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Metadata for text 118
No. words in text64963
Title Marbhrainn, a Rinneadh air Diadhairibh Urramach, Nach Maireann: agus Dàna Spioradail Eile
Author Dòmhnullach, Dr. Iain
Editor N/A
Date Of Edition 1848
Date Of Language 1800-1849
Publisher Uilleam P. Ceanadaidh
Place Published Edinburgh (Dun-Éidin)
Volume N/A
Location National and academic libraries
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Caithness
Register Religion, Verse
Alternative Author Name John MacDonald (Ferintosh)
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 15.2cm x 9.5cm
Short Title Marbhrainn
Reference Details EUL, Sp. Coll.: MacKinnonColl.6.30
Number Of Pages 267
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context The information in this section was taken from Rev. Iain D. Campbell’s article, ‘Rev John MacDonald, Ferintosh (1779-1849)’, which can be viewed on the Banner of Truth website ( and on the Back Free Church website ( Further information about John MacDonald can be found in Rev. John Kennedy’s book, Apostle of the North.

Of his birth and upbringing, Campbell states that ‘John MacDonald was born in Reay, Caithness, in November 1779, the son of a leading Christian, celebrated in one of his Gaelic compositions. The schoolmaster of Reay, recognising the intellectual potential of his young student, encouraged him in his learning, with the result that MacDonald went to Aberdeen University where he studied mathematics.’ It appears that MacDonald’s conversion was aided by his fondness for the works of President Edwards, and Campbell suggests that ‘it can be demonstrated that much of the material in MacDonald’s hymns bears more than a passing resemblance to Edwards’ Religious Affections’.

In 1805, MacDonald received a licence from the Presbytery of Caithness. That same year, he toured the Highlands, ‘researching the Homeric like poetry of an ancient writer named Ossian’, and preaching in various places along the way. MacDonald was ordained in Berriedale, in Caithness, in 1806, and it was there that he married his first wife. MacDonald stayed in Berriedale for a year, before moving to the Gaelic Church in Edinburgh at the request of the SSPCK. MacDonald was kept busy in Edinburgh, preaching in different areas, and ‘he had an experience of fresh anointing and Holy Spirit baptism’ there also. It was partly due to his experiences in Edinburgh that MacDonald became known as ‘a preacher of powerful doctrine and earnest delivery’.

In 1813, MacDonald was called to Ferintosh, in the parish of Urquhart, as the successor of Charles Calder, and from there he preached far and wide, throughout the Highlands. It was from this travelling and evangelising that he became known as the ‘apostle of the north’. MacDonald’s first communion services at Ferintosh, held outside, unfortunately coincided with the death of his wife. ‘MacDonald refused to allow the death of his wife to interfere with the commemoration of the death of the Saviour.’ MacDonald had three children with his first wife, and seven with his second wife, whom he married in 1818. His eldest son, also John, became a minister, and worked as a missionary in Calcutta. Sadly for him, MacDonald outlived his son, who died in 1847. In his daily life, MacDonald kept a very strict schedule, allotting himself eight hours a day each for family and parochial affairs, for private study and prayer, and for sleeping.

