Gaelic Literature  of the Isle of Skye: an annotated  bibliography   


Traditional Prose: collections and collectors




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MACKAY, J. G.  (1848-1942)


J. G. MacKay was born in Lochalsh of a Sutherlandshire father and a Skye mother and spent several years as a businessman in Portree before removing to England.  He was an active figure in the Land Agitation movement, but is perhaps best remembered for his contributions to Gaelic literature.  He

translated many of the folktales collected by J. F. Campbell and edited More West Highland Tales (MacKay 1940; MacKay 1960).


There is some confusion as to his year of birth.  One obituary notice states that he was seventy-three years old when he died (An Gaidheal, 37:96).  This would make his year of birth to have been 1869, an unlikely date considering his involvement in the Land Agitation movement.  Dr. Donald John MacLeod gives his year of birth as 1848, a much more likely date (MacLeod 1980:107-108).


(Celtic Monthly, 1:145-146;  An Gaidheal, 37:96;  Thomson 1983:175)



‘Baillidh Throndarnais agus a’ Bhan-Bhuidseach’


i    Celtic Annual: Yearbook of the Dundee Highland Society,  (1912), 18-19.


ii   TGSI, 30 (1919-1922), 19-24.


Both versions are accounts of an incident in 16th Century Skye, when a heartless bailiff’s treatment of a poor widow was thwarted by trickery.  The second version is preceded by an English translation.


The Rev. Alexander MacGregor gives an English language version of this tale (Celtic Magazine, 5:426-429).  There is a short Gaelic version in the Portree High School Magazine (1937:31), where the widow’s name is given

as Nic Ruairidh.



I. C. MacAoidh.  ‘Torran nan Gillean: Sgeula Sgitheanach’.  Celtic Annual: Yearbook of the Dundee Highland Society, (1914), 55.


Tale of a bloody long-ago encounter at New Year between some MacLeods and the lads of Portree.  The MacLeods killed in the fight were buried at Goirtean na Creige (Viewfield), on a small hill which became known as

Torran nan Gillean.



[J. G. MacKay].  ‘Trod nam Ban mu ‘n Sgarbh’.  An Deò-Gréine, 12 (1916-1917), 54.


From J. F. Campbell’s MSS.  Tale about a dispute among a group of Eigg women over possession of a sgart.  While the dispute is in progress the bird flies off.  There is a parallel English translation.  This item is not ascribed to J. G. Mackay, but as he was responsible for the editing and translating of other material from J. F. Campbell’s MSS presented in An Deò-Gréine I think it likely that he was also responsible for this.


‘Trod nam Ban mu ‘n Sgarbh’ is similar in theme to a poem by Iain Dubh Mac Iain ‘Ic Ailein, ‘Trod nam Ban Eigeach’.  See entry for Iain Dubh in the section for poetry and song of known authorship.



J. G. MacKay.  An Uair a Bha Gàidhlig aig na h-Eòin’.  An Deò-Gréine, 15 (1919-1920), 11.


Tale of two tipsy travellers on their way home from Portree, one of whom is convinced that he can hear the birds speaking.  The Rev. Tormod Domhnallach has also written of this belief that birds have Gaelic: see ‘Eòin Shealbhach agus Mhi-Shealbhach ann an Saobh-Chrabhadh nan Gaidheal’ in the Tormod Domhnallach Collection. (1).  See also Vol. 4 of Carmina Gadelica (Watson 1941: 20-21), and Kenneth MacLeod’s ‘Là is Bliadhna leis na h-Eòin’  (MacLeod 1988: 38-49).



‘An Dà Mharsanta’


i     An Deò-Gréine, 15 (1919-1920), 135-137, 148-150.


ii    More West Highland Tales.  Vol. 2.  John G. MacKay.  Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1960, pp. 316-323.


Tale of lovers parted by the girl’s father and the young man’s adventures in foreign lands before he returns and at last wins his bride.  From the MSS of J. F. Campbell of Islay.  The tale had been told by Joanna MacCrimmon, a native of Skye, who had learnt it from her grand-uncle Angus MacCrimmon about 1835.


