18th-Century Scottish Gaelic Literature

In the 18th century contact with other literatures brought new vigor to Scottish Gaelic writing. Probably the most significant poet of the century was Alexander Macdonald, whose Resurrection of the Ancient Scottish Tongue (1751) was the first book of secular poetry printed in Scotland. His masterpiece is The Birlinn of Clanranald (after 1751), a vivid description of a sea voyage from the Hebrides to Ireland. He also wrote nature and love poetry, drinking songs, and bitter satires. The poems of Duncan Macintyre, published in 1768, such as Praise of Ben Doran and The Misty Corrie, are emotional, finely detailed lyrics inspired by the scenery of Perthshire and Argyllshire. The greatest 18th-century writer of religious verse was Dugald Buchanan, whose "Day of Judgment" and "The Skull" employ impressively somber imagery.

The Scottish Gaelic Renaissance

Short stories first began to appear in a number of periodicals in the late 19th century. Particularly notable are the works in this genre by 20th-century writer Iain Crichton Smith. Much innovative poetry, still adhering to the old tradition of vivid nature imagery, is written by Smith and his contemporaries Sorley Maclean, George Campbell Hay, and Derick Thomson. Since 1760, when James Macpherson's Fragments of Antient Poetry (actually forgeries of Ossianic ballads) were published, interest in Gaelic culture has never died. It has, indeed, been encouraged by scholarly anthologies of early texts, such as Reliquiae Celticae (2 volumes, 1892-1894), by Alexander Cameron, and the Carmina Gadelica (6 volumes, 1928-1971), edited by Alexander Carmichael, and by the work of An Comunn Gaidhealach (The Gaelic League).

Lively interest in the Gaelic language and culture is also still maintained in Canada among descendants of Scottish Highland settlers in Nova Scotia. Notable among poets writing in Gaelic was John (The Bard) Maclean, whose bitterness at the lot of the exile is expressed in his "The Bard in Canada." Others were James MacGregor, who translated the Psalms into Gaelic; Duncan Blair, best known for a majestic poem on Niagara Falls; and Malcolm Gillis, whose poetry praises the landscape of Cape Breton.

Celtic Index


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