Alexander MacDonald, who in his own language was called "Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair", lived from 1700 to 1780. Known as the "Clanranald Bard" he served as an officer during the 1745 Jacobite uprising and was a renowned Gaelic poet. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair was the son of Rev Alexander MacDonald, the Church of Scotland minister whose parish included the south end of Loch Shiel in Moidart and Finnan's Isle on the Loch. The family lived at Dalelia, on the north shore of the loch three miles east of Acharacle. Alasdair was educated at home by his father before studying at the University of Glasgow.
In 1729, Alasdair was employed as a teacher by the Scottish Society for the Propagation of Christian Knowledge, working in a number of their schools including Kilchoan. The SSPCK founded schools "where religion and virtue might be taught to young and old". They had a strongly Protestant ethos and, initially at least, avoided using the Gaelic language. In areas where most people only spoke Gaelic this caused problems, but it was not until 1741 that the SSPCK began officially to teach in both Gaelic and English, using a 200 page Gaelic/English dictionary written by Alasdair. In July 1745 Alasdair was dismissed from his post with the SSPCK, though whether because he had published Gaelic poetry or because he had not actually been teaching since some time in 1744 is unclear. He seems to have been spending his time writing poetry, most of it in Gaelic and much of it strongly pro-Jacobite.
In August, Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair was among the first of those who rallied to the standard of Bonnie Prince Charlie at Glenfinnan. He was made a captain in the Clan Ranald Regiment in command of men he had personally recruited in Ardnamurchan, and also became Prince Charles' Gaelic tutor. Alasdair served with the Jacobite army throughout the campaign that followed and was present at the Jacobite defeat at Culloden on 16 April 1746. He then spent a period in hiding with his wife and children before re-emerging after the 1747 Act of Indemnity. In 1749 he became the Baillie or magistrate of the island of Canna. In 1751 he went to Edinburgh to publish his poems, under the title Ais-Eiridh na Sean Chánoin Albannaich, which translates as The Resurrection of the Ancient Scottish Language. At about the same time he published a poem called An Airce, or The Ark which was so inflammatory and anti-Campbell that unsold copies were burned. Alasdair, fearing prosecution, fled to the Highlands, living in Glenuig, Inverie, Morar and Arisaig amongst other places.
Alasdair spent his final years at Arisaig, travelling widely to meet other Gaelic bards. He died at Arisaig in 1780 and was buried there. He is remembered as amongst the foremost Gaelic bards of any era, perhaps being surpassed only in more modern times by Sorley MacLean.