Thursday, 7 July 2011

Rain-Goose: A Weather Forecaster

Rain-goose or Red-throated diver or loon
Reflecting perhaps the eclectic mixture of items to be found in Alexander Carmichael’s fieldwork notebooks is an example of a verse about a rain-goose, so-called for its ability to predict weather patterns. There is, however, no indication from whom Carmichael got this item but he may have heard it at different times from a variety of reciters and also in various localities. Rain-goose is the name given to the bird in the Western Isles as well as in Orkney and Shetland but perhaps it is better known and perhaps even more familiar as a red-throated diver or loon. It may also be of interest to note that Forbes in his book Gaelic Names of Beasts (1905) does not give the same name (bir-ghia or perhaps better understood as biorra-ghiadh) as Carmichael which may or may not indicate that it is in fact a ghost-word. In the final volume of Carmina, however, rain-goose is mentioned but with an alternative name: giadh gob, and also in the second volume of Carmina with a slightly different spelling: giadh gaob.

Bir-ghia Birghia = Rain Goose
from bir = water and geadh = goose
Bir! bir! bir!
An lin[n] a traghadh
Bir! bir! bir!
An lin[n] a traghadh
Bir! bir! bir!
An lin[n] a traghadh
M’ urlagann {muirlagan {muragan
M’ eoneagan
M’ uibheanagan
M’ ulaidh agus
M’ auradh

To this Carmichael appended a close translation which eventually found its way into print in the second volume of Carmina:

Rain! rain! rain!
The lake drying
Rain! rain! rain
The lake drying
Rain! rain! rain!
My little gifts / presents
My little cheeks
My little eggs
My treasures
thy troubles!


In a fairly long note Carmichael states that ‘‘giadh gaob, rain goose…is in reference to the belief that certain peculiarities in the cry and flight of the bird indicate rain. The bird is familiar in the West of Scotland, although rare or unknown in other parts of Britain.’ Carmichael then provides a version of the above making a general statement about its origin:

Should draught occur, and the water subside below her reach, the bird flies about hither and thither uttering cries of concern. The people have rendered these utterances of the bird in human language:–


‘Deoch! deoch! deoch!
An loch a traghadh!
Deoch! deoch! deoch!
An loch a traghadh!
Burn! burn! burn!
Mo luth ’m fhagail!
Burn! burn! burn!
Mo luth ’m fhagail!’


Drink! drink! drink!
The loch is drying!
Drink! drink! drink!
The loch is drying!
Water! water! water!
My strength failing me!
Water! water! water!
My strength is failing me!

Not content with giving only one version Carmichael then proceeds to give one more with particular relevance to Harris and Lewis than the immediate one above which prevailed in North and South Uist:

‘Bir! bir! bir!
An lir [sic] a deabhadh!
Bir! bir! bir!
An lir [sic] a deabhadh!
Burn! burn! burn!
Burn! burn! burn!
Burn! burn! burn!
Mo luth ’m threigsinn.’


Rain! rain! rain!
The lake is drying!
Rain! rain! rain!
The lake is drying!
Water! water! water!
Water! water! water!
Water! water! water!
My strength’s failing me!

As can be readily seen the manuscript version differs slightly from that which Carmichael based his printed long note with regard to the rain-goose and if that is the case then this is but one example of his editorial method by which he wished to improve things and so to present his fieldwork notes as more a literary endeavour than a literal rendition.

References:
CW122/89, ff. 17r–17v.
Carmina Gadelica, ii, pp. 336–37.
Image: A red-throated diver or loon as known as a rain goose.

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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]