Unveiling of Neil Gunn Plaque
Thursday 4th June 2009


Katharine Stewart, author and Jimmy Gray, Provost of Inverness
(Picture courtesy of Scottish Provincial Press)

At 10.30am on Thursday the 4th. June a small group of people was forming in front of the former Customs and Excise building in Inverness High Street. The group consisted of Neil Gunn Trustees and Inverness City Heritage Trustees. The author Katharine Stewart, 94 years young, had just arrived on the arm of one of her very tall grandsons and so we were ready to begin. Considering that the High Street in Inverness is pedestrianised and should be free of vehicles, it was amazing just how many vans there were, not to mention a street cleaning machine adding to the background noise.

The Convenor of the Neil Gunn Trust, Ann Yule, began the proceedings speaking with the help of a PA system so that she could be heard above the level of street noise. Behind her on the wall of the building was a very attractive new plaque in honour of Neil Gunn, though not visible at this point as it was covered with a piece of Gunn tartan.

Ann spoke of how the previous plaque had disappeared mysteriously from the wall 4 years previously and in spite of enquiries had never been seen again. Efforts had then been made by Highland Council and by the Neil Gunn Trust to find a means of replacing it. As usual in these cases the problem is always finding the money to accomplish this. At last, when the Trust had almost despaired, they had been advised to contact the City Heritage Trust. That proved to be very fortuitous. The City Heritage Trust were planning to erect a series of plaques throughout Inverness marking buildings of Historical interest and offered to do the Neil Gunn plaque first. The Trustees could scarcely believe their luck.

Ann then spoke of how Neil Gunn had lived and worked in Inverness from 1921-1938. He worked as an Excise Officer for the Glen Mhor and Glen Albyn distilleries. During this period he wrote 7 books, arguably the most important of these being 'Morning Tide', which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize, and 'Highland River'. This encouraged Neil to make the decision to give up his job and become a full-time writer.

Ann declared, “I feel that it is important for future generations that this new plaque should mark the building where Neil Gunn worked and in so doing honour the man who made it so memorable.”

Ann then said that the Trustees had asked Katharine Stewart and Provost Gray to unveil the plaque. “Katharine is an author of many books as I'm sure you all know. However the reason we thought it appropriate is that the Foreword of Katharine's first book 'A Croft in the Hills', which was and is so popular that the 6th. edition of the book has been reprinted this year, was written by Neil Gunn. Katharine also met him personally. Provost Gray is a Caithness man, like Neil Gunn.”

Ann then asked Provost Gray to say a few words and then he and Katharine officially unveiled the plaque.

After the unveiling the assembled group made their way to the Town House at the invitation of the Provost and were refreshed with tea, coffee and shortbread. A very fulfilling morning!