John Murdo was born on 22 March 1922 at number 4 Port of Ness. He was the second eldest of a family of seven, six boys and one girl, born to John Finlay Macleod from Port and Margaret (Peggy) Finlayson from Skigersta.
John Murdo was pre-deceased by his five brothers. Catherine, the youngest of the family, is now the only surviving member. Having left Lionel School at the age of 14, John Murdo joined his father in the long-established family boatbuilding and carpentry workshop to continue the process, already well under way, of learning the boatbuilding trade of which he was to become, in due course, such a renowned, admired and highly respected practitioner.
He served in the Royal Navy as a shipwright during WW2 and following demob served time in the Clyde shipyards before returning home to resume work with his father.
In 1950 he married Morag Morrison from the adjoining village of Knockaird. They set up home initially in Bayview, Port before moving to Coll and Back in 1954 and eventually in 1966 to Jamieson Drive in Stornoway.
A very happy and fulfilling marriage with their four children –Sandra, Iain, John Neil and Margaret - sadly ended in 2011 when Morag passed away following a long and distressing illness during which John Murdo cared for her with unfailing love and devotion – and, I am informed, added cooking to his range of skills!
In 1953 he was appointed to teach building and joinery and in the newly opened Lews Castle College, while completing his formal teaching certification through Summer schools on the mainland. In the early days his boatbuilding skills and patience were well tested by a range of repair projects that came the way of the new college. He remained in the College for some 35 years, highly respected by colleagues and students alike, until his retirement in 1984.
Having invested some of his pension money in the purchase of a band saw and planer, he went on to build over a dozen boats in a shed in his back garden in Stornoway. In 1994 at the age of 72 he achieved a lifetime ambition to build a full-sized Sgoth Niseach – named An Sulaire – with his young assistant Angus Smith, all fully documented in a fascinating BBC documentary.
He continued well into his eighties building, designing, inventing and writing on his favourite subjects- mainly related to boatbuilding and Port of Ness. He was blessed into old age with a retentive memory, able to recall conversations overheard as a youngster about his great grandfather, Finlay, who was born in 1805.
One particular amusing story which I recall from him. was of his father telling him of being asked as a ten-year old, along with a pal, to collect the empty cement bags during the building of the Port breakwater in 1920. The weekly wage was one penny and on this occasion, on presenting themselves to the pay office, were informed that unfortunately they had run out of penny coins and had only shilling coins left. The pay clerk was amused with the boys’ quick reply that they would happily accept the shilling in lieu of the penny!
Another of his long-cherished projects was to provide a long overdue Memorial in Port of Ness in commemoration of its history as the centre of an extensive and prosperous North Lewis longline fishing industry. On a beautiful August day in 2014 , at the age of 92, assisted by his granddaughter Freya, he delighted in performing the official unveiling ceremony of the Ness Fishery Memorial built to his own design overlooking Port of Ness harbour.
The following year in 2015 he was present at the opening of the restored Lews Castle, a massive project in which his son Iain was heavily involved through his work with the Comhairle. It was gratifying that even with his Parkinson’s illness catching up with him he was able to be there and to meet up with former colleagues and relive earlier happy days at the Castle.
John Murdo’s strong and long standing Christian faith, was an integral and essential element of his make-up and of his daily life and I would like in conclusion to quote the Gaelic version of verse 30 , Psalm 107 – words which are surely particularly appropriate as we bid John Murdo a fond farewell:
An sin tha iad ro ait airson
Gu bheil iad samhach beo
‘S gun d’thug e iad don chaladh sin
‘S don phort bu mhianach leo.
Soaraidh leat John Murdo ; tha agus bithidh sinn gad chuimhneachadh agus gad ionndrainn.
(The funeral was at Cross Free Church, on Thursday December 6th)
Donald Murray, Tarbert