Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Uilleam Ros: Am Bàrd air an robh galar gaoil – II

A’ leantainn air a’ bhlog mu dheireadh, tha còrr den sgeulachd ann mu Uilleam Ros. Faodar a ràdh cuideachd gun d’rugadh Ros ann an 1762 ann an Sìthean anns an Eilean Sgitheanach. B’e athair Iain Ros agus b’e a mhàthair nighean Iain ’icAoidh, Am Pìobaire Dall, a bhuineadh do Gheàrrloch, Taobh Siar Rois. Chaidh Uilleam Ros a thogail anns an t-Srath san Eilean Sgitheanach. Dar a bha e fhathast na sgoilear anns an eilean, bha e follaiseach gur h-e gille tapaidh a bh’ ann agus gun robh e fada air thoiseach air a cho-aoisean. Chuir a phàrantan rompa gum b’fhiach e Uilleam a chur do sgoil gràmair ann am Farrais ann an Sgìre Mhoireibh. Leis mar a shoirbhich cùisean le Uilleam Ros aig an sgoil a bha seo, thuirt am maighstir-sgoile nach robh sgoilear na b’ fheàrr na e. B’ ann timcheall air an àm a bha seo gun do thòisich Ros a chuid smaointean a chur ri chèile ann am bàrdachd agus riamh bhon uair sin cha tug e sùil air ais.

Ri linn
a bhi faicinn a h-aon leanabh a fulann
piantan a bhais mu choinneadh a
sul airson a leannan Mor Ros
bha e ri raitinn gun d-rinn a
mhathair achaini[dh] gum bitheadh ise
(re Mor Ros f[h]athast air a losgadh mar
a bha mac-se nis ga losgadh. Mar
a ghuidh b-f[h]ior. Chuala Mor Ros gnog
aig an dorust oi[dh]che s in a suidhe
na taigh fhein ann Liverpool agus
cha[idh] i thun an doruist ga fhosgladh
agus caingeal na laimh. Chun[naic]
i coltas Uilleam Rois agus leis a
chlisgeadh a ghabh tharruinn e
air a h-ais agus fhuair a chaing-
eal greim air an deise thana
gheal a bha oirre agus bha in a lasair
Cha[idh] a losgadh cho dona s gun do
chaochail i goirid na dheigh.
Bha e air a ogh-ra nuair a dh is
a bhean Mor Ros an duin aice
gum fac i buillean Ros aig an
dorust gun d-eirich e mach le
feirg le pathair dhag na laimh
feuch am faiceadh e e gus
a mharbhadh. An a litir a
fhuair an duine aig Mor Ros
a’ Steornabhagh dh-is i gu ’n do
chaochail Uilleam Ros ann an
Gearrloch a cheart oi[dh]che loisgeadh
a bhean.
Bha ogha do Mhor Ros na governess
Mu thua[th] ann [words omitted] Ros no
Cataobh bho chionn beagan uine.
Is ann aig a chithe ann an Steorna
bhagh a bha an taigh anns an ro[bh]
an cruinneachadh far am fac
Uilleam Ros Mor Ros an toiseach.
S ann a sin a rinn e “Feasgar Luain.”
Tha an taigh direach aig a chithe
agus aghai[dh] san airde Tuath.
Is e mac bhrathair athair do dh-Iain
MacCoinnich an Uisge-bhagh a thrus
orain Uilleam Ros agus a fhuair
air an clo-bhualadh iad – am fear a
chuir a mach Sar Obair nam Bard
Gaelach. Is ann bho fhear Mac
a Phearsain a fhuair an trusadair
a chuid mhor do na h-orain aig
Uilleam Ros. Bha Mac A Phearsoin
na nabai[dh] aig Uilleam Ros. Ach
cha d-f[h]uaradh riamh s cha n f[h]aigh
faisg air an rinn Uilleam Ros a
dh-orain. Tha orain ann a rinn
Uilleam Ros nach d-f[h]uair Iain Mac
Coinnnich
Chuir da dhuin uasal anns
na h-Innsean dachaid[h] airgiod
gu Monument a thogail a dh U[illeam] Ros
Ach leis an uaigh aig bhi measg uaigh
nean eile cha b-urraiuntac [sic] Monument
a chur air. Thugadh a sin a deas
leac-lithe ach bha i ra ghoirid. Bha
leac air roimhe le aois us ainm
agus dh-f[h]agadh air i.

Biographical notes on the poet William Ross collected from Alexander MacKenzie, Loch Uiskevagh, Benbecula originally from Gearrloch, Ross and Cromarty, including how he met Alastair’s mother [Mary MacKenzie], for whom he wrote ‘Moladh na h-Oighe Gaelaich’; how shortly before he died, Ross burned all his books; about the relationship between him and Mor Ros, for whom he wrote many poems and who eventually married an army officer called Mr Clough; some notes about Mor’s family and how she died having been badly burned on the same night as Ross died in Gairloch; about gathering Ross’s works for publication and the erection of a monument to him. Mary MacKenzie’s death and burial place is also noted.

References:
CW104 91r-88r
Dòmhnallach, Tormod, ‘Uilleam Ros: A Bheatha ’s a Bhàrdachd’, Gairm, vol. 57 (1966), pp. 19–26 and vol. 58 (1967), pp. 108–15.
MacMhathain, Uilleam, ‘Mòr Ros’, Gairm, vol. 3 (1954/55), pp. 339–42

Image:
Duilleag tiotal de leabhar Uilleim Rois

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Uilleam Ros: Am Bàrd air an robh galar gaoil – I

’S e Uilleam Ros (1762–1791) aon de na bàird Ghàidhlig as ainmeile bhon ochdamh linn deug. Dh’fhaodte an rud as ainmeile m’a dheidhinn, ’s e gun d’ fhuair e am bàs le gaol (no galar gaoil) oir, mar a tha an sgeulachd a leanas a dh’innseas, ghabh e trom ghaol air Mòr Ros ach, gu mì-fhortanach, cha do dh’obraich gnothaichean a-mach idir mar bu mhiann leis, air neo, mar bu mhiann leotha. Gun teagamh sam bith, ’s e sgeulachd thiamhaidh, throm a th’ ann ach mura b’e airson na dh’fhuiling Ros le galar gaoil cha bhiodh na h-òrain aige cho drùidhteach. Tha mu dheich air fhichead de na dàin a rinneadh le Uilleam Ros air fhàgail agus chaidh a’ mhòr-chuid de na h-òrain sin a thrusadh le Iain MacConnich (1806–1848), am neach-deasachaidh a chuir Sàr-Obair nam Bàrd Gaelach (1841) ri chèile. B’ ann bho Alasdair MacCoinnich a bha fuireach aig an àm ann an Uisgebhagh, Beinn na Faoghla, a chlàraich Alasdair MacGilleMhìcheil na fhuair e air 14mh den Mhàrt 1866. Tha e coltach gur h-ann a mhuinntir Gheàrrloch, Siorrachd Rois, a bhuineadh cuideachd Alasdair MhicCoinnich:

