Friday, 30 July 2010

The Eagle and the Lamb

Continuing with the ornithological theme of the last few blogs, Alexander Carmichael noted down a short anecdote, presumably from a relation of the man mentioned, about how an eagle lifted a lamb from Heisker and carried it over to the mainland of North Uist. Unfortunately, the species is not given, but in all likelihood it was a golden eagle.

Ab[ou]t 100 y[ea]rs [ago] a man g[rea]t gra[n]dfather of
Don[a]l[d] Bhoradhai[dh] saw an eagle com[ing]
fr[om] Heusger with a lamb in its claws. He
had a horse halter in his hand & threw it up
at the eagle which drop[ped] the lamb at the
mans feet. The lamb’s ear was bleeding
but otherwise uninjured. The man
took it up bro[ugh]t it him and it be[in]g a female
it grew up and was the prog[enitor] of a flock
of sheep.

Carmichael adds a note indicating what he reckoned was the flightpath that the eagle took with its hapless prey:

Probably making
for Eaval Borodhay
being on the line
between Heusgeir
& Eaval

CW 107, fol. 34r
Image: Golden Eagle (Iolaire Bhuidhe)

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Ducks and Drakes Posting

Yet another extract from the long letter – we cannot be accused of exaggerating – which Carmichael wrote to Nether-Lochaber informs this blog. This time Carmichael’s attention is turned to ducks and with his usual attention to detail furnishes some interesting details about ducks and their habitats and where he also offers some elucidation with regard to a Gaelic proverb as well as finishing off with a quote from the Lochaber bard, Iain Lom MacDonald, Bàrd na Ceapaich.

“I have seen ducks ‘posting’ the ground with alternate feet, much as you and I have seen girls in the Highlands ‘post’ in washing clothes. I remember especially a curious scene among our ducks when living at dear old Creagorry, in Uist. At the foot of the road leading up from the highway to the house there is a fresh-water pool, clear and bright, in which the ducks delighted to lave. On the green grass beside the bright pool about a dozen ducks and drakes were going through a singular performance when I noticed them. Slightly apart from the rest was large handsome drake, with green, lustrous wings, and bright, metallic, iridescent neck, singing to the rest with might and main, if singing his quacking might be called. All the other ducks and drakes ‘posted’ with alternate feet, and bobbed with their heads and necks and bodies up and down, while some ran to and fro, and jinked and jerked in and out among the others, much like the game of sūg-a-mhulain–catch me if you can–as you and I have seen it played, and played it ourselves in the long ago of our happy boyhood. Some whisked and whirled round about, and quacked their loudest. The whole flock quacked with all their might, and mingled and commingled their discordancies in the most amusing way; and when the fun as ‘fast and furious’ the flock threw themselves in a body on the surface of the clear, bright pool beside them, and there rushed about and splashed about in the happy joyousness of their hearts like creatures possessed. The gifted poetess, Mrs Mary Mackellar, reminds me that domestic ducks exhibit this bubbling, or dancing up and down motion, very strongly before rain. This is particularly observable of ducks in dry weather and just on the approach of thunder. Hence, doubtless, the application of the Gaelic proverb to a restless, expectant person–S coltach thu ri tunnaig ’s i ’m fiughar ti torrain–thou art like the duck expectant of thunder. Probably, however, none of the duck tribe possesses this peculiarity of posting with the feet to such a degree as the shell-drake–Gaelic, Crá-ghiadh. Uist, you know, is called Uibhist nan Crá-ghiadh–Uist of the Shell-drakes. Your own celebrated Lochaber bard, Ian Lom, poet-laureate to Charles II., and one of the most powerful Gaelic poets of his or any other time, says–

“Dol gu uidhe ’chuain fhiadhaich,
Mar bu chubhaidh leinn iarraidh,
Gu Uibhist bheag riabhach nan crà-ghiabh.”
“(Going over the ocean wild,
Masterfully and pleasantly as we could wish,
To brindled little Uist of the shell-drakes.)”

