Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Clean sheets

Last week we were happy to see the return of Carmichael Watson documents which had been enjoying some tlc in the Conservation Department. Over the past 18 months, Mariko Watanabe, a postgraduate student, has, in her spare time, been cleaning, repairing and re-housing the 300 sheets of paper which make up Coll-97/CW244/1-200, under the watchful eye of Ruth Honeybone, conservator for the Lothian Health Services Archive. These documents are transcriptions of secular songs collected by Alexander Carmichael and include Brochan Lom, A' Bhanais Spòrsail, Mac Mo Rìgh air Tìr an Alba and Tàladh Cuain, amongst a multitude of others [refs. Coll-97/CW244/59/1, /79b, /107b and /181]. Ruth tells us that the work the manuscripts required was ideal for training in paper repair. Well there's plenty more where that came from!

Mariko returns the newly conserved manuscripts to Kirsty at "Carmichael Corner".
Mariko is now heading off to West Dean College in Sussex to train as a book conservator and we want to express our sincerest thanks to her (and to Ruth) for all the work she has put into preserving these precious papers and wish her all the best at West Dean. Beannachd leat, a Mhariko!

Friday, 2 September 2011

St Donan’s House, South Uist

Eilean Donan Castle
From whom Alexander Carmichael got this snippet of information concerning St Donan’s House, South Uist, is not now known with certainty. Archaeological remains, particularly those with an ecclesiastical connection, were of great interest to the collector, something which is reflected in his folklore notebooks. Aside from providing rough measurements of the actual site, Carmichael then proceeds to give some traditions about it stating that the saint is said to lived there. Mention is then made of the nearby township of Kildonan – where the museum is now located – and how it was cleared during the 1830s. Before this rather sad event, Flora MacDonald, the most famous Jacobite heroine, is said to have lived in this township after she had separated from her husband, Allan MacDonald of Kinsburgh (c. 1720–1792), who is said to have come to visit Flora in his dotage.

St. Donans house in Eilean Donain
L[ength] 50 x 26 feet with several surrounding ruins
Length of Isle 70 y[ar]ds. B[readth] 50 yards. This isle
is about 25 y[ar]ds from the next isle which is ab[ou]t
50 y[ar]ds from Claddh [sic] Donain. Cladh Donain
is a peninsula with a no of ruins and that
of a chapel & altar and the font in a herds
house at Milton & used as a crotag. Isl[e]
Donain is a small gre[e]n fertile isle field
of nettles & viratus Alba. St Donan is said to have
lived here & the the [sic] large ruin is called ‘Taigh-
Dhonnain’. Graves and caibeil are in the
Peninsula of cleadh [sic] Don[ain]. Near by is the hamlet
of Kildonain the ruins of many houses fr[om] which
the people were ousted ab[ou]t 40 y[ea]rs ago. Beautiful
land now a sheep track. Ab[ou]t 20 tenants
Flora MacDonald is said to have lived here
left her husband fr[om] jealousy.
Alain Chi[n]sburgh came to Lochaoineart and
was so infirm with rheumatism & flesh & age
that he had to be carried upon a cra-leaba to Bornish
where he remained that night and proceeded next day
to Kildonan to Flora’s house. How long they remained

St Donan, a Columban saint, is closely associated with one of the Small Isles, namely the Isle of Eigg, where he suffered the death of a martyr on 17 April 617. Tradition says that this day was being observed as Easter Sunday. The Felire of Oenus the Culdee says (in translation):

“With the festival of Peter the Deacon,
To glorious martyrdom ascended
With his clerics of pure lives Donnan of cold

Many are the place-names associated with St Donan, ranging from Carrick, Loch Garry, Kintyre, Arran, South Uist, and, of course, Kintail. The iconic Eilean Donan Castle situated on the island of St Donain is a familiar site and has been used in many films through the years such as The Highlander and as the Scottish HQ for MI6 in the James Bond movie The World is Not Enough. But don’t be fooled by the way it looks: it was restored during the twentieth century (completed in 1932 after twenty years of restoration work) from the ruins of a fortified structure which dates to around the thirteenth century.

CW150/82, ff. 55v–56r.
Eilean Donan Castle.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

A Close Encounter of the Fairy Kind

Corunna (A Coruña), Galicia, Spain
Fairy lore looms fairly large in any collection of folklore and Alexander Carmichael’s extensive archive is no exception to this general rule. A song and the background story to it was collected from the recitation of Mary Ferguson (c. 1825–1909), a domestic servant, staying then at Cladach a’ Bhaile Shear, but hailing originally from Carinish, both North Uist, by Carmichael some six weeks before he neatly transcribed it on 15 June 1869. The story if not the song itself is typical fairy lore.

