Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna

Antiwar songs by Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna

onald MacDonald known as Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna (Red Donald of Coruna) (9 July 1887 Claddach Baleshare, North Uist, Scotland - 13 August 1967, Lochmaddy, Scotland) was a North Uist stonemason, a veteran of the First World War, and a legendary war poet in the Scottish Gaelic language.

He is best known for the song An Eala Bhán ("The White Swan") which he composed during the Battle of the Somme and addressed to Magaidh NicLeòid, his sweetheart at the time of the war. In recent years, it has been recorded by artists as diverse as Calum Kennedy, Donnie Munro, Capercaillie, and Julie Fowlis.

He was born on North Uist in 1887. His mother, Flòraidh Fhionnghuala Dòmhnall, worked as a domestic servant. His father Dòmhnall worked as a merchant seaman. When the poet was young, he was often told stories about the experiences of his maternal great-grandparents during the Napoleonic Wars. According to the family's oral tradition, the bard's great-grandmother, Mór Campbell of Skye, had given a last drink of water to Sir John Moore moments before his death at the Battle of Corunna in 1809.[1]

He briefly attended a district school at Carinish, but, due to the Education Acts, only English was taught in he schools. As a result, the bard would never learn to read or write in his native language. He began composing poetry at the age of 13. His mother was reportedly impressed with his abilities and made him promise never to use his poetry for personal attacks. This was a promise he always honored. This, and the introspection caused by his experiences in World War I, set him apart from other Scottish Gaelic poets.


According to Ronald Black,

"The years following the War were filled with emptiness, economically as well as personally. There was little living to be had in Uist other than from the poacher's gun. In 1922, however, he married Annie MacDonald (Anna Ruairidh 'ic Nèill, 1890-1970), and they had two children, Mary and Malcolm, both of whom died in 1965. Dòmhnall Ruadh had become a stonemason and went on to build more than thirty houses in different parts of Uist. Experiencing a degree of prosperity for the first time in his life after the Second World War, the Voice of the Trenches, as we may call him, became a prolific poet once more, but subsequently suffered a great deal from illness. He died at Lochmaddy on 13 August 1967. Fortunately, at the instigation of Fred MacAulay of the BBC, most of Dòmhnall Ruadh's poems and songs had been written down from his dictation shortly before his death by John Alick MacPherson, who was at that time a teacher at Paible. They were first published by Gairm Publications in 1969 in an all-Gaelic edition prepared by MacPherson, Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna. This edition contains 12 poems and songs from 1914-1920, 17 from 1920-1945, and 28 from 1945-1966, 57 items in all, although the later poems are, on average, much shorter than the earlier ones. It was followed in 1995 by an illustrated bilingual edition, again titled Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna, this time edited by MacAuley himself and published by Comann Eachdraidh Uibhist a-Tuath. Thanks to the excellent memory of poet's cousin, Maggie Boyd (Mrs. John MacQuarrie, who died in 1994), to whom Dòmhnall liked to sing each new composition as soon as it was made, the new edition contains 61 items along with extra fragments."