MacDonald made four trips to St. Kilda during his ministry, and he successfully converted the islanders to a life in the service of God. More information about MacDonald’s time in St. Kilda can be found in Campbell’s article and in Kennedy’s book. MacDonald also went on several trips outwith Scotland. In 1823, he was invited to speak in London by the London Missionary Society, and in 1827 he visited Ireland and preached to congregations of Protestants and Catholics. Campbell declares that he was so zealous about preaching that ‘if it was at all possible, MacDonald would not decline an invitation to preach the Gospel.’ It was said that he preached at least 300 sermons a year, which amounted to over ten thousand sermons during his last 36 years, and that he ‘never delivered an unstudied discourse.’ MacDonald’s widespread preaching was brought to the attention of the General Assembly in 1817, with the result that MacDonald was banned from preaching in any parish other than his own. In this instance, MacDonald complied with the Church. In 1843, however, he left the Established Church during the Disruption. In 1845, MacDonald became Moderator of the Free Church Assembly. He died in 1847.
Contents This volume begins with An Roimh-Radh (pp. v-viii) in which it is stated that ‘Bha na dàna ’s na Marbhrainn a tha a nis air an cruinneachadh ’s an Leabhar so, air an dèanamh leis an Ughdair, a’ chuid mhòr dhiubh, o chionn iomadh bliadhna’ (p. v). In addition, ‘Bha a’ chuid mhòr do na marbhrannaibh air an cur a mach, goirid an déigh dhoibh bhi air an deànamh leis an Ughdair: ach chailleadh iad, mar sin, ann an tomhas mòr; agus is ann air chomhairle o iomadh do na bràithribh, agus o chàirdibh eile, a thàinig an t-Ughdair gu ’fhaicinn ’n a dhleasdanas dha féin, na dàna ’s na marbhrannan araon a chur a mach, ’s a chumadh ’s am bheil iad a nis, ’n an aon Leabhar, an ceann a chéile’ (pp. vi-vii).

The volume contains eight poems, five of which are elegies (to Rev. Tearlach Calder, Dr. Alastair Stiubhart, Mr. Eoin Robison, the poet’s own father, and Mr. Iain Ceanadaidh). Each poem has one or, in some cases, two introductory notes, and each poem is preceded by a list of the topics covered in it. The poems are as follows:

Marbhrann, &c. (pp. 9-70) on Rev. Charles Calder, preceded by a short account of Calder.

Dr. Stiubhard, A’ Dol Do Leid (pp. 77-80) and Marbhrann air Doctor Alastair Stiubhard (pp. 81-93), preceded by an account of Dr. Stewart.

Marbhrann air Mr. Eoin Robison (pp. 105-32), preceded by a short introduction and an account of Mr Robison.

Rainn a Rinneadh Leis an Ughdair air a Thurus do Eilean H-Iorta anns a’ Bhliadhna 1822 (pp. 135-50), preceded by a short introduction.

Beatha a’ Chriosdaidh (pp. 155-86), an elegy to MacDonald’s father in three parts: A’ Cheud Earrann: An Criosduidh air a Thurus go Iordan (pp. 155-64), An Dara Earrann. An Criosduidh aig Bruaich Iordain (pp. 165-75), and An Treas Earrann. An Criosduidh Thall air Iordan (pp. 177-86), preceded by an introduction.

Iomradh air Obair an Spioraid ann an Sluagh Dhé (pp. 189-217), a poem of 85 stanzas, preceded by a short introduction.

Marbhrann air Mr. Iain Ceanadaidh (pp. 245-67), preceded by an account of Mr. Kennedy.

There are occasional footnotes throughout the text, to guide the reader to the biblical passages they refer to. Translations of two of the poems, Marbhrann air Eoin Robison (pp. 105-32) and the three parts of Beatha a’ Chriosdaidh (pp. 155-86), appear in the appendices to the 1932 and 1978 editions of Kennedy’s Apostle of the North.
Language This volume contains both prose and verse, inasmuch as each poem is preceded by a prose foreword, which introduces us to the subject or to the subject-matter of the poem. Campbell informs us that ‘Most of MacDonald’s poetry comes to us in the form of elegies, celebrating the lives and ministries of some of his predecessors or contemporaries’, and that is exactly what we find in this volume, with the exception of three poems, one composed for Dr Stewart (Dr. Stiubhard, A’ Dol Do Leid), one commemorating a trip to St. Kilda, and one on the working of the Holy Spirit (Iomradh air Obair n Spioraid ann an Sluagh Dhé). Campbell quotes John Macinnes to the effect that MacDonald’s elegies, like many other spiritual poems and hymns of the time, were ‘a very effective party propaganda weapon’, or, as Campbell himself puts it, ‘a vehicle for the dissemination of evangelical doctrine’.