Nether-Lochaber, ‘Nether-Lochaber’, The Inverness Courier, no. 4048 (06 Aug., 1885), p. 2, c. 6–7
Image: Shelldrake (Cràdh-ghèadh)

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Ravens Reeling and Dancing

Following on from a recent blog entry, Alexander Carmichael continues his notes on nature by turning his attention to a rather peculiar incident which he and his wife Mary Frances actually witnessed. It must have been quite a sight as Carmichael goes into some fascinating detail and, as was his usual way, his observations are keenly delineated. The images that he conjures up at the beginning of this excerpt shows that he had a humorous side to him as well, something that he was not perhaps renowned for as it hardly comes across, if at all, in any of the rest of his various publications:

Birds have their peculiarities and characteristics like men; and like men, I should not, their diversion and weariness, and like them their joys and their sorrows. The raven is a staid-looking bird of solemn mien and serious aspect, whom one would not readily connect with the mirth of the dance and the joy of the song. Nay, one would as readily expect to see a whole Presbytery, Synod, or General Assembly taking the floor under the inspired port-a-bial of some grave and reverend father of the Church, as to see a flock of douce ravens reeling and setting to the lilting of one of their own number. Yet, strange as it may seem, I was so fortunate on one occasion as to see this–a sight which I need hardly say interested me intensely: Nearly three years ago, Mrs Carmichael and I were driving from Scolpaig to Newton, North Uist. Immediately on going round an òb, one of those shallow sea indentations so frequent in the Outer Hebrides, and at a place called Geireann, we saw a number of ravens going through some shuttle-cock movements that puzzled us much. Intervening hillocks, windings of the road, and rapid driving prevented us for time from having a continuous view of what was going on. But having come to a place where we had a near and full view of the birds, we stopped our little phaeton, and watched their singular proceedings in breathless silence. There were ten or twelve ravens in all, I forget which, on the smooth green grass adjoining the dry strand, and about a hundred yards below where we stood. On a small elevation hard by stood large, noble-looking raven; probably the Maccrimmon of his race, and piped a port-a-bial loud, fast and furious. To this all the other ravens responded by running and hopping and jumping rapidly and regularly from certain points in two opposite directions. “they reeled, they crossed,” but cannot say they ‘cleeked’, like the witches in Old Alloway Kirk-yard. But they certainly went through certain movements and evolutions, now singularly resembling the Reel of Tulloch, and now absurdly like the Lancers’ Quadrille. While these strange movements were going on by the ravens on the ground, another raven flew to-and-fro overhead, now making a wide circuit, and now a narrow one, and evidently guarding against surprise. Ultimately this strange dance–as I think I am justified in calling it–ceased, having lasted from the time we noticed the birds first, some seven or eight minutes. Immediately thereafter all the ravens flew away, not in a body, and in on direction, as their congeners the crows would have done, but like a gang of thieves taken by surprise, all in different directions, and in various ways, no two of them going together. I have been familiar with ravens all my life, and at various times and in various places have seen numbers of them together, but never before saw a raven’s quadrille, and probably never see the same thing again.

Carmina Gadelica, ii, pp. 291–94.
Nether-Lochaber, ‘Nether-Lochaber’, The Inverness Courier, no. 4048 (06 Aug., 1885), p. 2, c. 6–7
Image: Raven (Fitheach/Corvus corax)

Friday, 16 July 2010

Bit of a task-master?

In notebook CW113, there are a good number of Fenian tales. Anyone who has ever come across these stories about Fionn mac Cumhaill and his warrior band will know that these are often lengthy affairs. On 24 March 1866, John MacInnes was travelling home to Eriskay on board the Islesman, when the vessel stopped at Lochmaddy and he went to visit Alexander Carmichael. Carmichael had, in his own words ‘been wishing for a long time back’ to meet MacInnes.

During the visit, John MacInnes recited the Lay of Dearg mac Dreathain [Laoidh an Deirg ic Dreathain] the story of a blood feud. In transcription the lay runs to some 240 lines, which is quite a feat to remember, but it was Carmichael’s note following his transcription which really struck me.
The reciter repeated this most correctly through except one quatrain. After having written the lay from his dictation I made him repeat the whole again and we found this one quatrain left out. All the rest was correctly taken down except one preposition so that no alterations were necessary.
Twice? That’s a lot of recitation. It is little wonder then that at the end of it all Carmichael makes a note of the time: 11-54pm.
GB237 Coll-97/CW113/28 fos. 73-78.
J. F. Campbell, Leabhar Na Feinne (London, 1872), pp. 108-110.
Fenian warrior

