Friday, 22 January 2010

The Appin Banner: Donald Molach Livingstone the Standard Bearer

The impact of the Battle of Culloden, the last major battle to have been fought on British soil in 1746, will be forever imprinted upon the psyche of the Highlands. Alexander Carmichael lived and was actively collecting at only around two or three generations remove from those who had either fought at the battle or who had lived through the experience of post-Culloden society which saw a sea change throughout the Highlands and Islands. And, of course, though many would have been reticent about mentioning anything about Culloden and its aftermath, stories of heroism, heart-rending songs or stirring pipe tunes would and, in some ways, had to be remembered to commemorate the last and bloodiest of the many battles that were to see the Jacobite Rising of the ’45 eventually flounder and fail. On that fateful day, the Livingstones followed the Stewarts of Appin, and accompanied them at the Battle of Culloden, where Donald Livingstone saved the banner of the Stewarts, and conveyed it back to Appin. The family of Livingstones were Barons of the Bachull and received grants of lands in Lismore as keepers of the crozier or baculum of the Bishops of Lismore, known in Gaelic as the Bachull Mòr:

John Livingstone son of h Ach
na crei went to Morven his son Donald
fo[ugh]t at Culloden aged
18. Nine Donald[s] were shot
down carrying the Bratach of the
Prince when Don[ald] Livingstone
took it up and swathed round
his body. He was shot down and
was thought to be dead but he got up
with nine bullet wounds –
fresh wounds which were seen
in his body when he died aged
79 or 80 years old. Never had
trews on. He was drover to George
being commissariat to the garri
son at F[ort] William to the
last. Died at Morvern. He
had six sons – two of whom
were drowned on Cuan
na h-Eirinn having a ves[s]el of
their own with which they
traded to Ireland. There we[re]
2 da[ugh]t[er]s died unmarried.
Donald Molach – “hairy Don[al]d”
He was called – in Savary.
His wife Jane Stewart of
Ardslignish. The mother
of Donull Molach was Ann
Macinnes native of Morvern

Some of the story has clearly been exaggerated from the telling but it is based upon historical facts such as those provided by the Rev. Ian Carmichael from his book Lismore in Alba (1948):

The Appin Banner has a yellow St. Andrew’s Cross on a back-ground of light blue silk; the dimensions 5 feet hoist, with a fly of 6 feet 7 inches. It is now in the Military Museum, Edinburgh Castle, hanging beside the banner of the English troops-Barrel’s Regiment (King’s Own Royal) – whom the Appin Regiment charged and broke. Dark stains, said to be the blood of its defenders, are still to be seen, together with the marks of bullet holes…Twelve banners of the Highland Clans flew at Culloden. Only the banner of the Appin Regiment came home again. The remaining eleven were publicly burned by the common hangman at the Mercat Cross in Edinburgh.

As is stated, the banner named in Gaelic Bratach Bhàn nan Stiùbhartaich (The White Banner of the Stewarts [of Appin]) was kept for many years in the United Services Museum in Edinburgh Castle. It can still seen as it is now housed in the Jacobite Room in the New Museum of Scotland on Chambers Street, Edinburgh.

CW 126(g), fos. 203r-203v
Ian Carmichael, Lismore in Alba (Perth: Leslie, 1948)
Duncan Livingstone, 'The Stewarts of Appin at Culloden', The Celtic Monthly, vol. 4 (1896), pp. 91-93, 119-20, 131-33.
The Appin Banner, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Carmichael, Catholicism and the Bard

Next Monday, 25 January 2010, Dr Domhnall Uilleam Stiùbhart, Senior Researcher on the project, will give a seminar to the Scottish Catholic Historical Association about Alexander Carmichael's extraordinarily demanding collecting work between 1865 and 1878 in the Catholic islands of Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra, then as now some of the richest areas for traditional folklore in western Europe.

Using his field notebooks, we can trace in fascinating detail how Carmichael went about gathering his store, as well as get to know some of his favourite interviewees.

Dr Stiùbhart will also talk about how the Carmichael Watson project is progressing, and outline some of our plans for the future. Also, given that it will be Burns Night, Dr Stiùbhart will have to touch upon one of the more interesting conjectures made by Alexander Carmichael: Robert Burns' supposed descent from a poetically-gifted serial killer by the name of Walter Campbell who lived near Taynuilt.

All this and more at the Scottish Catholic Archives, 16 Drummond Place, Edinburgh EH3 6PL starting at 5.30pm. With refreshments!

