Location and Destination in Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair’s ‘The Birlinn of Clanranald’

  • Alan Riach
Part of the Geocriticism and Spatial Literary Studies book series (GSLS)


Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair’s poem ‘The Birlinn of Clanranald’ is a classic of Gaelic literature, written probably in the 1750s, giving a detailed account of a sea voyage from the west coast of Scotland to Ireland. Its ‘place’ in history and its geographical trajectory seem to be clearly identifiable. Yet for all its literal detail and verisimilitude, the poem insists that we consider its meaning in metaphorical terms and that the ‘space’ it occupies cannot be defined by its history of publication, its readership or its language, but in its intimation of human potential in the face of inimical forces, natural and human. ‘Space’ and ‘place’ in this work are fiercely contested.

Works Cited and Further Reading

  1. Black, Ronald. ‘Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair and the New Gaelic Poetry’. The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature Volume Two: Enlightenment, Britain and Empire (1707–1918). Ed. Ian Brown, Thomas Owen Clancy, Murray Pittock, and Susan Manning (Period ed.). Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007. 110–24.Google Scholar
  2. ———. The Campbells of the Ark: Men of Argyll in 1745 Volume One: The Inner Circle. Edinburgh: John Donald, 2017; The Campbells of the Ark: Men of Argyll in 1745 Volume Two: The Outer Circle. Edinburgh: John Donald, 2017.Google Scholar
  3. Dressler, Camille, and D. W. Stiubhart, eds. Alexander MacDonald: Bard of the Gaelic Enlightenment/Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair, Bard an t-Soillearachaidh Ghaidhealaich. South Lochs, The Isle of Lewis: The Islands Book Trust, 2012. See especially Murray Pittock ‘Jacobite Society and Culture in the Age of Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair’ (56–62), Meg Bateman, ‘The Bard and the Birlinn’ (74–84), and Gavin Parsons, ‘The Birlinn and the Bard’ (85–89).Google Scholar
  4. Lowell, Robert. Imitations. London: Faber and Faber, 1971.Google Scholar
  5. MacLachlan, Christopher, ed. Crossing the Highland Line: Cross-Currents in Eighteenth-Century Scottish Writing. Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2009. See especially Ronald Black, ‘Sharing the Honour: Mac Mhgr Alastair and the Lowlands’ (45–56), and Christopher MacLachlan, ‘Literary Edinburgh in the Time of Alexander MacDonald’ (57–66).Google Scholar
  6. Nicolson, Adam. Seamanship: The Story of the Sea, a Man and a Ship. London: HarperCollins, 2004.Google Scholar
  7. Strohe, Silke. Uneasy Subjects: Postcolonialism and Scottish Gaelic Poetry. Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi, 2011.Google Scholar

English-Language Versions of ‘The Birlinn of Clanranald’

  1. Barr, Gordon. Full Text, available online at…/gbarramcma/gordon%20ama%20part%202.pdf. Accessed 26 February 2015.
  2. Black, Ronald. (b.1946). Extracts, in An Lasair: Anthology of 18th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse. Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2001.Google Scholar
  3. Blackie, J. S. (1809–1895). Extracts, in The Language and Literature of the Scottish Highlands. Edinburgh: Edmonston and Douglas, 1876.Google Scholar
  4. Crichton Smith, Iain. (1928–1998). Extract, ‘The Storm’ (1977), from New Collected Poems. Manchester: Carcanet, 2011.Google Scholar
  5. MacDiarmid, Hugh. (1892–1978). Full Text, Made with the help of Sorley MacLean, The Birlinn of Clanranald. St Andrews: The Abbey Bookshop, 1935; reprinted in The Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry. London: Macmillan, 1941.Google Scholar
  6. MacDonald, A., Minister of Killearnan, and Rev. A. MacDonald, Minister of Kiltarlity: Full Text, in The Poems of Alexander MacDonald (Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair). Ed. with trans., Glossary and Notes (Inverness: Northern Counties Newspaper and Printing and Publishing Company, 1924).Google Scholar
  7. Nicolson, Alexander. (1827–1893). Full Text, in Echoes of the Sea: Scotland & the Sea—An Anthology. Ed. Brian D. Osborne and Ronald Armstrong. Edinburgh: Canongate, 1998.Google Scholar
  8. Pattison, Thomas. (1828–1865). Full Text, in The Gaelic Bards. Glasgow: Archibald Sinclair, 1890.Google Scholar
  9. Riach, Alan. (b.1957). The Birlinn of Clanranald: The Original Gaelic Poem by Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (Alexander MacDonald) with a New English Version. Newtyle, Angus: Kettillonia, 2015.Google Scholar
  10. Thomson, Derick (1921–2012). Extracts, in An Introduction to Gaelic Poetry London: Victor Gollancz, 1974.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Alan Riach
    • 1
  1. 1.University of GlasgowGlasgowScotland, UK

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