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Black Grouse Reel - II

Some six months ago we published a blog giving Alexander Carmichael’s nature notes concerning Black Grouse or Coilich Dhubha. In a long, and somewhat rambling, letter that he sent in 1885 to the Rev. Alexander Stewart (1829–1901), or Nether-Lochaber as he was better known to his readers, Carmichael raises the topic once again. Stewart had been  resident in Onich in Nether Lochaber (Bun Loch Abar) since 1851, but he had been born in Benbecula where his father David had been an exciseman, just like Alexander Carmichael himself. The minister wrote a celebrated, more or less fortnightly column for the Inverness Courier which reflected interests just as eclectic as those of Carmichael. Indeed, Stewart’s columns proved so popular that some were subsequently published as the books Nether Lochaber: The Natural History, Legends and Folk-lore of the West Highlands (1883) and ’Twixt Ben Nevis and Glencoe: The Natural History, Legends, and Folk-lore of the West Highlands (1885). The excerpt concerning the Black Grouse Reel is as follows:

“I meant to have asked you long ago if you lived in a blackcock country, or if you are personally acquainted with the habits of black game? My reason for asking is this: you know the glorious old dance tune, or porst, sometimes post-a-bial [sic] called Ruidhleadh nan Caoileach Dubha–The Reeling of the Black Cocks. The tune proceeds thus:–

“Ruidhleadh na coilich-dhubha,
Dhannsadh an tunnagan,
Ruidhleadh na coilich-dhubha,
Air an tulaich bhoidheich.

“Air an tulaich, air an tulaich,
Air an tulaich, urrad ud,
Air an tulaich, air an tulaich,
Air an tulaich bhoidheich, &c.’

All this ‘reeling’ of the black cocks, and ‘dancing’ of the ducks, may probably seem foolish, if not absurd, to most men; but that the description is founded on the close observation of the characteristics of these birds, I am very sure. The old Highlanders were born naturalists. There were then close observers of nature–of birds and beasts, and of earth and sea, and sky. To that I can testify from having written down a good deal of their oral literature–Gaelic, Eachdraidh Chluais.

Nether-Lochaber, ‘Nether-Lochaber’, The Inverness Courier, no. 4048 (06 Aug., 1885), p. 2, c. 6–7

Image: Black Grouse, Coilich Dhubha

Friday, 9 July 2010

Cumha Mhic an Tòisich – Mackintosh’s Lament II

As indicated in a previous blog, Alexander Carmichael contributed another long article to The Highlander – it seems that he was unfamiliar with brevity – about Cumha Mhic an Tòisich, or Mackintosh's Lament. His first article drew a reply from ‘A. M. S.’, or Alexander MacLean Sinclair (1840–1923), a near contemporary who hailed from Glenbard, Nova Scotia. His reply will no doubt be the subject of a subsequent blog. Sinclair published a great deal during his lifetime, works (mainly compilations of Gaelic song and poetry) such as Clàrsach na Coille (1881) and the Glenbard Collection (1890). Letters from his pen also appeared frequently in Gaelic-related newspapers and journals produced in Nova Scotia as well as those in Scotland. It is perhaps no coincidence that Sinclair was also accused of tinkering with his source material, but such accusations may be forgiven, for he, like Carmichael, brought to light much Gaelic and Highland-related material that otherwise would have been lost. It may also be added that Carmichael also furnishes a translation of Cumha Mhic an Tòisich although he admits that it was far from being perfect.

The death of the late young Mackintosh drew from the rich repository of Celtic lore at Creagory a lament for a previous young chief, which was hardly at the time to be in existence, and which perhaps no one but Mr Carmichael himself could furnish in M.S. We were desirous of having a good English version of this lament for the sake of the young widow who has such sad cause to enter into the spirit of it. There is something curious in the fact that the English version which we now have now from Mr Carmichael comes just as the birth of a daughter mingles the joys of maternity with the sorrow that the inheritance of her husband shall not pass to her offspring. Mr Carmichael writes:–

