Uilleam Ros (William Ross), known as the Gairloch Bard, was born in Broadford, Isle of Skye, in 1762, and educated in Forres. His mother belonged to Gairloch; his father was from Skye, a pedlar, and Ross accompanied him on his travels round the West of Scotland and the Lowlands before taking the position of schoolmaster in Gairloch at the age of 24, when the family returned to live there. He excelled in Latin and Greek, and successfully carried out his duties as the local teacher for all of his short life, while also acting as catechist and precentor in the parish church. To his education and accomplishments he could add a good voice and some skill on the flute and violin.
Ros had a natural talent for poetry. Schooled in the tradition of Gaelic verse, he composed praise-poems about his home area and its people. He wrote also in praise of whisky, and, of course, about love. Ros had met and fallen in love with a girl in Stornoway, and his rejection by her was said to have led to his early death – a story perhaps encouraged by John Mackenzie, who first collected Ros’s poetry. It is true that his best love poems are about her. Derick Thomson writes, in his Introduction to Gaelic Poetry (EUP, 1990):
William Ross died in 1791, a long time indeed after Mòr Ros’s marriage in 1782, too long no doubt to give credence that he died of love for her. Yet the legend has its own truth, or so it seems when we consider the ways in which his poetry differs from that of his fellow Gaelic poets of the eighteenth century. His personality seems the most vulnerable, and he either wears his heart on his sleeve or pretends he hasn’t got one: two reflexes of the same emotional disturbance. This subjective element, and more especially the conscious manipulation of it, was new in the poetry of the century, though perhaps not entirely original.
Ros is said to have burned his own poems; texts of 1804 were taken from oral versions, and later collected by John MacKenzie, with a translated edition edited by George Calder and published by Oliver & Boyd in 1937.
Ros succumbed to tuberculosis when he was 28, and is buried in the churchyard at Gairloch. A monument to the Bard was erected in 1850.