Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (Alexander MacDonald, c.1693-c.1770), was a teacher and soldier, a Jacobite who was out in the 1745 Rising and who was Gaelic tutor to Prince Charles Edward Stewart The long poem for which he is best known, ‘The Birlinn of Clanranald’, describes a working ship, a birlinn or galley, praising its parts and its crew of sixteen, and describing a voyage from South Uist in the Hebrides to Carrickfergus in Ireland, and the terrible storm encountered en route. As Alan Riach, whose new English version is published here for the first time along with the original Gaelic, points out, the poem can also be read as a commentary on the social and historical context and consequences of the failure of the ’45 and all that meant for Gaelic and Highland culture and society. It also has a striking relevance for our own time, as we witness thousands of displaced people making perilous journeys across water into whatever the future holds for them.
Kettillonia is proud and delighted to be publishing this work, which is a complementary volume to Alan Riach’s version of that other epic of 18th-century Gaelic poetry, ‘Praise of Ben Dorain’. Like that pamphlet, it contains new and remarkable illustrations by the acclaimed Scottish artist Sandy Moffat.
As well as being a poet, Alan Riach is Professor of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University.
‘In this translation, Alexander MacDonald’s epic song in homage to ocean, ship and sailors, sings with equally melodious eloquence in the guest language. One of the greatest poems in Gaelic lives again in this vibrant new guise that will bring many of us back to the original. Two for the price of one!’– Aonghas MacNeacail
‘This is a terrific rendering of the poem and very much for the 21st century… The words “the best yet” spring immediately to mind.’ – Ronald Black
‘Quite extraordinary, a triumph, and makes the thing live as no other version I have read. Full of weather, and sea, and vigour.’ – Andrew McNeillie