Literature – Neil Munro

Neil Munro – Author

Neil Munro was born, an illegitimate son, in Inveraray , Argyll, to Ann Munro, a kitchen maid, on 3rd June 1863.

Shortly after his birth, Neil and his mother moved in with his grandmother Anne McArthur Munro who lived in a one-roomed house). Both ladies were native speakers of Gaelic and it is from them that the Neil received his knowledge of the old language and culture.

He was educated at the parish school in Inveraray which he left in 1877, having gained employment as clerk in a local lawyer’s office. Whilst working there he learned what Latin and taught himself shorthand.

On the 1st June 1881, two days before his eighteenth birthday, he left for Glasgow in search of better prospects but he would never forgot Inveraray or Argyle.

Neil soon into journalism working as a reporter on The Greenock Advertiser, The Glasgow News, the Falkirk Herald, and finally becoming the chief reporter on the Glasgow Evening News at the age of only 23. He also married Jessie Adam, the daughter of his landlady in North Woodside Road.

In 1896 he made his literary debut with the publication of a collection of stories: The Lost Pibroch and Other Sheiling Stories. These were soon followed by the release of his first novel John Splendid in 1898. This was followed by a number of historical novels all exploring the impact of change within the Highlands.

Munro went on to achieve worldwide fame. In his prime he was editor of the Glasgow Evening News and was generally regarded as being a senior figure in contemporary Scottish criticism and a dominating presence in Scottish letters. He wrote on European art, Glasgow policies and the Highlands, providing a first hand commentary on the Scottish social situation. He saw Glasgow as being the second city of the Empire with the importance of the Clyde Ships, Charles Rennie MackIntosh and the Great Exhibition.

Around 1902 Munro retired from full-time journalism, retaining a commitment to produce a weekly column for the News. This column was to win him as much fame as his novels. In it appeared three series of humorous short stories, Archie, my droll friend; Jimmy Swan, the joy traveller; and above all – Para Handy. These last, the adventures of a West Highland puffer skipper and the crew of the coaster Vital Spark have enjoyed continuing popularity and have been adapted for television, stage and film.

Munro used these stories for light-hearted social comment on contemporary events such as the introduction of old age pensions. Munro thought little of journalism, or of these pieces, which he published as “Hugh Foulis” to distance them from his serious works.

During the 1914-18 War Munro returned to full-time journalism and suffered the loss of his son, Hugh, on the Western Front. His later output was slight. A volume of poetry appeared after his death, as did two volumes of collected journalism.

In 1927 Neil Munro’s health was failing and he reluctantly retired from the Glasgow Evening News. His last book was a History of the Royal Bank of Scotland (1928) and he continued to write articles, “Random Reminiscences”, under the soubriquet Mr Incognito for the Daily Record and Mail.

He was honoured with a second LLD, this time by the University of Edinburgh, but sadly died a few months later on 22nd December 1930 at his home, “Cromalt” in Helensburgh. He was survived by his wife, Jessie, one son, and four daughters.