She was the 19th century Scots nurse and poet whose songs of protest and hope made her a towering presence in Gaelic culture.

Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (Big Mary of the Songs), or Mary Macpherson, from Skeabost on the Isle of Skye, was was inspired by injustice felt personally and to communities through the Highland land struggle and clearances.

But there is another injustice.

July marked the bicentenary of her birth, which some say passed with little acknowledgement.

And now the organisers of this year's Blas Festival, the Highlands' premier Gaelic and traditional music festival, planned for November is trying to put that right - by honouring her with a special musical tribute.

They have offered £3,000 for a new composition to honour her work a the Isle of Skye event.

And the result has been revealed in Buaidh nam Ban (Influence of Women), a new musical work by singer and TV presenter Kim Carnie.

With multi award-winning folk band Mànran and new folk collective, Staran, the commission will also celebrate the lives and work of other great female bards of the Gàidhealtachd, including Sìleas na Ceapaich, Maighread Nighean Lachlainn and Mairi Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh.

But it is the work of Màiri Mhòr nan Òran that will take centre stage.

As well as the existing works of the female bards, Ms Carnie will write new melodies for existing poetry, and will compose brand new material, inspired by the lives and values of the strong and inspirational women.

She said that Buaidh nam Ban aims to take the listener on a journey through the centuries from the rarely heard perspective of the female Gaelic bard.

Ms Carnie said: “At the heart of this commission is the female bard; their life, their legacy, their struggles, and their values. Stories passed down the generations through our rich oral tradition will be woven throughout the performance; from the imprisonment of Màiri Nic a’ Phearsain (Mary Macpherson) and her fight for crofters’ rights, to the face-down burial of female bards and the exile of others, including that of Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh."


Calum Alex Macmillan, development manager of Fèisean nan Gàidheal, the organisation which supports the development of community-based Gaelic arts said: "As we commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Mhàiri Mhòr nan Òran in 2021, our programming team was keen that this year’s commission would draw inspiration from her life and poetry of which many of the themes are as relevant now as they were when they were written.

"Kim’s ‘Buaidh nam Ban’ was very much in line with our aims and we believe it will be a very fitting tribute to the life of Màiri Mhòr nan Òran, as well as celebrating some of our other noted female Gaelic bards.”

Born Mary MacDonald in 1821, Màiri Mhòr nan Oran left Skye for Inverness in 1847 to marry Isaac Macpherson.

It was only after he died in 1871, at the age of 50, having been left a widow with four children to care for alone that she began to write the verse that she became famous for.

It was during a short imprisonment in 1872 on a charge of theft that she first turned to poetry, protesting her innocence and expressing her anger through Gaelic verse.

The incident which ignited her ire was her imprisonment for forty-two days on a malicious accusation of petty theft. The shame and anger she felt resulted in her first song Luchd na Beurla.

Shortly after her release, she moved to Glasgow where she trained as a nurse and worked until 1882.

While living there, she regularly attended Highland Society ceilidhs and met leading advocates of Highland land reform.

She would write prolifically on the issues, great and small, which affected her people - songs of exile, verses praising the beauty of the Skye landscape and recalling the joys and contentment of her childhood. There were songs celebrating the sport of shinty and most importantly, her verse recording the ravages of the Highland Clearances.

When she returned home to Skye in the 1880's, as Bard of the Land League, her songs drew huge crowds to rally the crofters' resistance to decades of landlord exploitation.

Arthur Cormack, chief executive of Fèisean nan Gàidheal, added: “She became a real champion of the people during the struggles for tenure of land in the 1880s as well as an example of a strong woman ahead of her time actively involved in politics and championing the Gaelic language and culture, including shinty. "Màiri Mhòr nan Òran continues to act as an inspiration to, and an influence on, many Gaelic poets and singers. "In awarding this year’s Blas commission, we indicated that we would be particularly interested in celebrating her work or supporting the creation of new music inspired by the values she demonstrated through her songs, many of which remain relevant today; fighting injustice, land ownership, crofters’ rights, shinty, wool working, spinning, nursing and the active involvement of women in political activities.”