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Gathering to discuss Rob Donn Mackay, the Mackay Country barb

By Jim A Johnston

The dining room of Tongue’s Ben Loyal Hotel became an impromptu recording studio last Wednesday with a diverse gathering of individuals interested in the life and times of the famous Gaelic poet, Rob Donn.

The aim was to create a series of blogs on various aspects of the 18th Century bard’s extraordinary life which is currently being celebrated and examined in what must be Strathnaver Museum’s most wide ranging project to date. The event was chaired by Museum coordinator, Fiona Mackenzie of Reay, with the technical side of things being handled by the Mackay Country Community Trust’s Ronnie Lansley of Durness.

The furthest travelled participant was ex New York lawyer, Ellen Beard, a direct descendent of the bard whose doctoral thesis from Edinburgh University provides a thorough modern analysis of Rob Donn’s poetry and music and who is on the verge of publication of a general book on the topic. Dornoch based UHI history lecturer and researcher, Elizabeth Ritchie, who has a long standing interest in the far north-west, was there to provide a wider perspective on 18th Century life along with retired civil servant Malcolm Bangor-Jones of Assynt with his encyclopedic knowledge of the historic papers of the Mackay and Sutherland families which dominated Sutherland society in centuries gone by.

The day long deliberations were joined by Jim A. Johnston of Bettyhill for the afternoon sessions and included his reflections on 18th Century weather. Around five hours of discussion on Rob Donn’s education, editors, upbringing, poetry and life were recorded from which five twenty minute blogs will be distilled and will become available on the world-wide-web.

Meanwhile the Rob Donn Project continues apace with preparations well in hand for a Rob Donn Trail across the great bard’s northern stamping grounds as well as the assembling of a tapestry from all areas of Mackay Country which illustrates incidents from some of the illiterate Rob Donn’s two hundred or so extant poems and lyrics.

Photo: l. to r.: Jim A. Johnston, Malcolm Bangor-Jones, Ronnie Lansley, Fiona Mackenzie, Elizabeth Ritchie and Ellen Beard.