Monday, 30 May 2011

Plague on Mingulay

Mingulay / Miughalaigh 1888
Another short historical anecdote taken down by Alexander Carmichael probably from the recitation of Roderick MacNeil, nick-named Ruairidh an Rùma, tells of the time when plague visited the remote island of Mingulay. Although the actual word ‘plague’ is not used in the story it may be assumed that an outbreak of this or some other devastating disease took place at some point during the sixteenth century just as a similar outbreak of smallpox decimated the population of St Kilda during the late 1720s. A disaster of such a scale was bound to remembered by any of the survivors and their descendants or, indeed, by those that chose to relocate to Mingulay. MacNeil’s narrative suggests that MacPhie along with others helped to repopulate the island community as MacNeil of Barra granted them land there.

About 300 years ago ten families lived in Mi[ng]ulay
One time in win[ter] the MacNeil of the day won[dered] that he
was see[ing] no per[son] from Mi[ng]u[lay]. He sent a boats crew
to in[vesti]g[ate]. The boat came over and land[ed] and sent
up a man the name of MacPhie. When he came
to the houses which then stood on a rocky Bun[?]
N[orth] E[ast] of the pre[sent village] he found all within dead. He
ret[urned] to his com[panions] who were keep[ing] the boat. They as[ked]
him what news. I’ll tell that pre[sently] said Mac
Phi not a bone of your bone [recte: body] shall come
in till you tell us first. as he would
not do so the boat left him and ret[urned] to Cas[tlebay]
and told MacN[eil] For 7 w[eeks] no other boat was
able to come. In the mean[time] Mac[Phie] went to the
hill op[posite] Bearn[aray] where there was a hut where
the sheep shelt[ered] dur[ing] snow. He got hold
of some sheep skin and made a cov[ering]
for himself and used the fat of the sheep
when frozen as food. When MacN[eil] came fire
was set to all the huts and the dead bod[ies] were
burnt. MacN[eil] asked MacPh[ie] if he were
committed[?] an[d] live in Miul[ay]. He said he wo[u]ld
and chose 3 or 4 trust[y] frie[nds]. They built the
huts down on the stran[d] but from
this the pred[?ecessors] of the p[?opulatio]n had to remove
on acc[ount] of the en[croachment] of the sea. Ruary saw
a man to whose house the sea was
ap[proaching]. He left his old moth[er] in his [hut] and
had not got six y[ar]ds from the ho[use] when a
sea came and left not one stone.

CW 114, fos. 63r –64v.
Mingulay / Miughalaigh 1888.

Friday, 27 May 2011

The Last of the Vikings

This short anecdote about the last of the Vikings in Fuday, lying just off Barra, was probably collected by Alexander Carmichael from the famous storyteller, Roderick MacNeil, known as Ruairidh an Rùma (c. 1790–1875). It is not impossible that there may well be an element of truth in saying that MacNeil of Barra’s illegitimate son wiped out the last of the Vikings in Fuday. Although the Vikings came at first to pillage the Hebrides they would eventually come to settle and marry into the local populace. It could be that this historical tale refers to the bloodier side of the Viking ‘conquest’ for it is clear to see that the King of Lochlann’s son, Barp, made himself extremely unpopular not only to the native islanders but also to the Vikings themselves. Such a legend has all the hallmarks of an assassination motivated in part by political expediency in gaining influence and control in the Hebrides:

Dùn a’ Bhairp / Dùn Bharpa, Barra

The last of the Lochlannaich lived in
Fuda[y] and were killed there. They were
killed by Mac an Amharais. He was a
an [sic] illeg[itmate] son of MacNeil – disowned
by his father, hence the name. Mac
Neil at last said to him. If thou
be my son go and kill a ghraisg ud
am Fuda[idh]. He went and left none
of them living. The Lochlannaich
at one time owned all these islands
A son of the King of L[ochlann] whose name
was Barp and who was the embodi[ment]
of all that was fierce and cruel
and murderous died. He was buried
behind Bailenacreaige and all
the Loch[lannaich] in all the islands col[lected]
and piled stones over him for fear he
should rise again to be a scourge
upon them. This was the origin
of “Dun a Bhairp” in Barra.

