(c. 1588-1693), was family bard to Sir Norman Macleod of Bernera, and later to John “Breac” Macleod of Macleod, in honour of whom most of her poems were composed. Like very many of the Highland poets Mary had little or no education, and it would seem that none of the poems which have come down to us were composed before 1660. Her pieces are composed in the modern Irish metres with the characteristic vowel rhymes of the accented syllables. As might perhaps be expected it was only the Macvurichs (the professional bards of the Clanranald) who went on practising the classical debide metre. This they still continued to do during the first quarter of the 18th century. Mary Macleod’s best-known pieces comprise a dirge on the drowning of Iain Garbh (Mac’Ille Chalum) in the Minch, a song “An Talla ’m bu ghnath le MacLeoid,” and an ode to Sir Norman Macleod of Bernera, produced during her exile in Mull, which begins “’S mi’m shuidhe air an tulaich.” For the details of her career, which are the subject of some dispute, the reader may be referred to a paper by Alexander Mackenzie in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. xxii. pp. 43-66. Mary Macleod is accounted one of the most musical and original of the Highland bards.
John Macdonald, better known as Iain Lom (d. c. 1710), was a vigorous political poet whose verses exercised an extraordinary influence during his lifetime. He is said to have received a yearly pension from Charles II. for his “Iain Lom.” services to the Stuart cause. His best-known poems are Mort na Ceapach, on the murder of the heir of Keppoch, who was eventually avenged through the poet’s efforts, and a piece on the battle of Inverlochay (1645). However great the inspiration of Mary Macleod and Iain Lorn, they were after all but political or family bards. In succession to them there arose a small band of men with loftier thoughts, a wider outlook and greater art. The literature of the Scottish Highlands culminates in the names of Alexander Macdonald, Duncan Ban MacIntyre and Dugald Buchanan.
Alexander Macdonald, commonly called Alasdair MacMaighstir Alasdair (b. c. 1700), was the son of an Episcopalian clergyman in Moidart. He was sent to Glasgow University to fit himself for a professional career. But an imprudent Alexander Macdonald. marriage caused him to abandon his studies, and about 1729 he received an appointment as a Presbyterian teacher in his native district. He was moved from place to place, and from 1739 to 1745 he taught at Corryvullin on the Sound of Mull, the scene of some of his most beautiful lyrics. About 1740 he was invited to compile a Gaelic vocabulary, which was published in 1741. Macdonald has thus the double distinction of being the author of the first book printed in Scotch Gaelic and of being the father of Highland lexicography. The news of the landing of the Pretender brought visions of release to the poverty-stricken poet, who was by this time heartily sick of teaching and farming. He turned Roman Catholic, and was present at the unfurling of the Stuart standard. He was given the rank of captain, but rendered greater services to the Jacobite cause with his stirring poems than with the sword. After Culloden he suffered great privations. But in 1751 he visited Edinburgh and brought out a collection of his poetry, which has the honour of being the first original work printed in Scotch Gaelic. His volume was therefore entitled Ais-eiridh na Seann Chanain Albannaich (Resurrection of the Ancient Scottish Tongue). Till the day of his death he led a more or less wandering life, as he was dependent on the generosity of Clanranald. Only a small part of Macdonald’s compositions have been preserved (thirty-one in all). These naturally fall into three groups—love-songs, descriptive poems and patriotic and Jacobite poems. In his love-songs and descriptive poems Macdonald struck an entirely new note in Gaelic literature. His Moladh Mòraig and Cuachag an Fhasaich (also called A’Bhanarach Dhonn) are his best-known compositions in the amatory style. But he is distinctly at his best in the descriptive poems. We have already seen that even as early as the 8th century the poets of Ireland gave expression to that intimate love of nature which is perhaps the most striking feature in Celtic verse. Macdonald had a wonderful command of his native Gaelic. His verse is always musical, and his skilful