“Moladh na h-Oighe Gaelaich”. Se bainm
dhi[th] Mairi Nic Coinnich. Se an riasan
mu d rinn Uilleam Ros [an] t oran bha
Bāl dannsac[hd] ann agus bha mai[gh]dean[n]
og a sin gan ro[bh] U[illeam] Ros soin [sic].
Bha i fhein agus Mairi Nic Coinnich
nan suidhe la[mh] ra cheile. Thainig U[illeam] Ros
agus shuidh e taobh na māidean og
agus dh-eirich ise us shuidh i air
an tao[bh] eile do Mhairi Nic Coinnich
Shuidh Mairi Nic Coinnich gu
stolta ciuin far an ro[bh] i. Ghabh U[illeam] Ros
speis mhor dhi[th] airson a toinisg
seach an te eile theich agus graine aic[e]
air agus ga nan ro[bh] sian gaoil aig
oirre rinn e t-oran dhi[th]. Bha Mairi
Nic Coinnich na h-ighinn fior
briadh an tus a h-oige agus i fua[tha]s
ach so-aimh siobhalta. Chaochail i
aig Loch Uisge-bhadh [word omitted] 1[8]85
aois [word omitted]. Tha i tio[dh]laicte ann an
cladh Bhaile-nan-Cailleach Beinn-
da-fhaola
Rinn Uilleam Ros fua[tha]s[ach] oran. An leabai[dh]
a bhais beagan la’un mun do chaochail
e dh-eirich e la[mh] agus a mhathar is
taigh agus cha i os cionnn ann an ro[bh]
na leabhraichean aige agus thug e as
a chuile gin diu agus chuir e air
an teine iad agus loisgeadh iad uile
Cha ro[bh] Didaoirn ’s a bhlianna nach
ro[bh] e deanadh oran no dan do Mhor
Ros. Bha Mor Ros gle dheonach
U[illeam] Ros a phosadh ach bha
a cairdean ardanach mor agus cha
leigeadh iad le[i]the phosadh. Thainig
oifigeach long chogai[dh] rathad Steorna
bhadh agus ghabh e gaol air Mor Ros
agus shir e air a h-athair i agus
thug a h-athair oirre an t oifigeach
Mr Clough a phosadh ach
b f[h]earr le[i]the fhein U[illeam] Ros. Leig a
sin U[illeam] Ros “laidh broin us bais”
air fhein a caoidh a leannain
agus chaochail e ann an caitheadh
Bha a mhathair og innseadh do
dh-Iain MacCoinnich nach ro[bh] U[illeam]
Ros sa bhria[gh] idir nach ro[bh] ann ach
fear ard dugh ach gu ro[bh] e gu math
direach deas agus glan na phearsa
’s geal na chneas.

Biographical notes on the poet William Ross collected from Alexander MacKenzie, Loch Uiskevagh, Benbecula originally from Gearrloch, Ross-shire, including how he met Alastair’s mother [Mary MacKenzie], for whom he wrote ‘Moladh na h-Oighe Gaelaich’; how shortly before he died, Ross burned all his books; about the relationship between him and Mor Ros, for whom he wrote many poems and who eventually married an army officer called Mr Clough; some notes about Mor’s family and how she died having been badly burned on the same night as Ross died in Gairloch; about gathering Ross’s works for publication and the erection of a monument to him. Mary MacKenzie’s death and burial place is also noted.

References:
CW104 91r-88r
Dòmhnallach, Tormod, ‘Uilleam Ros: A Bheatha ’s a Bhàrdachd’, Gairm, vol. 57 (1966), pp. 19–26 and vol. 58 (1967), pp. 108–15.
MacMhathain, Uilleam, ‘Mòr Ros’, Gairm, vol. 3 (1954/55), pp. 339–42

Image:
Duilleag tiotal den leabhar Uilleim Rois

Friday, 17 December 2010

“Reciters are the most egotistical set I have ever met”

In a rare and fascinating piece recorded on 24 April 1866 by Alexander Carmichael from Hector MacIsaac, or Eachann mac Ruaraidh (c. 1797–1878), a joiner by trade who hailed from Carnan, Iochdar, South Uist, we glimpse the thoughts of a tradition bearer revealing what he actually believed about the tales he possessed and what he thought of other tradition bearers. Such opinions would have been the topic of conversation before Carmichael wrote down the main object of his quarry – songs, charms, tales, proverbs, etc. – and so were not often recorded. It is noteworthy that Carmichael opined that: ‘Reciters are the most egotistical set I have ever met’ for, he continues, they say that they are the best and every other tradition bearer is inferior to them. Perhaps Carmichael might be a tad guilty of tarring others with the same brush here but there is no doubt that some, if not many, tradition bearers could be jealous of another’s repertoire and their ability as storytellers. At the very least this shows a human side to the art of storytelling. Such was the impact of Hector MacIsaac on Carmichael that he was moved to write about him in his introduction to Carmina Gadelica:

Hector Macisaac and his wife were the only occupants, their daughter being at service trying to prolong existence in her parents. Both had been highly endowed physically, and were still endowed mentally, though now advanced in years. The wife knew many secular runes, sacred hymns, and fairy songs; while the husband had numerous heroic tales, poems, and ballads.

I had visited these people before, and in September 1871 lain F. Campbell of Islay and I went to see them. Hector Macisaac, the unlettered cottar who knew no language but his own, who came into contact with no one but those of his own class, his neighbours of the peat-bog, and who had never been out of his native island, was as polite and well-mannered and courteous as Iain Campbell, the learned barrister, the world-wide traveller, and the honoured guest of every court in Europe. Both were at ease and at home with one another, there being neither servility on the one side nor condescension on the other.

The stories and poems which Hector Macisaac went over during our visits to him would have filled several volumes. Mr Campbell now and then put a leading question which brought out the storyteller’s marvellous memory and extensive knowledge of folklore.

Also notable is a name that has been mentioned before in this blog. Ruaraidh Ruadh, or the Red-haired Catechist (c. 1750–c. 1830), who had a major impact on the oral tradition of Uist as can be seen from the last passage.

Hector MacIosag despises mythological
tales and says they are great rubbish in which
I fear many men of greater pretention [sic]
will concur. But of the Fingalians
tales he declares them to be worthy [of] the
attention of princes – that they are the
most elegant excellent and delightful
tales that man could listen to. He
says that he heard tales read as repeated
by persons whom he knows and that
the tales were so garbled and mangled
that he hung down his head and
closed his ears for very shame. He
declares that When [he] is done planting
his potatoes he will travel over the
F[ord]– a dis[tance] of about 26 m[iles]. – to give me
a proper opp[ortunity] of taking down every word
he has before he dies. He says he he [sic] [has]
neither son nor dau[ghter] except one
little girl to whom he can leave his
legacy of prose and poetry. And as
he likes me better than any other
person in the world he is desirous
I should become poss[essor] of this invaluable
legacy. Ind[eed] he considers it an imper[tinence]
that his young daug[hter] does not exhibit
a wish to become poss[essor] of these tales of
the Fein[n]e in prose and poetry. He dec[lares]
that there is no man from the Butt of
Lewis to Barra Head – 200 m[iles] – who has
the history of the Fing[alians] so well as he. Re[citers]
are the most egotistical set I have
ever met. Each thinks himself much
better than his neigh[bour] in reciting. Each
declares that other re[citers] are only garbling
the tales. Ruarai Ruadh from whom
E[achann] MacIosaig learnt his tales died a-
bout 40 y[ears] ago – about 80 years of age.
A gentleman came from Edin[burgh] to take
down from him. He remained several weeks
from writing from his dictation.
For excelling so much in this L[ord] MacDon[ald]
generously gave him a house and piece
of land free of rent and this he enjoyed
while he lived. Proba[bly] he was the last Ga[elic?]
reciter who enjoyed free lands for his an[cient]
lore. He was a catechist and used to go
about catechising but in the reality
his audiences were more partial to his
old lore than to better talk. And truth to say
we believe the old man took more delight
in reciting and expounding the Fing[alian]
tales and poems than those of the Bible.


References:
Carmina Gadelica i, p. xx
CW 104, fos. 83v–82v

Image:
Carnan, Iochdar, South Uist

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Fenian Place-names in Ross-shire

Continuing with a Ross-shire theme, in a short but nonetheless interesting piece taken down by Alexander Carmichael, probably from the recitation of Alexander MacKenzie (born around 1799), then resident in Uisgebhagh in Benbecula but of Gairloch origins, there is some information given about Fenian place-names.

