Clan Mackay WA - Clan Mackay Society - Western Australia - Gaelic Poetry - the Mackay "Bard", Rob Donn

Gaelic (Highland) Poetry - the Mackay "Bard", Rob Donn

Rob Donn 'wrote' social satire with a wealth of shrewd and humorous understanding of human nature. He told stories about everyday people and happenings. Rob Donn spoke only Gaelic and was unable to read or write but recited his stories from memory. It was not until fifty years after his death that he was first published. Here are segments of his prose.

Rob Donn came from Strathmore in Sutherland. He was Robert Donn Mackay, but is always referred to as Rob Donn  which means 'the brown haired Robert'. His father was Donald Donn Mackay, a sub tenant on the Mackay Chiefs Land. Robert was born in 1714 and like our more famous 'Lowland Scottish Bard', Robert Burns, was born in a "blast o January wind".


untitled prose

Robert Donn Mackay Rob Donn


I was born in the winter

Among the lowing mountains,

And my first sight of the world

Snow and wind about my ears.



Rugadh mis' anns a' gheamhradh

Measg nam beanntaidhnean gruamach,

'S mo chiad sealladh den t-saoghal

Sneachd is gaoth mu mo chluasaibh



Rob Donn loved the land of his birth, the craggy mountains, rolling glens, abundant streams and the deep sea Lochs of the true highlands. This was his world. East of the Foinaven-Arkle range is Reay Forrest a favoured place for him and his brother to roam.


untitled prose

Robert Donn Mackay Rob Donn


Country rich in deer and cattle

and in sprouting corn,

Land protected from the tempest,

Sheltered from the storm.



Fonn diasach, 's mr ab'fhiach e

Gu fiadhach 's gu ni,

Aite sobhalt' ri doineann,

Is nach criothnaich a' ghaoth.



The Mackay Bard was outspoken and quick to voice his independent opinion and his political argument is conducted in a forceful style. The Clan Mackay had been on the Hanoverian side during the '45 Rising and in this verse he is advocating a change of allegiance after the Disclothing Act of 1947 to ban highlanders from wearing their clan tartan.


Song of the Black Cassocks Oran nan Casagan Dubha


May god help us, O people;

why this change to your fashion?

You have lost all your freedom,

ev'n the clothes you were wearing.

I think this proclamation

against the kilt and the short hose

shows that Charles has an ally

in the Parliament of England.


Fie, fie now, King George,

are you mocking the faithfully,

making all these new laws

to redouble their bondage?

Since these fellows are low-born

striking's better that sparing,

and you'll have fewer opponents

next time there's a Rising.


I am saddened by Scotland!

You've shown clearly your motives:

the way your mind was divided

has destroyed all your ventures.

The Government read

your greed though you turned to it

and gave your avarice bait

till you tore at each other.



Lmh Dh leinne, dhaoin;

Cuime chaochail sibh fasan,

'S nach eil agaibh de shaorsa

Fi an aodaich a chleachd sibh.

'S i mo bharail mun ighe

Tha 'n aghaidh fhileadh is osan

Gum bheil caraid aig Teriach

Ann am Prlamaid Shasainn.


Faire, faire Righ Deorsa,

'N ann a' spors air do dhiilsean,

Deanamh achdachadh ura

Gu bhith dublachadh 'n daorsa?

Ach oir 's balaich gun uails' iad

'S fearr am bualadh no 'n caomhnadh,

'S bidh nas lugha gad fheitheamh

Nuair thig a leithid a-ris oirnn.


Och, mo thruaighe sin Albainn,

'S tur a dhearbh sibh bhur reusan,

Gur i 'n roinn bh' ann bhur n-inntinn

An rud a mhillair gach gleus sibh.

Leugh an Gobharmad sannt

Anns gach neach a thionndaidh ris fein dhibh

'S thug iad baoit do bhur gionaich

Gu 'r cur fo mhionach a cheile.



Robert Donn was moved by the death of his friend and employer, Tacksman Iain MacEachainn in 1757 to compose this Elegy. It reveals his loyalty and praise of Iain as a Tacksman, who was ready to share his wealth with the needy. [ Tacksman (Scots Law) : One who holds a tack (piece of land) or lease from another; a tenant or lessee. ]


Elegy for Ian Mac Eachainn Marbhrann do Iain Mac Eachainn


John, Hector's son, since your dying,

where can we discover

one who'll stand in your place

as to gathering and spending?

