Alexander MacDonald

A Gaelic poet, whose ghost haunts Uist

From Moidart, and with ancestral links to Robert II, MacDonald has been described as the outstanding Gaelic poet of the 18th century. He was seemingly well read, as indeed many Scots then were, with a good knowledge not only of Gaelic poetry and Scottish history, but also of the Classics, and Scots and English literature.

It seems that he studied at Glasgow University, intending to pursue a career in law, but spent some years as a teacher with the Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge. When the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion began to threaten, he became a Catholic then fought in that campaign, of which he left an account in English.

Much of his poetry is political, with satire an increasing element; some editors had to suppress some of this in his published work. As an example of his subsumed anger, here are the last three lines describing George I:

"We're not his people anyway and so he doesn't care if we beat each other up."

But the Highlander occasionally shone through, and he also wrote some nature poems. He received some inspiration from James Thomson's Seasons, and two of MacDonald's seasonal poems, on Winter and Summer, survive. His longest poem is Birlinn Chlann Raghnaill, 'Clanranald's Galley', dating from 1750, from which Hugh MacDiarmid produced a later version.