Friday, 19 February 2010

General Wolfe at the Battle of Culloden (1746)

General James Wolfe
Another story - it seems to be anonymous - collected by Alexander Carmichael concerns the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden representing the last gasp of the Jacobites to regain the British Crown for the deposed Stuart royal family:

A gentleman of the name of
Macleod and his three sons from
Glenelg fell at the battle of Culloden.
Although severely wound[ed]
the father was not yet dead. As Cumberland
and his staff were passing Mac-
leod slightly moved his head to look
at them. “Shoot that damed bugar [sic]
looking at me” said Cumberland
to an officer beside him. My com-
mission is at the disposal of your
Royal Highness but I decline
to become a butcher replied the
officer. Without noticing
heeding the remark Cumberland ordered
a soldier near him to shoot
that damned bugar [sic] The soldier
said that all his lead was done up
Take the stock of your
gun cowardly bugar [sic]
and smash his brains
said Cumberland and thus sternly addressed
the soldier battered the head and brains
of Macleod breaking his gun
in the process. That is brutal work
observed General Archibald Campbell.
I wish every damned bug[ar] [sic] in
your barbarous country were served
the same way said Cumberland.
Its is a pity that your Royal
Highness and did not utter that
wish yesterday said Lord Archibald
Campbell – things might have
been different today.

The officer who declined to shoot
Macleod was Wolfe who fell at the
battle of Quebec when the Highlanders showed
prodigous valour and con-
quered Canada to the British crown.

James Wolfe was a Kentish lad who enlisted at the tender age of fourteen into the regular British army. His dedication and talent soon saw him rise through the ranks and as the result of the battle of Dettingen in Barvaria in 1743 he was promoted to lieutenant. In 1744 he was appointed captain in the 4th Foot and in 1745 he returned to England with the army withdrawn to deal with Prince Charles Edward’s invasion. In January 1746 he was present at the Hanoverian defeat at Falkirk (which inspired Duncan Ban Macintyre to compose his famous song). He was shortly afterwards made aide-de-camp to Lieutenant-General Henry Hawley. In this capacity he took part in the battle of Culloden (16 April 1746), and may or may not have refused to obey an order from William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, to shoot a wounded Highlander. Wolfe died due to fatal wounds received at the battle of the Plains of Abraham (1759) and is now chiefly remembered for his defeat of the French allowing the British to take control over maritime Canada. It would seem that this tradition concerning Wolfe’s role at the battle of Culloden is an apocryphal one, for the general famously later wrote: “I should imagine that two or three independent Highland companies might be of use; they are hardy, intrepid, accustomed to a rough country, and no great mischief if they fall. How better can you employ a secret enemy than by making his end conducive to the common good?” It is said that what caused Wolfe’s rather acerbic and back-handed compliment was that he became furious because the Highlanders insisted on carrying their wounded from the field when ordered to retreat. Something that many of them never had the opportunity to do on the bloody field of Culloden a dozen years previously.

CW 3, fos. 46r, 47r.
Image: General James Wolfe (1727–1759).

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Kilted Excisemen: John Murdoch and Alexander Carmichael

John Murdoch
While in Dublin Alexander Carmichael became firm friends with a fellow Argyllshire Gael John Murdoch, who as his slightly older comtemporary and an exciseman to boot took his newly-found charge under his wing. They became life-long friends and Murdoch’s influence upon Carmichael cannot be underestimated. Many years later, Murdoch visited Carmichael, then staying at Creagorry in Benbecula, and they fell into conversation with a man in nearby Garrynamonie, South Uist. It so transpired that this man had been a tenant in Heisker, an island to the west of North Uist, and his vivid descriptions and engaging narrative were so noteworthy that Murdoch later wrote:

What struck me most were the rich descriptions he gave of the island and of the comfort and character of the people. I was sorry afterwards I had not taken note of his descriptions and I asked Mr Carmichael to get me at his leisure a full account. His answer, though good, was discouraging: ‘If I attempted to take down every eloquent speech that came my way I would never be done.’

