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REV. MURDO MACDONALD
I am acquiring a lot of information about my well liked ancestor and plan on building a web site entirely on him


Rev. Murdoch MacDonald was born in the parish of Durness,Sutherlandshire on the 3rd of May 1696. His father, who was born in Rosshire in 1655 settled in Durness some time before the birth of Murdoch. He was married to Margaret Ross, sister of the Rev. Walter Ross, minister of the parish of Tongue, but a native of Rosshire. Mr. Murdoch's parents were distinquished for their piety, especially the mother to whose influence the son owed much of that piety which formed so important a factor, not only in his journal, but in the actions of his long and useful life.He made his way to the University of St Andrew's to the principal of which-Principal Wishart he had a note of introduction. In 1725 he finished his course of study there and was on the 28th of September of the same year licensed to preach the Gospel.Educated at Fearn School and University of St. Andrews: M.A. 9th May 1722; licen. by the Presb. there 15th Sept. 1725; became tutor in family of Mackay of Rhenovie; presented by the Presb. jure devoluto 24th Aug., and ordained 28th Sept. 1726; sometime clerk of Presb. He was an accomplished musician, "a most melodious and powerful singer," and composed many Gaelic airs. Rob Donn composed a beautiful elegy in Gaelic on him. He left an MS. Diary in eight octavo vols. extending to over 4000 pages of very small but legible writing. It is chiefly a record of the diarist's spirtual experiences. Portions were published in Trans. Gaelic Soc. Inverness, xi, 293-310 (1884-5)-Sutherland and the Reay Country, 351.)

"The World of Rob Donn" by Dr. Ian Grimble, published by the Edina Press, Edinburgh 1979. Printed in Scotland by Howie and Seath Ltd., Edinburgh. This book contains much initimate information about the Rev. Murdo MacDonald who was well known by the Gaelic Poet Rob Donn (Mackay). Rob Donn was born and lived within the church parish of Durness. MacDonald was his minister and also his personal friend. A friendship probably cemented by their mutual love of music.

~married Anna Couper/Cooper 23 May 1728(the daughter of Patrick Couper/Cooper Minister of Pittenweeen)
~Anna Couper died 18 January 1784
They had the following children:


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Joseph MacDonald was the first musician to commit bagpipe music successfully to staff notation, and his tutor of 1760 is still considered a model of clarity. It is of outstanding historical importance.
The story of Joseph MacDonald’s “Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe” has a plot which rivals that of many a detective novel - a mystery which a black notebook in the Library of the University of Edinburgh helped to solve.
The “Theory,” compiled about 1760, was printed and published by James Johnson, Edinburgh, in 1803 and shortly afterwards practically all trace of Joseph MacDonald and his “Theory” seems to have been lost.
The discovery of a copy in 1927 in a saleroom in Inverness caused quite a stir in the piping world, where it was hailed with the assurance that it would settle certain points in the execution of piobaireachd about which the leading pipers were at variance.
The late Mr Alex. MacDonald, who had purchased this copy, published a second edition of the “Theory” in 1928. He, unfortunately, died suddenly on the eve of its publication.
A great number of leading pipers studied the work, but all were confused and perplexed by its contents. The “Theory” contained written instructions with regard to the playing of the bagpipes, as taught by the first masters of the instrument, and examples of the various types of bagpipe music, complete with the intricate variations of the piobaireachd. These written directives were illustrated by staff-notation examples of the music referred to, but the written directive and the staff-notation failed to agree. The consensus of opinion was that Joseph must have been an extremely careless notation scribe - so careless, in fact, that the work was worthless and should therefore be returned to the limbo where it had already been for over a century.

Condensed from “The Joseph MacDonald Theory” which appeared in The Scots Magazine December 1953:

The more I studied the meticulous accuracy of the written word, however, the more I became convinced that Joseph was anything but a careless student of his subject, and that there must be some very adequate explanation of the highly intelligent work that was in his “Theory.” My first step towards the solution of the mystery was to find out everything possible about this man Joseph MacDonald.
Although Joseph loved Italian music, he loved his native music above all other, and, upon his return to Strathnaver, some years later, gave all his attention to its study. He collected and noted down all the airs he could glean - especially those suitable for the bagpipe. This was during the period when a great part of our music might otherwise have been lost, as it was unlawful for a Highlander to play the bagpipes.
In 1760 he went to work with the East India Company, but before leaving home completed a copy of his choice native airs. One of Joseph’s letters to his father gives us an illuminating glimpse of his character and ambitions:

“There is nothing brings to my mind a more natural and soothing joy than the playing and fingering our sweet Highland luinings (ditties), jorrams (rowing songs), etc., when by myself, for, alas! I have none capable of sharing the pleasure with me ...What would I give now for one night of my own beloved society to sing those favourite, simple, primitive airs along with me? 0! that I had been more at pains to gather those admirable remains of our ancient Highland music before I left my native country. It would have augmented my collection of Highland music and poetry, which I have formed a system of in my voyage to India, and purpose to send home soon, dedicated to Sir James MacDonald or some such chief of high rank and figure in the Highlands, in order that those sweet, noble and expressive sentiments of nature may not be allowed to sink and die away, and to show that our poor, remote corner, even without the advantage of learning and cultivation, abounded in works of taste and genius.”


Fate intervened at this date, however, for Joseph MacDonald died in the East Indies of a malignant fever when only twenty-three years of age. His effects, including the manuscript of the “Theory,” were collected and brought home to his brother Patrick by a fellow bagpipe enthusiast, Sir John Murray MacGregor, to whom later the work was dedicated.

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