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hicrh excellence.

The most powerful of all Alastair's poems, and
likewise that which most reveals the defects or
limitations of his genius, is " Beannachadh Luinge,"



or " Sgiobaireachd Chlann Raonuill," i.e. Anglice,
" The blessing of the ship." As the conception of
this poem is bold and original, so its execution, as a
whole, is masterly, rivaUing in spirit and descriptive
power many of the great literary efforts of ancient
and modern times. The ship was equipped with
all the needful gear and cn5W, and the sails were
unfurled at sunrise on Saint Bridget's day in the
harbour of Loch Eynort in South Uist. The follow-
ing translation by the late Sheriif Nicholson of one
of the finest passages in the poem, may be quoted —

" The isun bursting golden yellow

From his cloud-husk,
Then their sky grew tawny, smoky,

Full of gloom ;
It waxed wave blue, thick, buff-speckled,

Dun and troubled ;
Every colour of the tartan

Marked the heavens."

His poems of sentiment, such as " Moladh Moraig "
and " The Praise of the Dairymaid," abound in
tenderness and the most vivid delineation of human
passion — the former particularly touching the whole
gamut of emotion, everywhere betokening a master
hand. Even the Bachanalian songs are the best of
their kind, conviviality and good-fellowship being
glorified in a fashion not unworthy of the Ayrshire
bard himself.

If nature and sentiment drew forth the treasures
of Alastair's genius, so also did the political senti-
ment, which became the ruhng passion of his life.
Before ever Charles Edward crossed to Scotland
Alastair had tuned his lyre in his welcome. In his
poem on the Highland Clans he gazes with straining
eyes across the blue ocean wat(diing foi' the advent
of his heart's king. At last his hero comes, and no

588 TSE clan DONALt).

sooner does the royal standard of the Stewarts float
on the breezes of Glenfinnan than he at once bursts
into song like the birds on the approach of summer —

'N raoir a chunna mi 'm bruadar,
Tearlach ruadh thigh 'nii far saile,
Le phiobaii 's le chaismeachd,
'S le bhrataichean sgarlaid.

Even after Charles and his brave supporters were
scattered on that fatal day on Drumossie Moor,
the baid did not despair. He ceased not to
eulogise the King's son over the water, and
when this became a dangerous pastime he com-
posed love songs in which political allegiance was
artfully disguised under expressions of amorous
sentiment. In the dialogue between the Prince and
the Highlanders, after the failure of his enterprise,
the parting is celebrated with solemn sadness, but
the bard never would admit that the Star of
Charles had set, but, with a pertinacity that was
pathetic, hoped ever that his day was yet to come.
It came not, but the brave though abortive effort of
1745 had this no small success, that it roused many
a bard to minstrelsy, and that the song and music
which were the offspring of Jacobitism filled our
Scottish land. Of all the singers none struck a
stronger or more melodious note than Alastair. It
is certain, that while a position may be claimed for
one or two by his side in the Gaelic temple of the
muses, there is none that can be placed above him.
Donnachadh Ban nan Oran was a calmer, smoother,
more placid genius, his poems are more restful, and
move forward with a more equable flow of style and
sentiment. But Alastair is unquestionably the more
powerful mind. In fact, when we come to criticise
the more unfavourable aspects of his muse, his


defects are found to consist in an occasional want
of regulation in his })oetic }iowers, a regrettable
absence of poetic restraint. The strength of his
genius is greater than his judgment can curl), and
he has allowed himself to indulge in extravagances
and worse, which are a blot upon his fame. Even
that noble poem, the Sgiobaireachd, is disfigured
by wild phantasies that outrage the principles of
true poetic art. Nor can we deny that he has
perpetrated other verses which would have been
better in oblivion. Something, indeed, may have been
due to heredity. His great-grandfather, Ranald, 1st
of Benbecula, was a man of immease force, but of
headstrong and unbridled life, and while no scandal
has ever attached to the moral life of the poet,
the hereditary vehemence and lack of restraint
appear to have operated in the less creditable phases
of his intellectual life. While these admissions
must be made, the faults pointed out are not
sufficient to obscure the brilliancy of a literary
reputation which, take it all in all, is unequalled
in the historj^ of modern Gaelic poetry, and adds
imperishable lustre to the annals of the Clan