I beg to apologise to your courteous correspondent, ‘A. M. S.’ for delaying to reply to his communication in The Highlander of 27th May.
I regret my inability, at present, to enter into the interesting questions raised by “A. M. S.” though I trust to be able to do so, at some future time. I may, however, state that I entirely agree with him, that there may be music wholly independent of the words, and that much of our best Highland music has been so composed.
Nevertheless, the instances are few, I think, in which there are no words to our Gaelic airs, even to our most complicated laments and pibrochs.
Whether the music may not have been originally composed without the words, and the words subsequently added, as suggested by him, is another question, and one upon which, in the meantime, I am unable to enter. For the present, I must content myself, with giving an English translation of Mackintosh’s Lament, as desired by A. M. S.
The translation is literal–probably too much to be effective. It is very unsatisfactory, and conveys to the reader, and imperfect idea of the beauty and pathos of the original. I invariably find, however, that it is easier to be dissatisfied with a thing than to improve upon it. As will be seen, no attempt is made at rhyme, though I should much like to see the beautiful Gaelic lament adequately rendered into English.


’Tis I am the woman of sorrow,
Wearing the kertch,
Since all men have heard,
That on its crown is the favour.

Alas! and alas! thou art felled,
Alas! and alas! thou art felled,
Alas! and alas! thou art felled,
In the path of the garden.

The roan horse felled thee,
The roan horse raised not thee,
The roan horse felled thee,
In the path of the garden.

O! would I were there then,
Would! would! I were there then,
O! would I were there then,
I would have grasped thy hand.

A maid stricken in sorrow am I
Whom no one again will recognise,
Since this time last year,
The day the ring was placed on me.

’Tis I that am sore in anguish,
Oft the tear drops from mine eyes,
Sorrowing over the splendid youth,
The gallant rider of fiery steed.

The wine meant for thy marriage
Was spent at thy funeral;
How wept I
Betimes the gallons were being drained!

I shall not go to a wedding,
Neither to feast nor to fair;
’Twas in the early springtime
I received the sorrow that pierced me.

Stricken in grief am I,
Since in the earth they laid thee;
Carry my blessing with my heart’s fond wishes,
To the high tower of stones.

My darling on thee my lover,
Thou beauteous sapling of the clustering locks,
More fragnant than the cinnamon,
To me, is the breath of thy mouth.

Gracefully would’st thou dance
To the strains of the music;
Nor woulds’t thou bend the grass-blade,
Beneath the point of thy high shoe.

My fond love on thy sister,
The young maiden of the yellow hair;
Well beseems thee a ruddy cheek,
Coming from travelling the Brae.

The hunter of the deer thou,
And the salmon on the cascade,
The black-cock on the pointed bough,
And the white bird (swam?) woulds’t thou kill.

Rider of the prancing black steed,
The prancing black steed, the prancing black steed,
Rider of the prancing black steed,
The white steed tore thee.

Young Eon thou art felled,
Young Eon thou art felled,
Young Eon thou art felled,
In the path of the garden.

Young Eon thou art raised,
Young Eon thou art raised,
Young Eon thou art raised,
Alas! unknown to me though first at hand.

Alas! and alas! thou art felled,
Alas! and alas! thou art felled,
Alas! and alas! thou art felled,
In the path of the garden.

The following variations with and additional verse of the poem were written on the 10th of February, last, from Christina Macdonald (?) “Cairistina Bheag”–a cottar woman at Borve, Barra. They were prefaced by an interesting introduction, part of which I quote for the sake of the vivid glance with which it illustrates the warm relationship existing in the olden times between a Highland chief and his clansmen–a relationship which to their honour be it said the descendants of the chief to whom the poem was composed still nobly perpetuate.
The Mackintosh had a foster-father (oide) of whom he sought counsel every morning. Upon a certain day the Mackintosh said to his foster-father–“What counsel to-day foster-father?” “That thou, the essence of my heart and of my reason, (a shugh mo chridhe ’s mo cheille) shalt yet find thy death from that proud prancing steed which thou now ridest under thee. “Hush! thou unsanctified carl (a bhodaich gun bheannachadh) in that thou art belied at the rate,” and pointing his pistol at the horses he shot him dead.
In substance, the rest of the introduction fairly agrees with that given in The Highlander of the 5th February last.