Campbell’s article contains a detailed examination of the poem Iomradh air Obair an Spioraid ann an Sluagh Dhé (pp. 189-217), which Macinnes MacInnes had described as ‘a metrical treatise on the work of the Holy Spirit in the souls of believing Christians’, praising it as ‘an excellent sermon’. Campbell describes ‘the main doctrinal emphasis of the poem’ as being ‘how the work of the Spirit may be recognized, in its fruit and in its manner’. The poem begins by looking back to the origins of sin, and considering how that has affected mankind, before confronting God’s grace and His willingness to save us: ‘A steach do ’n t-saoghal thàinig sinn— \ Fo bhinn a’ bhàis gu truagh! \ Do’n pheacadh nis is tràillean sinn, \ ’S do Shatan,’ thug oirnn buaidh! \ ’S na h-uile ’s an staid bhrònaich ud, \ Mar mhairbh gun deò ’s an uaigh; \ Gun chuideachadh, gun dòchas ac’, \ Ach ruisgt’ do dhòruinn buan. \\ Ach rùnaich Dia, o shìorraidheachd, \ An dìomhaireachd a ghràidh, \ Seadh, peacaich chaillt’, gu mìorbhuileach, \ Tre Chriosd, a thoirt gu slàint’: \ ’S mar choisinn Esan saorsa dhoibh; \ Tha Spiorad Naomh nan gràs \ A’ teachd a mach gu ’n naomhachadh, \ ’S cur riu na saors’ gu slàn’ (p. 190). MacDonald then describes how the Holy Spirit acts as a beacon, bringing those who are guided by it safely to salvation: ‘Bidh ’m Focal naomh ’n a lòchran dhoibh, \ Fo sheòladh ’n Spioraid cheudn’, \ Tre ’m bi iad air an treòrachadh \ Gu tìr na glòir’ gu réidh. \ Bu chianail, dorch, an turus dhoibh, \  —’S cha b’ turus e gu nèamh— \ Mur bitheadh ’n lòchran dealrach ud, \ ’Toirt soluis dhoibh ’n an ceum’ (p. 202).

MacDonald’s elegies have more to say about the lives and personalities of the poems’ subjects than do those of some of his contemporaries. Although MacDonald does expand into ‘evangelical doctrine’ during the course of his elegies, this is not to the exclusion of the subject. It should be noted, however, that MacDonald’s elegies tend to be much longer than those of other composers of marbhrannan soisgeulach. In Marbhrann air Mr. Eoin Robison (pp. 105-32), for example, which comprises 136 quatrains, the focus throughout the poem remains clearly on Robison himself. MacDonald mourns his death in the first few stanzas, but then recounts at greater length his conversion to God, his preaching skills and enthusiasm, and how he dealt with his own parishioners. The following passages are typical: ‘Ris a’ pheacach bhitheadh tu geur, \ A’ cur a chunnairt dha-s’, an céill; \ ’S a’ deanamh mach o leabhar Dhé, \ A chiont, is ’fheum air teasairgin’ (p. 117); ‘Ach b’ e do dhùrachd, air gach dòigh, \ Do chlannaibh Dhé, bhi toirt an lòin; \ Bhi toirt an sàth, do ’n aran bheò, \ A dh’ òrduicheadh le ’n athair dhoibh’ (p. 118). Towards the end of the elegy, MacDonald returns to the lot of Robison’s family and friends as they mourn their loss: ‘Tha cuid, gun teagamh, a bheir sùil, \ Le cridhe trom, is spiorad ciùirrt’, \ Gu minic air a’ mhìr do ’n ùir, \ Tha cùbhraidh dhoibh, o luidh thu ann’ (p. 129).