Archibald Macdonald, or, as he was known in
his native island, (Jille-na-Ciotaig, was born about
the middle of the 18th century, in the township of
Paible, in North Uist. He was educated in the
Parish School, a somewhat rare privilege in those
days, and Sir James Macdonald — whose philanthropy
was as enlightened as his learning was profound —
assisted his parents with funds for the purpose.
Archibald made good use of his time, and acquired
sufficient education to enable him for many years to


act as clerk to Alexander Macdonald of Peneniurln,
baron baile to Clanranald. He was called Gille-na-
Ciotaig because one of bis arms — fortunately tbe
left — was sbort, and the band only possessed rudi-
mentary fingers. It was his purpose to publish a
collection of poems, and be left Uist for the purpose
of getting this accomplished ; but be only got the
length of F©rt- Augustus, where he died and was
buried. His MS. is said to have fallen into tbe
bands of Alexander Stewart, parocbial scboolmaster
of Nortb Uist, and to have belped him in tbe
compilation of bis collection of Gaelic poems.
Macdonald is essentially tbe bard of humour and
satire, and bis one serious effusion, tbe eulogy on
Locbiel, is, in comparison with tbe rest, a tame
production. The aspect of life that appeals to him
is tbe laughable, tbe grotesque ; humour is tbe
breatb of bis intellectual life. In the region of
sober fact be is not at bome, but where quip and
jest abound he moves freely and at ease. In some
of his less happy efforts be is scurrilous and vitu-
perative, and belabours his victim with torrents of
abuse. But these are not bis most characteristic
strains. His mock elegy on tbe supposed death of
John Roy Mac Quien, piper, and the resurrection
of tbe same minstrel, are masterpieces of genuine art.
Tbe mock seriousness and stately measure of the
elegy, the farewell to tbe qwid departed, tbe direc-
tions lor the adequate providing of tbe grave — a
cask of rum at tbe foot and a roll of tobacco at tbe
bead — are amongst the bappiest efforts of the serio-
comic muse.

Alexander Macdonald, known as tbe Dall
Mot, was a contemporary of Gille-na-Ciotaig, and a


native of North Uist. He lost his eyesic;ht in early
life in consequence of a virulent attack of small-
pox, and being a man of great stature as well as fine
presence, was known in his native island as the Dall
J\ror to distinguish him from a brother in affliction
called the Dall Beg. From his family having spent
some years in Mull he was called the Dall Muileach.
He was a man of great powers of memory, and could
repeat large portions of the Bible and Shorter Cate-
chism, which led to his appointment as catechist for
his native parish, through which — despite his blind-,
ness — he travelled great distances, and did m.uch
good. Though inferior to Archibald Macdonald in
mental gifts, judging by the few specimens of his
muse that have survived, he was not without a
considerable measure of poetic taste and feeling.
His poems to the two brothers, Alexander Mac-
donald of Vallay and Ewen of Griminish, exhibit
felicity and grace of st^de.

Donald Macdonald, known as Am Bard
Cananach, was born in Strathconan in 1780, and
laboured as a sawyer first in his native strath and
afterwards at Inverness. In his youth he laboured
under the disadvantage of livmg far from the parish
school, and in his own remote part of the parish it is
highly probable that in his time there were no
educational advantages of any kind. At all events,
he was never sent to school, but it seems he was
taught to read his native Gaelic at home. At a
very early age he was known for his smart sayings,
ready repartee, and tendency as occasion offered to
versify. He might say of himself, with Pope, that
"he lisped in numbers." He composed many songs,
but of these only a few have beeji published, and it


is therefore impossible to give a just estimate of
his merits as a poet. He had contemplated
publishing his songs in book form on the advice
of competent judges, who considered them worthy
of publication. With this view he had them all
arranged in manuscript ready for the printer, but
his unexpected death put an end to the project. The
manuscript is still preserved in the possession of his
relatives. In 1814 he printed in Inverness a song
entitled " Oran nuadh a rinneadh air mor-bhuaidh
a choisinn Sir Tomas Gream (cha b' ann dh'
easbhuidh Ghael) thar na Franncaich anns an Spain
'san t-samhradh 1813." This song, in which the
Highland clans are drawn up in martial array
against the French Emperor, is a composition
of very considerable merit. His " Cuach Mhic
Ghilleandrais " is a highly humorous composition,
and has always been popular in the Highlands.
Macdonald invariably displays great command of
language, and is happy in his choice of words, with
occasional flights of imagination, and if he cannot
be placed in the front rank of Gaelic bards, he is at
least a poet of very respectable ability. Better
acquamtance with his compositions would no doubt
entitle him to a higher place. The Strath conon
Bard died of cholera in the year 1832.

