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Scots Who Made A Difference

Signs all over the British Isles in the 1990's advertise that building construction is being undertaken by the MacAlpine Company. It was founded by Robert in 1869. Known as "Concrete Bob," MacAlpine made his fortune and his fame when he built the concrete bridge at Mallaig for the West Highland Railway and the Glenfinnan and Borrowdale viaducts, the latter with its unprecedented 127 1/2ft. arch. Bob used innovative construction methods to save money and also when it was found that the local stone was unsuitable for his bridges and viaducts. His family-business was carried on by his sons who built the world famous Wembley Stadium in London in the 1920's and who have become one of Britain's best-known public contractors.

MACAULAY, DONHALD (Domhnall macAmhlaigh) (b. 1930)
Donald MacAulay's collection of Gaelic poetry, Seathrach as a' Chlaich (Primrose from the Stone) appeared in 1967, though he had been publishing Gaelic poetry since 1956. In 1976, he published a bilingual anthology of the new Gaelic verse Nua-Bhardachd Ghaidhlig. MacAulay was born in the island community of Berrnera, Lewis and many of his themes are connected with the language, history and life of the area. Some of his poems, however, reflect a short period of military service in Turkey, a country with a many-layered social structure that gave him the means to look back at his own sheltered society on Lewis. He has also written poems about the seemingly insoluble dilemma in Northern Ireland and a series of elegies for persons or places.

McCaig, Norman (b. 1910)
A poet passionately involved with his native Scotland, especially the Highland landscape, is Edinburgh-born Norman McCaig. His later work has the intellectual discipline and form of control that makes it comparable too much of the poetry of John Donne, the 17th century English Metaphysical poet. Such poems are found in Riding Lights (1955); The Sinai Sort (1957); A Common Grace (1968) as well as other works culminating in Selected Poems (1971). All of McCaig's mature poetry deals with the various ways in which we perceive the world; he especially explores the relation between observer and observed. His beloved mountains and lochs often serve as a starting point for his poems.

MACCUNN, HAMISH (1868-1916)
From Greenock, Hamish MacCunn won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music at age 15, where his studies of composition led to his many overtures with Scottish themes. These include Cior Mhor (1885), Land of the Mountain and the Flood (1887), Ship o' the Fiend (1888) and The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow (1888). He also built a reputation as a writer of Scottish cantatas and ballads, including The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1888), Bonny Kilmeny (1888) and The Cameronian's Dream (1890). In 1894, his Jeannie Deans, marked the first opera by a Scotsman on a Scottish subject to be premiered in Edinburgh. MacCunn's career also included a musical directorship of the Carl Rosa Company, the Moody Manners Company and several London theatre companies.

MacCunn's non-Scottish themed works include the opera The Golden Girl (1905) and the ballad The Wreck of the Hesperus (1905). He also wrote more than 100 songs, many to settings of Scottish poets as well as four ballads for chorus and orchestra that were influenced by his strong Scottish nationalism.

MACDIARMID, HUGH (1892-1978)
A leader of the Scottish renaissance of the first half of this century was Hugh MacDiarmid, the pseudonym of Christopher Murray Brieve, born in Langholm, Dumfries. Referred to in Baugh's A Literary History of England merely as "the Scots communist," MacDiarmid was professor of literature at the Royal Scottish Academy (1974) and President of the Poetry Society (1976). He is considered as the pre-eminent Scottish poet of his time.

In 1922, after he had edited threes issues of the first post World War l Scottish verse anthology, Northern Numbers, MacDiarmid advocated a Scottish literary revival. In the monthly Scottish Chapbook, which he founded in 1922, he published the lyrics of "Hugh MacDiarmid," in which he looked at the foibles of modern society in verse written in what can be termed "synthetic Scots." This was a fascinating amalgam of various middle Scots dialects, folk ballads and other literary sources.

Increasingly influenced by Marxist philosophy, becoming popular in many of Britain's intellectual circles at the time, MacDiarmid also speculated in the realm of metaphysics. Having difficulties in choosing a language in which to express his ideas, he moved back and forth between what has been termed his "Scotticized English" and Standard English. Much of his poetry consists of an investigation of his own personality; much explores the mysteries of space and time. His works have been collected in Collected Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid (1962; rev. 1967); The Hugh MacDiarmid Anthology (1972) and Selected Essays of Hugh MacDiarmid (1969). His autobiographies are Lucky Poet (1943 and 1972) and The Company I've Kept (1966).

The long oral tradition of Gaelic poetry in Scotland was coming to an end in the 18th century. A political and social watershed was the 1745 rebellion, however, something of a resurgence took place when Alexander MacDonald (Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair) published the first book of Scottish Gaelic secular poetry in 1751, Resurrection of the Ancient Scottish Tongue. This closely followed his Gaelic vocabulary in 1741 for the Society for Propagating Christian Knowledge. MacDonald had been employed as a teacher by the SPCK, which had done much in Wales to keep alive the Celtic tongue in its charity schools but seemed hesitant to do the same for Scottish Gaelic, perhaps for political reasons.

