17th April 1944 – 9th November 2009. We were saddened to hear news that John McDermott, a member of the Laggan, had died. The Laggan were one of the most popular groups coming out of the Scots folk revival. Born in Clydebank, Scotland, John was a committed Socialist, an Internationalist and a valued member of the Workers’ Party of Ireland for almost five decades.
I (Pete Heywood) took the photo of John at the Glenfarg Folk Feast earlier in the year after a wonderful chat with him in the bar. He whispered ("Don't tell anybody, he said) that he had just reached retirement age and then went on to say what a wonderful life he had had and how many good people he had met through his music. (The rest of this obituary is currently taken from the internet. It deals mainly with his political contributions. I anticipate a number of people wanting to add details from more musical angles.)
A comrade of integrity and loyalty John was part of the development of the party from a narrow nationalist movement to a class conscious party of the working class. Whether under attack from narrow sectarian bigots or under threat from opportunists one always knew that John McDermott could be relied upon to defend the party. Always very clear as to his political allegiance John took great pride in recalling the words of another famous Irish/Scottish revolutionary James Connolly who stated “It is not the extent of your march but the direction in which you are marching which ultimately matters”.
Through his music and songs, most particularly with the Laggan Folk Group, John McDermott brought great pleasure and enjoyment to many thousands of people throughout the world. He was part of that great international movement of solidarity in the 1960s with the people of South Africa fighting the repressive Apartheid regime, in support of the Vietnamese people against US imperialism and always, up to the day he died, he was a firm and steadfast supporter of the Cuban people and party in the struggle against the reactionaries in the United States who sought to defeat the Cuban revolution.
Whether the struggle was in Scotland, Ireland, Africa, Asia or Latin America, wherever reaction and repression raised its head, John McDermott was on the side of the oppressed and for Justice and Freedom. His password was that of the French Revolution, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. He held these principles and ideals to be constant and until they were realised the struggle would continue.
A fierce opponent of sectarianism which had been fostered and promoted for generations in Scotland and Ireland by the ruling class of church and State, John McDermott recognised that the unity of the working class of all countries was the most important weapon in our struggle. John was one of the founders of the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association in Scotland. He saw the potential of NICRA to mobilise and unite people around the Civil Rights Programme and he played a major role in building a strong support organisation in Scotland for Civil Rights in Northern Ireland.
Among many of John’s interests in life politics, music, love of the Highlands ranked near the top. He took every opportunity to be in and part of the highlands. For instance, on the Saturday two days before he died he left his hospital bed to travel with his partner and friend Meg for one last time, as he well knew, to his beloved Glencoe. Here he met old friends and spent the day with them enjoying their company and the great beautiful tranquil setting of Glencoe.
The past few weeks have been very difficult ones, for John realised that it was too late to defeat the illness that had come upon him. He was not afraid to die and he was surrounded by a loving family, loyal and generous friends and comrades. He will be long remembered for his kindness, his sharp wit and humour, and his concern for so many others with whom he had lived and worked with over many years.
His funeral was a moving tribute to his life with a few of his oldest friends telling some wonderful stories of their antics over the years. The other members of the Laggan sang a couple of songs, Four Green Fields and The freedom come all ye.
We convey our deepest sympathy to his partner Meg who was his devoted companion, friend and comrade for many, many years.