The first version has more extensive annotation than the second.  Both versions have parallel English translations.



J. G. MacKay.  ‘Social Life in Skye from Legend and Story’.  TGSI, 29 (1914-1919), 260-290, 335-350; 30 (1919-1922), 1-26, 128-174.


This account is written in English, but includes several items in Gaelic.  See in this bibliography’s section for poetry and song of known authorship details of poems attributed to Domhnall Gorm Mór and a verse attributed to Domhnall Mór  MacCruimein.  In the section for anonymous poetry and song see: ‘Tàladh  MhicLeòid’ and ‘Iain Dubh mac Ni ‘n Ailein’.  The prose tale ‘Baillidh Throndarnais agus a’ Bhan-Bhuidseach’ is noted here.  There are several epigrammatic items which I have not listed separately.



J. G. MacKay.  ‘Gruagach an Eilein Uaine’.  Scottish Gaelic Studies, 1 (1926), 156-187.


From the MSS of J. F. Campbell of Islay.  Noted by Alexander Carmichael in 1861 from the recitation of Domhnall MacCuithein of Fernilea in Skye, who had learnt it as a boy from Donald MacPhee, a miller of Talisker and Waternish.


The King of Greece and his son, when on a voyage, discover by chance an enchanted Green Isle.  The prince falls in love with a beautiful girl who lives there, and his attempts to win her involve him in a series of voyages.  One of these takes him to Eilean na h-Oige, the Isle of Youth.  He loses the girl in the end, but falls in love with and marries an even more beautiful girl. 


There is a parallel English translation, with notes and a summary of the tale.  In his notes J. G. MacKay writes that the theme of a journey to the Celtic Otherworld is embodied in several ancient Gaelic MS tales, but that this is the only orally preserved Scottish Gaelic tale known to him in which such a journey is the main theme.  For a discussion of the ancient Gaelic voyage-tales to which J. G. MacKay refers, see Myles Dillon’s Early Irish Literature (Dillon 1948: 101-131).



‘An Tuairisgeal’


i     An Gaidheal, 4 (1875), 303-310.


ii    TGSI, 34 (1927-1928), 1-112.


A tale noted from the recitation of Angus MacKay of Galmasdale in Eigg, originally contributed to An Gaidheal by Donald C. MacPherson under the pen name ‘Abrach’.  Re-presented in TGSI by J. G. MacKay with an introduction (pp. 1-13) which includes lists and descriptions of the several Scottish and Irish versions of the tale, as well as related tales.  There follows the text of the tale with an English translation and footnotes (pp. 14-51).  Finally, the various versions of the tale are discussed in detail with particular attention being paid to the Eigg version (pp. 52-112).


The Tuairisgeal is a fierce sea giant.  The King of Erin’s son is put under geasa to find out how the Tuairisgeal Mór met his death.  This results in his embarking on a series of hazardous journeys.  All ends happily with the hero marrying the beautiful girl whom he met on his travels. 


J. G. MacKay, whose edition of the text differs in some regards from that in An Gaidheal, comments upon the excellent Gaelic idiom of the Eigg version (p. 1).  In his concluding notes he remarks that the were-wolf which is a feature of the tale does not, as far as he is aware, occur in any Highland tale other than the five Scottish versions of the ‘Tuairisgeal’.  Two of these tales, from Uist, are in the first volume of More West Highland Tales (MacKay 1940: 2-47).













Single items




An Cabairneach


Tormod Domhnallach I

Tormod Domhnallach II

Anna Ghreum

Gilleasbuig Aotrom

Iain MacAonghais

Aonghas Mac a’ Phi

Domhnall MacCuithein

J. G. MacKay

Hugh MacKinnon

Calum I. MacLean

Kenneth MacLeod

Niall MacLeòid

Alasdair MacNeacail

Eoghainn MacRath

Somhairle Thorburn




A-C,  An Cabairneach,

D-M,  N-Z,

Eilidh Watt


Journalism and


A-MacF,   MacG-Z













Poetry: homepage      


    Bibliography: homepage


© A Loughran, 2016