'S truagh a righ! mo nighean donn

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X:1 % T:'S truagh a righ! Mo nighean donn T:Alas o King! my brown haired maid Q:"Slow and Solemn" M:3/4 L:1/8 R:Air N:"Words by Donald Donn" B:MacDonald - The Gesto Collection of Highland Music (1895, p. 5) Z:AK/Fiddler's Companion K:G DE G3G|BA G2G2|(3GdB d2e|d2GG z2| dd B2d2|(ed) (dB) A2|BA (3BAG DE|G2 (B/A/)G G2||



'S TRUAGH A RIGH! MO NIGHEAN DONN (Alas O King! My brown-haired Maid). Scottish, Slow Air (3/4 time). G Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). One part. According to one source, this song was supposedly written by the Gaelic bard and adventurer Domhnall Donn (Brown Donald) for an illegitimate daughter, who paid him a visit while he was awaiting execution in 1691. In the song he dreams of a return to an idyllic life on the island of Mull.

Keith Norman MacDonald published the tune and words in his Gesto Collection of Highland Music (1895, p. 5), and attributed the song to Donald Donn. However, he had much more to say about the author in his Ossian Collection: Macdonald bards from mediaeval times (1900, pp. 22-23), reproduced here:

DOMHNULL DONN (BROWN DONALD). Donald MacDonald, poet and politician, commonly called " Donald Donn," was of the house of Bohnntin and Aberarder, a branch of the MacDonalds of Keppoch, the second son of John MacDonald, fourth of Bohnntin, and uncle to Gilleasbuig of Keppoch. His mother Avas a daughter of Cameron of Glenmailie. Donald was not on friendly terms with his chief. Coll of Keppoch, or " Iain Lom," whose son, as already mentioned, he had killed in a duel. Like many of his countrymen he was a " creachadair," or raider, his exploits in which direction history fails to record. There is, in fact, not very much known about him. It seems that he was in love with a daughter of the chief of the Grants, whose seat was at Glenurquhart, but the Grants would not hear of the match on account of his poverty, though of high lineage. The poet and his lady-love having planned an elopement, Donald to be at hand hid himself in a cave on the north side of Lochness, near " Reilig Ghorraidh." Here he was to remain until Miss Grant was able to join him, but Donald's secret and retreat were betrayed to the brother of his love, and he was decoyed into a house in the neighbourhood of the castle, by a pretended message from Miss Grant. Donald, thrown off his guard by the kindness and hospitality of the lady's pretended confidant, was prevailed on, not only to drink freely, but also to sleep in the barn. No sooner was he asleep than his sword and target were removed by his treacherous host, hence, when his foes came upon him in the morning, he had no weapon but his gun, which missed fire, so that he was literally unarmed, on which he composed " Mile mallachd gu bràth air a' ghunna mar arm," &c. Donald expected that his clan would interfere and pay his eirig fine, but the bad terms he was on with his chief, and Iain Lom, prevented that. The night before his execution while in prison, he composed the beautiful song : —

'S truagh a Righ ! Mo nighean Donn,
Nach robh mi thall 'am Muile leat.
Far am faighinn iasg is sithionn fheidh,
'S cha bhiodh, a chiall, oirnn uireasaibh.

According to tradition Donald's sister was present at his execution, and the head articulated, after being struck oft", the words, " A Cheit tog an ceann," " Kate, take up the head." So far as I am aware only a few of his other songs have been preserved. DonaldDonn was a handsome man, a brave warrior, a good poet, and an excellent harper. He was executed in 1691. His allusion to Mull in " 'S truagh a Righ," etc., was probably on account of his having planned his elopement for that locality; he would be safer on an island than on the mainland. MacLean Sinclair says that he had a son by a girl in Sutherlandshire — "An nighean donn a bha 'n Cataobh " — and a daughter by another girl, and that the latter paid him a visit while in prison, and that it was to her he addressed the poem, "'S truagh, a righ ! mo nighean donn." I prefer, however, holding by the Grant romance as being more likely.


Additional notes

Source for notated version: -

Printed sources : - Keith Norman MacDonald (The Gesto Collection of Highland Music), 1895; p. 5. Neil (The Scots Fiddle), 1991; No. 149, p. 192.

Recorded sources: -



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