Donald Òg Macaulay of Brenish, Part II

Donald Òg, younger son of Dugald Macaulay of Brenish and himself tacksman of Brenish and Ardroil ca. 1740-1762, left, like many of the Macaulays, a lasting impression on the oral tradition of the area.  Among his characteristics were a taste for swordfighting, and a certain delight in the vastness of his herd:  evidently when his cattle were being driven over Ard Bhreinis, the tail end of the procession was still at Cas Bhraighe.

Rev William Matheson continues his account of Donald’s life in his history of the Macaulays:

When Donald was a young man, the parish of Uig was without a minister – a state of affairs that dated back to the Reformation.  In the circumstances it may be that the estate of marriage was not so well defined there as in places where religious ordinances were more accessible; and there would perhaps be a tendency for people to make their own arrangements, as in St Kilda, which has given its name to the type of marriage known as am posadh Hiortach.

At all events, Donald lived with a woman by whom he had a family, without having ever accepted the bonds of holy matrimony.  In the tradition that have come down to us she is referred to as “the unlawful wife” (a’bhean neodhligheach) and she held undisputed sway at Brenish for a considerable number of years at until Donald decided that he would be married according to the rite of the Church – perhaps because the Rev John Macleod had by now been inducted as minister of the parish.

It might be expected that he would marry the woman with whom he had lived for so long, but in fact he chose otherwise, and on the death of his first lawful wife he married again.  During all this time, however, he seems not to have ended his liaison with the “unlawful wife”.

Donald seems to have suffered, or caused, a lot of bother towards the end of his days.  He had children by all three wives, and during his latter years the half-brothers evidently dispute the succession, with the two remaining wives – lawful and unlawful – taking part.    We know that he quarrelled with the next minister, Rev Norman Morrison, and locked him out of his own church.  Donald’s his death, about 1762, occurred in the course of a boat journey from Brenish to Pennydonald with a load of corn.  The boatmen were late, Donald was in a temper, and he suffered a seizure:  on arriving at Pennydonald he was found to be dead, though still in his place.  Rev Matheson provides the following first verse of his elegy, which he reckoned refers to the deaths of George II (1760) and Kenneth, Lord of Fortrose (1761).

‘S luath a thainig an fhras oirnn
Rinn ar n’abhan aiseag o thim.
‘S tha gach linn a’dol seachad
Eadar taighearn an fhearainn ‘s an righ.

(See Part I.)