It may be noted that Dùn Bharpa is really a Neolithic chambered burial cairn or passage grave, located between two hills near Borve, in Barra. The scale is quite impressive at five metres in height and thirty-four metres in diameter. The capstone measures three square metres which is now split in two. Outside the cairn itself there are single upright stones that used to lean against the cairn.

CW 114, fos. 83r–83v.
Image: Dùn a’ Bhairp / Dùn Bharpa, Barra.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

What’s in a name?

Borve Castle, Benbecula / Caisteal Bhuirgh, Beinn na Faoghla
Sometimes Alexander Carmichael’s entries are so full of information that they generally have to be unpacked and carefully read before they reveal anything. This example is not untypical for at the mere mention of a name – Àird nan Ceann, Benbecula, in this instance, where a battle is said to have been fought – a series of related items is given beginning with a prediction attributed to the so-called Brahan Seer, or Coinneach Odhar Fiosaiche. The exact location of the place is then given with some fascinating detail about a rock called Creaga Loisgte which was, according to this tradition, one of the first places to be utilised by an Irishman for the purposes of teaching the proper method of kelp-burning. And finally it is related that it was, and perhaps still is, a very fertile place used for planting potatoes and other crops as well as being a very good place for harvesting lobsters, crabs and sand-eels:

Aird-nan-ceann S[outh] E[ast] of the Caisteal
where a battle is to be fo[ugh]t & where a great army
has been seen under arms in a vision
Aird nan Ceann sin s Aird nan C[eann]
S mail liom nach mi bheir cam ann
Aig ceann a chlachain a deas
Sann a bheirear an cath teth teann
osa Cainneach O[dh]ar. Aird nan ceann
is bet[ween] the castle & Braobh fha[th]oil
Creaga Lois[g]te got its name fr[om] the first
kelp having been burnt there by Rua[i]ri[dh]
na Luath – an Irishman who came to
teach kelp making. This was the best plac[e]
for giomaich & crubagun. This is now
pota[to] ground bere &c. Each[ann]’s wife’s gr[ea]t g[r]and
mother Catri[o]na ni[gh]ean mhic a
Ghobh-an – used to bring basketfull[s] of siol
agaun from round the castle. Siolagun
can only be got from a clean strand at
low wat[er] spring tide.

CW 116, f. 58v.
Borve Castle, Benbecula / Caisteal Bhuirgh, Beinn na Faoghla.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Song Narrative: Ailein Duinn a shiùbhlainn leat

A famous Gaelic song Ailein Duinn a shiùbhlainn leat (Brown-haired Allan, I would go with you) seems to have captured Alexander Carmichael’s imagination for he recorded around a half a dozen versions of it. One particular reciter from whom he got at least one version of this song was Kate Urquhart (1830–1927), Taransay, wife of Donald MacKinnon (the very same man who had guided Carmichael around the island). The following song narrative behind this tragic accident compares favourably with other versions that are scattered throughout many Gaelic journals and song anthologies. This note is also interspersed with some Campbell family history as, presumably, Anne Campbell, styled Annag nic Dhòmhnaill ’ic Iain Òig, was of this stock:

This song comp[osed] by An[n]a ni[c] Dho[mh]n[u]i[l]l ic Iain
Oig Chaimbeul. Iain Sheilebost was
the Duke of Argyle son cal[led] who came to Har[ris].
It was tho[ugh]t he and MacLeoids son kil[le]d a
young man at col[lege] & they ran here. He
was heir to the Duke his fath[er], but he nev[er]
went back. He went fr[om] Seilebost to Scapa
fr[om] which the Campbells of Scalpa came
The Camp[bells] of Strannd de[scended] fr[om] one
of the Barra breac fam[il]y who came to see
Iain Sheil[ebost] See here. Iain Sheile[bost]
came to Harris ab[ou]t 200 y[ea]rs ago.
The composer of the song was eng[aged] to a ship
Capt[ain] & had been drown[e]d near Scalpa or else
where. When she died soon after of a broken
heart she was to be bur[ied] at Rodail. On the
way thither the funeral boat kept close to land
The one cont[aining] the boy was furth[est] out & a storm
came which sever[ed] it fr[om] the rest They gave them
up for lost & set crainn which fell upon a dying
man An old man said We sill not throw
out the living till we throw out the dead.
They then threw out the corpse when it was
washed in again. They then took out the foot
end and all the body to slid[e] out when it w[en]t
to the bot[tom] & im[mediately] a dead calm en[sued] It was Miss
Camp[bell] own req[uest] that she sh[ou]ld be bur[ied] near
the place where he lover had been lost. She
was the dau[gh]t[er] of Don[ald] Camp[bell] who entertain[ed]
P[rince] Charlie.

