Saturday, May 09, 2009

Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (c.1695 – 1770)

I was in Arisaig today, enjoying the wonderful views out to Eigg, Rhum, Skye and Canna. I also noticed a plaque on the wall of the ruined 16th century church, 'Cill Mha'ru'...

More detail on Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair is in an excellent article on Wikipedia. He was some man: poet, Jacobite officer, student of Greek and Roman literature, publisher of the first Gaelic/English dictionary, Gaelic tutor to Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Not bad for a man who never went to school but was taught at home by his father!

Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair's name also points up a problem. 'Mac' is the Gaelic for 'son of ', thus Alasdair's father was Maighstir Alasdair (in English, Rev. Alexander MacDonald). Alasdair was 100% MacDonald (first cousin to Flora MacDonald), but there was no convention of surnames in 18th century Arisaig. Had Alasdair given up hiding from the redcoats and instead taken a boat to North Carolina, the clerk writing out the passenger list would probably have abbreviated the name to 'Alasdair mac Mhaighstir' or even Alasdair MacMaster. Quite a challenge therefore for any descendants tracing their roots!

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