John Murdoch (1818–1903), the radical editor of the The Highlander newspaper and political activist for land reform, and Carmichael had shared interests as they were both keen supporters of the Gaelic literature and language that became so entwined with the land league and the revival of fortunes for crofters and cottars. Both men were involved in the movement that would later enter legislation as the Crofting Act of 1886 which led to security of tenure and also, it seems, a much needed confidence boost for the Gaelic language and culture. Murdoch’s influence upon him is clearly palpable for Carmichael became a habitual wearer of the kilt, something that was perhaps rather unusual even then, and reflects something of the romantic persona in Carmichael’s makeup. Murdoch later recalled a visit that he made to the Hebrides around 1873 were he met up with his friend and his wife:

With Mr and Mrs Carmichael I had the best of entertainment, physically and mentally. He was full of Gaelic lore and busy gathering more. For this work, indeed, he had gone there and remained—to the loss of promotion in the excise in which he was much esteemed. He had been in Dublin, where I first met him on his arrival with credentials from Archie Sinclair the First, and after that among my friends in Islay. His first station was Cornwall where he found much to interest him. But he came to the Long Island as the great repository of Celtic traditional lore and he worked the mine as no man ever did before. Not only that but he made friends wherever he went. And unconsciously I reaped a good deal of the result. Wearing the kilt, as we both did, I was many a time taken for him as I approached; and I found that the good impression thus made often stood to me after the discovery was made that I was quite another person.

It is evident that both Murdoch and Carmichael benefited from their mutual aquaintance and both of their legacies have left a lasting impact upon not only upon Scottish culture in general but Gaelic culture in particular.

James Hunter, For the People’s Cause (Edinburgh: HMSO, 1986)
Image: John Murdoch

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Ceilidh Protocol

In one of his last fieldwork notebooks when Alexander Carmichael was in and around Ross-shire collecting as much material as he could and where he managed to pick up a pithy little anecdote about ceilidh protocol:

When a man was put out of
the ceilidh for not having a story
He called out “Fear ionad fear
Ionad” – a man came forward
Siu[tha]d tha mise seo ga do shaoradh
He then got back. If he had a
sean fhacal he got off.

It may well be imagined that the ceilidh used to be a very informal social affair where anything went and there was not a sign of any organisation but this anecdote reveals that there were some ‘unwritten’ rules to be followed and that a protocol existed that was to be adhered to even if this was not to the actual letter. This anecdote may also be interpreted as some sort of get-out clause for if anyone was expected to participate by telling a story or singing a song but they were, for some reason or another, unwilling or unable to conform to everyone else's expectations, then they could revert to the phrase “Fear ionad” indicating that someone else, who was willing enough, would take their turn instead. It also appears that by simply reciting a proverb seems to have been enough satisfy the rest of the company. But merely reciting proverbs could hardly be described as the stuff of a good ceilidh!

CW 117, fo. 23v.
Blackhouse interior.

Monday, 8 February 2010

A Pipe Tune from the Fairies

In the Gaelic cosmological world fairies loom large and there is a significant amount of traditions where fairies have gifted a special instrument to middling musicians so that they could become great players as long as they kept to their side of the bargain. One instance of this is the famous silver chanter said to have been gifted by a fairy to a MacCrimmon piper. This piper went on to enthral audiences who disclaimed that they had never heard anyone better and that he was the best piper ever to have lived. There are many variations of this story but the essential element is that the musical gift derived from the fairy folk. Another strong tradition is of tunes that have been picked up from the fairy folk who were known to be renowned for their musical skills as well as their dancing. An instance of such a tradition was, of course, collected by Alexander Carmichael:

A Phiob Shith
Bha phiob gu tric agus gu minic air a
cluinntin s a bhruth-shith. Bhiodh puirt
shiubhlach shuigeartach aig na sithich anns
a bhruthain agus iomadaidh fonn aurain [òrain].
So fear dhiu –

Am faic thu Nic dhuinn leis a chrodh laoigh
Am faic thu Nic dhuinn leis a chrodh laoigh
Am faic thu Nic dhuinn leis a chrodh laoigh
Ris a chrodh-laoigh s i na h-onar.

The Fairy Pipes

The bagpipe was time and again heard in the fairy knowe. The fairies would play rhythmic, lively tunes in the knowe and many song tunes.
Here’s one of them –

Will you see the lassie called Brown with the calving cows
Will you see the lassie called Brown with the calving cows
Will you see the lassie called Brown with the calving cows
Along with the calves and she all alone.

