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Robert Mackay (1715-1778) - Poet

He was born in Strathmore in Sutherland, Scotland, on the lands of the MacKay chief, Lord Reay. Very little is known about his childhood and the first reference to him comes on his entering the service of Lord Reay's tacksman lain Mac Eachainn 'ic lain (John MacKay) on his farm at Muisel. Rob Donn, as he came to be styled, started composing poetry at an early age and his poems and songs build up a vivid picture of life in an isolated community, and more especially of the relationships that existed between the clan chief, his tacksmen and the people of the clan. During the 1745 Jacobite rebellion Lord Reay pledged his support for the Hanoverian cause and a contingent of militia raised from the Clan MacKay fought on the government side. Despite his patron's political leanings, Rob Donn, like other Gaelic poets of the period, inclined to the Jacobite cause and wrote several poems in its support, including 'Na casagan dubha', which criticized the government for proscribing Highland dress in 1747. Between 1759 and 1763 Rob Donn served with the Sutherland Fencibles, although he may have acted only in the capacity of regimental or clan bard. The deaths of lain Mac Eachainn in 1757 and Lord Reay in 1761 prompted two of Rob Donn's greatest elegies; their deaths accelerated the growing disintegration of clan society in Strathnaver and Strathmore and presaged the breaking up of the crofting communities. During his lifetime MacAoidh's poetry remained in the oral tradition and it was not until after his death in 1778 that efforts were made by ministers living in the area to collect his work. Among these were the Reverend Donald Sage, Reverend Aeneas Macleod and the Reverend John Thomson, and a first collection of the 200-odd poems and songs ascribed to MacAoidh appeared in 1829.
Although he had enjoyed little formal education MacAoidh's poetry is not the work of an artless recorder of the society in which he lived.

He also wrote several spirited, though at times, bawdy love-songs, including the well-known song of unrequited love, Is trom leam an airigh; but throughout his work he
maintained a consistent moral stance which he saw as necessary for the protection of a tightly knit community. A sense of humanity and an intellectual acuity are the hallmarks of his poetic style; and from his poems and songs a finely delineated picture emerges of the
niceties of everyday life in the Sutherland of his day and of the people who inhabited it. His dispassionate view of life, coupled with his concern for his fellow men, bring to his poetry a humanity and power of observation that marks him as one of the major figures in 18th century poetry.

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