Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin, the Irish Rory
Dall, is almost completely a mystery. Keith Sanger has suggested that he never existed at all, because he seems to have left no trace
in contemporary records1. All we have about him is stories from oral tradition.
Early 20th century oral tradition tells us that Ruaidhrí Dall was born in 1546. He is said to have gone to Scotland in 1601,
and died in 16532.
A different and slightly earlier tradition says that he was the son of an Giolla Dubh (Gilladuff)
Ó Catháin of Dunseverick in County Antrim. He is said to have escaped to Scotland after his father and brother were
hanged for their involvement in the 1641
18th century tradition tells us about Ruaidhrí Dall Ó Catháin in Scotland.
He is said to have travelled as a gentleman, with a retinue, visiting
other noble families and composing tunes for them, and even met King
He is said to have died in Scotland, at the house of MacDonald of Sleat, on the isle of Skye, where he is supposed to have
left his agate-mounted tuning
Ruaidhri Dall Mac Mhuirich, the Scottish
was born c.1656 in Bragar, Lewis. He was the son of a wealthy farmer and poet. He was sent to school in Inverness to
train to be a church minister but he caught smallpox there and became blind and scarred. Unable to finish his education he
studied music instead, and was sent to Ireland to study the Gaelic harp traditions.
When he finished his training he became an itinerant musician, part of a travelling band of low-status
entertainers, which he did not much enjoy. In 1681 he was in Edinburgh, where he met Iain Breac MacLeod, chief of the
MacLeods of Dunvegan. Rory was soon securely engaged as harper at Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye, living at Claggan three
miles from the castle. It seems that Rory may have unusually held both posts of harper and poet.
However at some point, and for reasons unknown, he was sent away by Iain Breac to live in Glenelg,
a kind of exile from the household. When Iain died, his son Roderick spent very little time at Dunvegan. Rory Dall
in Glenelg instead spent time with John MacLeod of Talisker. Later, Rory Dall went and lived with his father-in-law
in Lochaber. From there he made occasional visits to the houses of chieftains in the Highlands and Islands. At the end
of his life he returned to Dunvegan where he died in 1713-4 and was buried there. Next...