Although he was a Londoner by birth, family origins on the Isle of Arran had encouraged Kenneth to become fluent in Scottish Gaelic, and in later years he became an authority on its history and associated culture. Much of his research was published in the form of academic papers, and he wrote books on the subject, including Language, Education and Social Processes in a Gaelic Community (1977) and Gaelic – A Past and Future Prospect (1991). He was also an adviser to the Scottish ministerial group on Gaelic, whose advice led to the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 and the creation of Bòrd na Gàidhlig, a body set up to promote the language.

Kenneth was born in Poplar in the East End of London to Harry, an electrician, and Elizabeth (nee Walters), a housing officer and social worker. At the age of seven, during the second world war, he was evacuated to St Ives in Cornwall, but by 1944 had resettled with his family in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex, and after attending Westcliff high school for boys he took a degree in economics and sociology at the London School of Economics.

Following two years of national service in Germany, from 1956 to 1959 he taught English, maths, geography, social studies and religious education at two Essex schools: Fairfax in Southend and Rayleigh secondary school. In 1955 he married Rosalie Butler, a dental assistant who later became an infant school teacher.

Kenneth became a lecturer in geography, English and social studies at Essex Technical College in Chelmsford in 1960, then went to Barking College of Technology (1964-74). Later he was a senior and principal lecturer at Hatfield Polytechnic (1974 to 1991), rising to become a reader in the sociology of language.

After a period as a quality assessor with the Higher Education Funding Council in Wales and then England, he was an external examiner for various educational bodies in the 1990s and 2000s and a tutor at the Open University until his death.

Outside work he had been a Liberal councillor in Southend for a decade up to 1969, and was mayor of the town in 1965-66 – at the age of 32. He was also a Methodist circuit preacher, and wrote and translated hymns and carols.

Though a deep thinker, Kenneth was a jovial, witty person with a wry sense of humour. He and Rosalie were regular attenders at folk clubs, festivals and morris dance events, where Ken acted as official fool and bagman to the dancers, collecting donations with jolly persuasion.

In 1985 he and Rosalie moved to the Black Isle just north of Inverness, allowing him to deepen his connections with the Gaelic community and to be closer to his grandchildren.

He is survived by Rosalie, by his two children, me and Morag, five grandchildren, a step-grandson and a great-grandson.

Niall MacKinnon

The GuardianTramp

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