Friday, 27 November 2009

Ewen MacLachlan – Dance Master, Catechist and Storyteller II

The tradition bearers of both South Uist and Barra told Calum Maclean of what they had heard about Ewen MacLachlan (c. 1799–1880) when he was collecting in the Southern Hebrides during the 1940s and 50s. For example when Maclean went to a dance in Iochdar, South Uist, he fell into conversation with Iain Ruadh MacLeòid (‘Red-haired John MacLeod’) who told him what he knew of An Dannsair Ciotach (‘the Stumpy-handed Dancer’). This John MacLeod was a good dancer and had learnt his dancing from Gilleasbaig Saor (‘Archibald MacIntyre’), a dance master from Iochdar who had in turn been taught by MacLachlan himself:

Bha mi greis a’ bruidhinn ri Iain Ruadh Mac Leòid agas thug mi tarrainn air an Dannsair Chiotach a thug na sgeulachdan do Chalum Barrach. Thubhairt Iain Ruadh gur h-e Eoghain Mac Lachlainn a b’ ainm dhà. ’S ann ’s a Fhrainng a chuala Iain a bha e ag ionnsachadh a bhith na shagart. Bha seann-duine ’s an Iochdar a dh’ eug o chionn ghoirid agas b’ ann bho Eoghain Mac Lachlainn a dh’ ionnsaich an duine seo. (IFC MS 1300, pp. 80–81)

I was a while conversing with Red-haired John MacLeod and I mentioned the Dannsair Ciotach that plied Calum MacMillan with stories. John MacLeod said that his name was Ewen MacLachlan and John had heard that he had gone to France in order to be educated for the priesthood. There was an old man in Iochdar who died recently he was taught dancing by Ewen MacLachlan.

A Barra tradition of Ewen MacLachlan was collected from Neil Angus MacDonald, a schoolmaster and noted piper:

Dubhairt Niall Aonghus gour chuala seisean a mhàthair a’ cainnt faoi’n “Dannsair Ciotach.” Rinnceóir clúmhar a bhí ann agas bhí sgoil dhamhsa aige i n-Uibhist. Eoghain na Laimhe Bige a thugaidis air. Bhí sé ‘sa Spáinn a’ foghlam de bheith ’n-a shagart agas ní raibh sé oiriúnach le bheith ’n-a shagart mar gheall ar an làmh ghórtach a bhí air. Nuair a d’ fhill sé as an Spáinn thosaigh sé a’ foghlam rinncí agas a’ bailiú sean-sgéalta. Bhí sean-fheari n-Uibhist a d’ fhoghaim rinncí uaidh agas bhí sé féin ‘n-a mhuinteóir rinnce. (IFC MS 1299, pp. 433–34)

Neil Angus heard his mother speak about the Dannsair Ciotach: a great dancer who had a dance school in Uist. He was called Eòghain na Làimhe Bige (‘Ewen of the Shrivelled Hand’) and he had been in Spain training for the priesthood but left due to his disability. After his return from Spain he started to teach dancing and to collect old stories. An old man still alive learnt to dance from this man’s tuition and who subsequently became a dance teacher himself.

Another Barra tradition, this time from the Coddy, or Iain MacPherson, from Northbay, who adds some additional detail to the previous accounts:

Dubhairtan Coddie gur innis Calum Barrach go raibh an Dannsair Ciotach air “bhanais-taighe”, bainfheis tighe, i n-Ormaicleit agas go raibh sé a’ rinnce ann. Mhúch sé an cruisgín (cruisgean) seach n-uaire le n-a chosa leis chomh maith agas bhí cumhacht na gcos. Fuair na rinncéoirí i mBarraidh agas i n-Uibhist na rinncí o’n bhfear seo. Bhí sé le bheith ‘na shagart ach b’ éigin do éirigh as mar gheall ar na làmha aige a bhith giortach. (IFC MS 1299, p. 431)

The Coddy heard from Calum MacMillan about the Dannsair Ciotach and how he had been at a wedding feast in Ormaclete in South Uist and had danced at it. This man was so good at dancing that he managed to snuff out candles with his feet seven times in a row. The dancers in South Uist and Barra were taught dancing by this man. He was going to become a priest but had to give this up because of his injured hand.

Although not a great deal has been added to our sum knowledge about Ewen MacLachlan other than reinforcing his reputation as being an able dancer, storyteller and teacher, as well as his unrealised ambition of becoming a priest, he was still remembered by some who were but only one remove from those who had actually heard the dance master recite stories or who had been taught how to dance by him.

References:
Calum Maclean’s manuscripts, IFC MSS 1299, 1300.
Image: Dancing Feet

No comments:

Post a Comment

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). [© carstenflieger.com]