One thing's sure ,there's no prospect

of an old man who'll do it,

and if the young can produce one

few alive will be witness.


Your life, indeed, was not like those

of men still surviving

who gather acres and silver

that others will scatter,

and who, when they're cut off,

will have no friend to mourn them,

whose praise won't exceed

"Look at that land they cornered!"


Observing law to the letter

and sharp in dealing with debtors.

making praiseworthy payment

of what they owe to each other.

The rest goes into savings

kept well clear of disbursal.

both theirs eyes and their purses

are kept closed to the needy.



Ian Mhic Eachainn, o dh' eug thu,

Cit' an tid sinn do gh' fhaotainn

Duine sheasas nad fhine

An rathad tionail no sgaoilidh?

'S ni tha cinnt' gur beart chunnairt

Nach dan duine tha aosd' e

'S ged a bheirt' den i g e

'Stearc tha be duine chi e.


Dearbh cha b' ionann do bheatha

'S do fir tha fathast an caombnadh

Thionail airgead is fearann

'S bidh buidheann eile gan sgaoleadh,

Bhitheas fin air an gearradh

Gun ghuth an caraid gan caoineadh,

Air nach ruig dad de mholadh

Ach "Seall sibh fearann a shaor iad!"


Tha iad laghail gu litereil

Is tha iad 'nan delbhtearan geura,

Is iad a' pigheadh gu moltach

Na bhios aca air a chile.

Ach an crr thid a thasgaidh,

Gur cruaidh a cheillinn on fhile,

Is tha an sporan 's an silean

cheart cho dint' air an fheumnach.




Robert Donn died in 1778 and was buried in the churchyard of Balnakeil. In 1826 a monument was erected to him with a tributes written in Gaelic, Latin Greek and English at the small ruined church, which now lays in ruins by  Balnakeil Bay on the north eastern coast of of Mackay country.



Glen Gallaidh Gleann Gallaidh



Glen Gallaidh, Glen Gallaidh,

Glen Gallaidh of trees.

Who can see and not praise it,

Glen Gallaidh of trees.


Seeing regions of hauteur

enticing me away

I considered I'd stay there

in Glen Gallaidh of trees.


I don't care for your silver,

and your army's not for me,

I'll take your dram when you give it

but that's as far as I'll go.


Though I got all I wanted

of Mackay's Kintail land

I would much rather wait here

in Glen Gallaidh of trees.


Land of worth and seed-corn,

fit for hunting and stock,

a place sheltered when storms come,

not shaked up by wind.




Gleann-a-Gallaidh, Gleann-a-Gallaidh,

Gleann-a-Gallaidh nan craobh,

Co a chi e nach mol e,

Gleann-a-Gallaidh nan craobh.


Ri faicinn crioch rdain

Ga mo bhreugadh gu taobh,

'S ann a smuainich mi fanadh

An Gleann-a-Gallaidh nan craobh.


Chan ill learn bhur n-airgead

'S ri bhur n-arm cha bhi mi,

Cha dilt mi bhur drama

Ach ri tuilleadh cha bhi.


Gad a gheibhinn gu m' ilgheas

Ceann-t-sile mhicAoidh.

'S mr a b' annsa learn fanadh

An Gleann-a-Gallaidh nan craobh.


Fonn diasach, 's mr a b' fhiach e

Gu fiadhach 's gu ni,

aite sobhalt ri doineann

Is nach criothnaich a' ghaoth




I hope this has wetted your appetite to read  "The World of Rob Donn" by Ian Grimble. February 2007 Mackay's White Banner WA has excerpts from this 'must read book' for all those who are interested in the Mackay Clan. It gives a real sense of the land of MacKay's prior to the highland clearances.

 Slinte Mhath!


Robert Donn "Our Bard" further learning Links:


Clan Contact : Brian E McGee Davis Rank, 11/56 Sulman Road, Wembley Downs 6019, WA, Australia.
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