Tha gleann an sgir Polliu air a
bheil Gleann na tullach. Tha Suidhichean
Fhinn air mullach na beinne.
Tha "Gleann-na-muic" ann an tao[bh]
tuath dheth n t shuidheach. Tha
uaigh Dhiarmaid an Gleann na
tullach agus an uaigh aig an
da ghe'ala chu aig a casan aon
air gach taobh.

The above may be given in translation as follows:

There is a glen in the district of Poolewe which is called Glen Tullach. Suidheachan Fhinn (Fionn’s or Fingal’s Seat) is on the mountain’s summit. Gleann na Muic lies to the north of this and Diarmad’s grave is in Glen Tullach and on his grave are two white hounds on each side of his feet.

Such onomastic traditions would have piqued the interest of Prof. W. J. Watson, for he wrote about such place-names in his first major work, The Place-Names of Ross and Cromarty (1904), where he states that Fionn seems to be referenced in the place-name Suidheachan Fhinn, but that it is one of many. In his book about Gairloch, John Henry Dixon (18381926)  fleshes out a little more detail about this place-name: ‘Again, there is a mound in a depression near the summit of Beinn Tarsuinn, called Suidheachdan Fhinn, or Fingal’s seat, where they say he used to sit and spy when hunting on the mountains.’ Throughout the Highlands and Islands there are many places associated with the Fenian warriors of a mythological past and stories such as these give a depth and resonance to those very landscapes. One of if not the most famous example of Fingal’s Seat (called Suidh Fhinn) lies just outside Portree, in the Isle of Skye, and views from its top offer a wonderful vista including, on a clear day, the mountains of Wester Ross.

References:
CW 104, fol. 35v
Dixon, John H., Gairloch in North-West Ross-shire: Its Records, Traditions, Inhabitants, and Natural History (Edinburgh: Co-operative Printing Co. Ltd., 1886)
Watson, William J., Place-names of Ross and Cromarty (Inverness: The Northern Counties Printing and Publishing Co. Ltd., 1904)
Image:
Fingal’s Seat or Suidh Fhinn, Isle of Skye

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

A Son of Ross-shire: Professor W. J. Watson

A figure sometimes overshadowed in the Carmichael Watson Project, but whose name certainly shouldn’t be forgotten, is William John (Ross) Watson (1865–1948). On his second marriage to Ella Carmichael (1870–1928), W. J. Watson became Alexander Carmichael’s son-in-law. Born at Milton in the parish of Kilmuir Easter in Easter Ross to Hugh Watson (1829–1893), a blacksmith, and Maria Buckle Ross (1829–1891), the precocious young Watson would grind himself out a brilliant academic career and would establish his name as the foremost Scottish onomastician of his generation. In an idle moment W. J. Watson jotted down some all too brief details about his birth and early childhood:

My mother’s people belonged to the Milntown of
New Tarbat, parish of Kilmuir Easter, where they
had some houses forming a small street. My
father belonged to Upper Kindeace, in the same parish
― a blacksmith, as his father was before him. The
smithy, now in ruins, stood by the roadside
above the brae from Tullich. The house, close by,
commands a magnificent view of the Cromarty
Firth & the Sutors & to the east the parish of Nigg
Through the Sutors we views the south opposite side of
the Moray Firth; altogether a view hard to
equal.
Milntown, where I
was born on February 17, 1865, is an old-
fashioned village, on record, in 1749 as “Myltoun
of Melthat with its two mills.” In my boyhood
I often visited our relations there, I enjoyed
their kindly company. There was (& is) a
village green, where a bonfire blazed on
New Year’s Day, Old Style. The village was
largely self contained – shops, public house, meal
mill, meeting house, shoemaker…

Educated initially by an uncle, James Watson, in Strathconon then later in Boath, Alness, he entered the Grammar School of Old Aberdeen in October 1880. From there he graduated with First Class Honours in Classics in 1886, and afterwards acted as assistant to Sir William Mitchell Ramsay, Professor of Latin at Aberdeen University. In the same year Watson entered Merton College, Oxford University, and graduated with First Class Honours in Classical Moderations in 1889, and again, in 1891, he achieved First Class Honours in Litterae Humaniores. During this period he was also an active athlete and gained a double blue in Throwing the Hammer and Stone. While at Oxford he came under the influence of the famous Celtic scholar Sir John Rhys. In 1894, after a short period in Glasgow, and at the early age of twenty-nine, Watson became the Rector of Inverness Royal Academy. At this time he became an active member of the Gaelic Society of Inverness and began to contribute articles to their Transactions. His main interest at this time was in onomastics, especially with regard to Gaelic place-names, as evinced by his early but still unsurpassed study of the Place-Names of Ross and Cromarty (1904). Some two years later Watson married – as his second wife Elizabeth (Ella) Carmichael; his first wife Isabella Christina née Munro had died aged 33 on 25 September 1902. With Ella he had two sons: Alexander or Alec Carmichael Watson, born 14 December 1908, who died aged only 15 on 3 September 1923; and James Francis, later James Carmichael, Watson, born on 12 March 1910. By the time of James' birth W. J. Watson was the Rector of the Edinburgh Royal High School, a position which he held from 1909 to 1914. On the death of Professor Donald MacKinnon, the holder since its inception in 1882 of the Chair of Celtic Languages, Literature, History and Antiquities at the University of Edinburgh, Watson succeeded him and occupied this prestigious post until his own retirement in 1938. He was then succeeded by his son James Carmichael Watson, who, despite having grounds to forego military service, joined the Royal Navy in World War II and was subsequently posted missing in action, presumed dead, in 1942. Some six years later, in 1948, W. J. Watson himself passed away on 9 March aged eighty-three. He had suffered a great deal during his life: the death of his two wives and perhaps the most grievous blows of them all the death of both of his sons by his second marriage. W. J. Watson is chiefly remembered today for The Celtic Place-names of Scotland (1926), a work thirty years in the making and one which still stands the test of time, the primary scholarly reference to this fascinating subject area.

References:
CW25B, fos. 109r-109v
Nicolaisen, W. F. H., ‘In Praise of W. J. Watson (1865–1948): Celtic Place-Name Scholar’, Scottish Language, vol. 14/15 (1995/96), pp. 15–30 [reprinted in William J. Watson, Scottish Place-name Papers (London: Steve Savage, 2002).
Image:
Professor W. J. Watson

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Underwater Churches in South Uist

In a fascinating piece about submerged archaeological remains recorded on 4 November 1873 by Alexander Carmichael from Kenneth MacKenzie (c. 1805–1889), a mason then living in Daliburgh, South Uist, the informant tells of an old church that lies near Upper Bornish which can only be visited (back then) at low tide. Carmichael was clearly intrigued by what the mason had to say about these ruins and went out to investigate for himself and where he took the opportunity to write down two folios of notes. Unfortunately, on this occasion, Carmichael, as was his wont, did not take the time to draw a rough sketch of the submerged church. It might have been the case that the tide was already coming back in when he visited and so he only had enough time to jot down some notes before returning to the safety of land.