Och nan och leag ’ad thu,
Creach nan creach leag ’ad thu,
Och nan och leag ’ad thu,
Am bialach a gharaidh.

Leag an t-each cionnan thu
Bhreab an t-each cionnan thu
Leag an t-each cionnan thu
An ionad a gharaidh.

Maighdion ro-dhuilich,
Nach fainichear tuillidh mi;
’S mise ta muladach,
O’n la chuireadh orm faine.

’S mise bhean chianail,
O thoiseach na bliadhna
Cha gha’ainn ga m’ iarraidh
Mac iarla no stata.


Alas! and alas! felled they thee,
Ruin of ruin, felled they thee,
Alas! and alas! felled they thee,
In the pass of the garden.

Felled art thou by the roan horse,
Kicked art thou by the roan horse,
Felled art thou by the roan horse,
In the pass of the garden.

A maiden of great grief am I;
Recognised never again shall I be;
I dwell in desolation
Since the ring was put on me.

A woman am I of loneliness,
Since they early time of the year;
Yet would I note accept the seeking
The son of an earl, nor yet that of a noble.

I have time simply to say that I trust “A. M. S.” may yet be able to reconcile this beautiful Gaelic poem, and its tradition with recorded history. Eon variously written, Ewen, Evan, and Hugh, and not John, is the name mentioned in the lament.
Apologising for the length of this paper.
                                                           ALEX. A. CARMICHAEL
                                                                      Creagorry, Outer Hebrides,
                                                                                              21st June 1876.

Carmichael, Alexander, ‘Cumha Mhic-an-Toisich’, The Highlander, vol. IV, no. 165 (8 Jul., 1876), p. 3, cc. 3–5.
Macneil, Calum, ‘Carmichael in Barra’ in Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart (ed.), The Life & Legacy of Alexander Carmichael (Ness: The Islands Books Trust, 2008), pp. 44–57.
Image: Black Steed.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Cumha Mhic an Tòisich – Mackintosh’s Lament

There can be little doubt that one of the most powerful, heart-rending and beautiful laments that can be played upon the Great Highland Bagpipe is a tune called Cumha Mhic an Tòisich – Mackintosh's Lament. Carmichael had seen the obituary notice of the Mackintosh chief in The Highlander newspaper and what he read there must have piqued his curiosity so much that he wrote a couple of letters on the subject of this famous lament that later appeared in this newspaper’s columns. The traditional story behind the tune is given, as well as the lyrics taken down by Carmichael from Marion MacNeil or Mòr nighean Alasdair ’ic Ruaraidh Bhàin (1843–1927), daughter of the famous Gaelic seanchaidh Alexander MacNeil or Alasdair mac Ruairidh Bhàin (c. 1787–1881), Kentangaval, Barra.

In the interesting notice, in The Highlander, of the 25th ultimo, of the death of Mackintosh of Mackintosh, it is said:–“In the Northern Meetings he took much interest and frequently acted as one of the judges. His admiration for Highland music was great, and in connection with this, we may note that so highly did he esteem some of the old tunes that he was at considerable labour in tracting the history of some of them. “Cumha Mhic-an-Toisich,” “Mackintosh’s Lament,” was, we understand, so traced by him, and a copy of it, as supplied by him, was published by Messrs Fullarton & Co. In regard to this tune, the deceased wrote–“The tune is as old as 1550 or thereabouts. Angus Mackay in his ‘Pipe Music Book’ gives it 1526, and says it was composed, on the death of Lachlan, fourteenth laird; but we believe it was composed by the famous family bard, Macintyre, upon the death of William, who was murdered by the Countess of Huntly, in 1550. This bard had seen, within the space of forty years, four Captains of Clan Chattan meet with violent deaths, and his deep feelings found vent in the refrain–

Mackintosh the excellent
They have lifted;
They have laid thee
Low, they have laid thee.

