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Ian Paterson was born in 1916, the son of merchant Finlay Paterson and his wife Christina MacCuish of Geo Dhubh. He started attending Berneray School in 1921.
He served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, later becoming a teacher. At the end of his teaching career in 1966, he was headteacher of Coaltown of Balgonie Primary School in Fife. He wrote many articles about life on his native island for the magazines Gairm, as well as poems, some of which have been published in An Tuil.
He joined the School of Scottish Studies as a transcriber of tapes, and made thousands of sound recordings of his friends and family. Many of these are available through his biography page on the Tobar an Dualchais website. Some recordings were transcribed and published in Tocher.