Rob Donn

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Rob Donn Mackay monument, Balnakeil graveyard, with inscriptions in Gaelic, English, Greek and Latin. Erected 1827.

Rob Donn (Brown-haired Rob) (1714 - 1778) was a Scottish Gaelic poet from Sutherland. It is generally assumed that his name was Robert MacKay (MacAoidh),[1][2] but this has been disputed, so he is sometimes referred to as "Rob Donn MacAoidh".


Born at Aultnacaillich in Strathmore, Sutherland, he was illiterate[1][2] and never learnt to speak English, but was strongly influenced by the poetry of Alexander Pope, which he heard in translation into Gaelic by the local minister, the Rev. Murdo MacDonald.[3] His own poetical abilities were picked up early on by Iain MacEachainn, a tacksman who would patronise the former cowherd. In return, Rob Donn praised and delineated MacEachainn and his family in his poetry, in a way normally reserved for nobility in Scottish Gaelic poetry.

Another major figure in his life was Donald Mackay, 4th Lord Reay. Both he and the Rev. Murdo MacDonald were great influences on Rob Donn, and were celebrated in his poetry.

Rob Donn's life coincided with three Jacobite Rebellions: in 1715 (when he was only one year old), in 1719 and in 1745.

Collection of his poems[edit]

Although sometimes moralistic, Rob Donn's poetry sometimes contained bawdy images, which would be bowdlerised by later collectors; especially as Protestant clergymen were often major figures in controlling written Scottish Gaelic.[2] However, an exception can be found in the Rev. John Thomson, who succeeded Murdo MacDonald in the parish of Durness, and who allowed his daughter to transcribe Rob Donn's works uncensored.

Later editors and collectors were not always so kind, in other ways. For example, Rob's Strathnaver dialect was sometimes disguised by being rendered into more standard forms of Scottish Gaelic,[1] which destroyed certain of the effects and rhythms.


  1. ^ a b c Rob Donn Mackay (1714 - 1778), Scottish Poetry Library. Retrieved 2015-09-29.
  2. ^ a b c Fans sing praises of the bawdy bard Rob Donn, The Scotsman, 2012-09-12. Retrieved 2015-09-29.
  3. ^ T.C. Smout (1969). A History of the Scottish People 1560-1830. p. 465. ISBN 978-0-00-686027-3.