Allan MacDonald (poet)

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Allan MacDonald

Father Allan MacDonald (Scottish Gaelic Maighstir Ailein) (25 October 1859, Fort William, Scotland – 8 October 1905, Eriskay) was a Roman Catholic priest, poet, folklore collector, and activist from the Scottish Gàidhealtachd.


MacDonald was born in Fort William, Scotland, the son of a tavern keeper, and was descended from the MacDonalds of Keppoch. Prior to entering seminary, this future Gaelic scholar spoke only English. He was educated at the Scottish College of San Ambrosio in Valladolid, Spain. He was ordained to the priesthood at Glasgow by Bishop Eyre on 9 July 1884. He served as a priest in Oban before being assigned to Daliburgh, South Uist. The island of Eriskay, located across the bay, was also in his care. When sick calls on Eriskay were required, MacDonald would trudge down to the beach and light a bonfire as a signal to the Eriskay fisherman to come and ferry him across.

This era also saw the agitation of the Crofter's Commission and the Highland Land League. Therefore, MacDonald was active in demanding greater rights for the impoverished tenant who were bulk of his parishioners. At the time, the island's government and school board were dominated by members of the Church of Scotland. Therefore, MacDonald also began urging his parishioners to vote against the candidates of the landlord. This was a task which required great tact and, according to John Lorne Campbell, it is very telling that the Protestants of South Uist still speak very highly of MacDonald.

However, his health was broken in an epidemic during which MacDonald tirelessly provided the Sacraments to the dying. To assist his recovery, MacDonald was assigned to Eriskay which he immortalised in his poem, Eilein na h-Òige (Isle of Youth). He swiftly earned the love of his parishioners and oversaw the construction of a new church and rectory, both of which still stand on Eriskay. Although he died of pneumonia in 1905, Maighstir Ailein is still fondly remembered on both South Uist and Eriskay.

Folklore collector[edit]

MacDonald began collecting folklore when he was assigned to Oban shortly after his ordination. With the assistance of a parishioner from the Isle of Lewis, MacDonald collected several Pre-Reformation liturgical hymns in Scottish Gaelic. He supplemented these with several of his own compositions and translations, which were subsequently used in South Uist and Eriskay until the aftermath of Vatican II.

MacDonald, a lifelong admirer of the Jacobite movement, was an expert in the history of the uprising in 1745. His manuscripts are still preserved and, although unpublished, remain a rich source of Highland folklore and history.

MacDonald supplied much material that was published by Ada Goodrich Freer who was commissioned to investigate second sight in the Scottish Highlands and Islands by the Society for Psychical Research in 1894-5.[1]


MacDonald's poetry is mainly religious in nature, as would be expected from one of his calling. He composed hymns and verse in honour of the Blessed Virgin, the Christ Child, and the Eucharist. However, several secular poems and songs were also composed by him. In some of these, MacDonald praises the beauty of Eriskay and its people. In his verse drama, The Old Wives' Parliament, he lampoons the gossiping of his female parishioners and local marriage customs. In The Campbell Wedding, a poem composed for the marriage of his housekeeper, Father Allan irately skewers the Campbells over the Massacre of Glencoe and for siding against the House of Stuart during the Jacobite wars.

MacDonald's secular verse, however, was written for his own amusement and, likely, was never meant to see publication. A bilingual anthology of the priest's Gaelic verse, both religious and secular, was edited by Ronald Black. It was published in 2002 by Mungo Books, the Scottish imprint of Saint Austin Press.


Detailed research about MacDonald's life was collected by John Lorne Campbell and is housed at Canna, Scotland. In addition, South Uist vocalist Kathleen MacInnes performed MacDonald's Marian hymn Reul Àlainn a' Chuain on YouTube on her 2006 album Summer Dawn.

Published works[edit]

  • Eilein na h-Òige; The Poems of Fr. Allan MacDonald, Edited by Ronald Black, Mungo Books, Glasgow, 2002.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chapman, Malcolm (1978). The Gaelic vision in Scottish culture. Taylor & Francis. p. 132. ISBN 0-85664-752-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Campbell, John Lorne; Hall, Trevor H. (1968). Strange things: the story of Fr. Allan McDonald, Ada Goodrich Freer, and the Society for Psychical Research's enquiry into Highland second sight. Birlinn. ISBN 1-84158-458-4.
  • Hall, Trevor H. (1980). The Strange Story of Ada Goodrich Freer. Gerald Duckworth and Company. ISBN 0-7156-1427-4.

External links[edit]