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The Birdman of Pollok

28 December 2019

A new documentary by BBC ALBA pays tribute to the remarkable life and achievements of the hugely influential environmental campaigner Colin MacLeod, the Birdman of Pollok.

In the 90s, Glasgow didn’t have a Greta Thunberg, they had Colin MacLeod.

Colin grew up in Pollok where gangs, drink and drugs were part of life but he was also a Glasgow Gael and used his own Gaelic heritage as a foundation and set up the Pollok Free State in an area of Pollok Country Park to try to give a voice back to the people.

The programme includes previously unseen archive photos and video footage, kindly loaned by his wife Gehan and closest friends.

The story beings with his protest in the early 90s when he spent nine days up a tree in Pollok Country Estate to protect land that was going to be bulldozed to make way for an extension of the M77 motorway.

Pollok Country Park had been gifted to the people of Glasgow and Colin viewed it as a playground for the poor children of Pollok, a place to escape.

When it was under threat, children walked out of school on strike, protesters blocked roads, tens of thousands marched against the environmental impact of the plans for the new motorway.

Alastair MacIntosh, friend of Colin MacLeod, said:

“He was a chieftain in the true ancient sense. He broke his heart fighting poverty in Glasgow.”

This fascinating documentary features exclusive new interviews with Colin’s father Donald, his friend and fellow activist Barbara NicGriogair, his wife Gehan, friend and environmental campaigner Alastair MacIntosh, former MSP Rosie Kane McGarvey and her nephew, the author of Orwell Prize Winning book ‘Poverty Safari’ Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey, who dedicated a whole chapter to Colin and his work in his book.

Darren McGarvey spoke highly of Colin in the programme, he said:

“He was magnetic. He had those qualities that a true leader has.”

Alan Torrance, who met Colin during the beginnings of the GalGael and still works there today, said: “He was a very brave man. He stood in defiance of tyranny. He led from the front.”

The M77 was extended anyway, but Colin went on to found GalGael ‘the free child of Pollok Park’, a Gaelic-inspired movement for cultural renewal in inner-city Glasgow.

When Colin died aged 39 in 2005, the streets of Govan stopped, with 600 mourners behind his handmade coffin.

Filmmaker Nina Torrance said:

“There is so much happening today that parallels what Colin was fighting against that it felt we needed to hear his story today more than ever.”

The music was composed by John Cummings (formerly of Mogwai).

The Birdman of Pollok/ Curaidh na Coille airs on BBC ALBA on Monday 30th December at 9pm and will also be available on the BBC iPlayer.