Monday 18 July 2011

The Satirical Wit of Gille na Ciotaig (Archibald MacDonald)

Boleskine Cemetery
The use of satire, especially in poetry or song, was a common phenomenon in Gaelic tradition. Such was the very great fear of being satirised that it was believed that it caused blisters to erupt on the skin or could even cause death! A skilled poet was to be admired as well as feared for in his or her hands words spoken or sung had the power to influence by either praising or dispraising. A good reputation was highly sought after in the Gaelic world and this is why powerful people would pay bards generously to make sure that they would be well thought of and even be remembered to posterity. There are a great many examples of praise songs or poetry. Those who had the temerity to be put in the black books of any given bard would pay the hefty price of being satirised. Aside from any individual bard probably the most famous group of these, of which Alexander Carmichael collected and wrote about, were the Cliar Sheanchain, a wandering band of performers. From whom Carmichael took down this song narrative and satire, he does not say, but in all likelihood it would have been collected in North Uist sometime in 1877 when Carmichael was on his rounds. The bard in question, Gille na Ciotaig – so-called for he probably had a shrivelled or stumped hand – was Archibald MacDonald (c. 1750–c. 1815), a North Uist bard. By refusing to let the bard graze his horse Gille na Ciotaig “lampooned the inhospitable farmer, and thus had his revenge. He gave him the horrible description of being the ugliest man in the sherrifdom, and predicted that there were terrible things in store for him.” It is said that while on his way to Inverness to get his works published he fell gravely ill in Fort Augutus and he was subsequently buried in nearby Boleskine cemetery though his grave remains unmarked. A plaque was raised to his memory in 1988 by members of the Gaelic Society of Inverness:

Gille na Ciotaig was a native of North
Uist but having satirized the factor or
proprietor there for some act of oppression
he was obliged to leave the place. He went to
South Uist and lived at Lochaoineart or
Lochboisdale – uncertain which – . He
travelled much about throughout the
Highlands and Islands and being highly
connected being a near relation of Lord
Macdonald he had access to the best society
in his travels. He travelled on horseback.
Upon one occasion when going through
Bearnasdail in Skye he called at a
friends house and tied his pony at the door.
The pony broke loose and found his way into
the corn of the tacksman of Bearnasdail,
a miser and a churl. The poet’s pony
was poinded and when the poet came
out he found his pony poinded and
would not be released except upon pay-
ment of the damage – miastadh, domail –
done by him to the corn of Fear Bhearnas-
dail. Gille Na Ciotaig put down the half
crown on the wall of the poind – the legal
mode – and got his pony. He then
sang or recited the following satire
which so stung the miserly tacksman
that he begged him to take up his half-
crown and never to repeat his satire,
and besides that he was welcome to
cuid oi[dh]che us la[tha] to himself and his
gearran whenever he came the way.
The poet, however, would not be
thus silenced and he left singing the
satire as he went his way.

Bodach Bhearnasdail an Innis (Uinis?)
Duine is grainnde tha ’s an t-siorrac[hd]
Bodach Bearnasdail an Innis
Ceann-cinne [fine] gach déisdin – èigin

Tha do ghruaidh gu’n aona mhir bithidh
Do chom lac[hd]un[n] cartaidh ruighinn
Coltach ri bian beiste-duibhe
Ga ruitheadh air dile.

Bodach Bhearnasdail an Innis
Duin is grainnde tha ’s an t-siorrac[hd]
Bodach Bhearnasdail an Innis
Ceann-fine gach déisdin [Ceann-uidhe]

Do cheann urrad ri brìg mhoine
Do chluas urrad ri lòban
Do bhial mar gu’m biodh òbar
Le gran eorn air leighinn!

Amhach chaol na corra-ghrithich
Ni thu fathast cainb a ruitheadh
Croich a feitheamh ort na suidhe
Gheobh na fithich fèasd ort!
Bodach Bhearnasdail an Innis
Duin is grainnde tha ’s an t siorrac[hd].

Memorial Plaque to Archibald MacDonald / Gille na Ciotaig

CW108/81, ff. 23r –24r.
MacDonald, Archibald (ed.), The Uist Collection (Glasgow: Archibald Sinclair, 1894).
Images: Boleskine Cemetery © Copyright Steven Brown and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence and the Memorial to Archibald MacDonald / Gille na Ciotaig.

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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). [©]