Gaelic poetry is voluminous. Exclusive of the
Ossianic poetry which has been referred to already, there is a long catalogue of modern
poetical works of various merit. Fragments exist of poems written early in the 17th
century, such as those prefixed to the edition of Calvin’s Catechism, printed in
1631. One of these, Faosid Eoin Steuart Tighearn na Happen,"The Confessions of
John Stewart, laird of Appin," savours more of the Church of Rome than of the
Protestant faith. To this century belongs also the poetry of John Macdonell, usually
called Eoin Lom, and said to have been poet-laureate to Charles II for Scotland. Other
pieces exist of the same period, but little would seem to have been handed down to us of
the poetry of this century.
We have fragments
belonging to the early part of the 18th century in the introduction to "Lhuyd’s
ArchŠologia". These are of much interest to the Gaelic student. In 1751 appeared the
first edition of Songs by Alexander Macdonald, usually called Mac Mhaighistir Alasdair.
These songs are admirable specimens of Gaelic versification, giving the highest idea of
the author’s poetical powers. Many editions of them have appeared, and they are very
popular in the Highlands. Macintyre’s poems appeared in 1768. Macdonald and he stand
at the very top of the list of Gaelic poets. They are both distinguished by the power and
the smoothness of their compositions. Macdonald’s highest gifts are represented in
his Biorluinn Chloinn Raonuill, "Clan Ranald’s Galley," and
Macintyre’s in his Beinn Dobhrain, "Ben Douran."
Later than Macintyre, Ronald M’Donald, commonly called
Raonull Dubh, or Black Ranald, published an excellent collection of Gaelic songs. This
Ranald was son to Alexander already referred to, and was a schoolmaster in the island of
Eigg. His collection is largely made up of his father’s compositions, but there are
songs of his own and of several other composers included. Many of the songs of this period
are Jacobite, and indicate intense disloyalty to the Hanoverian royal family.
Gillies’ Collection in 1786 is an admirable one,
containing many of the genuine Ossianic fragments. This collection is of real value to the
Gaelic scholar, although it is now difficult to be had.
In addition to these, and at a later period, we have
Turner’s Collection and Stewart’s Collection, both of them containing many
excellent compositions. We have, later still, M’Kenzie’s Beauties of Gaelic
Poetry, and we have, besides these. separate volumes of various sizes; by the admirable
religious bard, Dugald Buchanan; by Rob donn, the Reay bard; William Ross, the Gairloch
bard; and many others, who would form a long catalogue. As might be supposed, the pieces
included in these collections are of various merit, but there is much really good poetry
worthy of the country which, while it gave to Gaelic poetry such a name as Ossian, gave to
the poetry of England the names of Thomas Campbell and Lord Macaulay.
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