In notebook CW113, there are a good number of Fenian tales. Anyone who has ever come across these stories about Fionn mac Cumhaill and his warrior band will know that these are often lengthy affairs. On 24 March 1866, John MacInnes was travelling home to Eriskay on board the Islesman, when the vessel stopped at Lochmaddy and he went to visit Alexander Carmichael. Carmichael had, in his own words ‘been wishing for a long time back’ to meet MacInnes.
During the visit, John MacInnes recited the Lay of Dearg mac Dreathain [Laoidh an Deirg ic Dreathain] the story of a blood feud. In transcription the lay runs to some 240 lines, which is quite a feat to remember, but it was Carmichael’s note following his transcription which really struck me.
The reciter repeated this most correctly through except one quatrain. After having written the lay from his dictation I made him repeat the whole again and we found this one quatrain left out. All the rest was correctly taken down except one preposition so that no alterations were necessary.
Twice? That’s a lot of recitation. It is little wonder then that at the end of it all Carmichael makes a note of the time: 11-54pm.
GB237 Coll-97/CW113/28 fos. 73-78.
J. F. Campbell, Leabhar Na Feinne (London, 1872), pp. 108-110.