Donald S Murray – writer & poet

Donald S Murray
writer & poet

A translation of Sequamur in an anthology of Gaelic drama has led to Donald S Murray’s first foray as a playwright now being taught in several secondary schools in North Lanarkshire.

Sequamur - set in First World War Stornoway - is being enjoyed by a new audience after it featured in Michelle Macleod’s book, Dràma na Gàidhlig: Ceud Bliadhna air an Àrd-ùrlar: A Century of Gaelic Drama.

The book was published in April 2021 by the Association for Scottish Literary Studies and is a celebration of the often-overlooked genre of Gaelic theatre. The book features Sequamur and seven other plays spanning the early 20th Century to the present day, along with English translations.

The other plays selected for the book were:

  • Rèiteach Mòraig (Morag’s Betrothal) – Iain M. MacLeòid

  • Am Fear a Chaill a Ghàidhlig (The Man Who Lost His Gaelic) – Iain MacCormaig

  • Ceann Cropic – Fionnlagh MacLeòid

  • Tog Orm Mo Speal (Give Me My Scythe) – Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn

  • Òrdugh na Saorsa (Order of Release) – Tormod Calum Dòmhnallach

  • Scotties – Muireann Kelly with Francis Poet

  • Bana-Ghaisgich (Heroines) – Màiri Nic’IlleMhoire

Seeing one of his works adopted for teaching in the classroom is particularly pleasing for Donald as he was an English teacher for 30 years.

And fitting too, as much of the action of the critically acclaimed play centres on Stornoway’s Nicolson Institute during the First World War.

The then headteacher, William J Gibson, was seen as a progressive and enlightened educator. However, he firmly believed the Great War was a just cause that would bring about change for the better and encouraged many young men from the school to take up arms. Sadly, many of these ex-pupils did not survive the killing fields of Europe.

The 2015 Gaelic language work, Donald’s first full-length Gaelic play, was toured extensively through Scotland, including at the Edinburgh Festival. It was also performed in Belfast, London, and Ypres in Belgium.

It was warmly received by audiences and critics alike. One reviewer described Sequamur as ‘moving, powerful, with a message that resonates today.’ 

Sequamur (Let us Follow) is the Nicolson Institute’s school motto, a sentiment that would haunt the headteacher when news reached Stornoway of the slaughter of his former charges.

Those ex-pupils that survived the First World War massacres condemned Gibson on their return home.

It is thought that at least 148 former Nicolson Institute students were laid to rest in foreign fields, having been killed in the Dardanelles, Gallipoli and other battlefields.

The stories of the Nicolson pupils at war - some of whom lied about their age to join up - are told through their letters to Gibson. While most held their former headteacher in high esteem, by the time the Armistice was brokered, Gibson was a broken man with his otherwise glowing reputation forever tainted.

Interviewed by BBC Alba when the play had its first night in Glasgow, Donald commented: “He (Gibson) wasn’t a bad man. If he were bad, it wouldn’t have been a tragedy. He was a good man, and he was thinking about the situation and the consequences. If he were a villain, I wouldn’t have a story, but he wasn’t one; he was a very decent man.”

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