CW 116, fos. 2v–3r.
Carmina Gadelica, ii, p. 282.
Gillies, Anne Lorne, Gaelic Songs of Scotland (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2006), pp. 50–53.
Image: Scalpay, Harris © Copyright David Wake and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

“Your Gaelic intuition must be extraordinary”

Fr. Allan McDonald and Alexander Carmichael were regular correspondents from at least the mid-1890s if not earlier until the former’s lamentably early death that took place on his adopted isle of Eriskay in 1905. This interesting and important letter was written just after Fr. Allan had received and obviously absorbed a great deal of Carmina Gadelica which, after all, had been a long time in the making and to which he had been given due acknowledgement in the introduction to Carmichael's masterwork. In general terms, the letter praises the work although at one particular point it is couched in irony bordering perhaps even on the sarcastic. One wonders whether Carmichael even detected this. Fr. Allan was in a position to know for he had done a great deal of collecting himself and he knew – though perhaps he does not state this explicitly – where Carmichael had been disingenuous with his sources and had been gilding the lily.

Sept[ember] 20th, 1900

Dear Mr. Carmichael,

The “Ortha” arrived safely and I am very thankful for it.
The work is well done. I am not surprised now at your delay. There is nothing to cavil at and everything to admire in the finished book you put together. The notes come in so well, scattered as they are instead of being all kept for the end. They balance the book and keep the interested equally divided between the sweetness of the hymns and the variety of your own patient researches. The translation is marvellous. It is a puzzle to me how you were able to interpret what I know the reciters themselves would tell you they could not understand, and yet when I read any such piece and look at the translation I say “Yes, it must be that”.
Your Gaelic intuition must be extraordinary. I once used to think that Alasdair Mac Mh[aighsti]r Alasdair coined words impromptu to express his feelings. If it had been the case, you intuition would have interpreted.
The English translation could not be excelled.
Your vocabulary is the most interesting I ever read. It hasn’t even the fault that the man found with Johnson’s English Dictionary when he said it was good reading if it didn’t change the subject so often. Every page of your vocabulary affords only another phase of the Gaelic spirit and culture.
You have done what no other could do now. Forty years have worked havock [sic] in our traditions. You stepped in and picked up these fragments in the search, and they more than anything else that we have will prove to the world the thoroughness of the Christianity that was spread from Iona and the piety of the people whose life in its every action was but a new act of worship of God. The traditions and the spirit are nearly gone and a bombastic bluster with no high or distinct ideals is nearly all we have left.
Many a time I have said, when hearing a pretty expression of politeness of the old Christian kind: What a fine old people were here when these expressions and the like of them were the natural expressions of the heart and not a mere lip of courtesy and politeness.
You have linked us with the Christian past, the best era that the Scottish Gael ever had, and have given us something more to be proud of than broadswords and bloodshed.
I am glad your picture is in the book. It could be nowhere better framed and set then there.
With thanks and congratulations and very good wishes,
I am, dear Mr. Carmichael

Yours truly,

Allan McDonald

P.S. Kindest wishes to Mrs. Carmichael and Miss Carmichael

Canna House Archive, Letter of Fr. Allan McDonald to Alexander Carmichael, 20 September 1900.
Fr. Allan McDonald, styled Maighstir Ailein.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Fairy Cattle

It was not completely unusual for Alexander Carmichael to note down succinct and short examples of Gaelic lore. Here, for example, is one that involves fairy cattle. Unfortunately, the Clanranald hero named in the story cannot be identified but his location is: Rosinish or Roisinis which may be taken to be the one in Benbecula rather than the one further south in Eriskay. He owned a cow but it gave little milk and so it happened that his wife one morning found three fairy cattle and went to milk them. A voice suggests that she spills a pail full of milk on the fairy-mound at Rosinish. She followed this instruction and she benefited by having plenty of milk thereafter. The story concludes with the woman’s death and the disappearance of the cattle. Presumably she could no longer provide a milk sacrifice to the fairy folk and so they then withheld their fairy cattle. Because the story has been summarised there is little to explain why the fairy cattle arrived on the scene in the first place:

A hero of Clanranald lived at Roisinis
& had 1 cow & but little milk. One morn[in]g his
wife saw 3 cro[dh] maol bui[dhe] & went to milk
them. A voice came to her at night & request[ed]
her to spill the full of the cuman
on the top of the sithein (Roisinis)
She did so each day & ever aft[er] she had
the cows & plenty of milk. When the woman
died the cows left & never ret[urne]d.

In Gaelic tradition such cattle are usually referred to as crodh sìdhe or mara (fairy or sea cattle). Elsewhere in Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael supplies a short note under the heading Crodh-mara, which he translates as sea-cows:

‘Cra-chluasach’, crimson-eared and ‘corc-chlusach’, purple-eared, are terms applied to a species of cattle with red ears which are alleged to be descended from sea-cows. Some of these cattle have one or both ears scalloped, and are hence called ‘torc-chluasach’, or notch-eared. Probably these red-eared cattle are descended from the old Caledonian cattle are also called ‘earc iucna’, notched cattle.
Several sea-cows came ashore at Struth, Obbe, Harris. The sea-maiden was tending the sea-cows, and singing the following song as she sent them back to sea and away through the Sound of Harris:–

Chualas nuall an cuan Canach,
Bo a Tiriodh, bo a Barraidh,
Bo a Ile, ’s bo a Arainn,
’S a Cinntire uain a bharraich.

A low is heard in the sea of Canna,
A cow from Tiree, a cow from Barra,
A cow from Islay, a cow from Arran,
And from green Kintyre of the birches.

CW 116, fos. 53v–53r
Carmina Gadelica, ii, pp. 260–61.
Rosinish, Benbecula / Roisinis, Beinn na Faoghla

Monday, 16 May 2011

2,500th catalogue entry created

Friday saw another milestone for the Carmichael Watson Project as the 2,500th item was catalogued (ref. Coll-97/CW116/16 folio 4v). The item relates to a man called Taogai MacCuinn who is said to have been the progenitor of all the MacQueens in Skye and Uist. He is described as being litigious and the item tells how he 'got off' a charge of crop damage.

Taogai MacCuinn from whom descended
the MacCuinns. This Taog was litigious. He had a
g[rea]t law plea about corn damaged. He wa[s] pur[sued] for
this corn & he sug[gested] that the inj[ury] might have been down
to the seals rolling them[elves] over the corn & he got off.
He lived in Trotarnish Skye from him all
the MacCuinns in Skye & Uist.

This nugget of information was collected by Alexander Carmichael on Taransay from a man called Ranald MacDonald (c1834-1913), who was a sheep farmer and the son of John MacDonald, tacksman of Taransay, during his visit there in July 1870.

So far, these 2,500 catalogue entries cover over 500 subjects, 130 families, 800 people and 1,300 places. You won't have too long to wait until you can explore these items for yourself as the online catalogue is due to be made live during our conference "Alexander Carmichael: Collecting Controversy and Contexts" on Thursday 23 June 2011. 

Reference: Coll-97/CW116/16 folio 4v.
Image: Loch na h-Uidhe, Taransay © Copyright Peter Standing and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence via