These are the only words in existence which I can hear of.” These things are of more than passing interest. The Chief’s statement that these four lines are all he could recover of the famous piobaireachd induced me to search for something more among my own MSS., and I now give the result.
The following poem was taken down on the 25th Sep., 1872, from the singing of Mor nighean Alasdair ’ic Ruaraidh bhain, Keantangaval, Barra. Alexander Macneill, the father of this intelligent cottar girl, is an an excellent sgeulaich (storyteller), and as such, is often mentioned by Mr Campbell of Islay, in his well-known West Highland Tales.
According to my notes, written from the narration of the singer of the lament, there was a prediction prevalent amongst his clansmen that Mackintosh of the day was destined to die through the instrumentality of his beautiful black steed–a steud dubh aluinn–whose glossy skin shone as the raven’s wing, and whose flowing mane and tail waved free as the mountain mist. But whatever he felt, the Chief resolved to show to his people that he treated the prediciton lightly, and so he continued to ride his favourite notwithstanding the entreaties of his friends to the contrary.
On the day of his marriage, the spirited Chief rode his spirited black steed, which, on the way to church, became more than usually restive. The steed reared, and plunged, and curveted, and altogether behaved so wildly, that the rider, losing control over himself and his horse, drew his pistol and shot him dead.
A gille-mor, “man nearest to him,” as the old people say, handed his chief another horse and they proceed to church.
After the marriage ceremony, the gay party set out on their homeward journey. The bride and her maids, upon white palfreys, preceded, and the bridegroom and his friends followed. In passing, the chief’s roan horse shied at the dead body of the black horse, and the rider was thrown to the ground and killed on the spot. A turn in the road hid the accident from those in front, and thus the bride, unconcious of the scene of misery behind her, continued her way home, the happiest of happy brides! She is said to have composed the air and elegy–Cumha Mhic-an-Toisich–The Mackintosh Lament.
“A distressing occurrence,” I remarked, as the narrator ended her interesting introduction to the poem.
“Yes sir,” said the girl, who is a Catholic, “But it was fated to him–bha e ’n dan dha,” which brought out the latent predestinarianism which seems so ingrained in the Scottish mind of all denominations.
I know not of what family was this unhappy lady, who, if this tradition be correct, has had the honour of composing one of the most plaintive, pathetic, and touching, and withal one of the most beautiful things in the Gaelic language.
The late young Mackintosh states that Mackay in his Pipe Music says that the air was composed in the year 1526 on the death of Lachlan, the fourteenth laird, while, he himself, believes that it was composed of Huntly in 1550. The period would agree with an expression in the seventh stanza:–

             Cha lubadh tu am feornan
             Fo shroin da bhroig arda.

            (In dancing) thou wouldst not bend the grass-blade
            Beneath the point of thy high shoe.

In the time of Elizabeth and James, fashionable people in England and Scotland wore shoes curving up at the point, like those worn by fashionable Indians at the present day. In extreme cases shoes curved up to the extent of two feet. The only difficulty is to believe that a Highland chief of that period wore these high shoes. Perhaps after all these are not the shoes meant.
The Rev. Mr Macgregor, Inverness, whom I consider the purest Gaelic writer of the day, has kindly supplied me with this note:–

Tradition also relates that the afflicted widow of the Mackintosh, who came by his death as stated above, not only composed the beautiful air of the Lament, but chanted it as he moved forward at the head of the bier at her husband’s funeral, and marked the time by tapping with her fingers on the lid of the coffin. That, it is said, she continued to do for several miles, from the family castle at Daleross to the burying ground at Petty, and ceased not until these was torn away from the coffin, when it was about to be lowered into the grave. A. M’G.

Cha ’n eil saoidh gu’n a choimeas–“there is no hero without his prototype.” The versatile author of The Ingoldsby Legends gives a story–“The Grey Dolphin”–which, in one point, resembles this. A witch announces to the Baron de Shurland that his favourite dapple-grey steed is to be the means of his death. In order to belie the prediction, the doughty Baron draws his sword and cuts off the steed’s head. Three years thereafter, as the Baron returns home to Scotland, whither he had been with Edward Longshanks fighting an unrighteous war against Wallace, he sees the witch sitting on the bleached skull of his good old steed. Curiosity leads him to approach, when the witch mysteriously disappears. In his disappointment, the Baron kicks the skull, one of whose teeth enter his foot, causing mortification and death.
I regret my inability to throw further light on the subject of the following poem, which I beg to subjoin. ALEX. A. CARMICHAEL.
              Creagorry, Outer Hebrides,
                     17th Jan., 1876


Is mise ’bhean mhuladach,
’Giulan na curraice.
O’n chualas aig gach duine,
Gur ann ’na mhullach bha am fabhar.