Below Bornish Uarach & side
of point lowest of spring tide
the best tide. I was shearing
& us[in]g a sharp stone An old h[and]
said to me if you were at Caib
eal Mhic Ceallaich. “Where?
past below you search & find
a build[in]g with door & 1 side arch 20 in[ches]
visible freestone rebut. Half inch
bead ab[ou]t 4 inch[es] back fr[om] edge of corner
and an inch juniper on the face
Wall 21 inch[es] thick & ap[pears] to be a door
There was no way inside such as a
window w[ou]ld have – The up[per] end of the
arch ap[pears] to be ab[ou]t 15 in[ches] fr[om] the Key
Gothic arch. Door ap[pears] ab[ou]t 2½ f[ee]t at
real gothic juniper is wher[e]
edge is cut aw[a]y. Built of lime
& mosslayers inside small & far
larger stones out[side]. Wall cover[ed] over
with tangles large staimh. I tore
off these for 7 f[ee]t of all. There
was more wall but this was
all I bare. rubble filled up the
wall to near top. 200 y[a]rds out fr[om]
the triusa. When I saw the beaut[iful]
work so beaut[ifully] done I had not
the heart to touch it. Her[e] oth[er]
rebuts seemed to have been
taken away. This was ab[ou]t 30
y[ea]rs ago in Aug[us]t. On s[outh] side of
Ruairdvaoilein nearer
Bornish than Kildonan
Caibeal Mhic Cheall[aich] also
at Dallabrog. MacCeallan
request[ed] to be buried as low as
the tide went out & a caib[eal]
about him. But how was
soft lime to solidify?
My sons bro[ugh]t home some bits
of the masonry of the caibeal
at Dallabrog.
Mrs Martin Dallabrog (Allan
her son also) knows all the
sub-mar[ine]-places
Kil phead[air] is under
the sea – It is not seen
now but another.

Reference:
CW111, fos. 2r–2
Image: Aerial view of Ruairdvaoilein nearer Bornish, South Uist.

Friday, 19 November 2010

The Curse of Neist

Among transcriptions of various well-known Gaelic songs that Alexander Carmichael wrote down in  rather a neat hand appears a verse entitled Ùrnaigh Chlann Leòid (‘The Clan MacLeod’s Prayer or Petition’). This rhyme has been collected on a number of occasions and one – a thirty-four line version – was collected, or at any rate written up, by Carmichael and printed in volume four of Carmina Gadelica. Appropriately enough, it was collected from, among others, Archibald MacLellan, a master-mariner from Lochboisdale, South Uist. Carmichael also notes that it was known in Barra as well as on the mainland Highlands in Kintail. Sometimes this particular rhyme is connected with the Clann Mhuirich, or MacVuirichs, who are afforded powers of magic in Gaelic tradition. But perhaps it is best to see this rhyme as part of the historical tradition of a remnant of MacDonalds trying to make an escape from the sixteenth-century battle known as Blàr Milleadh Gàraidh, or the Battle of the Spoiling of the Dyke. Briefly, the MacDonalds arrived by sea from Uist on the first Sunday of May in 1578, set fire to Trumpan church, and burnt the entire congregation apart from one teenage girl who managed to escape to Dunvegan castle to warn the MacLeods of the atrocity. The MacLeods lost no time: waving the fairy flag, they avenged themselves on the MacDonalds. It is said that all the MacDonalds of the raiding party were put to the sword and after the slaughter all their corpses were dragged over to the side of a stone and turf wall which was then subsequently thrown over them. Such was their heinous crime and act of butchery that it was so deemed that they did not warrant a decent burial. If there is any credence to this tradition then some of the MacDonalds managed to make their escape by fleeing in a galley but only, it would seem, to have been fated to a watery grave rather than to the one met by their comrades who had died in battle. It may be added that this atrocity was carried out by the MacDonalds in order to exact vengeance on the MacLeods in return for a similar atrocity on the isle of Eigg some two years earlier.

Urnaigh Chlann Leoid

Gaoth an iar an Ruadha Feiste
Oidhche dhorcha ceo us uisge
Clann Domhnuill air bhordaibh brist
Leum cha misde
Biorlain[n] chaol chorrach
Siuil ard bhinneach
Sgriob fhann fheargach
Gun urram aon da cheile

The word curse perhaps describes this verse better than a prayer. It is usually referred to as The Curse of Neist and might be translated as follows:

A south-west wind towards Eiste point
Dark night of mist and rain
Clan Donald on a breaking board
I pity them not
Galley crank and narrow
Sails high and peaked
Crew weak and angry
Without respect for one another

References:
Black, Ronald (ed.), The Gaelic Otherworld (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2005), pp. 181–182, 435–436.
Black, Ronald, 'I thought he made it all up: Context and controversy' in Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart (ed.), Alexander Carmichael: Life and Legacy (Port of Ness: Islands Book Trust, 2008), pp. 65–68.
Carmina Gadelica, iv, pp. 356–59.
CW 152, fol. 36r.
Image:
Trumpan church, Waternish, Isle of Skye.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Carmichaels in the Census - III: Mary Frances Carmichael, Episcopalianism, and the Creation of Carmina Gadelica

We saw in the last ‘Carmichaels in the Census’ blog how, after the death of her mother Elizabeth, Alexander’s future wife Mary Urquhart MacBean was ‘adopted’ into the household of the episcopalian minister the Rev. Arthur Ranken (1806–86) of Old Deer, husband of her mother’s sister Anne. Family tradition as retailed by Mary’s grandson James Carmichael Watson tells of another episcopalian clergyman who played a major part in her life:

From the Parsonage of Old Deer, and probably not long after leaving school, she went to be housekeeper and secretary to the revered Bishop Alexander Penrose Forbes [1817–75] at his house of Castlehill, Dundee, and at Burntisland in Fife. Of Dean Ranken and Bishop Forbes, the guardians of her early life, she often spoke with affection and regard, and it was clear that they had exercised a profound influence upon her. [CG iv, pp. xli–xlii]

Mary MacBean may well have spent some time in Alexander Forbes’ household while, as Bishop of Brechin, he was in charge of St Paul’s congregation, Dundee. It is tempting to think that his social conscience, his strong sense of vocation to tend to the poor of the city – ‘an example of slum ministry unique among Anglican bishops in the United Kingdom and rare even among Episcopalian and Anglican clergy’ [Oxford DNB] – might be detected in her later charity work as a ‘ministering angel’ among the poor cottars of Uist, not to mention the unsparing self-abnegation which so impressed and exasperated those close to her. Contemporary written records, however, suggest that it was not so much the bishop himself who influenced Mary MacBean, but rather his no less remarkable brother, the clergyman and scholar the Rev. George Hay Forbes (1821–75).

Although disabled by polio since early childhood, George Hay Forbes, having taken holy orders in 1847, ‘entered on zealous and unremitting clerical work’ [Skene, Memoir, p.44]. Mary Frances might first have met him in 1848, when he was working as a curate, and teaching at the school she apparently attended, in Crieff. The Rev. Forbes was subsequently appointed to supervise a mission in Burntisland, Fife, a task he carried out ‘with great energy and perseverance’, winning over initially hostile townspeople to the extent that he was eventually elected Provost – albeit for a truncated term – in 1869.

In the 1861 census schoolmistress ‘Mary MacBain’, born in Sutherlandshire, is recorded as living at the parsonage in Leven Street with George Hay Forbes and his wife Helen (Eleanor Mary Irby, daughter of Captain Wemyss of the Scots Guards). She may well have been living there for some time. Mrs Forbes was known in the town for her prudence in managing the household, making do with only one servant: in this case, doubtless, Mary MacBean. By the time the census was taken, it is clear that Mary, supposedly only 22, had already quietly subtracted two years from her life; by the time of her marriage in 1868, a further two years would have disappeared. As we shall see, she would follow this economical strategy with her children’s ages as well.

Mary evidently worked as one of the two female schoolteachers in Forbes’ Church school. According to the memoir compiled by Forbes’ cousin Felicia Skene, ‘after the children were dismissed, he always assembled the teachers in his own house for instruction’ [Skene, Memoir, p. 48].

