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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.

When 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 Slaggan.

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 be lost.


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