Och! nan och! leagadh thu,
Och! nan och! thogadh thu,
Och! nan och! leagadh thu,
A’m bealach a’ gharaidh!

Leag an t-each cionnan thu,
Cha do thog an t-each cionnan thu,
Leag an t-each cionnan thu,
A’n ionadh a’ gharaidh!

’S truagh! nach robh mis’ a’n sin,
’S truagh! nach robh mis’ a’n sin,
’S truagh! nach robh mis’ a’n sin,
’S bheirinn air laimh ort!

’S i maideann ro-dhabhach,
Nach fhainichear tuillead mi,
O’n taca so ’n-uiridh,
O’n la chuireadh am fainn orm.

’S mise’ tha gu tuirseach,
’S tric snidh air mo shuilean,
’S mi ’g ionndrain an fhiurain
Marcaich ur ’nan steud aluinn.

Am fion bha gu ’d bhainnis,
’S ann chaidh e gu d’ fhalair,
Gur mise bha galach,
’N am ’nan gallan a thraghadh!

Cha teid mi gun bainnis,
Gu feill no gu faidhir,
Gur ann toiseach an earraich,
Fhuair mi an t-saighead a chraidh mi!

Gur mise tha tuirseach,
O’n chuir iad ’san uir thu;
Thoir mo shoraidh le durachd,
Gu tur nan clach arda!

Mo cheist air mo leannain,
Fiuran a’ chuil chlannaich,
Gur cubhraidh o’n canail,
Leam anail do bhraghaid.

Dhannseadh tu comhnard,
’Nan seinneadh iad ceol dhuit,
’S cha lubadh tu am feornan,
Fo shroin do bhroig arda!

Mo cheist air do phiuthair,
Bean og a’ chuil bhuidhe,
Gur maith a thig dhuit rughadh
’Tighinn o shiubhal do bhráighe!

Sealgair an fheidh thu,
’S a bhric’ air an leumadh,
’S choillich dhuibh air bharr geige,
’S gu’n reubteach ’n t-eun ban leat!

Marcaiche an eich leumnaich dhuibh!
Leumnaich dhiubh! leumnaich dhuibh!
Marcaiche an eich leumnaich dhuibh!

Eodhain Oig! leaghadh thu!
Eodhain Oig! leaghadh thu!
Eodhain Oig! leaghadh thu!
An eabar a’ gharaidh!

Eodhain Oig! thogadh thu!
Eodhain Oig! thogadh thu!
Eodhain Oig! thogadh thu!
Och! gu’n fhios domh ’s mi laimh riut!

Och! nan och! leagadh thu,
Och! nan och! thogadh thu,
Och! nan och! leagadh thu,
A’m bealach a’ gharaidh!

Carmichael, Alexander, ‘Cumha Mhic-an-Toisich–Mackintosh’s Lament’, The Highlander, vol. II, no. 143 (5 Feb., 1876), p. 6, cc. 1–2.
Macneil, Calum, ‘Carmichael in Barra’ in Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart (ed.), The Life & Legacy of Alexander Carmichael (Ness: The Islands Books Trust, 2008), pp. 44–57.
Image: Black Steed.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Tha Mo Rùn air a’ Ghille / I Love the Lad II

Dr Keith N. MacDonald – it may be recalled – was one of the foremost experts of his day on Highland music and was more than a competent player on the fiddle. As a regular correspondent to The Oban Times he contributed many articles (some of which would later appear in book form) about various aspects of Gaelic culture, ranging from songs and music to the Ossianic controversy (and he, like Alexander Carmichael, held a sympathetic view of James Macpherson). In this particular article Carmichael is name-checked again, and a couple of additional verses of Tha Mo Rùn air a’ Ghille have been appended. There is also an interesting background to the way in which Carmichael came by the song. With regard to the age of the actual song, MacDonald’s speculation looks rather quaint and probably well wide of the mark but it is interesting to see how such scholars (and, we may add, collectors) understood their material. Such glimpses are fairly rare. The article ends with a familiar rant where MacDonald bemoans the lack of collectors who were willing, able and ready to preserve the oral tradition of the Gael and that as a result so much had fallen by the wayside; an accusation that certainly could not be levelled at his good friend Alexander Carmichael.

