Duncan Ban MacIntyre

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Duncan Ban MacIntyre Memorial, Greyfriars Kirkyard

Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir (usually Duncan Ban MacIntyre in English; 20 March 1724 – 14 May 1812)[1] is one of the most renowned of Scottish Gaelic poets and formed an integral part of one of the golden ages of Gaelic poetry in Scotland during the 18th century. He is best known for his poem about Beinn Dorain; "Moladh Beinn Dòbhrain" ("Praise of Ben Doran"):

First verse:

An t-urram thar gach beinn
Aig Beinn Dòbhrain;
De na chunnaic mi fon ghrèin,
S i bu bhòidhche leam...

English translation:

Honour beyond each ben
for Beinn Dorain;
Of all I have seen beneath the sun,
the most glorious...[2]

Born in Druim Liaghart in Glen Orchy, he went on to work in various occupations, including as a soldier in the Argyll Regiment of Militia, as a forester, and as a constable of Edinburgh City Guard. While a soldier in the Argyll regiment he fought for the Hanoverian forces during the Jacobite rising of 1745–6. He took part in the Battle of Falkirk as a substitute for a local gentleman, Archibald Fletcher of Crannach, and managed to lose his sword during the fighting — an event which would later lead to the composition of a humorous poem about the battle.[3]

When he returned from the battle, MacIntyre was refused his pay by the gentleman who had commissioned him to fight in his stead because of the lost sword and it was in reply that Duncan composed the aforementioned poem, satirising the gentleman and the sword he had lost.[4]

Despite his service with the Loyalist forces he displayed Jacobite sympathies in some of his works, notably his "Òran don Bhriogais" (English: Ode to Trousers ) inspired by the Disarming Act (1746), which saw the outlawing of traditional Highland dress, music, and weaponry following the Battle of Culloden. His conduct during, and attitude following, the Battle of Falkirk perhaps hint further at a lack of enthusiasm for the Hanoverian cause.

Most of his poetry is descriptive and the influence of the great Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair is notable in much of it. Despite the Jacobite upheavals that wracked Scotland during his lifetime it was his experience as a gamekeeper in Argyll and Perthshire in the employ of the Duke of Argyll which had greatest impact upon his poetry. His greatest work, Moladh Beinn Dòbhrain, stems from this period. The significance of Duncan Bàn's nature themed poetry is such that it has, along with that of the aforementioned MacMhaighstir Alasdair, been described as "the zenith of Gaelic nature poetry".[5]

Duncan moved to Edinburgh in 1767 and was to spend the rest of his life there serving with the Breadalbane Fencibles and the City Guard before retiring in 1806.[3] During his time in Edinburgh he composed several prize winning poems and attempted to win the place of Bard to the Highland and Agricultural Society, losing to Donald Shaw despite receiving much praise for his poetry.

Duncan Ban's native region had no school[6] and he remained illiterate throughout his life and kept his work by memory. He had to receive help from the minister of Lismore, Donald MacNicol, with transcriptions.[3] The poetry of Duncan Bán would later be translated into English by such notable figures as Hugh McDiarmid, Derick Thomson and Iain Crichton Smith.[7]

He is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, where he died in 1812, and a memorial to him stands there,[6] having been erected by friends and well-wishers of the man who had gained fame during his lifetime as Donnchadh Bàn nan Òrain or "Fair Duncan of the Songs". The church holds a service in Gaelic every Sunday.

Another monument, designed by John Thomas Rochead, was erected to honour MacIntyre in the hills near Dalmally, overlooking Loch Awe. The monument was built following a public subscription in 1859.[8]

Dalmally Memorial by John Thomas Rochead


  1. ^ Calder, George (editor and translator). The Gaelic Songs of Duncan MacIntyre. Edinburgh: John Grant, 1912.
  2. ^ Ban MacIntyre, Duncan (1866). "Ben Dorain (English translation)". Selections from the Gaelic bards: Metrically translated with biographical prefaces and explanatory notes, also original poems. Glasgow: Archibald Sinclair. pp. 53–57. Retrieved 23 March 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Slainte.
  4. ^ Lyra Celtica.
  5. ^ Gaelic Song - An Introduction
  6. ^ a b Bards - Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir Archived 21 November 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Thomson, Derick S. G. Gaelic Poetry in the Eighteenth Century (The Association for Scottish Literary Studies: 1993)
  8. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-02-04. Retrieved 2012-12-18.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)


  • Thomson, Derick S. The Companion to Gaelic Scotland, (Blackwell Reference 1987), ISBN 0-631-15578-3
  • Thomson, Derick S. Gaelic Poetry in the Eighteenth Century, (Association of Scottish Literary Studies 1993), ISBN 0-948877-19-7

External links[edit]