Among the bards of the Clan Donald who com-
posed more or less, but of w^hom little is known
beyond the few pieces of their composition that
have come down to us, may be mentioned Donald
Macdonald, known as Domhimll Mac Fhionnlaidh
nan Dan. Donald, according to a Gaelic manu-
script nearly two hundred years old, was a famous
hunter of the Macdonalds of Glencoe, and a near
relative of the head of that family. He flourished


in the 16 th and early part of the 17th century.
The only composition of his which has been pre-
served is the classic more generally known as " A
Chomhachag," but in the manuscript referred to it is
called " A Chreag Ghuanach," consisting of 72
verses, and of the kind there is no more lofty or
beautiful composition in the Gaelic language. After
each of the verses is the refrain : —

" Armiuo, noimo, noimo, noimo,
Armino, imo, horo,
'S aoibhiuii leani an diiigh na chi."

Archibald Macdonald of Keppoch composed
several pieces of considerable merit, among which
may be mentioned, " Tearlach Stiubhart, Fear
Chailbhinne," " Freagairh do dh' Alastair Friseil,"
" Rannan Firinneach," and " Rannan Breugach."

Another bard of considerable repute among his
contemporaries was Angus Macdonald, known as
Aonghas Mac Alastair Ruaidh, of the Glencoe
family, who flourished in the latter half of the 17th
century. His best known composition is his " La
Raonruairidh," an elaborate piece giving a graphic
description of a battle in which the bard himself
must have taken part. Another of his compositions
is a spirited eulogy on Coll Macdonald of Keppoch.
Among his other compositions are his elegy on John
Lorn and " Oran nam P^inneachan Gaidhealach."

Angus Macdonald, known as the Muck Bard,
was the author of a beautiful poem on the massacre
of Glencoe.

Donald Macdonald, known as Domhmdl Bonn
Mac Fir Bhothiuntainn, composed many songs of
fair merit.



Others who courted the muses with some
considerable success w^ere Ranald Macdonald,
Minginish, Skye ; John Macdonald, Lochbroom,
author of " Mairi Laghach " ; Rachel Macdonald,
North Uist ; and Angus Macdonald, Glen-
Urqubart, Bard to the GaeHc Society of Inverness,
who possessed poetic genius of a high order, and
whose " Lament for Lord Clyde " is a fine effort
in the elegiac line.

There are members of the Clan now living who
are worthy of honourable mention in this connec-
tion, such as Alice Macdonald of Keppoch,
authoress of " Lays of the Heather," and Alex-
ander Macdonald, author of " Coinneach is
Coille," a volume published a few years ago.

Archibald Macdonald — called " An Ciaran
Mabach " — was the second lawful son of Sir Donald
Macdonald, first Baronet of Sleat. He was a con-
temporary of Iain Lom, the Keppocli bard, and like
him had a defective utterance as his traditional
soubriquet suggests. Why he was called the
" Ciaran " we have no information. It could hardly
have been bestowed by reason of a dusky com-
plexion, as John Lom's reference to him in the
line —

Sgriob Ghilleasbuig Ruaidh a Uidliist,

tells a different tale. He was wadsetter of Bornis-
kittaig, in Troternish, but if the voice of tradition
is to be relied upon, he also had lands in the island
of Noi'th Uist. He was a brave warrior, as well as
devoted to the muses, and w^as commissioned by his
brother, Sir James Macdonald, 2nd Baronet of Sleat,
to apprehend the Keppoch murderers, a task


whose execution proved immensely difficult. The
Gaelic line quoted above is in a poem in praise of
the Ciaran Mabach after his mission of vengeance
was successfully accomplished, and it shows that the
hero of the expedition started from Uist for the
purpose. Ten years later we find him at Sollas
witnessing an important agreement between Sir
James and Sir Norman Macleod of Bernera. These
casual references appear to confirm the tradition
that the Ciaran had a settlement in North Uist as
well as in Skye. He stands high among the bards
of his clan, but unfortunately his poems have almost
all been lost. The elegy to his brother Sir James is
a fine poem full of tenderest regret, but his verses
to the deer, composed while in enforced inactivity
in Edinburgh thiough a sprained foot, seems a more
spontaneous utterance, and is indeed one of the best
of cur Gaelic lyrics. We gather from the elegy to
Sir James something of his love for the chase, when,
like Duncan Ban Macintyre, in his last farewell to
the hills, he bewails the embargo which the in-
firmities of advancing years placed upon his following
the fleet-footed denizen of the mountains. This
sentiment has full justice done to it in the shorter
poem. The following lines are well worth quoting
as an eulogy upon the stag, whose feast was the
fountain cress, and whose drink the mountain
stream : —

B'e mo ghradh-sa fear buidhe

Nach dean suidhe mu'n bh5rd

Nach iari'adh ri cheannach

Pinnt leanna no beoir,

Uisge beatha math dubailt

Cha b'e b'fhiu leat ri 61,

B' fhearr leat biolair an fliuarain

'S uisge luaineach an loin.



