William Ross (poet)

William Ross (Scottish Gaelic: Uilleam Ros [ˈɯ.ʎam ˈros]; 1762–1790/91) was a Scottish Gaelic poet from the Isle of Skye.[1]


Ross was born at Broadford, Skye, the son of a peddler. He spent some time at Forres, Morayshire, where he gained an education. Later the family moved to Gairloch in Wester Ross, his mother's native place; she was the daughter of John Mackay, poet and piper known as Am Pìobaire Dall.[1][2]

Travelling with his father, Ross became proficient in the Gaelic dialects of the western Scottish Highlands. An accomplished musician, he sang well and played several instruments. He was appointed parish schoolmaster at Gairloch, and died there in 1790 or 1791.[1][2]


Two volumes of Ross's Gaelic poems were published—Orain Ghae'lach (Inverness, 1830) and An dara clòbhualadh (Glasgow, 1834), edited by John Mackenzie.[2][3] His poetic range covered whisky, girls and the death of the Jacobite pretender Charles Edward Stuart in 1788. Other poets including Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair were influences.[1]

Mòr Ros (Marion Ross) of Stornoway (afterwards Mrs. Clough of Liverpool) rejected his advances, in 1782. He celebrated her in several poems. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography puts it, "legend has it that Ross died of love, but if he did it was a lengthy process".[1]

Ross' poetry was a major influence on the 20th-century Gaelic poet Sorley MacLean,[4] who considered that Ross' last song, Òran Eile,[5] is "one of the very greatest poems ever made in any language" in the British Isles, comparable to the best of Shakespeare's sonnets.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d e Thomson, Derick S. "Ross, William". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/24136. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ a b c Lee, Sidney, ed. (1897). "Ross, William (1762-1790)" . Dictionary of National Biography. 49. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. ^ Lee, Sidney, ed. (1893). "Mackenzie, John (1806-1848)" . Dictionary of National Biography. 35. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  4. ^ Krause, Corinna (2007). Eadar Dà Chànan: Self-Translation, the Bilingual Edition and Modern Scottish Gaelic Poetry (PDF) (Thesis). The University of Edinburgh School of Celtic and Scottish Studies. p. 67.
  5. ^ "18mh – Beachdan: Uilleam Ros". Làrach nam Bàrd (in Scottish Gaelic). BBC Alba. Retrieved 13 July 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ MacLean, Sorley (1985). "Old Songs and New Poetry" (PDF). In Gilles, William (ed.). Ris a' Bhruthaich: The Criticism and Prose Writings of Sorley MacLean. Stornoway: Acair. pp. 111, 114.

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  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainLee, Sidney, ed. (1897). "Ross, William (1762-1790)". Dictionary of National Biography. 49. London: Smith, Elder & Co.