Saturday, 14 May 2011

No Rats in Taransay

Satires against vermin such as mice and rats were once a fairly common feature of Gaelic tradition. One such satire Aoir nan Radan – which may have been familiar to Alexander Carmichael given that the composer was a farmer called Livingstone from Lismore – appears in the Rev. Alexander Stewart’s ’Twixt Ben Nevis and Glencoe (1885), pp. 3–6. Many examples could be given of this interesting genre but this one should suffice in order to give a taste of the whole. The first verse goes like this: 
Mile marbhaisg ort, a radain!
A shlaideare nam badan arbhair;
Cha leòr leat sop ach an lán sguab dheth,
Dh-fag thu ’m bualadh dhomb nêo-tharbhach.
Rinn thu gradan de’m chuid eòrna,
A mhéirlich gur mōr do cháil dheth;
Na’n robh do cheann agam air innean,
’Smise nach tilleadh mo lámh dhiot!
The minister also gives a rather ‘loose’ translation aiming to keep the rhythm of the piece rather than supplying a literal version of ‘A Rat-Expelling Incantation’:
A thousand ills befall thee, greedy rat!
Expertest thief that ever yet was born!
In barn and stack-yard, maugre trap and cat,
Sad is the state of all my stock of corn;
Nor does a handful serve thee, shameless thief,
Unblushing rogue, thou claimest the whole sheaf!
Although the following anecdote does not explicitly indicate whether a satire was used against the rats it may well be taken to be understood. Donald MacKinnon, mentioned by Carmichael, was a crofter and fisherman from Taransay itself, an isle just off the west coast of Harris:

Rats can[no]t live in Taransay, so says Don[ald] MacInnon my
guide & cont[inued] in Lews when he was much troub[led]
with these pests. He made a wish that they were
anywhere The Cail[l]each Leo[tha]sach asked
him what would he give her to send them
away for him. He pro[mised] her so much but gives
her power. She askt [asked] him if he knew of any
pl[ace] where there were no rats. He told her that
a rat was no in Tar[ansay] & that they c[ou]ld not live
there so she sent them here greatly to his
relief – not none reap[peared?]. In 2 y[ea]rs they left not a
single thing in Tar[ansay] He then entreated her
to take them fr[om] his fr[e]inds & send them else
where which she did obligingly did & not one was left here.
Two rats were taken here by some fish[er]men
& in the course of 3 days 1 & in 4 days the 2 we[re]
found dead over at Aird nan Ceall
Plenty of mice here thou[gh]

CW 116, f. 9v
Morrison, John A, ‘Drumming Tunes: A Study of Gaelic Rat Satires’, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, LVII (1990–92), pp. 273-364
Image: Rat / Radan

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

How John Campbell Landed Up in Scalpay, Harris

It is not clear from whom Alexander Carmichael collected this historical anecdote concerning the progenitor of at least some of the Campbells of Scalpay, Harris. Although some of the details may have been exaggerated in the telling before they were committed to paper, there are normally kernels of truth in these type of family origin legends. It is interesting to note that if there is any truth to it the Campbells preferred to marry into Skye families rather than to take local Harris women. Could it have been that they still got preferential treatment as a favour from MacLeod? It may also be of interest that Carmichael notes the finding of a stone with the initials R.C. inscribed upon it and it may be reasonably conjectured that they stand for Roderick Campbell and an attempt may be made to try and tie up the family origin legend with this bit of material culture. Perhaps, though, Carmichael’s surmise in this instance goes a step too far but one of the earliest recorded mentions of these Campbells is a certain John Campbell or Iain Òg, his patronymic in early estate papers is given as John oig mc ean vc Innish or Iain Òg mac Iain mhic Aonghais: John son of John son of Angus. In all likelihood there is probably a connection between these two John Campbells:

The Duke of Argyle[’]s eldest son & MacLeod
of MacLeod’s eldest son were boys together at the Royal
High School Edin[burgh] or at the University. The Duk[e’s]
son & a gille Gal[l]da quar[elled] The latter was big & old
and was ill us[in]g the latter when young MacLeod step[p]e[d]
in to as[sis]t his young friend The 2 gave such a thrash[ing]
to the gille Gal[l]da that he died from the effect and
the two boys got so frightened that they fled home to Dun
veag[an] & then to Harris. The Duke sent for his son
sever[al] times but the would not go. MacLeod to his hon[our]
gave young John Campbell his choice of any
place in Harris & when young MacLeod came
to the pro[perty] he treated the family of his young friend with
much kindness. Of course young Campbell
and his suc[cessors] mar[ried] with the best families
in the isles – always took their wives from
Skye or at all events not fr[om] Harris This was
some[time] ab[ou]t the year 1600. Has the stone at Scalpa
anything to do with this with its letters R[oderick] C[ampbell]
and 1601? It was found at Lochsiphort when
qua[rryin]g for the Lighthouse at Scalpa. It was
und[er] much rubbish in a cleft in the rock and hid[?]
by the site of an old smithy.