use of epithet, often very lavishly strewn, enables him to express with marvellous effect the various aspects of nature in her gentler and sterner moods alike. His masterpiece, the Birlinn of Clanranald, which is at the same time, apart from Ossianic ballads, the longest poem in the language, describes a voyage from South Uist to Carrickfergus. Here Macdonald excels in describing the movement of the ship and the fury of the storm. In Allt an t-Siucair (The Sugar Brook) we are given an exquisite picture of a beautiful scene in the country on a summer morning. Other similar poems full of melody and colour are Failte na Mòr-thir (Hail to the Mainland), Oran an t-Samhraidh (Ode to Summer), and Oran an Gheamhraidh (Ode to Winter). When this gifted son of the muses identified himself with the Stuart cause he poured forth a stream of inspiring songs which have earned for him the title of the Tyrtaeus of the Rebellion. Among these we may mention Oran nam Fineachan Gaelach (The Song of the Clans), Brosnachadh nam Fineachan gaidhealach (A Call to the Highland Clans), and various songs to the prince. But incomparably the finest of all is Oran Luaighe no Fucaidh (Waulking Song). Here the prince is addressed as a young girl with flowing locks of yellow hair on her shoulders, and called Morag. She had gone away over the seas, and the poet invokes her to return with a party of maidens (i.e. soldiers) to dress the red cloth, in other words, to beat the English red-coats. The song contains forty-seven stanzas in all, with the characteristic refrain of the waulking-songs. Am Breacan Uallach is a spirited poem in praise of the kilt and plaid, which had been forbidden by the English government. Macdonald is also the author of a number of poems in MS. which have been called the quintessence of indecency. His works have gone through eight editions, the last of which is dated 1892.
In connexion with Macdonald’s Jacobite songs it will be well to mention here the name of a kindred spirit, John Roy Stuart (Iain Ruadh Stiubhart). Stuart was a gallant soldier who was serving in Flanders with the French against the English when the rebellion broke out. He hurried home and distinguished himself on the field of battle. After Culloden he gave vent to his dejection in two pathetic songs, one on the battle itself, while the other deals with the sad lot of the Gael.
The only poet of nature who can claim to rival Macdonald is a man of a totally different stamp. Duncan Bàn Maclntyre (Donnachadh Bàn, 1724-1812) was born of poor parents in Glenorchy, and never learned to read and Duncan Bàn. write or to speak English. He was present on the English side at the battle of Falkirk, on which he wrote a famous ode, and shortly afterwards he was appointed gamekeeper to the earl of Breadalbane in Coire Cheathaich and Ben Dorain, where he lived for many years until he accepted a similar appointment from the duke of Argyll in Buachaill-Eite. Stewart of Luss is credited with having taken down the 6000 lines of verse of his own composition which MacIntyre had carried about with him for many years, and his works were published in 1768. In his later years he was first a volunteer and afterwards a member of the city guard in Edinburgh. In addition to his poems descriptive of nature MacIntyre composed a number of Jacobite martial songs, songs of love and sentiment, and comic and satiric pieces. The poem Mairi bhàn òg addressed to his wife is, on account of its grace and delicate sentiment, generally held to be the finest love-song in the language. But it is above all as the poet of ben and corrie that MacIntyre is remembered. He has been called the Burns of the Highlands, but the bitterness and intellectual power of the Ayrshire poet are absent in MacIntyre. Duncan Bàn describes fondly and tenderly the glories of his native mountains as only one can who spends his life in daily communion with them. His two great compositions are styled Ben Dorain and Coire Cheathaich. The former is a long poem of 550 lines divided into eight parts, alternating with a sort of strophe and antistrophe, one slow called urlar in stately trochees, the other swift called siubhal in a kind of galloping anapaests; the whole ending with the crunluath or final quick motion. It is said to follow very accurately the lilt of a pipe-tune. The poem, which might be called the “Song of the Deer,” has been well