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Macdonald of Sleat Poetry Prize 2019

This year’s Macdonald of Sleat poetry prize is being shared by two winners, Flora MacDonald who wrote ‘The Leaf’ and Martin MacIntyre with ‘Healing’.  The competition, which is run by Sabhal Mòr Ostaig in collaboration with Clan Donald Lands Trust, was instituted by Sir Ian Macdonald of Sleat in memory of his daughter, Deborah, who passed away at an early age.

Flora was born and raised in Benbecula, with historical links to Clanranald.  She has a home in North Uist, where she also has links to MacDonald of Sleat, but her permanent residence is in Glasgow.  Flora worked at Sabhal Mòr on summer Short Courses for several years and it was there she was inspired to write her poems on trees.

Martin, whose father hails from South Uist, was raised in Lenzie, near Glasgow but has lived in Edinburgh for over 25 years.  He was a student at Sabhal Mòr from 1990 to 1992 and returned there to work on the Tobar an Dualchais project between 1998 and 2003.  It was around then that he penned his first proper poem – ‘Canaigh’.

The theme of the competition each year relates to trees and this year an invitation was extended to anyone who writes poetry, or has an interest in doing so, to compose a poem on the subject, Craobh nan Ubhal (the Apple Tree).  Martin and Flora’s poems were selected as joint first place by the judges, Professor Meg Bateman and Mark Wringe, both lecturers at Sabhal Mòr.

Flora’s poem, ‘The Leaf’, represents life – a solitary leaf travelling, sometimes following hope, then adversity.  It ends with the leaf going into the earth and bringing about new growth.  The circle of life is embedded in the poem and eternity is reflected in the earth.

Speaking of receiving the prize, Flora commented:  “I was delighted when I received the news.  I felt great respect and admiration for the MacDonalds, particularly my own ancestors, Angus MacDonald, who wrote The Clan Donald and The MacDonald collection of Gaelic poetry; and Rachel MacDonald.  I am so proud of the South Uist bards; the respected MacDonalds – Donald Allan MacDonald, Donald John MacDonald and the Paisley Bard – and I hope they influenced my writing in some way.  I was thankful and happy to be back in Sleat.  I felt close to the place, the trees, the MacDonalds and the beautiful surroundings.  I slept in “Flora MacDonald”’s room and we were here, together, with our thoughts.  Winning this prize has given me great confidence and encouragement and I would like to congratulate Martin, also.”

Martin’s poem, ‘Slànachadh’, is about suffering and healing and he wrote it after noticing a young woman crossing the road, in tears.  The judges commended the striking way in which both old and modern imagery were brought together in the poem.

Martin commented:  “It is a great honour and hugely encouraging to receive this prize, which is a creative, living reminder of Deborah.  I was very pleased my poem was granted joint first place alongside Flora MacDonald’s.  I think poetry can offer different things to people – both to those who write it, as well as those who read it; a greater understanding of pain and suffering being one of those things, which can sometimes help the healing process.”

Flora was presented with her prize at a gathering at the Museum of the Isles in Armadale Castle on Saturday 28 September by Sir Ian Macdonald, Chair of the Board of Trustees of Clan Donald Lands Trust.  Martin was unable to attend the ceremony.

On behalf of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the judges would be delighted to see even more entrants encouraged to take part next year and to raise a greater awareness of the competition.

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