CW 116, f. 13v
John Campbell – Iain Og []

Lighthouse on Scalpay, Harris

Monday, 9 May 2011

Latha Fhèill Mìcheil – Michaelmas

Alexander Carmichael in a letter of 1898 to his friend Fr Allan McDonald (of Eriskay) once wrote with regard to Michaelmas: ‘The more I think of the Festival of Michael the more convinced I am that there was no festival in the wide world like it. A variety of interests combined to render it great.’ Certainly, there was a great deal of festivities (in particular horse-racing) going on around 29 September, particularly in the Southern Outer Hebrides, when it came to celebrate Michaelmas. By the time Carmichael came to write about Michaelmas it had all but died out but his older informants and those from whom Fr Allan received information would have remembered a great deal of this old custom. An excerpt from his letter to Carmichael, Fr Allan relates that: ‘The religious functions most commonly assigned by the people here to St Michael are his meeting of the souls of the elect at the moment of death, and his presiding at the balance where the soul’s good and bad works are weighed.’ This reflects the esteem and importance of the Archangel Michael in Hebridean tradition and doubtless elsewhere.
Elsewhere, John Ewen (Iain Eòghann) MacRury of Torlum, Benbecula, notes down some of the customs that were once commonly held at this particular time of the year:

(In general) was observed
all over the country.
Every wife in the family
way had to go round
local burying ground or
some other burying place
agreed upon previously
Believing that the sanc-
timonious odour of the
graves was sufficient
to prevent premature
birth. In like manner
every mare expected
to be in foal went rou-
nd it also ‘A dol deas
al a chlaidh’ Going right
round it or following the
sun. There was no bridle
in the mouth of the animal
“Aodhstar” was the head
gear Cock-fi[gh]ting was
also to the fore. Every
defeated cock went to
the schoolmaster gratus [sic]
The winners were taken
back by their respective
masters, with a share
of the spoil. After all
the performances were
over the balls were held
one in each township and
many a ball terminated very
suddenly, by a severe fight.

CW 1, fos. 15v–16r.
Carmina Gadelica, iii, pp. 138–42
Image: Horses Racing.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Conference Registration Open

"Alexander Carmichael: Collecting, Controversy and Contexts"
Thursday 23 to Friday 24 June 2011
Centre for Research Collections,
Edinburgh University Library, George Square, Edinburgh.

In order to celebrate the completion of the most recent phase of the Carmichael Watson Project, the Centre for Research Collections is pleased to host a major interdisciplinary conference focusing on the life, career, and legacy of the great Hebridean folklorist, collector and author Alexander Carmichael (1832–1912).

Among the themes to be considered at the conference will be the Carmichael family; Alexander Carmichael's circle; Carmichael as collector of texts and objects; Carmichael and the environment; as well as folklore in the digital age.

The conference will showcase the important work being done by younger scholars and independent scholars alike in shedding further light on Carmichael's achievements, on the controversies surrounding his work, and on the people, the history, the environment, and the culture of the nineteenth-century Hebrides.

A conference highlight will be the launch of the new Carmichael Watson Project website, giving access for the first time to fully indexed transcriptions of all of Alexander Carmichael's field notebooks, the 'holy grail' for Carmichael researchers for several decades. A small exhibition of objects and images connected with Carmichael will accompany the conference.

Keynote Speakers will include Professor William Gillies, Celtic and Scottish Studies, University of Edinburgh and Peter Burnhill Director of EDINA.

To close the conference a concert will be held at St Cecilia's Hall, Cowgate, Edinburgh, featuring performances from acclaimed Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes, piper Allan MacDonald and Còisir Dhùn Èideann. The concert is open to members of the public, who can purchase tickets from the University of Edinburgh's ePay website. Ticket price is 10:00 GBP and includes a complimentary refreshment during the interval.

