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Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair - ( 1695 - 1770) Poet

Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair or Alexander Macdonald was a native of Moidart, but very little is known about his early life. He was the son of the Episcopalian minister of Ardnamurchan and he may have studied at the University of Glasgow. In 1729 he is first mentioned as being in the employment of the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge (SPCK) at Islandfinnan, Ardnamurchan, where he remained as a teacher until the jacobite rising of 1745. He was commissioned into the Clanranald Regiment, and tradition claims that he was responsible for teaching Gaelic to Prince Charles Edward Stuart. After the rising he was bailie to the Clanranalds on the island of Canna, but his standing within the clan allowed him to return to Moidart around 1752 and he lived near Arisaig until the end of his life. In 1741 Alasdair produced a Gaelic-English dictionary for the SPCK, and his poetry was published in 1751 in Ais-eiridh na Sean Chdnain Albannaich. Such was the supposed potential for treason in the nationalist poems contained in it that the volume was reputedly burned by the hangman in Edinburgh.

Alasdair considered himself a propagandist for the Jacobite cause; his patriotism was not, however, confined to an espousal of the Stewarts but was extended to include the interests of the Gaelic-speaking peoples of Scotland. The title of his collection means 'Resurrection of the ancient Scottish tongue' and Alasdair was stalwart in his defence of the language. He also satirized those who had failed to support the Jacobite uprising, especially the Campbells, and he reserved particular scorn for the Hanoverian dynasty in 'A Chanibal Dhuidsich', in which George III is hailed as a cannibal from Germany. Alasdair's greatest single work is Birlinn Chlann Raghanil! ('The Birlinn of Clanranald') which describes a voyage by sea from South Uist to Carrickfergus in Ireland. It was translated by Hugh MacDiarmid in 1935 and a vivid picture emerges from it of the sights and sounds of a journey over a treacherous sea. To this poem Alasdair brought a sure eye for detail and a meticulous power of observation, and added to these virtues a steady rhythm, rather like the bearing of oars on sea water. The poem opens with the blessing of the ship in verse couched in traditional terms; it continues with a description of the rowers and their task and then of the voyage itself as the ship runs through a storm to the culmination of safety in port.

Alasdair is also remembered for his poem in pibroch measure, Moladh Moraig, In praise of Morag, and for his nature poetry. He was one of the finest Scottish poets of his day.

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