The Society invited MacDonald to compile his Gaelic vocabulary, the first in the language. Enlisting in the Jacobite cause (he was a cousin to Flora MacDonald and is thought to have taken part on the Highlanders march to Derby), he is reputed to have taught Gaelic to Prince Charles Edward. For their so-called treasonous content, copies of his book of poems were ordered by the government to be burned in Edinburgh by the public hangman (a move that was surely guaranteed to ensure a reading public). MacDonald's masterful poems qualify him as the greatest Gaelic poet including Birlinn Chlann Raghnaill (The Galley of Clanranald), a song of praise for a symbol of hardihood and courage; and a song to a river (Allt an t-siucair). One of his poems is a not so delicate but clever satire about the outburst of "the clap" (a venereal disease) in a Scottish town.

While training as a soldier in the US Army at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the author was astonished to find a beautifully restored and maintained house in the town of Fayetteville. It was known as the house of Flora MacDonald. One of the most well known loyalists in the great Jacobite cause, Flora MacDonald had helped Prince Charles Edward (disguised as maid Betty Burke) escape in 1746 following the disaster that was Culloden. Flora was later captured by fellow-Scot Captain John Fergusson "The Scourge of the Highlands," and imprisoned on a British ship but paroled from the Tower of London. She became something of a celebrity, her company being eagerly sought by London's leading citizens and literary men, no doubt all agog at her tales of the Bonnie Prince and their escape "over the hills to Skye."

In 1774 the Scottish heroine emigrated with her husband Allen MacDonald and their seven children to North Carolina. As ardent loyalists, they were not alone in the American south. Between 1764 and 1776, during the hard years of famine and recriminations following Culloden, more than 23, 000 Highlanders had emigrated to the American colonies. They tended to settle with their fellow Scots and retained the ancient ways of clan life (it is reported that even their Negro slaves learned the Gaelic tongue).

Perhaps it was suspicion of the local authorities and new ruling classes that made the MacDonald's loyalists, despite the repercussions after Culloden. In any case, they joined a large group of fellow Scots at Cross Creek (now called Fayetteville). When the royal governor of North Carolina called for volunteers to fight for King George III against the rebel Americans, he found a ready source among these Highland expatriates.

Allen MacDonald raised the Royal Highland Emigrants Regiment. His troops were decimated by gunfire before they could charge in an ill-advised engagement at Moore's Creek that was so eerily reminiscent of Culloden. Following their defeat, the clan's property was confiscated, the family consequently left for British-held New York City and later Nova Scotia. Flora eventually returned to her beloved Isle of Skye, where she died in 1790. The story of this fabled patriot is found in Alexander MacGregor's Life of Flora MacDonald (1882, reprinted many times).

Though George MacDonald was a novelist, chronicling Scottish life in Christian allegories, he is best remembered as a writer of fairy stories. A Congregational minister, then a free-lance preacher and lecturer, MacDonald's books for adults include Phantasies: A Fairie Romance for Men and Women (1858) and Lilith (1895); for children, his fairy allegories include The Princess and the Goblin (1872) and a sequel The Princess and Curdie (1873).

"Fighting Mac" as he became known after the Second Afghan War when his daring and resourcefulness as a private in the Gordon Highlanders got him promoted from the ranks to that of lieutenant, Hector MacDonald won an rarer distinction by being eventually promoted to major general. Following his successful command of the Gordons in the First Boer War, MacDonald then served in Egypt and the Sudan, helping Kitchener take control of that country and further distinguishing himself at the crucial Battle of Omdurman (1898). The Scots soldier, rapidly becoming a national hero in Britain, later commanded the Highland Brigade in the so-called Second Boer War in South Africa (1899-1902) defeating the Boers in a series of battles.

Alas for the Victorian sensibilities, Fighting Mac, from Urhuhart, Moray was accused of what may have been homosexual practices while serving in Ceylon and committed suicide rather than face military disgrace.

Soldier, engineer and explorer, James MacDonald earned his reputation as all three. From Aberdeen, he served as an engineer in the British army before arriving in Africa as chief engineer for the projected railroad from the coast to Lake Victoria. While completing his assignment, he carried out a geographical exploration of the British East Africa territories now known as Kenya and Uganda. After further service in India, MacDonald was recalled to Africa to take part in Kitchener's Second Sudan Campaign. In 1899 he completed his mapping of the territory between Lake Victoria and Fashoda.

When Great Britain's newly formed Labour Party first took office in 1924 its leader was Ramsay MacDonald, from Lossiemouth, Moray. He gained respectability for his party through his policies of moderate socialism and his respect for long-loved British constitutional traditions in the face of militant calls for radical change.

MacDonald was working in Bristol, in the southwest of England, when he became aware of the Socialist Democratic Federation as early as 1885. A year later he went to live in London, where he joined the new and exciting Fabian Society that was attracting many of Britain's brightest literary men and women. He joined the newly created Independent Labour Party in 1894 but was unsuccessful in his bid for a seat in Parliament.