Attendance at 'Alexander Carmichael: Collecting, Controversy and Contexts' will cost 60:00 GBP or 25:00 GBP for students. The cost includes attendance at all lectures, teas/coffees, lunches, the reception to mark the launch of the Carmichael Watson project website and the conference concert.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Am Beannachadh Bealltain or The Beltane Blessing

Bealltain, Beltane, is the first day of May. On May Day all the fires of the district were extinguished and the 'tein eigin,' need-fire, produced on the knoll. This fire was divided in two, and people and cattle rushed through for the purification and safeguarding against 'ealtraigh agus dosgaidh,' mischance and murrain, during the year. The people obtained fires for their homes from this need-fire. The practice of producing the need-fire came down in the Highlands and Islands to the first quarter of this century [19th century]. The writer found traces of it in such distant places as Arran, Uist and Sutherland. In 1895 a woman in Arran said that in the time of her father the people made the need-fire on the knoll, and then rushed home and brought out their 'creatairean,' creatures, and put them round the fire to safeguard them, 'bho'n bhana bhuitsich mhoir Nic-creafain,' from the arch-witch Crawford.

The ordeal of passing through the fires gave rise to a proverb which I heard used by an old man in Lewis in 1873: - 'A Mhoire! mhicean, bu dora dhomhsa sin a dheanamh dhuit na dhol eadar dha theine mhoir Bheaill,' An Mary! sonnie, it were worse for me to do that for thee, than to pass between the two great fires of Beall.

BEANNAICH, a Thrianailt fhioir nach gann,
Mi fein, mo cheile agus mo chlann,
Mo chlann mhaoth ’s am mathair chaomh ’n an ceann,
Air chlar chubhr nan raon, air airidh chaon nam beann,
Air chlar chubhr nan raon, air airidh chaon nam beann.

Gach ni na m’ fhardaich, no to ’na m’ shealbh,
Gach buar is barr, gach tan is tealbh,
Bho Oidhche Shamhna chon Oidhche Bheallt,
Piseach maith, agus beannachd mallt,
Bho mhuir, gu muir, agus bun gach allt,
Bho thonn gu tonn, agus bonn gach steallt.

Tri Pears a gabhail sealbh anns gach ni ’na m’ stor,
An Trianailt dhearbha da m’ dhion le coir;
O m’ anam riaraich am briathra Phoil,
Is dion mo chiallain fo sgiath do ghloir,
Dion mo chiallain fo sgiath do ghloir.

Beannaich gach ni, agus gach aon,
Ta ’s an teaghlach bheag ri m’ thaobh;
Cuir Crois Chriosd oirnn le buaidh baigh,
Gun am faic sinn tir an aigh,
Gun am faic sinn tir an aigh.

Trath threigeas buar am buabhal bho,
Trath threigeas cuanal an cual chro,
Trath dh’ eireas ceigich ri beinn a cheo,
Treoir na Trianaid bhi triall ’n an coir,
O treoir na Trianaid bhi triall ’n an coir.

A Thi a chruthaich mi air tus,
Eisd is fritheil rium aig lubadh glun,
Moch is anamoch mar is iul,
A d’ lathair fein a Dhe nan dui,
A d’ lathair fein a Dhe nan dui.

BLESS, O Threefold true and bountiful,
self, my spouse, and my children,
My tender children and their beloved mother at their head.
On the fragrant plain, on the gay mountain sheiling,
On the fragrant plain, on the gay mountain sheiling.

Everything within my dwelling or in my possession,
All kine and crops, all flocks and corn,
From Hallow Eve to Beltane Eve,
With goodly progress and gentle blessing,
From sea to sea, and every river mouth,
From wave to wave, and base of waterfall.

Be the Three Persons taking possession of all to me belonging,
Be the sure Trinity protecting me in truth;
Oh! satisfy my soul in the words of Paul,
And shield my loved ones beneath the wing of Thy glory,
Shield my loved ones beneath the wing of Thy glory.

Bless everything and every one,
Of this little household by my side;
Place the cross of Christ on us with the power of love,
Till we see the land of joy,
Till we see the land of joy,

What time the kine shall forsake the stalls,
What time the sheep shall forsake the folds,
What time the goats shall ascend to the mount of mist,
May the tending of the Triune follow them,
May the tending of the Triune follow them.

Thou Being who didst create me at the beginning,
Listen and attend me as I bend the knee to Thee,
Morning and evening as is becoming in me,
In Thine own presence, O God of life,
In Thine own presence, O God of life.

References: Taken from Carmina Gadelica, vol i, pp 182-185. Collected from Donald Wilson, aged 101, crofter, Airdmhor, South Uist.Image: Image taken from

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). [©]