George Hay Forbes is best-known today for the private printing press housed in his parsonage, the Pitsligo Press, named for his great-great-grandmother’s brother Alexander Forbes (1678–1762), the fourth Lord Pitsligo, forfeited for the part he played in the 1745 jacobite Rising. Under Forbes’ painstaking supervision, the Press turned out a eclectic selection of journals, polemical tracts, sermons, and above all high-quality liturgical works, distinguished by outstanding scholarship, free from misprints, and set in a bewildering variety of fonts. Although Forbes employed a man as a printer, he was assisted in his work by several women compositors, as well, it seems, as the older boys and girls of the Church school [Primrose, ‘Pitsligo Press’, p. 59].

Mary Frances Carmichael’s later interest in book design, which comes through so clearly in Carmina Gadelica, must surely have been inspired by her having shared a house for perhaps over a decade with a printing press – there is no question but that she must have been involved in Forbes’ work herself over the years. Again, the religious material itself which Forbes worked on must have influenced her, especially the editions he and his brother prepared of the magnificently illustrated Arbuthnott Missal (1864), the only complete service book known to survive from pre-Reformation Scotland, and the posthumously-printed Drummond Missal (1882), a volume originating in twelfth-century Ireland. It’s significant that Alexander Carmichael would draw rather spurious parallels between Arbuthnott’s patron saint, Ternan, and the Benbecula saint Torranan in a long essay compiled for Carmina Gadelica ii.

As a young woman, Mary MacBean worked in a household under a clergyman driven by an obsessive interest in liturgy, spurred by the acrimonious controversy over the Episcopalian Prayer Book then raging between the ‘Scottish’ and ‘English’ wings of the church. This interest was complemented by a fascination about native saints: we might discern the influence of Bishop Forbes here as well, with his research into national hagiography in his Kalendar of Scottish Saints (1872) – referred to directly by Alexander Carmichael in CW MS 120 fo.86 – and his edition of the Lives of S. Ninian and S. Kentigern (1874). Could it be that these interrelated liturgical and hagiographical streams come together in Carmina Gadelica, conceived of as a ‘lost liturgy’ of prayers, blessings, and charms whose fragments Mary’s husband had gathered in the farthest-flung islands of the west?

Finally, we shouldn’t overlook George Hay Forbes’ early interest in Gaelic and the Gaels, stimulated by anxieties that the newly-formed Free Church, victorious, and vigorous in religious controversy, might entice Gaelic-speaking Episcopalians away from the faith of their fathers:

In 1846 he took the lead in establishing the Gaelic Tract Society for the purpose of educating and maintaining Highland churchpeople in fidelity to their Church. A strong committee was formed to carry out the scheme, and on it, no doubt owing to Forbes’ family connections, Lord Forbes, The Macintosh, Lochiel, Irvine of Drum and others served for some time.

In 1847 the Society printed a translation in Gaelic of the Scottish Communion Office, and the Secretary [George Hay Forbes] knew enough Gaelic to correct the proofs, for a copy of the pamphlet lies before me with the corrections quite clearly written in his own hand. He turned his knowledge of Gaelic to good account later in life when he had to deal with Gaelic hymns in some liturgies. [Perry, George Hay Forbes, pp. 29, 31]

In the very first year of his incumbency Mr. Forbes put himself to no small trouble and expense in order to provide a number of devotional works printed in Gaelic, for the use of those to whom that language was the most familiar, and in spite of his infirm state which made it trying for him to walk, he was continually visiting at their houses, instructing, consoling, and sympathising with them in every way that he could. [Skene, Memoir, p. 46]

Given this background, could we suggest that Carmina Gadelica as printed is as much Mary Carmichael’s book as it is her husband’s? Might Carmina have an east coast as well as a west coast origin, Episcopalian as well as Roman Catholic? It may well be that Mary’s interest in early-medieval insular art (not just ‘Celtic Art’), the ‘artistic hand’ which devised the extraordinary illustrated initials in Carmina Gadelica, was first awakened during the years she spent as a young girl in Rosemarkie, home to one of the best collections of Pictish sculptured symbol stones extant (another Pictish stone, incidentally, once stood in the ruins of the abbey at Old Deer).

Might there be one final, personal mark demonstrating the influence of George Hay Forbes’ household? These were the years during which Mary Urquhart MacBean transformed herself into Mary Frances MacBean. Did Mary change her name as a tribute to the gifted, and equally driven, writer and philanthropist, Oxford-based Felicia Mary Frances Skene (1821–99), sister of the historian William Forbes Skene who was subsequently to play such an important rôle in her husband’s life, and biographer-to-be of her close and admired cousins Bishop Alexander Penrose Forbes and the Rev. George Hay Forbes?

References:
Carnie, Robert Hay. ‘The Pitsligo Press of George Hay Forbes: Some Additions and Corrections’, Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, iv (1955–71), pp. 233–43.
Perry, William. Alexander Penrose Forbes, Bishop of Brechin: The Scottish Pusey (London: SPCK, 1939).
Perry, William. George Hay Forbes: A Romance in Scholarship (London: SPCK, 1927).
Primrose, J. B. ‘The Pitsligo Press of George Hay Forbes’, Edinburgh Bibliographical Society Transactions, iv (1955–71), pp. 53–89.
Skene, Felicia Mary Frances. A Memoir of Alexander, Bishop of Brechin, with a Brief Notice of his Brother the Rev. George Hay Forbes (London: J. Masters and Co., 1876).

Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, s.v. ‘Forbes, Alexander Penrose’, ‘Forbes, George Hay’, ‘Skene, Felicia Mary Frances’.

Image:
Rev. George Hay Forbes

Monday, 15 November 2010

Carmichaels and the Stewarts of Appin

When Alexander Carmichael visited his native island of Lismore he would take the opportunity to write down snippets of information about historical traditions which had a bearing upon this part of Argyllshire. Being a Carmichael himself, he probably relished the thought of his clan name being the oldest in Lismore, the ones who could best claim seniority. But there may well be some historical veracity to this claim. Aside from being standard-bearers to the Stewarts of Appin, it is interesting to note the rôle carried out by the Carmichaels on the burial of a chief of the Stewarts of Appin. Carrying the coffin three times sun-wise (or deiseil) around the cemetery was a well-known phenomenon and, it seems, a very robust one: this presumably ancient burial custom was still being carried out within living memory.

Carmichael is said to be the oldest name in Lismore and the oldest in Appin and to have been in Appin before the advent of the Stewarts. […] Besides being standard bearers to the chiefs of Appin the Carmichaels were at the death of a chief (probably) to remove the body from the house to the […] upon lacking the place of burial the Carmichaels resumed possession of the body and carrying it three times sun-wise round the burying place laid it in the grave Then in conveying their heads and bowing reverently low towards the dead they all said together –

’Slan le fear mo ghraidh
Go m’ failtich mise rithist thu

Fare thee well man of my love
Till I hail thee again.

References: CW MS 383, fos. 183r–184v.
Image: Stewart of Appin Arms.



Thursday, 4 November 2010

The Ancestors of the Duke of Tarentum

Interspersed among notes about the traditions of Argyll, Alexander Carmichael managed to collect some genealogical information regarding the MacEachen ancestors of the Duke of Tarentum. From whom Carmichael got this family snippet he does not, unfortunately, say but it would appear that it was probably a tradition bearer from South Uist. Two patronymics of Neil MacEachen are given and their connection with Ronald of Arisaig and with Howbeg and Marshal MacDonald. One of these Neil MacEachen’s (later MacDonald) was the father of the Duke of Tarentum, otherwise known as Jacques Étienne MacDonald (1765–1840). His 1825 visit to his ancestral lands in South Uist has already been the subject of a pervious blog. The change of the family name to MacDonald by Alasdair Mòr while the others remained MacEachen is noted. It also appears that Alexander Mòr Howbig, or Alasdair Mòr Tobha Bhig (fl. 1800), had four daughters along with several illegitimate daughters, something that was not particularly unusual as this time.

