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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part II.—Inhabitants of Gairloch

Chapter XIX.—William Ross, the Gairloch Bard


WILLIAM ROSS, known as "the Gairloch bard," was born at Broadford, Skye, in 1762. His mother was a native of Gairloch, and daughter of the celebrated blind piper and poet Iain Dall, or John Mackay, already noticed. For want of a regular school in Skye he and a little sister were sent to the Grammar School at Forres to be educated. Here his aptness in learning attracted the notice of the master, who declared that of the many pupils he had had under his care he did not remember one who had excelled young Ross as a general scholar. After he had been some years at Forres he joined his parents, who had removed to the parish of Gairloch. His father became a pedlar, and travelled through the Lews and other western islands. The young bard, who was of a delicate constitution, accompanied his father in these travels, and endeavoured to become acquainted with the different dialects of the Gaelic language. He afterwards travelled through parts of the Highlands of Perthshire,. Breadalbane, and Argyllshire, and finally returned to Gairloch, where,. at the age of twenty-four, he was appointed to the charge of the parish school, which he conducted until near the time of his death with much success. In a short time he acquired a great reputation as a teacher of the young, whom he endeared to himself by his tact and humour. His company was much sought after, not only for his excellent songs but also for his intelligence and sense of humour, and he maintained an intimacy with several respectable families with whom he had become acquainted during his travels. He played on the violin, flute, and several other instruments with considerable skill, and was a good singer; he acted as precentor in the parish church. Never strong he soon became a prey to asthma and consumption, and his short but brilliant poetic career was terminated by his death, in 1790, at the early age of twenty-seven. On the monument on his grave his age is stated to have been twenty-eight; but John Mackenzie, in the "Beauties," says William Ross died in his twenty-eighth year. He was residing at Badachro at the time of hjs death. He was buried in the churchyard of Gairloch, where a simple stone with an English inscription was all that for many years marked the spot. The funeral was attended by nearly the whole male population of the surrounding country.

A handsome freestone monument was in 1850 erected on the grave, mainly through the exertions of his clansman Mr George Ross, who was for many years head-keeper at Flowerdale, Gairloch, and. is now (1886) living in well-earned retirement with a handsome pension from Sir Kenneth Mackenzie. The monument bears inscriptions in Gaelic and English. The English one is as follows :—

"In memory of William Ross, sometime schoolmaster of Gairloch, better known as the Gairloch bard, who died in 1790, aged 28 years, this monument is erected over his grave by a few of his countrymen and others, headed by the amiable and accomplished proprietor of Gairloch, in testimony of their respect and admiration of his extraordinary genius and great native talent. 1850.

"His name to future ages shall extend,
While Gaelic poetry can claim a friend."

In personal appearance William Ross was tall and handsome, with open and regular features, and brown hair, and was nearly six feet high. As a student he excelled in Latin and Greek, and it was universally allowed that he was the best Gaelic scholar of his day. During his excursions to the Lews he paid his addresses to Marion Ross, of Stornoway, but was rejected, and he never married. He composed songs to his flame both before and after his rejection. Some of his best pieces were composed during his travels, but the majority of his songs were the product of his later years. John Mackenzie included twenty-one of William Ross's songs and poems in the "Beauties of Gaelic Poetry," and published a separate volume of them, comprising in all thirty-three productions. John Mackenzie says that William Ross's poetry deserves to be styled the poetry of the heart,—of a heart full to overflowing with noble sentiments and sublime and tender passions.


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