The future Prime Minister than turned his attention to working with the trade unions to form a new party. In 1900 he became the first secretary of the Labour Representative Committee, later the Labour Party, and with the decline of the Liberal Party, the major parliamentary alternative to the Conservatives. By 1911, MacDonald had succeeded fellow Scot Keir Hardy as his party's leader. Because of his initial and unpopular opposition to the Great War, he was forced to resign at Parliament (his place being taken by Arthur Henderson) not returning until 1922.

On January 22, 1924, Ramsay MacDonald, who had left school at the age of 12, became Prime Minister of Great Britain when the Conservatives were outnumbered by a combination of Labour and Liberal members. One of his first acts was to recognize the Soviet Union. He then worked with the League of Nations to approve the Geneva Protocol for security and disarmament. In a move still having its sad repercussions today, his government then agreed to cancel the debt owed by the Irish Free State in exchange for its abandoning its claim to the six northern counties.

After a five-year period of government by the Conservatives, MacDonald returned as Labour Prime Minister in 1929, during which he engineered the Anglo-US naval limitation treaty of 1930 and helped organize the World Disarmament Conference at Geneva. Economic difficulties at home, however, forced his resignation as head of the Labour Party, and his attempts to continue to govern as head of a coalition led to failure and replacement by the up-an-coming Stanley Baldwin.

Two definitive volumes detail the life of the stalwart Scot Ramsay MacDonald, who died while on a voyage to South America: Life of James Ramsay MacDonald (1939) by Lord Elton; and The Tragedy of Ramsay MacDonald by L. MacNeill Weir (1938).

MACDONALD, JOHN (1624-1710)
Contemporary of Mary MacLeod and thus one of the last of the poets writing in classical Gaelic, John MacDonald, Gaelic name Iain Lom, was a relative of the chiefs of the MacDonalds of Kepoch. He praised the MacDonalds in poetry that has been seen as utilizing a fine economy of language with a terseness of style that was soon to disappear in the excesses of 18th century Gaelic poetry. His use of the vernacular was particularly effective in his poetic account of the battle of Inverlochy in 1645, in which he attacked the Campbell clan for their perfidy in the murder of the young chief of the MacDonalds.

MacDonald's poetry provides a record of an important period in the history of the Highlands as well as of Scotland in general. A staunch defender of the Stewarts, he was personally involved with many of the leading Royalists of his time. Upon the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II, he was appointed the King's poet laureate in Scotland. He also composed poetry for the accession of William and Mary. As for the union of Scotland and England in 1707, MacDonald was furious, bitterly denouncing the Scottish nobility's greed for gold in their degrading acquiescence to English mercantile interests.

Just what would Canada's history have been without its Scots immigrants is difficult to judge. Had the Irish immigrants been a majority, perhaps it may have become part of the United States. But the Scots were loyal to Great Britain and none more so than John MacDonald who led his adopted country through its early growth into a great, independent nation.

While still a young lad, MacDonald left his native Glasgow for Kingston, (now in Ontario) where he studied to become a lawyer. In 1840, the Act of Union united the provinces of Upper and Lower Canada to be called Canada West (now Ontario) and Canada East (now Quebec). Three years later, MacDonald took his seat as a Member of the Province of Canada. His hard-nosed, (some say devious and unscrupulous) tactics led to his rapid rise in the political life of the new nation.

From 1848 to 1854, the wily politician worked ceaselessly to promote the British America League, created to unify Canada and strengthen its ties to the mother country. In 1857 he became Prime Minister for the Province of Canada, working to further the scheme of confederation of British North America. His work bore fruit with the British North America Act of 1867 that created the Dominion of Canada, with MacDonald as its first Prime Minister (1867-73; 1878-9l). Under his leadership, the country expanded to include the provinces of Manitoba (1870), British Columbia (1871) and Prince Edward Island (1873). He is also remembered as a staunch upholder of Canadian unity.

What schoolboy has not thrilled to the adventures of the Highland outlaw and patriot Robert MacGregor from Buchanan, Stirling, who called himself Rob Roy (Red Rob) and whose exploits, a wee bit exaggerated by Sir Walter Scott, have made his name famous wherever chivalry, loyalty and bravery are cherished.

Not too much is known of the Scottish hero, except that his father served the deposed King James II after the fiasco of 1688 that brought Dutch King William to the British throne. Roy himself may have been engaged in cattle rustling, a time-honored Highland pastime (and way of survival). In 1693, the infamous penal laws against the MacGregors were re-introduced, so our hero took the name of Campbell and played off the rival families of Argyll and Montrose against each other, situated as they were on either side of his own lands.

In debt, it seems that MacGregor then took to a career as brigand and highwayman in order to survive. He worked both sides in the Jacobite Rebellion, taking advantage when and whenever he could of the lawless conditions, ripe for plunder, mainly at the expense of the powerful and wealthy Montrose clan. His stealing, however, got him into Newgate Prison in London. He was released in 1727 just before being due to be sentenced to penal servitude in the Barbados. Sir Walter Scott's novel Rob Roy certainly painted a romantic picture of the less than noble Scot, a picture embellished by British and Hollywood movies which portrayed Rob as a fighter for his country against the hated English invader.

M, continued


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