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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (Mc)
Father Anthony MacDonald


Compiled by Allan J. Gillis

“Am Sagart Mor” (the Big Priest); P.P. of Eigg and Canna for fifty years

           Fr. Anthony was born ca. 1770, some say in South Uist [more likely, Arisaig or Moidart]. He studied for the priesthood at Samalaman in Moidart and at Douai, France. He came to the Highland Mission in 1792, either ordained or ready to be ordained, and was immediately posted to the Small Isles where he remained the rest of his life.

       He was the son of Anthony, son of Allan “BBn”, son of Anthony.  His brother Rory, with his wife Anne MacMaster of Moidart and their children, came to Cape Breton and settled at Upper Southwest Mabou.  I know of four of their family: Iain “Mor” mac Ruairi, Ailean “Mor” mac Ruairi, Gilleasbuig mac Ruairi and Anna nic’ Ruairi.  There may have been others, including another Anna.

            Iain “mor” mac Ruairi married Mary MacDougall, daughter of Neil MacDougall of Eigg and Judique Intervale, and they have numerous descendants.  Gilleasbuig also married and had a family.  Allan “Mor” remained single.  Anna married Rory MacInnis “Donald” of Judique Intervale and they are my great-great grandparents.

            The MacInnises had lived in a stone house by the upper Judique Intervale bridge but had lost their property to the Port Hood merchant Peter Smith.  The family started off to Newfoundland but Rory MacInnis died at Ship Harbour (now Port Hawkesbury).  Anna MacInnis and her children made their way back to the home of her brother Allan “Mor”.  Allan, a boxer and wrestler, was reputedly the best fighter in Judique.  On his death the farm became the property of his sister’s family.

            This family of MacDonalds tended to be tall, sturdy and long-lived.  They were also well-endowed mentally and musically. (1)  There is a dark stone pillar by the roadside in Eigg where the burial party had to rest from exhaustion while carrying the body of the “Big Priest” to the graveyard at Kildonan.

             One of Fr. Anthony’s sisters married John MacIsaac of Eigg who settled on Eigg Mountain in
Antigonish County before moving to Knoydart in Pictou County.  Catherine MacDonald, a niece of Fr. Anthony’s , married Angus MacKinnon “an t-Saor” of Eigg.  They came to Judique in 1843 and had a family.  The name Anthony has been carried down to recent generations among these MacDonald descendants.

            There is a famous story in Eigg about Fr. Anthony being struck by the tacksman Angus MacDonald of Laig.  It seems that alcohol was involved in causing this unprecendented event  The priest reacted immediately by predicting that the hand had struck him would one day put and end to its owner.  It is on record that Angus Laig eventually did commit suicide.  Iain MacKay, in a presentation to the Gaelic Society of Inverness, noted:

          “In the Borrodale letters there is one important reference to Angus [Laig] in a letter by one Captain George Macdonald, a native of Eigg. Writing to John of Borrodale on the 18th January, 1819, he referred to the “melancholy account of Angus Laig’s death”.  This little bit of written evidence is sufficient to corrobate the tradition in Eigg as to he being the suicide and not his father, Raghnal Dubh.  The traditional story of his death is interesting.  On the evening in question, Angus, a widower, was left with his widowed sister Mary in Laig house while the young people went to a dance on the east side of the island.  During the night the sister found Angus was missing and went out to look for him.  On their return the young people found both missing and started the search.  Aonghas Laig was found dead on a hillock some hundreds of yards away, his gun beside him.  The hillock is called Sithean na Cailliche.  The old woman was found the next day in a cleft in the rocks along the coast, in her night clothes and quite out of her mind.        

          It is said that Aonghas Laig quarrelled with the priest Father Anthony MacDonald at a funeral and struck him. The priest stepped back and addressed the mourners, “Cumaibh beachd air mo bhriathransa, an lamh a bhuail mise an diugh, ‘s i dhealaicheas an t-anam bho’n chollain.” [“Remember well my words, the hand that struck me today will one day part the soul from the body.”] Angus’s sister, Mary of Laig, had been married to a Macdonald from Knoydart.  Angus Laig removed some of the Cleadale people to make room for him.  As they left their homes they cursed Mary’s husband.  He died from drinking poison given to him by Mary in mistake for medicine.  Angus Laig had four sons, Allan, Donald, Norman, Ranald and a daughter Mary.  Donald and Norman emigrated to Australia where they died, it is thought unmarried.  A contemporary of them in Australia was another emigrant, Colin Campbell of Ulva Ferry, Mull.  Colin was a bush ranger and he said of Norman Laig that he was the strongest man of Clan Donald in his day.  In Australia, one Bartleman saw a picture of Angus Laig’s daughter Mary in the possession of one of her brothers.  Bartleman came to Scotland and in the end he eloped with the girl.  When Angus Laig heard of this he gave chase.  The ship was just putting to sea as Angus rode into Leith.  The marriage was said to have been an unhappy one.

            Poor Angus as a suicide was buried outside the church and lies in an unknown grave.  He was married to a daughter of the Rev. Calum MacAskill, Rudh’ an Dunain, Skye, the father of Dr. Donald MacAskill.  She died young.

           Angus Laig was succeeded there by his son, Allan, who was also famous for his strength. He married his cousin Isabel, the daughter of Aonghas Cinn a’ chreagain. There is a song in Eigg about her–“Iseabal ag Cinn a’ chreagain, Ribhinn is deis theid na comhdail.” [Young Isabel of Kinacreggan, As beautiful a maiden as you could meet.”]

            Their son Angus was the last of the family in Eigg.  He emigrated to North America where he died unmarried.”

         In the Dec. 2004 edition of West Word, Allan MacDonald of Arisaig quotes from a petition of 1803 in which is mentioned: Anthony McDonald, churchman in Eigg...This priests chapel was in an upper story at Laig. He also served Canna.

Gaelic translations made by Donald Rankin, Ottawa, and inserted by me.

Sources:  

1901 Census, Port Hood Mines, # 66.
Eigg, Jean Urquhart and Eric Ellinton, Edinburgh, 1987
History of Antigonish, Vol. 1, Raymond A. MacLean, Ed., Antigonish, 1977
History of Inverness County, John L. MacDougall, Truro, 1922
Innes Review, Aug., 1966
Tocher, 1973, p.45
Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, Vol. 44, pp.68-69, Iain MacKay
Information from the late Angus MacKinnon of Eigg in 1976 and from family lore

Notes: (1)         Some of those musical descendants include: Dan R. MacDonald, John Allan Cameron,
John Donald Cameron, Alex Francis MacKay, Glenn Graham, Duncan Gillis, Alasdair Gillis, and myself.  Also, there have been many Gaelic singers and stepdancers in these families up to the present.


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