The Coat of Arms of Lord Reay, chief of Clan MacKay.

Donald ‘Duaghal’ MacKay was born in the old Tongue House in Sutherland, Scotland in 1591. His father, Uisdean was the 13th chief of the MacKays and Donald succeeded him as 14th chief on Uisdean’s death in 1614. Donald was knighted in 1616 and became 1st Lord Reay in 1628, the same year he was created Baron of Nova Scotia. The story of his life would make for an excellent movie.

Donald MacKay was reared as a warrior chief and before he succeeded his father he was well blooded in the clan struggles of the time. He made a fine reputation for himself for his great courage, honesty and resourcefulness; his qualities of leadership took his name far beyond the bounds of Strathnaver.

He was always short of money, and in 1626 he made an attempt to make cash by raising a regiment of mercenary soldiers, with himself as Colonel. This he hired out to countries needing an army. The regiment, which came to be known as ‘MacKay’s Invincibles’, was raised from all over Scotland, using the many landless men roaming the country as well as established clansmen. Bridget MacKenzie writes of MacKay in her book, Piping Traditions of the North of Scotland: “The regiment was hired by the King of Sweden to fight in Germany for the Protestant cause against the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor. Donald was not moved by any religious zeal, however, and told the King that he was fighting for a fee and if it was not paid he would go and fight for the Catholic cause.

A 17th century German print assumed to show men of Donald Duaghal MacKay’s Regiment during the Thirty Years’ War. The original caption states: “They are a strong and hardy people who survive on little food. If they have no bread, they eat roots [turnips may be intended]. When necessary, they can cover more than 20 German miles in a day’s forced march. Besides muskets, they carry bows, quivers and long swords.”

“When it left for Germany, the regiment embarked from Cromarty, to sail to the Elbe. Donald Duaghal took with him his two young sons rather than leave them in Strathnaver where they would be vulnerable to the stratagems of the Earl of Sutherland. He found a boarding-school for the sons of noblemen, in Denmark, and installed his boys there. During the campaigns that followed, he visited them regularly, in lulls between battles. He was an affectionate and warm-hearted father.

“He was a popular commander, and was known for his inspired leadership. It was said that he never sat down to his own dinner until he was satisfied that his men had food, warmth and somewhere to sleep. He shared their hardships, and he paid them regularly.

King Charles I.

“… The regiment was not, however, a success as a money raiser. The King of Sweden died without paying the full sum owed, and the King of Denmark, his next employer, still owed him £30,000 when Donald died. Donald also lent vast sums to King Charles I in London, and this was never repaid, although he received a title in part-exchange. When he died in 1649 he was bankrupt, though he was owed three fortunes by three European monarchs.

“His three big failings were his extravagance, his women and his guilelessness. He had an open, honest nature, and was easy prey to the intriguers of the Court in London. He made enemies by speaking out against those he perceived were plotting against the King, and he was quickly embroiled in law-suits. His enemies forged marriage documents, deeds and IOU’s, and he was obliged to leave Court and return to the north, pursued by a woman who claimed to be his wife. He married three legitimate wives and had many children as well as many by-blows around Strathnaver. He seems to have treated his children with a great deal more affection than he did his wives and local folk tales are full of references to his constant womanising. The local attitude to him, faithfully reproduced in the stories, was, ‘Here comes his Lordship – lock the doors, and make sure the women are inside first’.

“As an ardent monarchist, he became embroiled in the Covenanting Wars in Scotland. He was captured and forced to sign the Covenant, a vow he made under duress and had no intention of keeping. Returning to fight against the Covenanting army he was taken again, and spent two months in prison in Edinburgh under sentence of death. Later, he was released and returned north to support Montrose [James Graham, 1st Marquess of Montrose]. When Montrose was in Norway trying to raise an army to invade the north of Scotland, Donald Duaghal joined him, and they were in Bergen in 1649 when Donald Duaghal died. The King of Denmark sent a frigate to Bergen, to bring the body back to Tongue, where it was put into the family vault under the church.

Tongue House. This building was built on the site of the former building, where Donald Duaghal MacKay was born.