Alastair, the son of Coll, the Lieutenant of
Montrose during the Civil War of Charles I., was
])erhaps the most renowned hero of the Clan Donald
within what may be described as modern times.
We do not mean by this that he was the most
distinguished military man that the Clan has pro-
duced, looking at the warlike character in its
broadest aspect. His soldierly qualities were not
after the fashion of the master of tactics and
strategy who drew plans of campaign at his desk
and could be silent in seven languages ; they were
rather of the antique type of heroism, in wliich
personal valour in contact with tlie foe was a
matter of prime importance. He was a Hercules
ni strength and courage, and his prowess was the
theme of seanachie and bard for ages after his day.
No warrior in Gaelic liistory has captivated with
greater force the imagination of the Highlanders,
and there was none whose name and fame have
come down so vividly in popular tradition. His
very birth has been enveloped in myth. The night
he was born all Colonsay was frightened. Great
noises were heard in the air, like the shooting of
fire-arms, causing cows to drop their calves, mares
their foals, and other unusual disturbances. Such
phenomena could only occur wath the birth of one
who in the popular mind was a personality of the
first magnitude.


Alastair was born at his father's residence in
Colonsay in the early years of the 17th century ;
we have no means of knowing- the exact year. His
youth and early manhood were spent in his native
isle, but details as to this part of his life are entirely
wantincy. The Covenanting movement in Scotland,
which synchronized with the strugg-le in England
between Charles I. and the Parliament, and sprung
from the same causes, first led Alastair, his father,
and brothers, into the stormy scenes of public life.
In 1639, Colla Ciotach and his family were driven
out of Colonsay for refusing to join the Covenanters
under the auspices of Gilleasbuig Gruamach, Earl
of Argyll, and the o'd with his two sons Archi-
bald and Angus was taken into captivity, in which
they seem to have been kept for years. Whether
Alastair was at home at the time and managed to
elude his foes, or was on a visit to his friends and
kinsfolk in the Antrim glens, when these misfor-
tunes took place, is not entirely clear, but it is
certain that the same year we find him, along with
other Scottish refugees, in that region, having found
a temporary asylum with his relatives, the Stewarts
of Ballintoy.

During his second year in Ireland Alastair
became involved in the Great Rebellion, by which
the Confederated Catholics of the North sought to
resist what they believed to be a deliberate attempt
on the part of the English power to uproot the
ancient faith. Archibald Stewart of Ballintoy
organised a regiment on the side of the Govei'n-
ment, in which Alastair had command of two
companies ; but as matters developed towards a
crisis, he seceded with his command, joined the
Catholic cause, and soon thereafter inflicted a signal


defeat upon Stewart at the ford of Portnaw on
the Bann. For the next two years Alastalr fought
bravely and with varying success for the cause he
had espoused. In 1642 a formidable force of Scots
under General Leslie invaded the north of Ireland,
and the small army under Phelim O'Neill, of which
Alastair's contingent formed a part, was severely
defeated at the battle of Glenmaguin. Alastair was
seriously wounded, and with difficulty rescued and
carried off the field by O'Cahan in a horse litter.
He was taken to the house of a priest named
O'Crilly, who gave him quarters and hospitality
during the somewhat prolonged period of con-

The greater part of two years must have been
s^^ent by Alastair in more or less seclusion, as we do
not find any references to him in the chronicles of
the period until 1644, when, in the campaign of
Montrose, there opens a new and brilliant chapter of
his heroic life. That year an expedition was pre-
pared by the Marquis of Antrim to proceed from the
north of Ireland with the view of co-operating witli
Montrose and other loyalist leaders in Scotland, and
Alastair was appointed to the command of the Irish
contingent. It is a singular fact, significant of the
mixed character of the political movements of the
time, that Alastair, who was a rebel against the
Crown in Ireland, became its strenuous champion on
his return to Scotland. No doubt the connection of
Gilleasbuig Gruamach of Argyll, his hereditary foe,
with the Covenanting cause, had a determining
influence on Alastair's attitude in the strife. On
the morning of June 27th, 1644, the little force of
1600 left the shores of Ulster — Alastair and his
officers, many of the latter of his own name and