Maceachains
(1) Neill Maceachain the son
of Hector son John son Hector
son of John son of Alexander son
of John ic Raoil, from Arasaig
– the first from Arasaig to How
beag.
(2) Neill Maceachan son
of Alexander son of John son
of Ranald from Arasaig.
Alexander father of
Neill father
of the Marshal had Neill
Ranald Howbeag. He is the
first called of Howbeg.
Raol had Alexander
who was called Alexander
Mor Howbig. This Alastair
had daughters (4).
and several illegitimate daughters.
Alexander Mor called himself
Macdonald prob[ably] after his cousin
the Marshal – all the others
kept to Maceachains.
Neil, Ranald, John & Angus
Ranald being the father of Alas
tair Mor – the father of the Marshall.
Raoil Howbeg this Raol being
the first called of Howbeag
Raoil had no son except Alastair
Mor.


References:
CW 126(f), fos. 191r–192v
Hache, Jean-Didier (ed.), The French MacDonald (Port of Ness, Isle of Lewis: The Islands Book Trust, 2007)
Image: Jacques MacDonald, portrait by François Gerard.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Carmichaels in the Census - II

Mary Frances MacBean, future wife of Alexander Carmichael, was born as Mary Urqhuart MacBean in Kirkiboll, in the parish of Tongue in northern Sutherland, on 31 October 1837. She was daughter of Kenneth MacBean (b. 1809) and Elizabeth or Elisa née Fraser (1812–47). Kenneth had been born on 26 January 1809 to John MacBean (1761–1843), then grieve at Davidston on the Black Isle, later farmer at Flowerburn Mains, Rosemarkie, and his wife Mary Urquhart (1773–1853), the paternal grandmother after whom our Mary was named. Kenneth MacBean married Elizabeth Fraser on 20 February 1835, when working as an exciseman in Fortrose. The couple had two other children: Mary’s older sister Anne Calder MacBean, probably called after her mother’s sister, was born on 7 December 1835 in the parish of Inverkeithing, Fife, while a younger brother John Fraser MacBean, probably named for both his grandfathers, was born in Kirkiboll on 12 February 1839.

Although contemporary records are scant, it is difficult not to draw conclusions about Mary’s childhood and youth. A restless and rootless upbringing, punctuated by a catastrophe, or even a series of catastrophes, do much to explain her drive, resourcefulness, and strength of character; it may also help to explain why Mary Urquhart MacBean the child would go on to recreate herself as Mary Frances MacBean the adult. Here is her grandson James Carmichael Watson (1910–42) writing about her in the fourth volume of Carmina Gadelica:

My grandmother’s forebears for many centuries had belonged to the Black Isle in Ross. Her father was Kenneth MacBean (or MacBain), civil engineer, of Kessock Ferry, and her mother Elizabeth Fraser, daughter of John Fraser of the Ness, Chanonry. John Fraser, her maternal grandfather, had been an employee of Broadwood the piano-maker in London, and, retiring to his native croft, his own ancestral property, became the Inspector of the Poor in Fortrose. Her father was alive at the time of her marriage, but her mother died while she was still a child, and she had neither sister nor brother. [CG iv, xli]

James’ grandmother clearly identified with her mother’s family rather than her father’s.

The 1841 census shows the three-year old Mary Urquhart living with her parents, elder sister, and younger brother in Bridge Street, Montrose, the latest excise posting of her father. Within a few years the family would fall apart.

On 15 March 1847, when the MacBeans were living in Perth Road, Dundee, Mary’s mother Elizabeth died from typhus, a disease rife in industrial British cities at the time and epidemic in Dundee during that particular year. The records suggest that Kenneth resigned his post in the excise and took the family back to the Black Isle. In the 1851 census he is listed as living at the family home of Flowerburn Mains, Rosemarkie, with his widowed mother, his brother David and sister-in-law Janet, their five children and a nephew. There is no sign of Kenneth’s own children.

Mary told the story to her grandson James Carmichael Watson as follows:

On her mother’s death she found a new home. Her people, like many others in the district, were of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and her mother’s sister, Anne Fraser, was the wife of the Rev. Arthur Ranken [(1806–86)], priest of Old Deer and later Dean of the united Dioceses of Aberdeen and Orkney. She became for the time an adopted child of Dean Ranken’s house, and went with his daughters to the College for Girls established at Crieff by Canon Alexander Lendrum, the Episcopal clergyman there – a school co-eval with Trinity College, Glen Almond, and similar to it in purpose, but not now in existence. [CG iv, xli]

It may well have been the case that Mary did go to school with the Rev. Ranken’s only daughter Anna Elizabeth (1834–64). This must have been during the late forties, for in the 1851 census Mary MacBean is recorded as the servant of William Campbell, innkeeper, living at Shore Place, Rosemarkie, near her father and grandmother. Although her siblings have not been traced in this census, it appears that her sister Anne died on 23 March 1853 at Fortrose. Her brother John probably did not survive childhood.

In 1861 Kenneth MacBean is recorded as an auctioneer, still living in the household of his brother David in Flowerburn Mains, Rosemarkie. Ten years later, the family seem to have vanished. We do not know what happened to Mary’s resourceful but restless father, although she did tell her grandson that he was still alive at the time of her marriage in 1868. A Kenneth MacBean of the right age is recorded as having died in the State of Victoria, Australia, in 1873. Mary’s second son, born on the 31 March 1872, was named Eoghan Kenneth Carmichael.

References:
Carmina Gadelica iv, p. xli.
David M. Bertie, Scottish Episcopal Clergy (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2000), pp. 410–11.

Image:
Rosemarkie in the Black Isle

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Sir Walter Scott in Appin

Between notes about his own family and general genealogical notes about the Carmichaels, Alexander Carmichael wrote down an anecdote regarding the time that Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832) visited Appin. The date of Scott’s visit is not known but it must have been prior to the publication of his first historical novel Waverley which took the literary world by storm in 1814. Scott may be given credit for the creation of the modern historical novel and some of his writings, such as Rob Roy (1817), were deeply influenced by Highland history. It must be said that Scott’s views of the Highlands were not detached from romanticism, such was the lingering influence of James Macpherson’s Ossian, but at the beginning of the nineteenth century his writings proved to be immensely popular. This anecdote begins with two Appin men who may have been escaping from Culloden, before the connection is then made with Sir Walter Scott.

Maccoll and a Carmichael were
pursued by horsemen and wishing
to preserve their swords they drove them
into the moss over which they were
pursued. They were imprisoned in
Castle Stalker Appin and when
liberated they went back in search
of their swords and found them.
When Sir Walter Scott was in
Appin he taught Archibald the son of this
Maccoll the rudiments of English [and] Latin
grammar along with the boys of his host
Stewart of Invernaoile
It was here that Scott heard mostly from the
miller of Inverfolla adjoining the episodes
of the 45–46 woven into the web of
Waverly. He took jottings
in house a bit of which is still up and
used as a milk-house and then went
to a cave up the hill side and then
extended his notes. This was his habit and
when at a subsequent period when he
became famous Scott visited Appin
he went to see the cave by the river on the hillside
where as he pathetically said he spent
some of his happiest hours.
This cave is notable from its having
been the place where his muime hid
Domhnull nan Ord Donald
the Hammerer when an infant
The history of Donald the Hammerer
is given by Sir Walter Scott in Jamieson’s
edition of Burts Letters from the Highlands.

