the name of a minor sept, called, in Gaelic the clan Mhic An
T’Saoir. They are a branch of the clan Donald, and their badge
is the same as theirs, the common heath. The Gaelic word Saor
means a carpenter. According to tradition one of the Macdonalds
being in a boat at sea, it sprung a leak, and, finding it sinking,
he forced his thumb into the hole, and cut it off, so that he might
be able to reach the land in safety. He was ever afterwards called
An T’Saoir, and Mac An T’Saoir, in the Gaelic, is very
nearly pronounced like Macintyre. Another story says that one of the
clan Donald, named Paul, in Sutherland, in the end of the 13th
century, built Dun Creich, a vitrified fort in that county, when he
acquired the name of Saoir, and as professions were hereditary among
the Celts, it descended to his posterity.
The Macintyres of Rannoch were famous musicians, and after
1680, they became the pipers to Menzies of Weems, chief of the clan
Menzies, for whom they composed the appropriate salute. One of them
was the author of a fine piece of bagpipe music commemorative of the
battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. During the rebellion of 1745-6, the
Macintyres were in the clan regiment of Stewart of Appin, on the
side of the Pretender.
one of the best of the modern Gaelic poets, was born of poor
parents, in Druimliaghart, Glenorchy, Argyleshire, March 20, 1724.
Being in his youth very handsome, he was commonly called by his
countrymen, Donnacha Bàn nan
that is ‘fair Duncan of the Songs.’ On the breaking out of the
rebellion of 1745, he engaged on the government side, as the
substitute of a Mr. Fletcher of Glenorchy, for the sum of 300 merks
Scots, to be paid on his return. He fought at the battle of Falkirk,
January 17, 1746, under the command of Colonel Campbell of Carwhin,
and in the retreat he either lost or threw away his sword, As it
belonged to Mr. Fletcher, that gentleman refused to pay him the 300
merks, and he, in consequence, composed a song on “the battle of
Falkirk,” in which he has given a minute and admirable account of
that engagement, and especially of everything relating to the sword,
much to the annoyance of Mr. Fletcher. Macintyre likewise complained
of his conduct to the earl of Breadalbane, who obliged him to pay
the poet, who had risked his life for him, the stipulated reward.
Being an excellent marksman, he was appointed forester to the earl
of Breadalbane, and afterwards to the duke of Argyle.
On the passing of the act which proscribed the Highland dress,
he composed an indignant poem, called ‘’The Anathema of the Breeks,’
wherein he boldly attacked the government for having passed a law
which was equally obnoxious to the clans friendly to the house of
Hanover as to those who had engaged in the rebellion, and said it
was enough to make the whole country turn Jacobite should Prince
Charles Edward return to Scotland. He was, in consequence, committed
to prison, but by the influence of his friends he was soon released.
When the act was repealed in 1782, he commemorated the event in a
congratulatory poem, which was as popular with the Gael as the
former one had been.
In 1793 he became a private in the Breadalbane fencibles, and
continued to serve in it till 1799, when the regiment was disbanded.
His volume of poems and songs was first published at Edinburgh in
1768. He went through the Highlands for subscribers to defray the
expense. Though he never received any education of any kind, he
excelled in every king of verse that he tried. A clergyman wrote
down his poems from oral recitation. They were reprinted in 1790,
and again in 1804, with some additional pieces. A fourth edition was
printed at Glasgow in 1833. The writer of his life in Reid’s
‘Bibliotheca-Scoto-Celtica,’ says that “all good judges of Celtic
poetry agree that nothing like the purity of his Gaelic and the
style of his poetry, has appeared in the Highlands since the days of
Ossian.” His biographer in Mackenzie’s ‘Beauties of Gaelic Poetry’
(Glasgow, 1841) says that when delivering the third edition of his
poems to his subscribers, the Rev. Mr. M’Callum of Arisaig, “saw him
travelling slowly with his wife. He was dressed in the Highland
garb, with a checked bonnet, over which a large bushy tail of a wild
animal hung, a badger’s skin fastened by a belt in front, a hanger
by his side, and a soldier’s wallet was strapped to his shoulders.
He had not been seen by any present before then, but was immediately
recognised. A forward young man asked him if it was he that made
Ben-dourain? ‘No,’ replied the venerable old man, ‘Ben-dourain was
made before you or I was born, but I made a poem in praise of Ben-dourain.’
He then inquired if any would buy a copy of his book. I told him to
call upon me, paid him three shillings, and had some conversation
with him. He spoke slowly; he seemed to have no high opinion of his
own works; and said little of Gaelic poetry; but said, that officers
in the army used to tell him about the Greek poets; and Pindar was
chiefly admired by him.” Having been appointed bard to the Highland
Society, he furnished it with many stirring addresses in Gaelic at
its annual meetings.
On the recommendation of the earl of Breadalbane, who
befriended him through life, he was appointed in his old age one of
the city guard of Edinburgh. He subsequently lived retired, and died
in that city in October 1812.