Among Alexander Carmichael’s friends in Edinburgh was Mrs Mary Mackellar, née Cameron (1834–90), the poetess from Fort William who had lived in the capital since 1876. One of her stories preserved in Carmichael’s manuscripts concerns an unorthodox method of catching black grouse (blackcocks or coilich dhubha). There then follow some nature notes composed by Carmichael himself:
Mrs MacKellar the poetess went to visit a charming old lady full of the charming old lore of the people. She was greatly at a loss how to show hospitality to her guest and the hostess steeped some barley in whisky and after a time spread it out on a knoll behind the house. She went out after a short interval and found one or more black Grouse dead drunk. She took one – only one – and cooked it for her charming guest, who was so much amused at the thing that she could do nothing but laugh.Ruidhl[idh] na Coil[ich] Dhubha
Air bruthach nan Gurradan [i.e. gurraban]
[The blackcock reel
Crouching down on a bank]
The Blackcock indicates coming snow with great certainty. When snow is imminent they begin to croon a durradhanaich, a durradhanaich, in a doleful tone especially should snow be coming on in March. When they are a ‘cathachadh’ [here, sparring in competitive courtship, or lekking] they crow – a fierce defiant crow as if inviting any blackcock in the land to mortal combat. The cock crows before snow.
Bliadhna Mhath Ùr, agus móran dhiubh, do ar luchd-leughaidh air fad.
Happy New Year, and many of them, to all our readers.
CW MS 519 [not foliated]
Black Grouse / Coilich Dhubha