There are a number of recurring themes in MacDonald’s elegies, one such being the subject’s effectiveness as a preacher. In Marbhrann air Doctor Alastair Stiubhard (pp. 81-93), for example, he declares, ‘Bu tu an labhairteach ùrail, \ ’N tra sheasadh suas thu an Cùbaidh; \ Bhiodh smachd, is cudthrom, is cùram \ R’ a thuigsinn o d’ ghnùis anns an uair; \ An guth bu bhinn’, ach bu chiùin thu, \ An cainnt bha thu ealanta, mùirneach, \ ’S ’n ad theagasg simplidh is cùbhraidh, \ ’S a’ sileadh mar dhrùchd orra nuas’ (p. 91). In Marbhrann air Mr. Iain Ceanadaidh (pp. 245-67), we find ‘Air ’n t-soisgeul ’chuireadh an céill leat, \ Fhuair thu aithn’ is léirsinn ’n a ghlòir; \ ’S bu shoilleir dhoibh-san bhiodh ’g éisdeachd, \ Ga ’n d’ fhairich thu éifeachd do sgeòil’ (p. 254).

Another recurrent theme is the dire fate awaiting those who do not give themselves wholeheartedly to God. In Beatha a’ Chriosdaidh (pp. 151-54), for example, the poet exclaims, ‘Och, ’s mealladh mòr, ’s is cràiteach e, \ Th’ air àireamh measg an t-sluaigh, \ Le aideachadh gun ghràsaibh ac’, \ Dol ’n coinneamh bàis ’n an suain, \ Gun eagal orr’ roimh shìorruidheachd \ A dh’ iathas ump’ gu luath!— \ Bidh gul is gìosgan fhiacal ac’, \ A chaoidh mar dhìoladh duais!’ (p. 171). In Marbhrann air Doctor Alastair Stiubhard (pp. 81-93), he has sharp words for the Moderate ministers too: ‘Och is truagh iad thug an leum ud, \ A steach do fhion-lios ar Dé-ne; \ Gun ghairm a riamh uaithe féin ac’, \ ’S gun aithn’ air an sgeul tha ’d a’ luaidh; \ Seadh, tha gun aithn’ air an sgeul ud, \ ’N a glòir, ’s ’n a toradh ’s ’n a h-éifeachd, \ ’O cia mar bheathaichear treud leo, \ No bhitheas iad feumail do ’n t-sluagh!’ (p. 86).

The virtues of leading a Christian life and the rewards of Heaven hereafter appear in a number of MacDonald’s elegies. In Beatha a’ Chriosdaidh (pp. 151-86), for example, he expresses the conviction that, when he dies, ‘Sud thairis air gach buaireadh mi, \ Gach cunnart cuain is gaoith, \ Gach laigs’, is ciont, is truaillidheachd, \ Gach pian, is gruaim, is caoidh; \ Is sud a steach do’n lùchairt mi, \ ’S am faic mi gnùis an Righ; \ ’S ’n a chomunn iomlan, ùrail-san, \ Gu seinn mi ’chliù a chaoidh!’ (p. 175).

MacDonald makes much use of figurative language in his poems. In almost every elegy, he compares the deceased to a Star and the grief of his friends to a dark night. For example, in Marbhrann air Mr. Iain Ceanadaidh (pp. 245-67), he uses both images: ‘Seadh, toirt nan Reul uainn bu shoilleir’, \ A dhealraich ’n ar speuraibh ’s an oidhche’; \ A bha toirt iùil dhuinn air thalamh, \ Le solus bha glan, is gun fhoill. \\ Tharruing sud neul air ar n-iarmailt, \ Is cha ’n ioghnadh idir an leòin; \ Oir chuir sinn gruaim air an Tighearn, \ ’S cha d’ ìoc sinn dha ’n cliù mar bu chòir’ (p. 247). Later, Kennedy is depicted as a star in heaven: ‘Is cinnt’ gur dealrach an reul e, \ Ann an speuraibh na h-Eaglais shuas \ ’S an eaglais bhos bha co feumail, \ ’N a dhreuchd-san fad làithean a chuairt’ (p. 249). In Beatha a’ Chriosdaidh (pp. 151-54), we find an interesting image, in which the minister is likened to someone winnowing corn: ‘Cha b’ toigh leis riamh bhi fasganadh, \ Le gaoith bhiodh bràs, is dian; \ ’S le srannaibh àrd’, ’s a h-osagan, \ A chasadh ’n cruithneachd sìos. \ Bu mhò, gu mòr, bu shàbhailt’ leis, \ Bhi fàgail muill ’s an t-sìol; \ Na ’n sìol—gu ’n rachadh gràinnean dheth, \ Le moll, gu bràth a sìos’ (p. 160).

