The Paisley Bard
Resource collated by Gillebride MacMillan
Paisley is closely linked to Gaelic culture through one of the most famous bards (poets) of the 20th century. Though Donald ‘Ruadh’ MacIntyre was born in South Uist, he lived for most of his life in Paisley and he raised his family in the town. He is also buried in Hawkhead Cemetery in Paisley. He became widely known as ‘Bàrd Phàislig’ or ‘The Paisley Bard’. Some of the most famous Gaelic songs – Òran na Cloiche (Song of the Stone) and Bùth Dhòmhnaill ’IcLeòid (Donald MacLeod’s Shop) were all composed in Paisley by The Paisley Bard.
Who was Donald MacIntyre, The Paisley Bard?
Donald was born in 1889 in Snishval, a small village in South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. His mother was able to only speak Gaelic but his father spoke both Gaelic and English. Because Donald spent a lot of time with his mother as a child, he had a particularly wide and varied vocabulary in Gaelic – more so than many of his contemporaries.
At the age of just 19, Donald represented his fellow islanders in court. The landowner of Uist, Lady Gordon Cathcart, decreed that people were not allowed to keep dogs for their crofting work. MacIntyre was chosen by his community to represent them in court – and he won. Telling of his experience of the ‘dog trial’ was the first time that he had composed poetry.
Donald MacIntyre undertook his military service in the Cameron Highlanders but he had left the army by the time of the 1st World War. However, he felt that it was his duty to fight so he re-enlisted in the army and fought in the 1st World War. Unlike many other Gaelic speaking poets who fought in the war, Donald MacIntyre did not compose poetry about his experiences in war.
The Great Depression
After WW1, there was a worldwide economic depression. Therefore, the early 1920s were a difficult time for many people, including Donald. After the war Donald was a stonemason in Uist, but he had to leave to try and find work. He worked in various places throughout Scotland but he eventually settled in Paisley, where he would spend the rest of his life. He married Mary MacLellan who was also from South Uist. They had a large family and Donald worked in the shipyards on the River Clyde.
Donald was a well known member of the community and he had strong political beliefs which he often used as subject matters in his poems and songs. In 1938, he won the Bard Crown at the National Mòd. This was for his poem ‘Aeolas agus am Balg / Aeolas and the Bellows’, an epic-poem telling the story of three mythological Gods blowing a storm over a house in Uist. This was used as an image to represent the fascist powers who were to fight against the allies in WW2. An adjudicator at the Mòd said that this was “the Gaelic poem of the century”.
Donald also composed other political songs such as ‘Òran na Cloiche’ (Song of the Stone) and ‘Òran nan Rocaidean’ (The Song of the Rockets). ‘Òran na Cloiche’ celebrates the 4 students who ‘liberated’ the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1950. This is one of the most popular Gaelic songs and it has recently been recorded by Mànran and Kathleen MacInnes.
In ‘Òran nan Rocaidean’, MacIntyre is campaigning against the military range that was being developed by the British Goverment in the Hebrides. He felt that it was a dangerous development for his Gaelic speaking community to at forefront of the Cold War and he composed a satirical song opposing this.
Donald MacIntyre also composed songs praising nature and community. One of his most celebrated songs tells the story of ‘Bùth Dhòmhnaill ’IcLeòid‘ (Donald MacLeod’s Shop) – a pub on Paisley Road West. He describes in great detail, and with humour, the pub and those who frequented it. It is a wonderful description of an old style Paisley pub from the 1950s. This song has been recorded by Dingwall Gaelic Choir. ‘Sporan Dhòmhnaill’ also tells of the struggles to provide for his family with money being scarce. This was recorded by celebrated Gaelic group, Dàimh.
Donald MacIntyre’s compositions were particularly celebrated for their wit, political and social commentary but also for bard’s expert use of Gaelic rhyming and allitaration poetic traditions. He was sometimes described as having vocabulary and poetic skills that were more like the renowned poets of the 18th century than his 20th cenury Gaelic poet contemporaries. He really was that good!
However, despite trying to get his poems printed in his lifetime he was not able to do this. In fact, due to his frustration at not getting his poems published he tried to burn his life’s work in the family home. Luckily, his daughter rescued his poems from the fire. Donald MacIntyre died in Paisley in 1964 and the collection of his poetry, Sporan Dhòmhnaill, was not published until 1968.
A man born in poverty in South Uist but had spent most of his life in Paisley is still regarded as one of the finest Gaelic poets. MacIntyre’s songs are still sung and recorded extensively and the legacy of ‘The Paisley Bard’ is now a permanent connection between Paisley and its Gaelic heritage.