Left to right: Founding chairman, John Murray, current chairman, Donald Martin, and former chairman Dr Finlay Macleod

Gaelic publisher Acair celebrated its 40th anniversary today in Stornoway. 

Invited guests gathered at the An Tosgan building on Seaforth Road to reminisce on the formative years of the company, and how things had progressed up until today. 

Donald Martin, the current chairman of Acair, said there was no special cake to the mark the occasion, for a very simple reason. 

“Although we commemorate the birthday of Acair today, the actual birthday is not until December,” he said.

He laughed: “Maybe we can hold another event then.”

Back in January 1977, said Mr Martin, Acair hadn’t even been thought of.

“There were a lot of projects on the go at that time,” he said. 

“The Council had been established in 1974, and then we had the Bilingual Education Project, which introduced Gaelic bilingual education to primary schools. 

“We also had the community education project – the Van Leer project as it was known - and today we have the legacy of that project in the form of the Comunn Eachdraidh and the Co Chomainn.”

One of the real challenges that teachers came across in schools when the bilingual education scheme was introduced had been the lack of specialist educational materials. 

“There were no Gaelic books, no Gaelic worksheets, absolutely nothing,” said Mr Martin. 

“They had to translate textbooks and then paste the words onto old books that had been used in Wales and Ireland and various other places.”

In the course of the year, said Mr Martin, the then chairman of the Comhairle’s education committee was Jack Macarthur, who was a very active and strong supporter of the Gaelic language.

It was he who decided that there was a need for a Gaelic publishing company to be established. 

“It wasn’t until September of that year that the first indication that things had been moving in that regard was brought to the attention of councillors,” said Mr Martin. 

“It only took three months from that informal discussion at the education meeting in September 1977 for the company to be established at the end of December that same year. 

“That wouldn’t have happened today. 

“It would have taken three years before the proposal went formally to a committee, then there would be consultations with departments, then you would have due diligence and risk assessment.

“The chances are that if these things had been applied to Acair at the time, it would never have surfaced.”

In December 1977 the Comhairle were told that the Highlands and Islands Development Board (HIDB) had provided £38,000 to set up a publishing company, which was to be called ‘Acair’, meaning ‘Anchor’ – a name devised by John Murray. 

“It’s an excellent name, and it is still with us today,” said Mr Martin.

Further funding was contributed by the Comhairle, by the HIDB, and An Comunn Gaidhealach, with each of these three organisations having their own representation on the Acair board. 

“The Comhairle was represented by Jack Macarthur, the HIDB by Iain Macaskill, and An Comunn Gaidhealach by Neil McEachnie,” said Mr Martin.

“They were joined by other officers, such as Dr Finlay Macleod, and John Murray, who represented the Bilingual Education Project, and Jim Grassie (HIDB) and Colin Spencer (An Comunn Gaidhealach).”

An Comunn Gaidhealach and the HIDB had earlier in the year provided funding for the first series of Gaelic books to be published.

“It’s possible that it was as a result of that initiative that discussions took place to set up Acair,” said Mr Martin. 

Over the last 40 years, he said, the role and functions of Acair had changed considerably. 

“Storlann was established in 1999 and they took over a number of functions that Acair had previously undertaken,” said Mr Martin.

“We still receive funding from Storlann, on the basis of contracts.”

And while Acair had been established as a Gaelic publishing company, a reduction in funding had forced the company’s hand into producing English titles as well. 

“We receive most of our funding from Bord na Gaidhlig through the Gaelic Books Council, although that funding has been slowly diminishing over the last few years,” said Mr Martin.

“So now we are very much into the publication of general titles, such as ‘Rhenigidale: A Community’s Fight for Survival.

“I’m very pleased to say that publications like that have been a great success.”