Neil MacCormick’s memorial service

Neil MacCormick was laid to rest on Friday 17 April 2009, and a memorial service was held the same day at Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburgh.  An anonymous contributor has written this description of events.

Neil’s friends and admirers throughout the world who were unable to attend the service of thanksgiving in Greyfriars Kirk on Friday will want to know that it was a fitting and impressive occasion. The church was filled to capacity. The service was relayed to the overflowing numbers standing outside in the historic kirkyard under a cold grey sky.

The occasion was almost overwhelmingly sad but the service, conducted by the Rev Dr Iain Whyte, former Chaplain to the University of Edinburgh, was not dark. Within a framework of classic psalms there were readings by Professor Zenon Bankowski and the Rev Dr Johnston R Mackay. Neil’s cousin Donald MacCormick spoke movingly on “Remembering Neil in Family Life”; Dr Anne Lorne Gillies sang the beautiful Gaelic hymn, Leanabh an Aigh; Professor Neil Walker, Neil’s successor in the Regius Chair, spoke on “Remembering Neil in Academic Life”; Anne Lorne Gillies sang “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”; the Rt Hon Alex Salmond, First Minister for Scotland, and John Swinney, MSP, spoke on “Remembering Neil in Public Life”; and Owen Dudley Edwards read, with gusto and with feeling, “Blows the Wind Today” by Robert Louis Stevenson with its sad, sad final lines. There were not many dry eyes when he finished. The contributors were, without exception, magnificent. Those who spoke about Neil brought out touching and amusing memories of his humour and humanity. Although the heavy sense of irreparable loss was never far below the surface there was lightness too and laughter. Unusually for a service in a Scottish church, there were some irresistible bursts of spontaneous applause. The family and the congregation were piped out by Dr Martin Lowe, former Secretary to the University of Edinburgh: among the selected tunes was “The Lads that will return no more” composed by Neil’s grandfather – a fitting end to a fitting service.

It was just a short walk from Greyfriars to the reception in the Playfair Library in the Old College. The contrast between the splendid brown wooden roof in the church and the  splendid painted ceiling in the Library was striking and reflected a subtle shift in mood. There were meetings and greetings between people who had not seen each other for years or even decades. There were exchanges of stories about Neil, and memories of Neil, and reflections on his amazing contributions at the highest possible level to so many areas of life. Eventually conversations turned to other things. That is what happens. That is what has to happen. That is what we would all like to happen. That is what Neil, more than most, would have liked to happen. Life goes on. For those who were closest it can never be the same again. But it goes on.

Scots Law News is grateful for this fine contribution.  Another account was published in The Scotsman for 18 April, and can be read here.  The text of the eulogy by Professor Neil Walker (Neil's successor in the Edinburgh Regius Chair) can be read here, and extracts from the eulogies of the First Minister and his Cabinet colleague John Swinney here.