Monday 29 August 2011

Song Narrative of Seathan Mac Rìgh Èireann

Breivig, Barra / Brèibhig, Barraigh
An interesting bit of lore picked up Alexander Carmichael from the recitation of a blacksmith called Donald MacPhee (c. 1816–1869) from Brèibhig in the Isle of Barra concerns the famous waulking song Seathan Mac Rìgh Èireann (Seathan the son of the King of Ireland), as popular then as it is to this very day. The narrative speaks for itself:

Composed by a aunt of MacLeod
of Harris to MacNeill Dhun an t-Sleibh
her husband. She alleged that the Priest
attempted to take advantage of her in the
confessional (He was Irish.) The
Priest drowned a candle in chapel on
the Sunday foll[ow]ing indicating that she was
ex-com[municated]. This angered MacNeill
and led to a quarrel between himself
and wife. She left and went home to
her father. She fell with a former
sweetheart. She then comp[osed] this
song upon hearing which MacN[e]ill
said Co sam bi leis an leis
an long luchd s liomsa a clao [clar] and went
with his brolair for her. MacN[e]ill
then left the Church of Rome. There
was a ban against Cath[olics] during
the Carras and fad na h-aidolein
not to make balls. To spite the Priest
Mac Mhic Neill Dhun an t Sleibh
make to balls and feills. He was ex-
com[municated]. In going out of church he
said to the Priest that he would never
hear Mass again and so left the
Church of Rome. This was the
Lady MacNiell [sic] who left Cios-
mal. All rent was paid in kind
in those days. She then went to Lag
fhliodh from which the woman
came with the fish by the Lag fhliodh
close to Doirlin at Tangasdal.

As is well known this song is far longer than the mere fifteen lines taken down by Carmichael which probably reflects the fact that this was all the reciter knew or could manage to recall on that particular occasion when it was recorded:

Hu ru o na hi oro
Na nam fai[gh]te Seathain ri fhuasgla[dh]
Cha bhiodh an cro[dh] laoi[gh] eir bhuailt.
Hu ru o na hi oro
Cha bhi gobhar an Creag Ruari[dh]
A Sheath[ain] sabh[ail] nan anam
A Sheath[ain] sa mhic Iosa Criosda
Ge grianach an la[tha]
S beag m aithear ri bho[i]chead
O hi ri ri o huru bho rotho.
Mi nam shui[dh] eir an tulaich
Gon am mulad mi m onar
Smi ri feitheamh a chaolais, S gun mo ghaol
Nam faic thu tigh[inn] Smi gun r[u]itheadh ad cho[mhdh]ail
Bhiodh mo chri[th] lan solais

A far longer version of this particular waulking later appeared in the fifth volume of Carmina Gadelica where a number of reciters and so it appears that this version of the song was a conflation of many different versions. The song has been recorded on numerous occasions during the twentieth century, many from Barra tradition bearers such as Calum Johnston (1891–1972) and Nan MacKinnon (1903–1982), as well as being published in various Gaelic periodicals.

Carmina Gadelica, v, pp. 60–83.
CW150/11, ff. 3v–4v.
Breivig, Barra / Brèibhig, Barraigh.

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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). [©]