Reference: CW 383, fos. 179r–180r
Image: Sir Walter Scott by Henry Raeburn (1822)

Thursday, 28 October 2010

The Kings of the Cats

Scottish Wild Cat
An intriguing story, one which has not only an international resonance but has subsequently become connected with the MhacMhuirch bardic family, is ‘The King of the Cats’. This particular version of the story names the king as Cugarbhat (sometimes he is called Cugrabhat), probably a corruption of a Latin name. He is said to have been slain by MacMhuirich who then proceeds to boast of his deed to the kitten by the fireside, saying that the king of the cats is dead. This enraged the kitten so much so that it grew and attacked MacMhuirich three times. He was only saved by his steel helmet. Judging from other versions of this tale it would appear that what Alexander Carmichael wrote down here was perhaps either only a mere summary, or what the reciter could remember. The tradition bearer from whom Carmichael collected this anecdote was Neil MacEachan (c. 1802–1883), a crofter from Howbeg in South Uist.

Cugarbhat was ri[gh] nan cat.
Macvurich & was sealg & his
dogs. Kil[l] Chugarbat in a cairn.
A Mhac tu tha piseag chnoc
pheal[lach] an oir na lua[tha] ag
that you abhag kil[l] chug
arvat. So he did – A phi[sea]g
chnoc ph[eallach] ? ? Kil[l] cug[arbhat]
Did m[y] dogs Kil[l]? Really she
asked the pest 3 times she sprung
coil[ed] at his throat. His clog
ada cruach saved him
He grew larger & larger ea[ch] time.

References:
CW90/87, f. 36r.
Ó Néill, Eoghan Rua, ‘The King of the Cats’, Béaloideas, vol. 59 (1991), pp. 167–88.
Gillies, William, ‘Alexander Carmichael and Clann Mhuirich’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol. XX (2000), pp. 1–67.
Image: Scottish Wild Cat.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Nether Lochaber: The Rev. Alexander Stewart – III

Here is the third and final excerpt of the appreciation of the Rev. Alexander Stewart contributed by Donald Ross to the Inverness Courier where the minister’s interest in the natural world is highlighted, some background to his character, his interests in literary criticism and his final fortnightly column preceding his death. There can be little doubt that he achieved a great deal during his lifetime and his literary efforts were recognised by the University of St Andrews, his alma mater, with the award of the degree of LL.D. in 1884. Previously in 1876 he had been elected, just as Alexander Carmichael had been, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and he was also made a Fellow of the Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh, and of the Geographical and Natural History Societies of Glasgow. He was also a corresponding member of several learned Societies on the Continent. In addition to all of this he also managed to find time to devote his attention to editing Logan’s Scottish Gael, a two-volume tome of substantial portions. Perhaps the inscription on his memorial best sums up the man and his achievements: “In memory of Rev. Alexander Stewart, LL.D., F.S.A. Scot. For fifty years minister of Ballachulish and Ardgour. Died 17th January, 1901, in the 72nd year of his age. Scholar, naturalist, seanachie, and bard. Distinguished for the variety and charm of his writings; dear to all how knew him, and most dear to those who knew him best.”

A LOVER OF BIRDS

Perhaps Stewart was at his best and happiest when discoursing on the habits, trials, and charms of the songsters in his glebe. Not only were his descriptions accurate; they were often amusing, provoking a smile or outright laughter. One of the most hilarious letters to the “Courier” in 1890 (alas printed in no book) is about an inveterate tearer-up of books, Jack the Ripper, his pet jackdaw, who was excused the complete destruction of a Book of Common Prayer in an Episcopalian home in Onich because “he had been brought up a Presbyterian.” He was equally at home with fishes and people brought to his manse all the odd infrequent creatures of the deep, caught or cast ashore, for his learned identification.

He was in other ways a curious mixture of convention and unconvention. He had no Victorian inhibition about stripping in a boat and enjoying a swim in Loch Leven. He writes without embarrassment or apology about sly allusions in a Gaelic poem to the significance of the loss of the maidenly snood. Yet he was against “innovation.” He would not tolerate any interference with the established texts of his Church. He protested against the new translation of the Scriptures, and he would have no truck with the replacement of the Paraphrases by hymns. As for the emancipation of the fair sex, he was convinced that women’s supremacy should be limited to the nursery or the kitchen!


A WELL-LOVED MINISTER


In his pastoral life he had the full confidence and warm affection of the people: not only the established of his own flock, but also the adherents of all the many other sects in the district. They all called him “Nether.” He was a popular preacher, equally fluent in Gaelic and English, but happier and freerer in his mother tongue. He had no clerical starchiness, and said that on occasions a song with a moral was better to be used than a sermon.


Men and women living to-day in Onich were christened by “Nether”; those who cannot remember him a vivid picture of his personality handed down on by their parents. His memory is green — a memory of a vigorous, eager and buoyant character. If he had never written anything, he would be remembered as a first-class sailor, a good swimmer and horseman, a successful fisherman with a rod and line, a hill-walker. As pater-familias, he instructed his three children in the natural history of the sea, shore and land. He was a farmer, like many country ministers, busy tilling, sowing, and harvesting his glebe, managing the byre and poultry-house.


KEEN LITERARY CRITICISM

For all his love of the classics, Stewart was a keen critic of modern literature. And in the field of Gaelic song, original and translated, he has a right to be classed with Pattison of Islay, Sheriff Nicolson of Skye, and his friend John Stuart Blackie. If he contributed less than these, he had the gift of introducing the Gaelic bards to English readers. Fourteen of his songs, favourites at mods, are preserved for posterity in Malcolm C. Macleods’ “Modern Gaelic Bards, Second Series” (1913): they include a translation of Robert Tannahill’s “Gloomy winter’s noo awa’.”


Nether’s final contribution to the “Courier” appeared in the issue which briefly announced his unexpected death on 17th January, 1901, suddenly after an illness brought about by an accident a year before. It was a typical letter on folk-lore and Highland custom, about the Black Art and the playing of the trump or Jew’s harp at ceilidhs.


THE MEMORIAL CROSS


Two-and-a-half years after the say day of his burial another great concourse assembled on the 18th July, 1903, by the lochside road at Onich, again to pay homage to the beloved pastor and man of letters. A public subscription organised by the Stewart Society had provided a memorial in the form of a 20-feet high Celtic cross. It was unveiled by Stewart of Achnacone, and Stewart of Ardvorlich pronounced the address to the memory of a great clansman, “venerable divine, a learned doctor, a great Celtic scholar, a lover of nature, a true Highlander well versed in the lore of his country.”


The cross was removed for safety from quarrying operations in 1955 to the new village cemetery at Innis a’ Bhiorlinn, secluded on the sloping hillside near Corran Ferry. Facing towards the gates of Ardgour, the inscription is from 1st Kings IV, 33, in Gaelic and English, aptly from the record of one other who, too, was a singer of songs and the embodiment of wisdom—“and he spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beats, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes.”


Reference:
Ross, Donald ‘Nether Lochaber: Memories of a Well-known Highlander’, The Inverness Courier, no. 11943 (20 Jan., 1961), p. 3
Image: Portrait of Nether Lochaber from The Celtic Magazine, vol. IX, no. 5 (1901), p. 19

Monday, 18 October 2010

Nether Lochaber: The Rev. Alexander Stewart – II

Continuing with the second excerpt from the appreciation of the Rev. Alexander Stewart contributed by Donald Ross to the Inverness Courier, more detail emerges of Nether Lochaber’s fortnightly literary columns. The two books, which were the fruition of such literary labours, are also name-checked. It may also be added at this juncture that the Rev. Alexander Stewart was also a notable poet – much of his output was posthumously edited by Malcolm C. Macleod and appeared in Modern Gaelic Bards (1913) – as well as a founder member of An Comunn Gàidhealach (or the Highland Society), founded in Oban in 1891, and the Gaelic Mòd, an annual festival held for over one hundred years now and celebrated recently in Caithness.

