Rob Donn

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File:Rob Donn Mackay monument, Balnakeil graveyard - - 711066.jpg
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 surname was 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 never learnt to speak English, nor to read and write,[1][2] 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, the fourth Lord Reay. Both he and the Rev. Murdo MacDonald were great influences on him, and celebrated in his poetry.

Rob Donn's life coincided with the two major Jacobite campaigns, in 1715 (when he was only one) and in 1745.

Collection of his poems

Although sometimes moralist, 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, and 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 even rhythms.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Rob Donn Mackay (1714 - 1778), Scottish Poetry Library. Retrieved 2015-09-29.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  •  Lee, Sidney, ed. (1893). [ "Mackay, Robert (1714-1778)" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Dictionary of National Biography. 35. London: Smith, Elder & Co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>