Scottish Catholic Archives:
Image: The first page of Carmichael's article on Robert Burns' Gaelic ancestry contained in Sir Patrick Geddes' Evergreen A Northern Seasonal (Edinburgh, 1895) pp. 110-115. (

Friday, 15 January 2010

A perfume of fragrant peat emanating from every page

One of the most exciting developments for scholars and academics in recent years is the ever-increasing number of out of copyright books being digitised and put online. This allows people worldwide not just to access often obscure texts, but to examine and compare individual copies. Staff at the National Library of Scotland have done a magnificent job making available much of their Gaelic material online at, including the collection of one of Carmichael’s most influential mentors John Francis Campbell (1821–1885). Campbell was an inveterate – and in the privacy of his own library often somewhat irascible – annotator of books, and his marginalia offer precious, and occasionally amusing, insights into the life and opinions of one of the key figures in the history of Gaelic folklore collecting.

Among Campbell’s volumes is a rather tatty copy of the Gaelic poetry anthology Sean Dàin agus Òrain Ghàidhealach (Perth, 1786), known as the Gillies Collection after its publisher John Gillies. This is clearly the copy Campbell refers to in the fourth volume of the Popular Tales of the West Highlands, where he uses it to estimate how popular the heroic Fenian ballads contained in it had been with its many readers:

On procuring a very dirty, torn, thumbed copy from Glasgow, with many names scribbled over it, and a perfume of fragrant peat emanating from every page, I set myself to consider whether dirt might not be an index to the modern reader’s taste; and by sight and smell it soon appeared that the heroic age had passed from the Firth of Clyde, where I had found none of the old poems.

Contemporary popular songs in the book, Campbell finds, are ‘nearly worn out’, ‘fairly torn to shreds’ with reading and re-reading; the heroic pieces, on the other hand, languish ‘nearly clean’, ‘nearly white’.

The copy is also of interest to us because of the young man to whom Campbell lent it. A note on the flyleaf explains the tale:

This copy was got from me by Archibald Sinclair an Islay man, Printer in Glasgow. It was so battered that I got it mended by a binder in Kensington. I lent it to Alexander Carmichael one of the Collectors of Popular Tales of the West Highlands, who took it with him to Uist; where I had asked him to collect stories. He lent it to Mr Clerk of Kilmallie who in 1870 published a new edition of Ossian at the expense of Lord Bute. Hearing of my book I wrote for it, and got it back this day, after no end of correspondence with Carmichael, Clerk, Murdoch &c, in Uist, Inverness, Kilmallie &c.
J.F. Campbell. January 23d 1871.

It is tempting to surmise that it is to the Gillies Collection that Carmichael is referring in an artless admission he makes in a letter written on 6 January 1869 to Clerk concerning a transcription of the poem Laoidh Chlann Uisne taken down from Donald MacPhee, the smith in Breubhaig, Barra, on 15 March 1867:

In transcribing this poem I did so as much as I could from memory without looking at my Sgialac book more than I could avoid being in a hurry at the time. It is therefore possible I may in some instances have inserted the words of the printed book.

Laoidh Chlann Uisne appears on pp. 260–7 of the Gillies Collection.

Image: Rev. Archibald Clerk of Kilmallie (1813–1887), who frequently referred to Campbell’s copy of the Gillies Collection in his edition of The Poems of Ossian (2 vols, Edinburgh: Blackwood & Sons, 1870).

References: Campbell’s copy of the Gillies collection is referenced as NLS Campbell 2.e.21, online at
CW MS 103 fo.17v.
John Francis Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands iv (Edinburgh: Edmonston & Douglas, 1862), 118–19.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Litir Alasdair gu Manach Ruiseanach

Dìreach trì mìosan mun d’ fhuair Alasdair MacGilleMhìcheil am bàs sgrìobh e litir anns a’ Ghàidhlig gu Henry Cyril Dieckhoff (1869–1950), Ruiseanach a dh’ fhuirich ann an Abaid Chille Chumein fad bhliadhnaichean. Ghabh am manach a bha seo fìor ùidh anns a’ Ghàidhlig, gu seachd h-àraid ann an dual-chainntean, agus sgrìobh e leabhar air an robh Pronouncing Dictionary of the Gaelic Language mu Ghàidhlig Ghleanna Garadh a chaidh a chlò-bhualadh an toiseach ann an 1932. Ged nach eil e ri fhaicinn anns an tar-sgrìobhadh seo, chaidh an litir a sgrìobhadh le làmh aig an robh comas litrichean fìor mhath a dhèanamh agus furasda a leughadh:
15 Barnton Terrace
23 March 1912
A Charaid Chaoimh Chaonich
Gabhadh mo leisgeul. Bha
duil agam sgriobhadh thugaibh
roimhe so, fada roimhe seo.

Is gaolach leom cluinntinn
mu mo chaomh charaid gaolach
‘Mr Domhnull’ mar a theireadh-
mid ris ann an Uibhist. Bha
agus tha agus bithidh gaol agam
air ri mo bheo.

Cannaibh ri “Father Ould” gum
feuch mi ris an ni tha dhith air
fhaighinn dha.
Chunna mi Mr Goudie bho
chionn ghoirid agus bha e féin
agus a bhean slan fallain.
Bha mo nighean agus an duin
aice Dr Watson agus na ministear
a chunna sibh anns an taigh aso
anabarrach toilichte gun fac
iad sibh. Tha dochas aca uile gum
faic iad sibh fhathast. Is e sin is
dochas domhsa cuideachd.

