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Songs and Poems by Rob Donn MacKay


Glasgow, June, 1899.


The men who are capable of distinguishing practical from impractical objects, and who are the more active in making them practicable for others, are, in my opinion, most deserving of honour. Pre-eminent amongst these it is my privilege to place you, and I esteem it an honour to be able to make even this slight acknowledgment of your patriotic and noble example. Without your keen appreciation of what is most useful in advancing the prosperity and prestige of the Gael. and without your incentive and never failing support, influences which at the present time are active in this direction would, no doubt, be dormant. Who is deserving of honour as a true and loyal Highlander if you are not? You have been zealous in promoting a Gaelic culture, especially in your native county, you have done a similar good service to our clan, and your loyal devotion has had a beneficial effect upon the whole Gaelic race. Our Celtic kinsmen across the waters have frequently and gratefully acknowledged your generous help. Even in the publication of this volume your stimulus was not awanting. It was undertaken chiefly through your incentive and advice, and it was the desire to gain your commendation which caused it to be carried out in a style in which no other Gaelic bard's works have ever been issued. It is my esteemed privilege to dedicate to you, the clansman of our gifted Sutherland bard, this edition of his works. I do so with feelings of respect and gratitude; feelings which are universally shared, I believe, by Gaels of every class, creed, and clan, who have the cause of their country, race, and language at heart.

Yours faithfully,



THE poetical works of Rob Donn have already been published in three editions, the first in 1829, the second in 1870, and the third so recent as last year. These several editions agree in so far as they include such of the bard's compositions as are worthy of preservation, much that is not, and probably some pieces which were not his work at all. The first and third editions have each glossaries, which are by no means complete. Generally speaking, the later editions adhere to the text and orthography of the first, which, having been rendered according to the literary usage of the time, gives an impression of defective rhyme and rhythm. The only aim of the editors seems to have been the rendering of the bard's meaning. The present edition has other important claims on the reader's interest. The text has been revised and made to conform, as nearly as can be advantageously done, to the bard's own native dialect. By this change the ordinary reader loses nothing, while the student gains much. A full and carefully compiled glossary of all the local words, and dialectic forms of words used by the bard, as well as many which do not occur in his works, with their meanings in the English language, and their etymologies, where these can be given, together with a treatise on the Reay Country pronunciation of Gaelic, is appended, and will be found of great value.

The melodies of about fifty pieces, taken principally from a manuscript collection of airs of Rob Donn's songs noted down in the Reay Country by the late John Munro, a native of the district, and printed in both notations, further enhance the work. The surname of the bard has of late given rise to a good deal of controversy, in view of which the chapter treating of that subject will doubtless be read with more than ordinary interest.

It is doubtful if the inclusion of every composition alleged to have been made by Rob Donn has tended to increase the bard's reputation as such. Keeping this in view only the principal compositions, and such of the minor pieces as were necessary to display the style and range of subject which were his, are reproduced.

This volume is unique in many ways. We do not know that the works and music of any Gaelic bard have ever been published in this form before; indeed, we doubt if it would be possible to give fifty of the songs of any other Gaelic bard set to the original melodies. It is to the credit of Sutherland people that they have preserved so well the old songs and the old music, of which we believe a great deal could yet be taken down from the natives of the county.

It has often been stated that Rob Donn has been fortunate above all other Gaelic bards in having so many editions of his works published, and so much prominence given to them by writers of distinction, such as Mr. J. G. Lockhart, son-in-law of Sir Walter Scott, and others. However that may be, we have endeavoured in this instance to present his songs and poems to our countrymen in as pleasing a form as possible, with-such additional matter as we believe would add to their interest.


An Clar-Innsidh (Contents)
Going to this page you'll find the list of poems and songs and as most of these songs are in the Gaelic language I have scanned each page as an image.  So all you need to do is check the Page number of the song you are interested in reading and then return to this page and select the Page number from the list below.

List of Subscribers

English Translations

  • Page 93 - The Shieling Song
  • Page 94 - The Drover's Lament, There's Nothing in the Garish Day
  • Page 95 - The Death Song of Hugh, The Rispond Family Elegy
  • Page 96 - The Song of Winter
  • Page 97 - Death, Lament for Hugh MacKay
  • Page 98 - Lament for Mr Murdoch, Elegy to John MacKay
  • Page 99 - 'Tis Thy Death
  • Page 100 - Elegy to Donald, Lord Reay

Musical Notes

Rob Donn and his Times

The Dialect of the Reay Country Bard


The Bard's Surname

Return to our Poetry Page


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