In Rainn a Rinneadh Leis an Ughdair air a Thurus do Eilean H-Iorta anns a’ Bhliadhna 1822 (pp. 135-50), MacDonald compares the people there to sheep without a shepherd and to a boat being tossed about by the ocean: ‘Tha iad mar chaoraich gun bhuachaill, \ A nochdas dhoibh cluaine no iùl; \ ’S do mhilleadh sìorruidh tha buailteach, \ Och, ’s cruachasach cianail an cùis! \\ No mar an luing th’ air a luasgadh \ Le garbh-thonnaibh cuain, ’s i gun stiùir; \ Gun fhios ciod an taobh gus an gluais i, \ No ’m buail i air creagaibh ’n a smùir!’ (p. 135). Of interest in this poem is the author’s choice of the forms (Eileanh-Iorta and na h-Iortaich (p. 142).

The prose sections in this text are eloquent and informative, and not overly descriptive. The following passage in Gearr Iomradh air an Urramach Tearlach Calder (pp. 1-8), is typical: ‘Bhuilicheadh comasan nàdurra air, mar dhuine, a bha os ceann mhòrain. Bu duine e a fhuair agus a choisinn àrd-fhoghlum: agus cha bu lugha a bha e urramach, àrd, ann an inbhe bheatha na diadhachd; dhealraich cumhachd agus maise nan gràs gu h-iongantach ’s an duine phrìseil so. B’ fhior, do rìreadh, uime-san, gu’n do thuit falluinn Eliah air Elisa’ (p. 2).
Orthography The orthography of this edition is typical of the mid-nineteenth century. MacDonald’s dialect is hardly apparent in the text.
Edition The Scottish Gaelic Union Catalogue identifies nine editions of this work, in addition to a number of separate publications of individual poems contained in it. The first two printings were issued by U. P. Ceanadaidh in 1848, the second of which has An dara mille added on the title-page, but is otherwise identical to the first. A further edition with minor corrections appeared in 1858; since it has An ceathramh mìle on the title-page, it looks as though a third edition – now unattested – must have appeared between 1848 and 1858. Another edition, incorporating some orthographic changes and labelled An cùigeamh mìle, appeared in 1868, and yet another (‘An séamh mìle’) in 1885. Subsequent editions seem to be reprints of the 1885 edition. An edition dated ‘[1846]’ in the NLS Catalogue bears the imprint ‘Alexander MacLaren and Sons’ in a modern type-face on the title-page, but the type-face of the rest is earlier. The basis for the date ‘1846’ is unclear. There are some differences from the 1848 edition, e.g. ‘Leith’ is spelled Lithid in the superscription and Lìd in the text on p. 64 (LEID and Léid in 1848, p. 77). It is possible that this edition represents the earliest collection of MacDonald’s poems.
Other Sources
Further Reading Kennedy, John, Apostle of the North: the Life and Labours of the Rev. John MacDonald … of Ferintosh (Inverness, 1932: [n. pub.]).
Campbell, Iain D., ‘Rev John MacDonald, Ferintosh (1779-1849)’, retrieved from
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