“Donald Duaghal lives on in the oral traditions of the north, remembered locally not as a great soldier or statesman, but for the two homelier attributes which touched his tenants more closely: his relentless womanising, and his alleged dabbling in the black arts. In appearance he was very dark, with black hair, beard, eyebrows and eyes, and a dark complexion; his by-name Duaghal reflects this, but it is more than just dubh, black. Duaghal means black-avised, with implications of black practices. He combined his two hobbies by having affairs with several witches, most notably a notorious witch in Dornoch – and it was well-known that he was in league with the Devil. The Devil, of course, was an accomplished piper …”

At Skye Highland Games, Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay is included in the list of MacCrimmon tunes that are required for the Dunvegan Medal and Col. Jock MacDonald Clasp. However, the tune is probably not a MacCrimmon composition. As Bridget MacKenzie pointed out, Iain Dàll MacKay is not only the probable composer but he was also related to Donald Duaghal. Iain Dàll’s father, Ruairidh, says Bridget, was born in Strathnaver and was one of the MacKay chief, Uisdean’s pipers. Further, Ruairidh was taught to play by the on-the-run Donald Mòr MacCrimmon who was hiding in the area after his killing spree in Kintail in revenge for the murder of his brother, Patrick (the Flame of Wrath).

Ruairidh MacKay’s wife was thought to be an illegitimate daughter of Uisdean and this tradition of Donald Duaghal being Ruairidh’s father-in-law has survived among his descendants in both Nova Scotia and Strathnaver, independent of each other. Iain Dàll MacKay was the only child of the marriage.

Interestingly, John MacDonald of Inverness’ apparently told his pupils that when he offered Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay at a competition on Skye some time in the 1920s or 30s, the judges turned it down, saying it was not a MacCrimmon tune.

Incidentally, the estate of Eriboll – which included the smallholding at Arnabol on the western shore of Loch Hope – was sold by Donald Duaghal in 1632 when he was in urgent need of money. The location of ‘Anapool’ is almost certainly either a corruption or copying error or contemporary local pronunciation of Arnabol, referenced by two other tunes of Iain Dàll MacKay, Lament for the Laird of Anapool and Lament for Lady Anapool.

Arnabol/Anapool on the west side of Loch Hope.

Musically, Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay (Cumha Dhomhnaill Dhuaghail Mhic Aoidh) is a powerful piece, typical of many of the works of Iain Dàll MacKay. It has a strong melodic line throughout and in Book 13 of the Piobairechd Society’s collection, Archie Kenneth published three settings of the tune. The Angus MacArthur setting, despite being attractive, is rarely heard.

As Kenneth pointed out in the April 1984 Piping Times, it has been remarked often that The Brother’s Lament and Donald Duaghal share an identical line four in the taorluath and crunluath variations. The similarities go much deeper. “Firstly,” writes Kenneth, “it has been mentioned that Angus MacKay has a ‘grip beat’ in his setting of Donald Duaghal. Although this is not in complete correspondence with those in the Brother’s Lament, it is in the same place – the penultimate note in line 2 (the repetition of line 1). Where did Angus MacKay get this? Was it a garbled memory of the Canntaireachd Brother’s Lament?

“That it was garbled is perhaps indicated by the extraordinary movement shown by Angus MacKay in his crunluath variations, where the grip is substituted by a crunluath beat, giving a combination which seems clumsy and is unknown otherwise. ‘Ordinary’ grip beats, while not exactly ten a penny, are orthodox and effective, occurring in such well known tunes as The MacDougall’s Gathering and the Park Piobaireachd (taorluath only).

Archie Kenneth’s transcription of Simon Fraser’s setting of ‘Donald Duaghal’.

“Another point of resemblance is the first half of line 3. Line 4 corresponds absolutely; but there is a high degree of correspondence between the first half of line 3 of the Brother’s Lament and the corresponding half-line of Simon Fraser’s setting of Donald Duaghal (see Piobaireachd Society Book 13). The only difference is that the latter omits the grip-beats that occur in the Brother’s Lament. It is not possible to suggest seriously that Simon Fraser derived this from the Canntaireachd, a record to which he is not known to have had access. There are few other signs in his music of material shared with or possibly derived from the Campbell Canntaireachd.

“So the mystery remains. It does seem worthwhile, however, to outline these points of resemblance, and speculation is permissible even if it leads nowhere in particular. And we have not yet exhausted the list of similarities between the tunes; there is an almost complete identity between the last bar of lines 1 and 2 of the taorluath and crunluath variations in these tunes. The absence of cadence at the end of line 2, taorluath and crunluath singlings, is very unusual and is shared by both tunes. It should be noted, though, that Simon Fraser’s setting of the last bar of line 2 (taorluath and crunluath) is not closely in correspondence with the Brother’s Lament – Angus MacKay shows this feature well and is in almost complete agreement with the Brother’s Lament in this respect, differing only in that he plays the grip-beat from B to high A; and the Canntaireachd movement is from D.

• Andrew Carlisle plays Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay, recorded at the 2012 Lorient Interceltic Festival:

•• Barnaby Brown plays the tune, recorded in Reykjavik in 2013: