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Donn Country: A 300 year legacy

The Mackay Country (Dùthaich ‘ic Aoidh) Bard

Strathnaver Museum and Mackay Country Community Trust are delighted to be working in collaboration on an exciting 2 year celebration of renowned Gaelic bard Rob Donn.

Rob Donn (1714-1778) is an extremely important figure in the history of Gaelic literature and might arguably be as important to Gaelic poetry as his contemporary Robert Burns is to poetry in Scots. Born at Alltnacaillich, Strathmore in 1714 Donn lived through a chaotic period in Highland history as the Jacobite Risings resulted in lasting changes throughout the Highlands.

Poetry played a pivotal role in people’s lives and circulated rapidly by oral transmission. Donn’s use of language sometimes amounted to shorthand yet embodied complex concepts and double meanings that often depend on alternative definitions of Gaelic words. Unable to read or write, Donn dictated his poetry from memory only towards the end of his life and was particularly notorious for his often-acerbic tongue.

Rob Donn was particularly interested in the living people about him which has given us a unique insight into the entrenched clan and cleric influences on the way of life of Gaelic Mackay Country. Rob Donn remains the last and greatest of those who were in a position to interpret and enlighten us about the traditional, tribal way of life of Scotland before it was destroyed.

Rob Donn’s work leaves a legacy by depicting the activities of his time providing a valuable social commentary which describes people from all social spheres. The landscape and wider environment feature prominently in his work which offers an image of a long-lost way of life. His use of word, music and alliteration, held together by a strong use of rhythm, whether sung or spoken, make compelling performance material.