Iain Lom

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Iain Lom MacDonald (c. 1624–c. 1710) was a Scottish Gaelic poet.


Iain Lom's family were the MacDonalds of Keppoch. In Gaelic society, since there might often be a number of men with the same first names in any given clan, they were given sobriquets which might be based on a peculiar characteristic or feature. "Lom" is Scots Gaelic for "bald" or "bare" (lom a. luime, bare, bald, shaven, cropped), perhaps indicating he was bald. However, in Gaelic idiom, it can also mean one who is very plain-spoken, an idiom which perhaps can best be related in English to the term "bare-faced" (though this is now generally applied only to liars). He was also known as Iain Manntach which translates as "stammering John," perhaps from a speech impediment.

His dates of birth and death are unknown, but we know that he was present at (and composed a song about) the Battle of Inverlochy (1645) as an adult, and the Treaty of Union (1707); this would presume a birthdate in the early-mid-1620s (if not earlier), and a death in the early 18th century. Most of the few details we have of his life are known from contemporary comments, and from his poetry.

He was apparently somewhat disabled, and was once described by a contemporary as "walking with a hirple" (i.e., a limp. Scots word originally used in 1450 by the Scots poet Robert Henryson, perhaps derived fr. the Old Norse word herpast "suffer from cramps").

However, it didn't stop him from climbing a tree during the battle of Inverlochy. When chastized for his seeming cowardice by his chief afterwards, he is said to have replied that he had climbed the tree the better to see his chief and clansmens' valiant deeds, and had he been killed in the battle, who would then have composed poetry about them?

There are many stories told of his quick and vitriolic wit, which apparently was demonstrated from an early age.

It is widely believed that Robert Burns was Scotland's first Poet Laureate. However, Charles II named Iain Lom poet laureate during his reign, and a later MacDonald poet, Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair ("Alexander, son of the teacher Alexander") was later appointed poet laureate by Prince Charles Edward Stuart, the de jure Prince Regent, during the 1745 Jacobite Rising, but as the Stuart line was unseated in 1689, and the subsequent Jacobite Risings failed to permanently restore the Stuarts, their status became a moot point. Their stature has further been diminished by the fact that they composed exclusively in Gaelic, which even at that time was a language in decline.


A thoroughly political poet, he was a fierce opponent of the English Puritans and the Scottish Covenanters. Later he opposed the accession of William of Orange and later governments. He remained a loyal devotee of the Stuart family, and thus was an early Jacobite. As a clan bard, he commented on the battles and engagements the Keppoch clan engaged in while campaigning for the Stuarts, especially under Great Montrose, as well as on contemporary matters. His known works include the following:


Further reading

  • Orain Iain Luim; the Songs of John MacDonald, bard of Keppoch, edited by Annie M. Mackenzie, Edinburgh, 1964.