An old man in Baileshear
heard this song in a bruth[ain] in a
croc fraoich while pulling heath[er].
He heard this in a warm (braiste
day. He sat down took off his bon[ne]t
& had the song when he ret[urne]d at night
and the whole baile gath[ered] to hear
the oran si[th]. The man was Iain
mac Aon[gh]ais MacAulay. Twas
heard at Croca-du[bh]-Amhain an
iasgaich. The Knoll was always
haunted and even to this day none
likes to pass the way. One Mary
Mac Aulay in Baileshear while
out in search of sheep to mile saw
two women coming out fr[om] this si[th]
ein. They had on green petticoats
with sheen of silver. One tall & one
short & both of exceed[in]g beauty & grace
Their green dresses were like the
dewy grass. They accost[ed] her & told
her where she was go[in]g – for her caig-
ean chaorach & told her where she
would find one & then where the other.
They then told her to go on till she
would see a tall man with a white sheet
in his hand for her life not to to in his
sight. They then gave her a small
stone round stone with a hole in centre
& told her to keep it & that while she lived she
would have plenty of sheep & to give this
stone to her dau[gh]t[er]. This the woman
did & she & her desc[en]d[ents] have been
noted for the manner in which
their sheep have prosp[ered]
She saw the tall tall man
& he was so tall that the fright[ened] her
life & she threw herself down in a
ditch & then rem[ained] till he went
out of sight. He looked all r[oun]d
and gazed upon the sky. She
made for home & lay in leaba
bais for a long time & last rec[o]v[ered]

The informant on this occasion was nick-named Màiri Fheargasdan nighean Corunna and elsewhere, in Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael notes that she was a ‘boireannach bochd truagh ach làn ciùil agus seanchais’ (a poor pitiful woman but full of music and lore). Carmichael also noted the family tradition that Mary heard a lot of her songs from her own mother who had a ‘a large number of songs and lays of gr[ea]t antiquity’ and who was known as Cailleach Choruna on account of her many stories relating to Corunna (A Coruña, a Galician maritime city and municipality) in Spain where she had been during the Peninsular War and where she had given a drink of cold water to Sir John Moore (1761–1809)  after he fell.

It seems as if the song Seathan Mac Rìgh Èireann, mentioned in a previous blog, held a particular fascination for Carmichael as he recorded many, many versions of the song, upwards of half a dozen and perhaps even more. The version given by the North Uist reciter on 29 May 1869 is as follows:

Hura hurabhi o
B anns Seathan cul to[bh]ta
Na i ora o agha[i]dh o
B anns Seath[an]
Huru a burra bhi o
Na dearbh mhac an righ eir lota
Na hi ora o agh o
Leaba fhraoich smi tha eir chlach
Nam faicte Seath[an]
Thig an t iasg. as an cuantan
’S thig na bric o na bruacha[n]
Thogta leat cro[dh] far a chrualaich
Cha bhi[odh] bo dhu[bh] na bo ghuaillean
An ioc[hd]ar ar uach[d]ar na buaile
Bh[e]ir[eadh] si[o]d an aon bho / gach aone bho bh[uamsa]
Gu ire mo bhreac[ain] uac[hd]air uaine
Sheath[ain] cridhe [th]u nan sul socair
Gur minig a dhearg [th]u na crocun
Cha bann le fuil chrui[dh] na chapal
Le sioda le strol la fasununn?
Tha S[eathan] a noc[hd] na mharbhan
Sgeul is ma[th?] le luc[hd] a leanabhain
Le mac cail[lich] nan naoi[dh] dealgun
Sheath[ain] sa Shea[thain] gun anam [th]u
Tha Sea[than] san t seomar ua[chd]rach
Gun ol cup gun ol caiche
Gun ol fion an cuirt dhaoine uasal
Nam faicte Se[athan] ag eiri[gh]
Ri sga[th] croic eir mad[uinn] Cheitin
S criosan caol du[bh] eir a leine
Gaol a mhuime gradh a cheile e
S seac[hd] seallai[dh] a mha[tha]r fhein e
Minig a chual e nach do dh’ in[nis] e
Gun ro[bh] mo lean[nan] an Minginish
Nam bio[dh] gun dean[ainn] fuirich innt
S meinig [thuirt thu] riumsa nach bu bhean sh[i]u[bh]ail mi
Bean bhoc[hd] chian[ail]
Bha mi o ru rudha gu ru[bha] leat
Bha mi an tir nan caill[each] du[bha] leat
Bha mi cill don[nain] a ghiubhais leat
Bha mi n Ile bha bha n Ui[bh]ist
Bha mi Eiri[nn] Choga M[h]umh[a]inn leat
Chuir m a[tha]ir an aite caraideach
Noch[d] sin a rinn [th]u banais dhomh
O choin a ri[gh] nach bi m fhalair[e]
Nach do rinn[eadh] [th]u an t anart ghearra[dh] domh
Nach do rinn[eadh] [th]u giu[th]as ghlana[dh] domh
Nach do chuir[eadh] [th]u san uir fal[ach] mi
Bann Seath[an] an cul to[bh]ta

Carmina Gadelica, v, pp. 60–83.
CW150/67, ff. 42r–44r.
CW150/68, ff. 44r–45v.
Corunna (A Coruña), Galicia, Spain.

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). [©]