Thursday 19 August 2010

Hebridean Hymns and Popular Lore – IV

In the penultimate extract from the article submitted to The Northern Chronicle, Alexander Carmichael takes up the subject of lullabies sung (and probably composed) by milkmaids. As in many rural societies, caring for cattle and processing the produce they provided were basic activities, naturally inspiring many songs that could be sung in order to put the cow at ease during milking-time. Carmichael notes that some cows became rather recalcitrant at milking-time if their favourite lullaby was not sung. Even more interesting is the process that was resorted to in order to get a cow to give milk when her calf had died.


These lullabies are sung by the milkmaids of Uist to soothe their cows. They are varied in tone and measure, while not infrequently these change to the same song to suit the different actions of milking.
The cows become so accustomed to these milking lilts that they will give their milk without them; nor, occasionally, without their own favourite airs. Hence a milkmaid. 
‘Who has no music in her soul.’
succeeds but indifferently among a fold of Highland cows. Owners of stock prefer as milkmaids those who are possessed of some voice and ‘go’ to please the cows, this being to them a matter of considerable imporatance.
The following air, one of many, is sung by milkmaids in South Uist as they milk their cows:―

O m’ adhan! Ho m’ adh min!
M’ adhan cri’, ceir, gradhach,
An’ ainm an Ard Righ,
Gabh ri d’ laogh (1)!

An’ oidhche bha am Buachaile muigh,
Cha deachaidh buarach air boin
Cha deachaidh geum a beul laoigh,
A coineadh Buachaile chruidh!

Thig a Mhoire ’us blith a bho,
Thig a Bhride ’s comraig i;
Thig a Chalum Chille chaoimh,
’S iadh do dha laimh mu m’ bhroin!

Mo bho lurach dhubh, no na h-airidh,
Bo a bhathaiche! mathair laogh!
Luban siamain air crodh na tire,
Buarach shid air m’ adhan gaoil!

’S a bho dhubh sin! ’s a bho dhubh!
’S ionan galar domha ’us duite―
Thus a choidh do cheud laoigh caoin,
Mis ’us ’an aon mhac gaoil fo’n mhuir!
Mis ’us ’án aon mhac gaoil fo’n mhuir!

(1) Occasionally a calf dies and the mother cow is restive, and will not give the milk. To quiet her, and obtain her milk from her, the skin of her dead calf is placed on a skeleton frame calf, made for the purpose. This is placed before the cow, and the deception has the desired effect. The skin, however, must be that of the cow’s own calf. That of another cow’s calf, however much like her own in colour and skin, is disdainfully tossed aside and kicked away by the cow.
In wooded districts, where rods are got, the frame calf is made of wicker work. This sham calf is variously called Laoicionn, Loircean, Lulagan, Tulgan, and Tulachan. The first two names refer to the skin and appearance of the sham calf, while the last three names refer to the rocking, fretting motion of the calf when sucking under its mother. A boy near moved the tulachadh now and again, to make the cow believe that all is right, while the maid is busy the while taking away the milk from the pleased cow! This is the origin of the term “tulchan,” as applied to the a bishop who draws the stipend but does not perform the work of a bishop―a term sufficiently known in Scottish ecclesiastical history.


O! my heifer, ho! my gentle heifer,
My heifer as full of heart, generous and kind.
In the name of the High King,
Take to thy calf (1).

That night the Herdsman was out,
No shackle went on a cow,
Nor ceased a low from a calf,
Wailing the Herdsman of the flock.

Come Mary (Virgin) and milk the cow;
Come Bridget and encompass her;
Come Calum Cille, the beneficent,
And wind thine arms around my cow.

My lovely black cow, thou pride of the shealing!
First cow of the byre, choicest mother of calves;
Wisps of straw round other cows of the townland,
But a shackle of silk on my heifer so loved.

Thou black cow mine! own gentle black cow!
The same disease afflicts thee and me;
Thou art grieving for thy beautiful first calf!
And I for mine only beloved son under the sea!
And I for my only beloved son under the eas!

‘One touch of nature makes the whole akin.’


The following poem is interesting from the three chiefs introduced at the end. Although these lilts were meant only to soothe and quiet the cows in being milked, they yet show, unconsciously, much that is interesting of the past, if not of the present, life of the Highlands and Islands.

Fonn.―Ho m’ adhan! ho m’ adh min!
Ho m’ adhan! ho m’ adh min!
Ho m’ adhan! ho m’ adh min!
A chridheag chri, is toigh lium thu.

Fhaic thu bho ud air an liana,
’S a laogh mear aic air a bialaibh,
Dean thusa mar a rinn thu cheana,
Thoir am bain’ a laoigh na Fianach.
Ho m’ adhan, &c.

Thoir am baine bho dhonn!
Thoir am baine gu trom ’s gu torrach;
Thoir am baine bho dhonn,
’S na h-uaislean a tigh’inn an bhaile.
Ho m’ adhan, &c.

Thoir am baine bho dhonn!
’S gu’n ann daibh ach an t-aran!
Thoir am baine bho dhonn―
Macneil! Macleoid! MacAilean!
Ho m’ adhan, &c.


Chorus.―Ho my heifer! ho my heifer fair!
Ho my heifer! ho my heifer fair!
Ho my heifer! ho my heifer fair!
Thou heartling, heart I love thee!

Behold that cow on the plain,
With her frisky calf before her;
Do thou as she did a while ago―
Ho my heifer, ho my heifer fair.

Give thy milk brown cow,
Give thy milk so abundant and rich;
Give thy milk brown cow,
And the gentles coming to the townland.
Ho my heifer, &c.

Give thy milk brown cow,
And that there is nothing for them but bread.
Give thy milk brown cow―
Macneil! Macleod! Clanranald!
Ho my heifer, &c.

Carmichael, Alexander, ‘Hebridean Hymns and Popular Lore’, The Northern Chronicle, no. 177 (21 May, 1884), p. 3, cc. 5–6
Carmichael, Alexander, ‘Grazing and Agrestic Customs of the Outer Hebrides’ in the Report of the Commissioners of Inquiry into the Condition of the Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (Parliamentary Papers, xxxiii–xxxvi, 1884), pp. 451–82.
Carmichael, Alexander, ‘Uist Old Hymns’, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Glasgow, vol. i (1887–1891), pp. 34–47
Image: Milkmaid

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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). [©]