Margaret Bennett is a folklorist, writer, singer and broadcaster. She was brought up in a family of tradition bearers, Gaelic on her mother’s side (from Skye) and Lowland Scots on her father’s. School years were spent in Skye, Lewis and Shetland before studying in Glasgow. In the mid-sixties, the legendary Hamish Henderson, singer, poet, folklorist and political activist inspired her career choice. In 1968 she emigrated to Canada to study Folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland, after which she spent a year in Quebec as a folklorist for Canada’s Museum of Civilization. From 1984 to 1996 she lectured at The University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies and now teaches part-time at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. A prize-winning author, she has written ten books, contributed to over 40 others, featured on media productions and several musical collaborations with her son, Martyn Bennett (1971–2005), including the National Theatre of Scotland’s acclaimed production, ‘Black Watch’. Recipient of previous awards for contributions to literature, folklore and culture, she recently received an Honorary Doctorate of Music (Glasgow, 2010), ‘Le Prix du Québec’ (for contributions to Quebec cultural studies, 2011) and was made an Honorary Professor of the Royal Scottish Academy in 2012, she is widely regarded as ‘Scotland’s foremost folklorist’.
Her prize-winning books include Oatmeal and the Catechism (1999), The Last Stronghold: Scottish Gaelic Traditions in Newfoundland, (1989), and Scottish Customs from the Cradle to theGrave, (2004). CD collaborations with her late son, Martyn, feature in theatre and film, (including ‘The Black Watch’). Activities for ‘Homecoming Scotland 2009’ include Celtic Connections (Glasgow), ‘Burns 250’ (Washington, DC) and Ullapool Book Festival. As the late Hamish Henderson wrote, “Margaret embodies the spirit of Scotland.”
Schooling in Portree (Isle of Skye), Stornoway (Isle of Lewis) and Lerwick (Shetland Isles) then three years as a student in Glasgow. Learning to become a teacher may have been incidental to the best of student days in the sixties as Glasgow had Folk Clubs, wonderful singers, endless opportunities to get together and sing, a wealth of song, both traditional and 'revival'. On an 'exchange visit' with Edinburgh University Folk Club I met the now legendary Hamish Henderson, inspiring, energetic and enthusiastic, at the height of his career as a folklorist - he undoubtedly influenced my own career choice. Then, in 1968, I emigrated to Newfoundland which became home for the next eight years. As a post-graduate student of Folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland I began recording the traditions of the Gaels who immigrated there from the Isle of Canna and Moidart (see books). Studied with Prof. Herbert Halpert whose rigorous training in folklore studies influenced every project thereafter.Formal qualifications include B.A.(Ed), Post-graduate M.A. in Folklore from Memorial University of Newfoundland, and a Ph.D. in Ethnology from the University of Edinburgh (advisors: Dr John MacInnes and Dr Alan Bruford).
Most Frequently Asked Question:
Question: Are you related to the musician Martyn Bennett?
Answer: I'm Martyn's mother. He was born in Newfoundland where I studied folklore. We enjoyed the delights of music-making in the family, for, as in my childhood, so in Martyn's, there was scarcely anything we did together that didn't have some musical aspect. You can read about Martyn's life in the book, "It's Not the Time You Have..." Photo Ian Mackenzie