clan, in a pinnace named the " Harp," the rank and
file following in three other ships. They arrived in
the Sound of Isla on the 2nd July, 1644, the fifth
day after their departure. Proceeding northwards
through the Sound of Jura and past Corryvreckan,
with Mingarry Castle, an ancient Macdonald
fortress — now in the hands of the Camj^bells — as his
objective, he is greeted by one of the earliest of
those Highland minstrels who liave embalmed his
memory in song. Dorothy Brown, the Luing
poetess, a great Jacobite and sincere hater of the
Campbells, watching the gallant array of his ships
and warriors, tunes her lyre and breaks into
enthusiastic verse :—

Alastair a laoigh mo cheile

Co chuunaic mo dh' fhag thu 'n Eirimi 1

Dh' fhag thu na milltean 's na ceudan

'S cha d' fhag thu t-aon leithid feiu ami,

Calpa cruinn an t-siubhail eiitruim,

Cas chruimieachaidh 'n t-sluaigh ri cheile ;

Cha deanar cogadh as t-eugmhais,

S cha deanar sith gun do reite ;

'S ged nach bi na Duimhnaich reidh riut

Gu 'n robh an righ mar tha mi fain duit.

It is not our intention to narrate with any
degree of minuteness the further events of Alastair's
career, the more important of which have already
received attention in the second volume of this
work. We must content ourselves with passing in
rapid review those incidents not already referred to,
and which throw light on his career. On ar living
in his northward course at the Castle oi Mingarry,
he received the disappointing intelligence that a
number of professed loyalists, on whose assistance
the King's friends were relying, abode in a condition
of masterly inactivity, and as a consequence that


the Marquis of Montrose, whose standard Alastair
expected to see unfurled, was lurking on the
borders of the Highlands dejected and embarrassed.
Alastair still hoped that the cause might reckon
upon the services of the chivalrous Sir Donald
Macdonald of Sleat, who had been appointed some
time before joint lieutenant with the Marquis of
Antrim in the service of the King. On arriving at
Duntulm, he found that the loyal baronet had six
months before gone to his last account, and that his
son and successor, Sir James, was indisposed to
assume the responsibility. With all these disap-
pointments, it is no wonder though the heroic son
of Coll shrank for a moment from further effort, and
almost made up his mind to take the first favouring
wind to Ireland. This, however, was not to be.
Destiny, in the shape of Gilleasbuig Gruamach, had
dogged his footsteps, burned his shipping which he
had left at Loch Eishort while visiting the Chief of
Sleat, and thus cut off from himself and his host
the only means of retreat to Ireland. It is morally
certain that the King's cause in Scotland would
have proved abortive at the very outset save for
the necessity laid upon Alastair to proceed at all
hazards; and it is permissible to conjecture that
Mac Cailein-More lived to regret having deprived
him of the means of returning to Ireland. Having
decided to take action, Alastair did not let the
grass grow under his feet. Crossing from Skye to
the mainland by the ferry of Kylerrae, he marched
through Glenquoich into Glengarry's country, where,
according to Mac Yurich, " he got plenty of beef
for his army." About this time, the Committee
of Moray, sitting in council at Auldearn, received
characteristic notice of his approach. A letter was


delivered to them, commanding all manner of men
within the country to rise and follow the King's
Lieutenant, the Marquis of Montrose, under pain of
fire and sword. The letter was accompanied by an
impressive token, whose significance was no less
clear. A contemporary chronicle informs us that
there was handed to the Committee "ane fiery cross
of tymber quhairof every point of the cross was
scamit and brynt with fire." The Committee of
Moray duly passed on this Gaelic emblem to the
Committee of Aberdeen, who retained it, wrote the
Parliamentary authorities in Edinburgh for instruc-
tions, and received orders to be in arms, but not on
the King's side.

Meanwhile Alastair pushed on, passing through
Inverness to the consternation of the inhabitants.
The royalist leader was, however, as chivalrous as
he was brave, and was guilty of as little violence as
was consistent with the circumstances of the case.
He inflicted no injury on the Invernessians beyond
taking what was needed for the supply of his host ;
as one authority informs us, he " took their meit
and merchit into Badzenocht." In his march
through Badenoch he took sterner measures on
behalf of the King's cause. He threatened that if the

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