Gu de tha “Father Andra” a
deanamh? Agus “Father Joseph”?
Leth-fear cinnidh dhomh fein. Mu
tha e co math a leth co math is athair
fein foghnaidh. Bha gaol agus meas
aig a chuile neach air an duine
choir uasal eireachdail.
Cuin thig sibh do Dhun eidean
a rithist? Tha dorus fosgailt, mias
lan agus leaba folamh againn
a feitheamh oirbh,
‘Gach latha sona duibh
Gun aon latha dona dhuibh’
Bhur caraid cairdeil
Alastair Macgillemhicheil.

A letter unusually written in Gaelic by Alexander Carmichael to Henry Cyril Dieckhoff (1869–1950), a Russian monk, long resident at Fort Augustus Abbey. Carmichael apologizes for not replying earlier and asks about mutual acquaintances, especially about priests whom they both knew. Carmichael closes his letter by extending his welcome to Dieckhoff to stay at his house next time he visited Edinburgh. Carmichael then signs off the letter with a proverb intimating his best wishes to his friend.

Many thanks to the Keeper at the Scottish Catholic Archives for permission to publish this letter.

SCA [Scottish Catholic Archives], FSA 200/33/3.
Còmhdach Leabhair.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Bliadhna Mhath Ùr – aon uair eile

Chan eil fada idir bho bhiodh gillean air a’ Ghàidhealtachd a’ falbh air feadh a’ bhaile le ‘caisean-uchd’ a’ gabhail rann no duan Challaig air an oidhche-se, ri linn na Seann Bhliadhn’ Ùir. Seo leth-bhreac de dh’ fhear de na rannan a fhuair Alasdair MacGilleMhìcheil bho thé Sgiathanach air an robh Màiri nighean Iain Bhàin, ’s iad a’ dèanamh còmhradh ri chéile air 19 Màirt 1891. An-diugh, aithnichear Nighean Iain Bhàin nas fheàrr mar a’ bhana-bhàrd Màiri Mhór nan Òran (1821–98):

Thàinig mis an taobh seo
Horo laoi o
Dh’ ùrachadh na Callain
Ho ro la ri o
Thug mi timcheall air an àrd-ruit [àrd-doras]
Ho …
'S teàrn[aidh] mi aig an doras –
Ho …
Caisein Call[ainn] na mo phoc[aid]
Ho …
’S math an ceò [a thig o’n fhear ud…]

They gave the Cais[ei]n Call[ai]g to the wife & if she took it they got some. If she was churlish & refused they went out & went with a mol[lachd] an tighe.

To mark the Old New Year, a fragment of a ‘Duan Challainn’ given to Carmichael by Mary MacPherson, the Skye poetess Màiri Mhór nan Òran, on 19 March 1891.

Ìomhaigh: Màiri Mhór nan Òran
Tagairt: LS CW 108 fo.25.

Friday, 8 January 2010

John Francis Campbell – Iain Òg Ìle

Alexander Carmichael was not adverse to collecting material about other collectors as the following rather amusing anecdote illustrates:

When Campbell of Islay had
Pool House at Poolewe John F
Campbell then just of age was
passing along the road when
people were carrying sea weed on
their back to the roadside. A hand
some young girl gazing at
the young man passing said
A Dhia nach robh thu posd agam!
Nan robh cha bhiodh tu fon chliabh
agam said he in as good Gaelic
as her own. The poor girl was
so taken aback at the unexpected
Gaelic that she threw the cre[e]l
from her ran home as fast
as her legs could carry her
nor would she move out of
the house or go near the place
while the Campbells came there.
“Cha ghluaiseadh brog no
bruithinn gu feamanadh tuilidh
i fad agus bha Tighearna Ile sin.”

Presumably the young lassie knew to whom she was making her remark but had not guessed at all that one of the Gaelic aristocracy could understand Gaelic never mind speak it. It was rather remarkable for John Francis Campbell’s father, Walter Frederick, made sure that his son would speak Gaelic for he was partially brought up by a Gaelic-speaking piper, and name-sake, John Campbell. John Francis, writing about his youth, states that: ‘from him I learned a good many useful arts. I learned to be hardy and healthy and I learned Gaelic. I learned…to take care of myself, and to talk to everybody who chose to talk with me.’ And so it proved on this occasion for the shock of the witty rejoinder hit home and the poor lassie probably never made such remarks to any strangers ever again.

References: CW 122, fol. 16r
National Library of Scotland, Lamplighter and Story-teller: John Francis Campbell of Islay, 1821–1885 (Edinburgh: National Library of Scotland, 1985)
Image: John Francis Campbell – Iain Òg Ìle, c. 1843

Black Grouse Reel

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

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). [©]