Monday, 8 February 2010

A Pipe Tune from the Fairies

In the Gaelic cosmological world fairies loom large and there is a significant amount of traditions where fairies have gifted a special instrument to middling musicians so that they could become great players as long as they kept to their side of the bargain. One instance of this is the famous silver chanter said to have been gifted by a fairy to a MacCrimmon piper. This piper went on to enthral audiences who disclaimed that they had never heard anyone better and that he was the best piper ever to have lived. There are many variations of this story but the essential element is that the musical gift derived from the fairy folk. Another strong tradition is of tunes that have been picked up from the fairy folk who were known to be renowned for their musical skills as well as their dancing. An instance of such a tradition was, of course, collected by Alexander Carmichael:

A Phiob Shith
Bha phiob gu tric agus gu minic air a
cluinntin s a bhruth-shith. Bhiodh puirt
shiubhlach shuigeartach aig na sithich anns
a bhruthain agus iomadaidh fonn aurain [òrain].
So fear dhiu –


Am faic thu Nic dhuinn leis a chrodh laoigh
Am faic thu Nic dhuinn leis a chrodh laoigh
Am faic thu Nic dhuinn leis a chrodh laoigh
Ris a chrodh-laoigh s i na h-onar.

The Fairy Pipes

The bagpipe was time and again heard in the fairy knowe. The fairies would play rhythmic, lively tunes in the knowe and many song tunes.
Here’s one of them –

Will you see the lassie called Brown with the calving cows
Will you see the lassie called Brown with the calving cows
Will you see the lassie called Brown with the calving cows
Along with the calves and she all alone.

It appears that this is a port-à-beul or mouth music and may have been either a reel or strathspey. We are not certain of what the title would be called in English but like other ‘Gaelic’ tunes it is likely that it would have been given one.

Ref: CW 108, fol. 33r–34v.
Anon. ‘Fairy Tales (Gaelic and English)’, The Celtic Review, vol. 5 (1908–09), pp. 155–71 [This anonymous article in all likelihood stems from Carmichael’s collection and may have been edited by his daughter, Ella Carmichael].
Image: A' Phìob Mhòr or The Great Highland Bagpipe

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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]