A DALRY man has been crowned Scots Language Champion for his contribution to promoting the Scots language at the recent Hands Up For Trad Award Ceremony in Dundee.

John Hodgart was honoured for dedicating the past fifty years of his life to encouraging the use of Scots, especially in education.

John retired as Principal Teacher of English at Garnock Academy, Kilbirnie in 2009 having held the post for 36 years

At Garnock, he shared his fondness for Scots with his pupils and in 1976-7, along with his colleague, the late Martin Clarke, he wrote a play called Bessie Dunlop, The Witch of Dalry.

Bessie was a traditional healer whose kindness in helping people was feared or misinterpreted by some and she was accused of witchcraft. She was tried at the High Court of Justiciary in Edinburgh in 1576, found guilty of ‘using sorcery, witchcraft and incantations’ and burnt at the stake, probably on Edinburgh Castle Hill.

John’s pupils performed the play in the Scots language in which it was written with a cast of over thirty very enthusiastic and talented Garnock pupils in June 1977. This proved to be a success and a revised version of the play was later published by the publisher Hodder and Stoughton in 1995 and used in various schools throughout Scotland.

John became a member of the Association for Scottish Literary Studies (ASLS) in the late 1970s, an organisation he has served for over 40 years and he is still its Education Committee secretary.

In paying tribute to John prior to his award, Scots poet and novelist, Matthew Fitt described John as a Burns expert – having been a past chairman of Dalry Burns Club - and a pioneer of Scots as a teacher and activist. He added that John had played a key role in persuading the Government to set up a Scottish Studies and a Scots Language Award as well as a mandatory Scottish literature question in the exams. Matthew said that there could not have been a better choice as Scots Champion.

In accepting the award, John paid tribute to his ASLS colleagues for promoting the teaching of Scottish literature in Gaelic and Scots and in particular Ronnie Renton, retired Deputy Head of Saint Aloysius School in Glasgow, Professors Alan Riach and the late Douglas Gifford of Glasgow University.

He also thanked the Association for being about to publish another revised version of Bessie Dunlop as a printed book and e-book. John expressed pleasure at the increased awareness of Bessie in Dalry with a poster at the railway station, a plaque in the town centre and a recent housing development called Bessie Dunlop Court.

John, who was born in Dalry but now lives in Ardrossan, thanked his friends and fellow poets, Matthew Fitt and Rab Wilson, for their advice an encouragement and congratulated his fellow Ayrshireman, Professor Derrick McClure, who also received an award for his lifetime work on the Scots Language.

John also wrote a long poem about Dalry called The Hilltap Toon and a film version was made, thanks to the Art on the By-pass group. Over 150 Dalry folk recited the poem on location. There are plans to show it soon.