Donald MacPhail

1746 - 1836

Donald was one of three known children born to Donald MacPhail and Ann Fletcher on the Isle of Mull in the year 1746 - a turbulent time in Scotland's history which saw great changes imposed on the way of life for the Scottish Highlanders in the aftermath of Culloden.

Donald is mentioned in transcripts of John MacEachern's "Fragments of Family History" from which we discovered he also had a brother, Angus, and a sister, Catherine (who married Donald Fletcher). The transcripts go on to say:

"This last named Donald (og) MacPhail was a great sheep farmer (or grazier) and cattle drover well known all over Scotland as an extensive and honest dealer, had 6 sons all holding large sheep farms in Mull…"

(The Gaelic meaning of the word "og" is 'young' so the reference to him would be to 'young Donald' as a means of distinguishing him from his father, also named Donald).

Donald married Sarah Fletcher (born 1755) and, although the MacEachern Fragments refer to six sons, only four are known at this time:

  • Donald, born in 1779, married Catherine Campbell, the daughter of John Campbell and Margaret Brown. Donald was the father of the well-known Bard, Dugald MacPhail, who penned Ant-Eilean Muileach, the Mull 'anthem'.
  • Angus, born 1786, married Mary McPhail, the daughter of John McPhail (farmer) and Janet McKinnon.
  • John, born 1794, married Catherine Carmichael, the daughter of Duncan Carmichael (farmer) and Ann Stuart (or Stewart).
  • Duncan, born 1795, was unmarried, although played a large part in the raising of his brother, John's, children.

A mention is also made to Donald in Jo Currie's book, "Mull: the Island and its People" (Birlinn Books):

"Donald MacPhail was one of the most successful of Mull drovers in the eighteenth century….." (p.399)

The drover trade tended to be handed down in families, as it was with the MacPhails in Glenforsa. Drovers had to be men of great skill and honest character as the responsibility rested on them not only for driving the large herds of cattle over hundreds of miles, but also for the safe return of the farmers' money after the sales. In order to keep their valuable stock in the best possible condition, drovers usually only averaged 10-12 miles a day to allow for resting and grazing as they made their way to the yearly markets at Crieff or Falkirk. They would carry their own food, usually raw oats which were mixed with water to form a porridge, to help sustain them on their long journey.

That Donald was held in great esteem as a skillful and successful drover is also confirmed by an account for cattle showing he was entrusted to buy cattle for the Laird of Lochbuy in 1795 (Murdoch Maclaine, 19th of Lochbuy).

As he lived to the great age of 90, he not only outlived his wife by 36 years but also some of his descendants. He would have observed huge changes take place and been extremely knowledgeable on the relationships and dealings that took place on Mull.

His wife, Sarah Fletcher, died in 1800 aged 45 and Donald died in 1836.

A pink granite winged headstone in memory of Donald and Sarah lies in front of the chapel ruins in the Pennygowan cemetery, alongside those of two of their sons, Donald and Angus.

(Compiled by Moira MacPhail - September 2005)

The above headstone was erected by John McPhail of Tiroran and Duncan McPhail of Scalasdale. The Inscription claims that "the McPhails were in Glenforsa for upwards of 800 years".