Rev. Patrick Macdonald of Kilmore – Sketch

Rev. Patrick Macdonald of Kilmore
Rev. Patrick Macdonald of Kilmore

The Rev. Patrick MacDonald of Kilmore is both my 5 and 6 x great grandfather depending on which tree of my 3 x great grandparents Angus MacDonell and Christina MacNab you follow. I found the biographical sketch of him below in The Celtic Monthly, vol.VI 1898. Page 135-136. It was interesting that there’s no mention of his first marriage to the Macintosh of Balnespick. The sketch includes the photograph above by his grandson, the late Kenneth Macleay, R.S.A., and was written by Dr Keith Norman Macdonald who wrote a number of sketches on my Macdonald/Macdonell ancestors: 

The first Collector of Gaelic Music.

THE REV. PATRICK MACDONALD, the first and one of the greatest collectors of Gaelic music, was born at the manse of Durness, in Sutherlandshire, on the 22nd April, 1729, and died at Kilmore, Argyllshire, on the 25th September, 1824, at the great age of 95. He was licensed as a preacher on the 12th October, 1756, and was presented to the parishes of Kilmore and Kilbride, where he officiated for the long period of 69 years. Tall of stature, with a commanding figure, light blue eyes, and remarkable ability, he was both highly respected and a striking figure in his district. He inherited a great taste for music from both his father and grandfather. His father, the Rev. Murdoch Macdonald, to whom Rob Donn Mackay composed an elegy, was a man of wonderful talents, and he taught his children the principles of music, besides encouraging them in the acquisition of the art.

Patrick, and his brother Joseph, who was the greater musical genius of the two, were at an early age pupils of Kenneth Sutherland of Cnockbreak, a well-known and famous violinist. Mr. John Glen of Edinburgh in his splendid collection of strathspey music — which should be in the hands of every Scotsman — gives a biographical sketch of all the noted strathspey players and composers, and amongst others gives full details of the career of the subject of the present sketch, and his talented brother Joseph, and their sister Flora, who afterwards married Dr. Touch, minister of St. Cuthbert’s Chapel of Ease. Regarding Patrick’s education, he was sent in 1737 to his grandfather’s at Pittenweem, in Fife, where he spent some time. On his return home his father took charge of his education, and in 1747 sent him to the University of Aberdeen where he completed his studies for the church, and was licensed, as already mentioned, in 1756.

His ministerial office appears to have deterred him from becoming a bagpipe player like his brother Joseph, but as a violinist he was unsurpassed in his day, and Mr. Glen relates an anecdote of him, that being in Edinburgh on one occasion as a member of the General Assembly of the Church, he was urged by Stabilini, who was indisposed, to act as his substitute for the evening. He agreed to do so, and it is said that he executed his part so well that his audience’ were charmed and delighted.

Some of his clerical brethren wished to take him to task for this performance in a play-house, but their courage must have failed them on account of his ability and the general esteem in which he was held.

He published his great collection of Gaelic music in 1784, most of which was left by his brother Joseph, who died in India. Had he not undertaken this important work, it is probable that Captain Fraser’s would never have been undertaken, consequently many of our ancient Highland melodies would have perished. In a very learned and well written preface to his work, which must have entailed very extensive reading and research, he gives a graphic account of our ancient music, and the influence of poetry and music upon the Highlanders, with a description of the harp and bagpipes, carrying back his remarks to the music of Orpheus and the Thracian bards. He classified the vocal airs into North Highland airs, Perthshire airs, Argyllshire airs, and Western Isles airs, and the strathspey music into North Highland and Western Isles reels. This division was very important, as by it we can now tell many of the airs that were peculiar to particular districts.

Like many others he lamented the decay of Scottish music among the better classes, and the mad rush after anything English or foreign, and even in his day predicted that in twenty years his native music would have been lost had he not undertaken the task of publishing his collection. No doubt it would have done so to a great extent, but the impulse he gave to the subject was not lost upon subsequent collectors, and his name is so far identified with our Gaelic music that all future collectors must acknowledge the debt of gratitude all Highlanders owe to him for having preserved much of what would inevitably have been lost for ever.

In 1757 he married Barbara, third daughter of Alexander Macdonald, 16th Chief of Keppoch, “the gallant Keppoch of 1745,” by whom he had a family of nine sons and four daughters. This Alexander (his father-in-law) drew first blood in the cause of Prince Charles by defeating and taking prisoner Lieutenant Scott, afterwards General Scott of Balcannie, who was proceeding from Fort-Augustus to Fort-William with two hundred men; thirty men of Keppoch’s only were present fighting in guerilla fashion, with pipes playing. Scott’s men were overcome. Keppoch took the Lieutenant’s horse with him to the Gathering of the Clans at Glentinnan, where the Prince’s standard was raised a few days after, presented it to the Prince, who rode that horse through his unfortunate campaign, though he often preferred to walk along with his devoted Highlanders. Keppoch was killed at the battle of Culloden on the 16th April, 1746. By this marriage the subject of our sketch became connected with one of the most distinguished families in the Highlands, who claim descent from Robert the Bruce, and by the marriage of his third daughter Flora to Dr. Kenneth Macleay of Oban, his descendants claim further connection with the distinguished families of the Stewarts of Appin and the Campbells of Lochnell, who trace their descent from John of Gaunt, the Duke of Lancaster, the Plantagenet and Norman lines. The photo- graph produced is from the fine portrait painted by his grandson, the late Kenneth Macleay, R.S.A., the eminent Scottish artist, who was married to a daughter of Sir James Campbell of Ardkinglass, and though he was upwards of ninety years of age when the picture was taken, wearing his Kilmarnock, which he always did wear, it indicates great tension of the muscles of the face, a sure sign of conspicuous ability. As an instance of the hereditary talent for special kinds of music, it may here be mentioned that his great-great-grand-daughter. Miss Deans of Edinburgh, is a splendid player of the bagpipes, which she loved from her infancy.

The original picture, from which this photograph was taken, is in the possession of his great-grand-daughter, Mrs. Deans of Edinburgh, who kindly lent it to me, and is the only one that was ever taken of the Rev. Patrick Macdonald.

The history of such an undoubted champion of Highland music — as far as it can now be ascertained — is well worth recording, as it shows forth the spirit of our forefathers.

Late of Gesto Hospital Skye, K. N. Macdonald, M.D.

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