FIRST CONTRIBUTION TO THE “COURIER”

During the first ten years of his ministry, Stewart must have developed into an assiduous student of nature in all its moods, for he became a district correspondent to the “Inverness Courier,” then edited by Dr Robert Carruthers. Carruthers had earlier been the literary godfather of another of his country contributors, the Cromarty stonemason-geologist, Hugh Miller. His first article appeared on 21st April 1859, entitled “Lochaber—A Chapter for Ornithologists.” It contained 1,100 words, unsigned, on birds and meteorology, and started with a note on recent weather “with us in Nether Lochaber” and dealt with a weather forecast and a find of old coins. On 19th May it was about potatoes and grampuses. The fourth letter, a fortnight later, appeared under “The Weather, etc.” discussing peat; and dogfish at Corran. In June there was more of weather, a dissertation on the cuckoo, and a report of the drowning of a village child in the peat moss at Cuilchenna.

Later contributions demonstrated and consolidated the evidence of his intimate knowledge of folk-lore, and Gaelic poetry, tradition and legend. They grew under the influence of his mentor Carruthers into a familiar and characteristic form. Stewart applied to this writing his experience and the imagination which flourished on experience and the deductions of his enquiring mind. His greatest quality was his ability to write in an unaffected, graceful literary style, unpatronising, apparently artless, yet full of art. He talked about archaeology, natural history, the habits of birds, beasts and fishes, and he could communicate to his readers the wonders of science in a manner painless and pleasant.

The heading of his articles, “Nether Lochaber”, soon became his pen-name, and ultimately a second, informal everyday name. Long before 1881, when Alexander Mackenzie, historian of the clans, champion of the oppressed, and editor of the “Celtic Magazine”, named him the “Prince of Provincial newspaper correspondents,” his column was established as one of the most attractive features of the “Courier.”

BOOKS WIDELY WELCOMED

It is not surprising that public acclaim demanded book publication, and the first Stewart collection came on in 1883, aptly titled “Nether Lochaber: the Natural History, Legends, and Folk-lore of the West Highlands.” The book contained a selection from the records of the years 1868 to 1878. Chapter I is a good introductory example of “Nether Lochaber” in all his exuberance and diversity—primroses and daisies of early March, a weather forecast embellished with a Latin tag, quotations from Burns and Coleridge, the translation of a Gaelic poem, and the explanation of the Hebridean customs it described. The book was highly praised by the press. Among the many journals, Scottish and English, that welcomed it was the “Spectator,” whose review, a model of perspicacity and concise summing-up, said that it was “written…with that entrain with which a busy man throws himself into the favourite occupation of his leisure hours.”


The publishers must have been encouraged by the success of the book, for in 1885 appeared a second selection, “’Twixt Ben Nevis and Glencoe,” covering the years 1878 to 1883. This book continued to exhibit the author’s versatility and literary gifts as well as his accurate knowledge of scientific advance natural history, and Celtic folk-lore. Writing in 1881, Alexander Mackenzie has expressed astonishment of readers of the “Courier” that such a flow of science in popular form, and prose-poetry, could emanate form the “literary desert” of Lochaber. Yet we know that Stewart’s seclusion was pleasantly broken by visits from eminent men and women, and that correspondence linked him with people far and near. His memory was well stored with his youthful reading, and in the press of a busy pastoral life he kept abreast of the literature of the day. His material, too, was everywhere around him, the lore which he picked up in his rambles among the hills or along the shore, and in his talks with men and women at their daily lives.


Reference:
Ross, Donald ‘Nether Lochaber: Memories of a Well-known Highlander’, The Inverness Courier, no. 11943 (20 Jan., 1961), p. 3
Image: Portrait of Nether Lochaber from The Celtic Magazine, vol. IX, no. 5 (1901), p. 19

Friday, 15 October 2010

Nether Lochaber: The Rev. Alexander Stewart

A name to be reckoned with which has cropped up in this blog on more than once occasion is Nether Lochaber, the pen-name of the Rev. Alexander Stewart (1829–1901). Over more than four decades of contributing a more or less fortnightly column to the Inverness Courier resulted in two publications: 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). His namesake Alexander Carmichael may have got to know him from these very columns but it is likely that they may have come across one another earlier than 1859, the date on which Nether Lochaber penned his first of many contributions on wide-ranging topics such as folklore, poetry, meteorology and ornithology. An occasional contribution, as we have seen already, would wend its way from Carmichael when he was resident in Benbecula. This was the very island of Nether Lochaber’s birth for his father had been on the island working for the excise at that time. The well-respected minister passed away in early 1901, only a few months after the publication of Carmina Gadelica. It might well have been one of the last books that the Rev. Alexander Stewart was to read. Although we have yet to find evidence to the contrary, it is likely that Carmichael would have been present at his friend’s funeral. The following is the first excerpt of an appreciation of Nether Lochaber written by Donald Ross.

The “Inverness Courier,” in the issue of 25th January 1901, reported the death and funeral of a Highland scholar, “a patriot who name would be handed down to posterity as the revered and honoured of Celts all over the world.” Three days earlier the largest gathering possibly ever to assemble by Loch Leven in Nether Lochaber had witnessed the burial of Dr Alexander Stewart, minister of the Established Church at North Ballachulish, a man who had become a legend in his own time. For almost fifty years he had been respected, indeed revered, for his scholarship, love of nature and homeland, and, above all, for his humanity. It was a day of lowering and overcastting sky and mist driving over a background of sea and snow-clad mountains. Pipers of Ballachulish Volunteer Company of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders preceded the procession from the manse at Onich, playing “MacCrimmon’s Lament,” “Lochaber no More,” and “The Land o’ the Leal.” Then came representatives of the clans, learned societies, the Presbyter of Abertarff, the Stewart Society; and Cameron of Lochiel. Nearly every man and boy in the locality followed, and women and girls stood on the mile-long route, or watched from the hillside above the churchyard. It is clear from the account of the day that all were filled with emotion to a degree that could have come only from a sense of irreparable loss and identity with a great heart that has been lost to the Highlands. It is fitting, sixty years later, that we should recall with pride the name and work of Alexander Stewart, “Nether Lochaber”.

He was born in 1829 in Benbecula, where his father was an officer of the Inland Revenue. When Alexander was young his family moved to Oban. He went to school there, and later at Kilmichael in Perthshire, and had ample opportunity to acquire much of his early knowledge of the lore of the Highlands before he entered St Andrews University in 1843. He obtained his M.A., distinguishing himself especially in literature and the classics.

Stewart was ordained in 1851, after service as a missionary in Oban and assistant in Paisley. He started his ministry in Nether Lochaber, being presented by the Crown to the combined parish of North Ballachulish and Ardgour. He had charge of 1,100 souls, and two churches, and preached in Nether Lochaber and over Corran Ferry in Ardgour on alternate Sabbaths. He received “Royal Bounty” stipends totalling £120 supplemented by sums from the heritors, and a glebe of 3 to 4 acres. In 1852 he married Janet Morrison, eldest daughter of one of his Argyll parishioners, Lieutenant Morrison, R.N., of Sallachan House, and brought her to the manse in Onich to be his trusted helper for nearly fifty years.

Reference:
Ross, Donald, ‘Nether Lochaber: Memories of a Well-known Highlander’, The Inverness Courier, no. 11943 (20 Jan., 1961), p. 3
Image: Portrait of Nether Lochaber from The Celtic Magazine, vol. IX, no. 5 (1901), p. 19

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]