Muckle Toon all set to celebrate MacDiarmid

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Langholm is all set to celebrate the life and work of its most famous son, poet Hugh MacDiarmid, with a major festival this weekend.

Titled the ‘Huge Festival in the Muckle Toon’, the aim of the event is to raise the profile of MacDiarmid, and in doing so, create opportunities for education, cultural development, artistic expression, social participation, and economic regeneration in Langholm.

The first event actually took place last month, with a party to mark MacDiarmid’s birthday in the Eskdale Hotel in Langholm.

The main event, however, takes place on Saturday (September 13), when celebrations begin at 9am with a Glenmorangie toast to the poet at his memorial on the Whita Hill; the commencement of the ‘MacDiarmid’s Footsteps’ poetical journey, and conclude with the last dance at the ceilidh in the Buccleuch Centre at approximately 1am on Sunday.

It is envisaged that the festival will become an annual feature of the Langholm cultural calendar, and it is the hope of organisers that the Glenmorangie company, the David Mc Govan Johnston Trust, and the Arthur Bell Trust, who have all given generous support, will consent to be key sponsors for the future.

The Buccleuch Centre is hosting a full programme of events on Saturday. These kick-off at 2pm with some traditional music and song from Robert Charlesworth on fiddle and concertina, Walter Steele on guitar and vocals and singer Steven Milligan.

This is followed at 2.30pm by Border Pipe duets featuring Bill Telfer and Matt Seattle.

At 3pm there will be readings of work by MacDiarmid and other poets before a ‘light-hearted’ political debate, involving students from Langholm Academy.

At 4pm it will be ‘MacDiarmid on Film’, with archive and contemporary pieces featuring the image and voice of the poet. This is followed, at 4.40pm, by readings featuring Mairi Jammeh and contemporary work by Scottish female poets.

At 6pm it is Langholm Folk with traditional and contemporary songs, with young local musicians performing music of their choice at 6.30pm.

Blind Fiction at 7pm sees new music from an acoustic trio led by singer/songwriter Lucia.

Then at 8.15pm, storyteller Robert Graham will keep the audience enthralled before being followed, at 8.55pm, by performance poet Robin Cairns.

Stand-up comic Bruce Morton will get the laughs going from 9.40pm, before dancing gets under way at 11pm with the Two Left Feet Ceilidh Band.


MacDiarmid was born Christopher Murray Grieve in 1892, in Langholm, where his father was a postman.

MacDiarmid worked as a journalist in Scotland and Wales, before spending the First World War in the Royal Army Medical Corps in Greece and France.

He resumed his journalistic career after the war, but was already interested by developments in contemporary poetry and literature.

The first collection of his own poems, Sangshaw, was published in 1925 with his major work, ‘A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle’, coming out in 1926.

A founding member of the National Party of Scotland – today’s SNP – in 1928, his political stance would later shift towards communism and he spent much of the 1930s on the Shetland island of Whalsay.

His last 27 years were spent living with his second wife, Valda, near Biggar, where MacDiarmid died in 1978.