As an instance of the antiquity of Gaelic music I find on extended search an enquiry that the opinion I have always held regarding this class of music is being gradually confirmed. Some months ago I published a version of the beautiful Gaelic song “Tha mo run air a’ Ghille,” composed by a daughter of the Chief of the Grants of Glenurquhart, for Donald Donn of Bohuntin, who was executed in 1692, making it at least 209 years old. Since then I have come across evidence to show that it is probably much older than the 17th century. Mr Alex. Carmichael, in sending me a couple of verses of the song not generally known, mentions that he got them from Captain Anderson, Saltcoats, a native of Lismore, whose maiden aunt, Isabella MacGregor, was the most beautiful singer of Gaelic songs he had ever heard. Not the nightingale, says Mr Carmichael, at its best, had a more sustained and beautiful voice than had Miss MacGregor. Melody was as natural to her as it is to the mavis of the rock, the merle of the brake, or the lark of the sky, and in his opinion the song under consideration is very old. “At the close of the interesting and instructive Pan-Celtic Congress in Dublin in August last the president of the Congress, Lord Castletown, invited several of the delegates to the Congress to Donevaile Court, his country seat in the county of Cork. Five branches of Celts were represented there–Breton, Welsh, Manx, Irish, and Alban Celts. At this delightful house party songs of the five different dialects of the Celtic were sung and played. Among those was “Tha mo rùn air a’ Ghille.” “That,” said a Breton present, “is a Breton air,” and he sang a verse of the song to the same air in his native dialect. He further remarked that his old uncle had the whole song, and that it was considered very ancient. It is interesting to know that this beautiful air is known in Brittany as well as in the Highlands of Scotland, probably the common heritage of both branches of the Gael. Now, the interesting question here is when did it come to Scotland, prior to, or within historic times. The fact of its having been a well-known and popular air in the Highlands more than 200 years ago shows that it had nothing to do with the ’45 period. Of course there has been some intercourse between the French and the Scottish people for many centuries, but the latter would be much more likely to bring over brandy and tobacco, than “Tha mo rùn air a’ Ghille.” On the other hand, it is very unlikely that the Bretons imported it from the Highlands of Scotland. The most likely solution is that it was brought over from Gaul by the early Celts, and probably long before Caesar’s invasion of Great Britain. Historians, antiquarians, and philologists have their various opinions regarding problems of this nature, but the one that fits best is the most natural. When Britain was first peopled we know not, but it is extremely probable that the original inhabitants came over from the neighbouring coast of France, and at a time when the Straits of Dover were much narrower than they are at the present day. The period has probably been so remote, that one can hardly risk reducing it to figures. It might have been three or then thousand years ago or more, but whatever the time may have been “Tha mo rùn air a’ Ghille,” in all human probability come over from the original habitants of Great Britain, so that the least age I can claim for it is something more than two thousand years. It is interesting in connection with this subject that upwards of five millions of people speak “Breig” in Britanny, and of songs and airs they seem to have a vast number. Two of the Breton gentlemen who were at Donevaile Court have collected more than nine hundred Breton airs, and, other Bretons are doing similar work. Mr Carmichael complains that those people are in advance of us in collecting the music and songs of their country, and sadly laments that hundreds, probably thousands, of Gaelic songs and Gaelic airs have died out or been killed during the last two centuries, and prays for an earthquake to shake up the dry bones of Highland apathy!

Moire ’s mo ghaol am fiùran,
Mach à teaghlach Bhothionndain (Chilliondain),
Sealgair fèidh am beinn a’ bhùiridh,
’S eilid luth nan luath air.

Naile, ’s e mo ghràdh an t-òigear,
Aig am bheil a phearsa bhòidheach,
Fhir ’chul-dualaich chuachaich òrbhuidh,
’S fiamh an ròis ’ad ghruaidhean.

MacDonald, Dr Keith N., ‘Music and Song’, The Oban Times, no. 2448 (26 Oct., 1901), p. 3

Image: Portrait of Dr Keith N. MacDonald from The Celtic Monthly.

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). [©]