Aonghas MacNeacail (1942–) is the most prolific of the generation of Gaelic poets who came to prominence in the 1970s and 1980s and who were celebrated in Christopher Whyte's 1991 anthology An Aghaidh na Siorraidheachd/In the Face of Eternity. MacNeacail is also an English language poet of some note; indeed it was in English that he first began writing and published his first collection, Imaginary Wounds (1980). Another English collection followed – Rock and Water (1990) – but since the early 1980s MacNeacail's output has mainly been in Gaelic with accompanying English translations: book-length poems (in collaboration with the artist Simon Fraser) Sireadh Bradain Sicir/Seeking Wise Salmon (1983) and An Cathadh Mòr/The Great Snowbattle (1984) have been followed by the collections an seachnadh agus dàin eile/the avoiding and other poems (1986), Oideachadh Ceart agus Dàin Eile / A Proper Schooling and Other Poems (1996) and laoidh an donais òig/hymn to a young demon (2007) as well as librettos – An Sgathach/ Warrior Queen and An Turas (The Trip) (c. 1993) – and scripts for radio, television, film and stage.
That MacNeacail writes in both Gaelic and English is no surprise. Born in the Isle of Skye in 1942, the poet was raised in Gaelic until he went to primary school, where education was entirely through the medium of English. After his schooldays (in which he learned Gaelic, in effect, as a foreign language) MacNeacail left Skye to work for British Rail, in a London housing office and also to take a degree at Glasgow University, where he was a member, along with Tom Leonard, James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and Liz Lochhead, of the Philip Hobsbaum writing group. Until 1977, when he took up the post of sgrìobhadair, or writer-in-residence, at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, MacNeacail wrote poetry predominantly in English. From 1977 on he has been almost exclusively a Gaelic poet, and has used only his Gaelic name (some earlier work had appeared under the English ‘Angus Nicolson’). This negotiation between Gaelic and English that MacNeacail has engaged in throughout his life, and the corresponding voyage between Gaelic and various other cultural traditions, is central to much of MacNeacail's poetry. The poetic persona that