Laureation address: Ronald William Renton

Lauren Sykes
Friday 16 June 2023

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Letters
Laureation by Caroline McWilliams, PhD Candidate, School of History

Friday 16 June 2023

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Ronald William Renton.

Ronnie Renton’s association with the Scottish language began one summer on the Isle of Barra when Father Peter Granger Banyard challenged him to a wager: which of them could learn Gaelic first? I am delighted to say that Ronnie won that competition and a generation of scholars have benefitted from this.

Ronnie gained his MA in English and Greek from the University of Glasgow, before attending Jordanhill Teacher Training College. In 1968 he began teaching English at St Aloysius’ College in Glasgow and, in 1978, he became Principal Teacher of Guidance at the College, founding the Careers Department – a radical move, as no other school offered such a service at this time.

In 1987 Ronnie was appointed Depute Headmaster of the College, a post he would hold until retirement in 2008.

At the inception of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies (ASLS) in 1970, Ronnie was one of the founding members, and he went on to join their Council in 1976 and, two years later, he became Convenor of the Education Committee of ASLS. The following year Ronnie published Abair! Scottish Gaelic-English with J A MacDonald. This was the first modern Scottish Gaelic dictionary and one of the only ones still in common usage today to offer translations in both directions. From 1986 to the present day, he has been the co-editor for Scotnotes Study Guides, a series of guides to major Scottish writers and literary texts that are likely to be elements within literature courses.

In 1993 Ronnie was prominent in the creation of the BBC Gaelic TV programme Speaking Our Language. The programme has since developed into an entire learning programme with an accompanying website. Returning to the University of Glasgow in 1995 Ronnie earned his MPhil with a dissertation focused on the re-evaluation of the major fiction of Neil Munro, the author of the Para Handy tales, founding the Neil Munro Society as an offshoot of ASLS the following year.

The next ten years featured multiple publications, essays, and edited compilations, including Cradle of the Scots: an Argyll Anthology and Treasure Islands Guide to Scottish Fiction for Readers 10-14. In 2003 he commissioned the Neil Munro Medal, which is awarded to Scottish Literature students, and in 2006 Ronnie was featured on The South Bank Show with one of his former pupils, Armando Ianucci.

After his retirement from teaching in 2008, Ronnie continued to publish, and in 2009 he joined the Scottish Qualifications Authority’s Committee for the Curriculum for Excellence and the GalGael Committee, whose activities offer people with complex needs a place to work and learn practical skills.

In 2021 Ronnie was awarded the ASLS Honorary Fellowship and has several publications currently in pre-publication. During the citation for his Honorary Fellowship, the committee spoke of Ronnie’s involvement in their Education Committee as Convenor, and his desire to bring Scottish Gaelic and Scottish literature together under one umbrella. To me this sums up Ronnie’s life’s work, a life dedicated to the Scottish language and literature, and to passing it on to the younger generation. He has taught and inspired some of the greatest writers of our day, always taking a chance on those who are from different backgrounds and nurturing their talent.

I am one of those lucky students who benefited from Ronnie’s wisdom, a fact I will always be grateful for.

Ronnie has ensured that the Scottish Gaelic language remains relevant and that it is available to all who wish to study it. There is not a single student of Scottish Literature, especially at the University of St Andrews, who has not benefited from the efforts of Ronnie Renton.

He is one of the most caring, compassionate, and modest people you will ever meet. He has been a titan of Scottish language and literature for the past 50 years, yet one would never know from his demeanour. He is one of this country’s unsung heroes, who has maintained a language that could so easily have died out.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of his major contribution to the Scottish language, literature, and the Scottish education system, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, on Ronald Renton.

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