Gairloch in North-West
Ross-Shire Part II.Inhabitants of Gairloch Chapter XX.Alexander Campbell, Bard to Sir Hector
THIS famous bard of Gairloch is remembered in his
native parish as Alastair Buidhe Mac Iamhair, or the "yellow-haired
Alexander M'lver." The surname Campbell is called M'lver in Gairloch. He
was born in. 1767, probably at Melvaig, in Gairloch. On his mother's side
he was descended from the Mackenzies of Shieldaig. His father's ancestor
is said to have come from the Lome country as attendant to Anna, daughter
of Macdougal of Dunolly, who, about 1440, became the wife of Alexander the
Upright, sixth lord of Kintail, father of Hector Roy Mackenzie. It is said
that from the days of Hector Roy the bard's ancestors had always been
ground-officers under the lairds of Gairloch.
Alastair Buidhe spent his youthful days at Melvaig,
and assisted his father in the usual avocations of a small farmer. One of
his best songs was composed whilst he was herding his father's cattle on
the hill at Melvaig.
he came to man's estate Alastair was appointed by Sir Hector Mackenzie to
be one of his ground-officers, as well as his. family bard. He seems to
have displayed considerable tact in performing his duties. Here is an
anecdote of him which illustrates not only his own character but the
footing he was on with Sir Hector. It appears that Sir Hector had been
much annoyed with a tenant at Poolewe, who was in arrear with his rent,
and would not pay up any part of it. So he called Alastair Buidhe and
instructed him to go and demand the rent once more, and in default of
payment to take the roof off the house. On the tenant still refusing to
pay up,. Alastair got on the roof and removed one divot from the ridge at
the very top of the roof, and one other from the top of the wall at the
lowest part of the roof. Sir Hector, whose kind heart had by this time
repented of the order he had given, met Alastair on his return. Sir Hector
inquired if he had done the job. Alastair replied that he had. Sir Hector
said he hoped he had not done as he had been told. Alastair then told him
he had put the highest divot from the roof as far down as the lowest. On
this Sir Hector expressed! his vexation, and remarked that Alastair had
done very badly. Then-Alastair said it was not so bad but that it could
yet be made better, for that he had only taken off the two divots
altogether. Sir Hector said, " Sandy, you are a wiser man than I am."
As bard to Sir Hector, Alastair regularly attended
two or three days a week at Flowerdale House, as well as at other times
when his services were required. He was much appreciated by every member
of the family. Dr Mackenzie, Sir Hector's only surviving son, writing of
him under date of 30th August 1878, said:"I see honest Alastair Buidhe,
with his broad bonnet and blue greatcoat (summer and winter), clearly
before me now, sitting in the dining-room at Flowerdale, quite ' raised'
like, while reciting Ossian's poems, such as 'The Brown Boar of Diarmid'
and others (though he had never heard of Macpherson's collection), to very
interested visitors, though as unacquainted with Gaelic as Alastair was
with English. This must have been as early as 1812 or so, when I used to
come into the room after dinner about nine years old."Dr Mackenzie says in
hisI" Odd and End Stories "that it was Alastair who told them the story of
Hector Roy and "The Gairloch" (see Part I., chap. ix.). The I Doctor
adds:"One of our summer evening amusements was getting him (Alastair) to
the dining-room after dinner, where, well dined below stairs and primed by
a bumper of port wine, he would stand up and with really grand action and
eloquence give us poem after poem of Ossian in Gaelic. Alastair could not
read, and only I understood Gaelic, and these poems came down to him
through | generations numberless, as repeated by his ancestors around
their ' winter evening fires."
When Alastair became ground-officer and bard to Sir
Hector, he took up his abode at Inverkerry near Flowerdale. In his later
years he removed to Strath, and Sir Hector allowed him to hold his land
there rent free for the rest of his days. He survived his beloved I patron
seventeen years; he died in 1843, at the age of seventy-six, and was
buried in his family grave in the Gairloch churchyard.
Alastair was of middle height, and had, as his
Gaelic soubriquet implies, yellow hair; he was a slender man, and never
strong at his best. In his later years he suffered from bad health, and
was very weakly long before his death.
His character is described as peculiarly attractive;
he was of a gentle kindly disposition, highly esteemed by all who knew him
of whatever rank, and children loved him as well as their seniors. He had
a great fund of humour, combined with a deep sense of the pathetic, and
was "splendid company."
William Ross, "the Gairloch bard," and he were
intimate friends. As Alastair was wading the Achtercairn river one day, on
his way to a sister's wedding, he met William Ross, and humorous verses
were hurled from one to the other across the stream in reference to
Alastair's coat, which was a "Cota gearr" of homespun cloth slightly
-dipped in indigo, the colour being between a pale blue and a dirty white.
Alastair was also on good terms with Alexander Grant, the great bard of
Alastair was married, and left five sons, viz.,
Roderick (grandfather of Alexander Mackenzie the historian of the
Mackenzies, and editor of the Celtic Magazine), Alastair Buidhe, Iain
Buidhe, and Donald Buidhe (who was a cripple and became a tailor).
Roderick, a son of Evander Buidhe, is now shepherd at Tollie, and has
supplied much of the information here given about his grandfather. Another
son of Evander Buidhe was in a shop at Inverness, where he died; he made a
capital song to his grandfather's old house at Strath, entitled in Gaelic
"Tigh mo Sheanair." So the poetic afflatus of the old bard has not
altogether disappeared in his descendants.
It is remarkable that two such bright stars should
have illuminated the poetic firmament at the same time in Gairloch as
William Ross and Alexander Campbell. It is difficult for a southerner to
appreciate the fame of these two Gairloch poets, but it may be said almost
to correspond with that of Southey and Wordsworth. The poetry of William
Ross appeals most strongly to the cultured mind, whilst Alastair's is more
in tune with the simpler instincts and impulsive heartiness of a rural
life. As we should expect, the poems of Alastair Buidhe are in the present
day preferred in Gairloch to the compositions of his friend. No complete
collection has been published of the poems of Alastair Buidhe, though
several pieces have appeared in the Celtic Magazine. It is feared that
many of the poems, which only live in the memories of the people, may soon
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