It appears that this is a port-à-beul or mouth music and may have been either a reel or strathspey. We are not certain of what the title would be called in English but like other ‘Gaelic’ tunes it is likely that it would have been given one.

Ref: CW 108, fol. 33r–34v.
Anon. ‘Fairy Tales (Gaelic and English)’, The Celtic Review, vol. 5 (1908–09), pp. 155–71 [This anonymous article in all likelihood stems from Carmichael’s collection and may have been edited by his daughter, Ella Carmichael].
Image: A' Phìob Mhòr or The Great Highland Bagpipe

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Carmichael on the Carmichaels

It may come as something of a surprise that Alexander Carmichael did not write a great deal about either himself or his own family background. Given that he was usually interested in any given informant’s back story or, indeed, where he often took the trouble to write down some family traditions, it seems to be a bit of mystery why he did not write more about himself just as his fellow friend and Argyllshire Gael had done, John Murdoch (1818–1903), in his comprehensive five-volume autobiography. But write he did and there are interesting highlights of Carmichael lore that he saved for posterity:

Phos mo shin-seanair, Domhnull mac Eoghain, Mairi NicPhilip, nighean Iain Mhicphilip, ann an Cill a chionain, an Liosmor. Phos a mhac – mo sheanair-Gilleaspa mac Dhomhnuill, - Isebeil Nic Griogair nighean [ ] Mhic Griogair anns a Chrogan am Muile. Phos m athair Beitidh NicColla nighean Dhomhnuill ic Cholla - “Domhnull Taigh an Tobair.”
Bha tri teaghlach a Chlann Mhic Ille mhicheil ann an Liosmor a bha dol fo bhrataich Fear Glinne Faochan. B’ iad na teaghlaichean seo, Gilleaspaig Ban Chloiche leithe; Eoghan mac Dhomhnuill ann an Achadhmanduin, agus Gillesapuig mac Dhomhnuill mhic Eoghain (mo sheanair) agus comhla riu seo bha Iain Macachananaich Ann an Cill-sheathaine. (Cill-einne). B’e a b’ aobhar dha seo gun robh comh-dhaltas eadar na daoine so agus Caimbeulaich Ghlinne Faochan agus bu treasa comh-dhaltas na fuil-moran.
Fuil gu fichead
Comhaltas gu ceud.
Bha brathair mo sheanamhair – brathair Isibeil nic Griogair – posd aig piuthar Captinn Ardtuir. Bha e na Quarter master agus na Paymaster anns an 26 Cameronians.

My great-grandfather, Donald son of Ewen, married Mairi MacKillop, daughter of John MacKillop, in Cillchonnan, in Lismore. His son, my grandfather, Archibald, son of Donald, married Isobell MacGregor, daughter of [ ] MacGregor in Crogan in Mull. My father married Betty MacColl daughter of Donald MacColl – “Donald of Taigh an Tobair.”
There were three families of Carmichaels in Lismore that followed the banner of Fear Glinne Foachan. There families were, Fair-haired Archibald of Chloiche Leithe; Ewen son of Donald in Achadhmanduin, and Archibald son of Donald son of Ewen (my grandfather) and along with these was John Buchanan in Cill-shataine. The reason for this was fosterage between these people and the Campbells of Glen Faochan and fosterage was stronger than blood for many:
Blood relations to twenty degrees
Fosterage to a hundred
My grandmother’s brother – Isobel’s MacGregor’s brother – was married to the Captain of Ardtuir’s sister. He was a quartermaster and a paymaster in the 26 Cameronians.

There are intriguing lines of enquiry to follow here and more research into Carmichael’s family tree may well reveal the exact relationship that once existed between the Carmichaels of Lismore and the Campbells of Glen Feochan on mainland Argyllshire.

CW 391, fos. 175–76. This was written down by Carmichael on 22 June 1904.
Image: Photograph of Alexander Carmichael, taken in Edinburgh c. 1905.

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4

Stone whorls WHM 1992 13 2.4
Stone whorls collected by Alexander Carmichael, held by West Highland Museum (ref. WHM 1992 13 2.4). [©]