Friday, January 30, 2009

Glen Shinty mourns the passing of Peter English (1937-2009)

Kilmore Church was filled to capacity on Saturday 10th January 2009 for Peter’s funeral. The weather was horrendous with a strong westerly gale and driving rain but the large crowd which attended stood in respectful silence as the coffin passed a long guard of honour comprised of Glen players past and present on its way to its eternal resting place. This is a detail worth preserving not least for the sake of the history of the Glen Shinty Club because it reveals the respect in which Peter was held by those associated with both the Club and the sport, which he served for a lifetime. Of those that stood in line in the wind and rain, the youngest was 16 and the oldest were those who had played with him in the Glen teams of the late 50s and early 60s. If there was ever an illustration of the power of shinty to bind the generations of a community together this was it – and one can be sure Peter would have approved.
Peter had of course a very full and varied life beyond the world of shinty and the congregation not only comprised relatives, friends and shinty folk but colleagues and former students from the world of agriculture in which he spent his professional life.
Peter’s professional and indeed professorial life has been well covered in a number of obituaries which have been recently published in papers both national and local but for those who come upon this tribute from the outside the Glen, the main highlights of this aspect of his career can be simply restated. Peter had a distinguished academic career spanning four decades at Aberdeen University. His subject was Agriculture and having graduated BSc with honours in 1961 he remained with the University until he retired in 2001 as Professor of Animal Science and Husbandry. These 40 plus years were rich in research and teaching, for Peter was at once a scientist, an innovative researcher into animal husbandry and an educator. He published a phenomenal number of academic papers and became one of the world’s leading figures in the field of Pig production, a position which saw him called upon to travel throughout the world lecturing and advising on animal production. This was a jet setting lifestyle which took him very far from the Glen and indeed Aberdeen, but it was also one which enthralled those who worked with him on the production team of his book on the history of Glenurquhart Shinty Club. Until he sent in his introductory remarks, which indicated the far flung places in which the various chapters were composed few had realised just how international his lifestyle was.
His academic publications were also published world wide in 23 languages and his principal book “The Sow, Improving her Efficiency" became one of the best selling agricultural books in the world.
As a result of these publications and his development of an internationally recognised post graduate course in pig production at Aberdeen he was presented with numerous awards for his work including the David Black Prize for services to the pig industry. He also spent nine years on the Farm Animal Welfare Council advising the UK Government –a post from which he had only recently retired.
In the Glen however Peter was especially revered because of his lifelong association with Shinty. Born at Lochletter in 1937 he came on his mother’s side from a family, which had been involved in shinty from the earliest days of its organised existence. Peter’s grandfather Alexander Macdonald (Ali Ban) played in the epic encounters between Glenurquhart and Strathglass in the 1880s, matches that laid the foundation for the establishment of the Camanachd Association in 1893. How fitting it was that Peter was to serve that organisation for 10 years as Vice President and it more than probable that had not his working life been spent away from the main shinty playing areas, he may have aspired to the Presidency of the Association.
As it was he excelled as a player, and having been part of the group which reformed Glenurquhart Shinty Club in the post war era, he was part of a team which became one of the most successful ever Glen sides.
In the 1960s they won two McGillivray League championships, two Strathdearn Cups and finally in 1963 the Sutherland.
By this time however, Peter was resident in Aberdeen, where as a student he had played not only for the University Club but also for Scottish Universities gaining a blue into the bargain. Being settled in the Granite City with a growing family, meant that Peter could no longer commit to travel back to the Glen to turn out for the red and blacks but that by no means meant the end of his shinty career. Along with George Campbell (now Club President of Inverness) and John Brown (Boleskine) he helped form then play for Aberdeen Camanachd, a side that went on to enjoy some success at junior level in the 60s, 70s and 80s
As well as that he established the Aberdeen Shinty Festival- a successful event which included the innovation of a skills competition. In 1971 Peter became the founding editor of the Shinty Year Book, a post he was to hold until 1976. He initiated this publication out of a concern that results, stories and above all the people playing the game should be remembered. The Yearbook took off and its present healthy existence is a fitting tribute to Peter’s memory. Long may it continue to be so.
This interest in the social history of Shinty lead him to research and publish his history of Glenurquhart Shinty Club, which came out in 1985 to coincide with the centenary of the Club and it is was still a passion of his right to the end. Some three weeks before his death he was present in Inverness at the inaugural meeting of the Camanachd Historical Society where he stressed the importance of oral sources to the history of the game.
His retirement to Bunloit saw him once more pick up the cause of shinty in the Glen and he was instrumental with Jimmac Mackintosh, his old sparring partner from the 1960s team, in re –establishing the Glenalbyn Primary League. He also roped in Jimmac to help in 2007 & 2008 when he reinvented the Aberdeen Shinty festival as a youth skills competition at Blairbeg. Peter was never happier however than when he was coaching his Balnain Primary School youngsters amongst whom he numbered his grandnephews. Indeed, one of the Wing Centre’s fondest memories of Peter was of him in late November reffing a Primary School Match between Balnain and Drum on the Astroturf while at the same time coaching his own team It was a unique performance.
There is more of course that may be said beyond the shinty pitch- his interest in social history led to a book about Arnisdale and Loch Hourn where his uncle farmed and subsequently to the funding of a new Community-centre/ceilidh house which opened in August 2008. There was also his initiating and organising of the Glen Challenge Race at the annual Glenurquhart Gathering where as morning announcer his familiar tones on the fourth Saturday in August would to ring out across the field, encouraging, amusing, admonishing and of course occasionally announcing results.
Peter’s passing was sudden and unexpected and his death not only leaves a hole at the heart of the Glen Club, but also marks the loss of yet one more link with the team of 1956-63. The photos at the top can speak for themselves: the single of Peter is taken from the veterans picture features in the Jan 2008 blog while the classic shot of Peter and Johnny “Ach” Macrae has featured widely. For good measure the other pic is that of the 1960 MacGillivray winners. After three successive defeats in cup finals they tasted victory at the fourth attempt defeating Newtonmore 9-2 at the Bught.

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