Friday 21 May 2010

Early Sunday - Newspaper Letter

As with other collectors of oral traditions as well as scholars, Alexander Carmichael occasionally contributed pieces to The Highlander newspaper, founded by his friend and fellow Argyllshire Gael John Murdoch. Although Carmichael could in no way be described as a regular contributor to this newspaper, or any other newspaper for that matter, what he did publish was usually not without interest and was more often than not supplied with extensive background notes such as the one below concerning a song entitled ‘Mochra Domhnach’ or ‘Early Sunday’:

STRATHAVON, OBAN, 31st May, 1880

SIR, – The following poem, with music, was sent to the late Captain Donald Campbell when writing his book on the “Language, Poetry and Music of the Highland Clans.” It was not used, however – Captain Campbell having been able to publish but a small portion of the materials received from numerous friends and correspondents. This was a pity. Had he omitted things he inserted and given more of the music and lyric poetry, his book would, to my thinking, have been better.
Captain Campbell appointed his friend, new editor of The Highlander, his literary executor. It would be desirable that these poems should be published.
Of these there must be many. Of many Gaelic songs, with music, which, through the courtesy of friends, I had been able to send him, Captain Campbell was unable, from want of space, to give but one – “Buain an Rainich” – Cutting the Bracken. Other friends sent him similarly, and their contributions had to be similarly curtailed, if not altogether omitted.
Captain Campbell’s papers are still, I apprehend, in the house of his only surviving child – Mrs Brunton, Glasgow. The following will please most readers of The Highlander, as it pleased me. Upon one occasion Mrs Brunton found herself at a fashionable party where Highland music was spoken of with contumely. Her Highland blood was fairly roused: she whispered to her hostess, who, alone, knew that she was Highland, to ask her to sing, but to make no mention of Gaelic.
Mrs Brunton inherits, though, perhaps, not to so high a degree as her last sister – Mrs Lang, Port Glasgow – the fine musical ability of her father; and she sang, as she never sang before, the beautiful air of “Tir [recte Tri] nithe thig gu ’n iarraidh.” She held her audience spell-bound, and, when she was done, many of them crowded round to ask what it was – French? or German? though most thought it must be Italian? With a dignified bow, Mrs Brunton told them it was a Gaelic song!
The words of “Mochra Domhnach” were supplied by Mrs Mackerrel, Port Ellen, Islay; and the music was noted by Miss Mactavish, formerly of the Manse, Kildalton, and now of Knock, Mull.
Both words and music were got from Margaret Douglas, a decent old woman at Oa, Islay.
An accomplished musician and composer of Highland Music – Miss Macgrigor, of Oban – has kindly transcribed my clumsy copying of the music, and Miss Mactavish says that the music is correct.
To my uncultured ear, and partial Highland taste, the air is pretty; and I only hope that others may find it so.
The poem is new to me, and words and phrases occur therein, which I do not quite understand. I hope others may be more successful. In this hope, in the hope that Mr Hector Maclean of Islay, or others, may be able to throw light on the history and obscurity of the poem, I would deem it a favour if The Highlander would publish it.

Mochra Donmhnach, dh'fhalbh an t-oigear,
Dhol tha eolais a null an Spainn,
Cha robh e ari chois nach trath no dha,
’Nuair leag am bron e sio gu lar;
’S thug e ordugh ga shean eolach
A chridhe feola cur na small,
’S thoirt dhise an luib li tir
’S du bhi clisge roimh bhraid-sheimh

Bith’ mise liom fein mar ghlaisein air feur,
Mar faigh mi thu fein, cha bhi mi beo.
Ged a gheibhinn do spreigh na chunnt air feill,
B’ anns thu fein no co ceud bo,
O! lionar cnead am chridhe steach;
Do ghaol na beacaidh rinn mo leon,
Chuir e truimeid am cheud mailleid am cheum,
’S mi ruith leis a bheinn da leir iad bron.

O! saoil sibh fein, nach teachdar o ’n eug,
Thainig an raoir gu ’n fhiosd am shuain;
Mar aiteal nag rein air iomall nan speur
Nochd ’s i i fein air ghleus gu ’n uaill,
Is baine am folt tha cur sgeimh air a corp,
Na an sian daithte air dhreach an oir,
Basan caoin air dhreach an aoil,
’S gile ’taobh na sneachd nan lon.

Gach aon dual a tha na gruaig,
Air ’chireadh a nuas mar shido buadhaidh air or
Am fac na ’n cual thu, an caidre na cuach,
Na ’s binne ri luaidh na fuainn a beoil;
Cuir i a steach ann an seomar glaisde,
Oiche thais gheamhraidh thall
A geala bhroilleach ni solusd
Mar ghrein shoilleir a bhitheadh air allt.

'Nuair chaidh an t-oigear a chruineachadh bord,
Theann e na coir a mhias a b’ fhearr,
Ghabh i a leoir ’s chaidh is stor [?]
’S ghabh e da deoin na bha ’s a mheis,
Run beag og thu, miann nam ban posd thu,
Gabh do leoir ’s bithidh tu slan,
’S e cridhe do ghaoil a chuir e cho maoth,
Tha litir ri m’ thaobh a sgriobh a lamh.

Leugh i le aidmheil a beoil,
Bu lionan na deoir a sruthadh gu lar;
Thug in all a spain gheal, fein.
’Us ghadh gu leir nab ha ’s a mheis.
Mo ghradh am chri’; ’s mi slan na dheigh
An leomhann ur an robh mo mhiann
Biadh no deoch, cha teid am chorp
A chaoidh nan cros os cionn do chre

Within Carmichael’s papers there are at least two mentions of the ‘Mochra Domhnach’ and it seems that the version he sent to Captain Campbell was returned to him, perhaps after he had his letter published in The Highlander. There were a number of advantages of publishing such items not only for the sake of making them more widely available but also of generating interest from the public who often contributed further titbits of information or, as in some cases, sent in questions as a plea to find out more information about any particular subject that satisfied the criteria of The Highlander. Carmichael ends his letter by asking whether Hector MacLean would be able to throw more light on the song. It is not recorded whether MacLean every replied to Carmichael and, so far, it seems that he did not reply to The Highlander. Newspapers such as The Highlander are full of interesting snippets of information, sometimes that which is unavailable elsewhere, and even a cursory survey of them will reveal some previously hidden gems. Doubtless there are quite a few of these that remain to be found which Carmichael, in his moments of leisure, had sent to various Highland or Gaelic-related newspapers and journals.

Carmichael, Alexander A. ‘Mochra Domhnach’, The Highlander, vol. VIII, no. 370 (11 June 1880), p. 6
CW379, fos. 1-12

Image: Newspaper

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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). [©]