In the national census taken on the 2 April 1871, Alexander Carmichael is recorded as living in Trumaisgearraidh Manse in the north-east of North Uist. Making up the household were his wife Mary Frances; their 7-month old daughter Elizabeth or Ella; Alexander’s 17-year old niece Catherine Carmichael from Lismore, clearly staying with them in order to help with the new baby; their 22-year old domestic servant Catherine MacAulay; and their 18-year old nurse Mary MacInnes, both local girls from North Uist. The Carmichaels’ other child, three-year old Alexander or Alec, was then staying with their good friend John MacDonald (1826–88) at nearby Newton Farmhouse. Recorded separately as head and only member of his own household, but also living in the manse, was the minister, the Rev. Donald Maclean (c. 1835–1914), a bachelor from Tiree.
The Carmichaels had not been living at Trumaisgearraidh for
long. The young family had probably moved there from Alexander’s bachelor
lodgings in Lochmaddy soon after they had returned from their stay in Lismore,
where Ella was born on 9 August 1870. The first mention of Trumaisgearraidh in Carmichael’s
papers dates from 21 November 1870: there, in the evening, Carmichael recorded
two songs from ‘Mr Ranald Macdonald Taransay Harris’ [CW116/132–3]. Ranald or
Ronald MacDonald (c. 1830–1913),
sheep farmer, Paible House, had shown Alexander round the island during his
visit there earlier that summer.
Less than six months later, however, on the 15 May 1871, Alexander
Carmichael is recorded as writing a letter saying that he is preparing to leave
Trumaisgearraidh Manse [NRS GD403/90/1]. What has happened in the meantime? A
recently discovered note in the Robert Craig Maclagan MSS in the School of
Scottish Studies suggests why the Carmichaels might have made such a hasty
The note forms part of a detailed, illustrated, and rather
idiosyncratic folklore tour through Glen Lonan east of Oban, a beautiful part
of Lorn then well-known for its Ossianic connections. The tour was undertaken on
20 May 1895 by the Rev. Niel Campbell (1850–1904), minister of the nearby
parish of Kilchrenan and Dalavich, who, between 1893 and 1898 collected lore
for the Edinburgh surgeon Robert Craig Maclagan (1839–1919), himself compiling
a vast archive of Highland tradition, custom, and belief for the Folklore
Society in London.
The Rev. Campbell’s guides at the farm of Torinturk in the
glen were ‘two brothers of the name of Morrison from Uist. These are on the
point of leaving it. I forget their Christian names but call them A. M. and B.
M. respectively’ [Maclagan MS 1260, ‘1’]. After a spell as a sailor, John Morrison (c. 1842–1909)
had turned to diamond mining in South Africa, making enough money to take on
the lease of the farm of Torinturk with the help of his unmarried brother Donald John (b. c. 1843). On 21 January 1882 John had
married Marion MacVicar (b. 1857) from Boraraigh. In addition to a boy who had died in
infancy, the couple had six sons when the minister paid his visit: nine-year old John, Alexander or Sandy, Neil,
Donald John, and two-year old William.
Among the items Campbell recorded was the following, from ‘B.
his Perthshire Gaelic, has misunderstood gocaireachd here]
This was reciter’s vocable for what we call in Perthshire Latha na cuaig [‘the day of the cuckoo’].
He told a story of Mac-ill-mhìcheil [Carmichael]
a folk lore collector who sent a minister to whom he (reciter) was a servant air gnothach na cuaige [‘the cuckoo’s
business’] but the story was only to effect that the minister having been sent
to [the] factor could never forgive Carmichael. Collector notes it for vocables only.
Reciter thinks minister was fully justified in being irreconcilable.]
[Maclagan MS 1260, ‘16’]
The Morrisons had been brought up in Bhalacuidh or Vallaquie,
North Uist, just across the little ford of Faoghail Bhalacuidh from Trumaisgearraidh.
Seventeen-year old Donald John is recorded as living there in the 1871 census:
he must therefore be Campbell’s ‘B. M.’
Carmichael certainly knew the family. He recorded a New
Year’s Blessing, Beannachadh Bliadhna Ùir,
from their mother Ann Morrison née Ross
(c. 1811–93) from Skye [Carmina Gadelica i, 158–9], as well as Mo ghaol, mo ghaol, mo ghaol fhéin thu, a praise song to her future
husband by Janet MacLeod, second wife of Malcolm MacLeod of Raasay, better
known as Baintighearna Dhubh Osgaig, whom Johnson and Boswell met during their 1773
tour of the Hebrides [CW87/37]. This item was recorded on 14 September 1885, when
Carmichael was back in Uist and Barra for an autumn visit. Alexander Carmichael
must have been deeply moved by the song: he inscribed its first verse on the
frontispiece of the copy of Carmina
Gadelica he presented to his wife. From Ann’s husband John (b. 1805) he
wrote down a little ‘praise-poem’ for a ‘good husbandman, diligent and
God-fearing’, Mac Shiamain [CG iv, 320–1]. Carmichael also may have visited
his son John in Torinturk itself, maybe during one of his visits to Taynuilt:
the very last item in the last volume of Carmina
Gadelica is a list of the names the farmer had given his cattle [CG vi, 271]. On the other hand, he may
have visited the family in Edinburgh after they had left Torinturk and moved to
Newbattle Terrace, Morningside: this may be implied by a piece of oral
tradition telling of how John’s son Alexander (1886–1915) showed Carmichael a
piece of Ossianic lore he had written down while on holiday at Rucaidh in North
If the account of ‘B. M.’ is true, Alexander Carmichael had sent
the Rev. Donald Maclean on an April Fool’s errand to the factor of North Uist,
none other than his friend John MacDonald of Newton, who had occupied the post
since 1855 when Sir John Orde purchased the estate. A newcomer to the parish –
he had been ordained on 13 May 1869 – Maclean would have been none too happy
about being made the butt of a joke by his new lodger, not just in front of the
factor but before the entire local community. We might go further and suggest
that Maclean could not suffer Carmichael to live in the house with him any
longer, and gave him and his family their marching orders. One wonders what Mrs
Carmichael, faced with the prospect of homelessness with a young son and a new
baby, thought of her husband’s wayward sense of humour. When the census taker visited
the household on 2 April, he may have detected a certain froideur in the atmosphere
at Trumaisgearraidh Manse.
A final thought: on CG
ii, 74–5, is a protective charm, Am
Fionn-Faoilidh, ascribed to ‘Peigidh Maclean’, probably Margaret Maclean
(b. c. 1794), of Trumaisgearraidh,
North Uist. Evidence from the notebooks, however, suggests that the original
was obtained, under the title Òra
Ceartais or ‘Charm for Justice’, from Mary Stewart (c . 1801–77), ‘Màiri Bhreac’, the dairywoman from Malacleit who, on
19 March 1877, shortly before her death, gave Carmichael eight charms [CW108/6].
In the original ‘blueprints’ for Carmina
Gadelica, the charm is also ascribed to Màiri Bhreac [CW124 fos.2,5]. There
is no mention of Peigidh Maclean. Could it be that the reascription to an old
woman in Trumaisgearraidh of the charm, with its pledge to ‘drain wrath empty’,
‘to preserve to me my fame’, and to come between ‘ill-will or ill-wish in mine
enemy’, is a private joke by Carmichael and his family, remembering his own
experience nearly three decades earlier at the hands of the unamused local minister?
And two final connections: firstly, working as the nurse for the
Morrisons of Torinturk for a year around 1893 was the great traditional singer Marion
Campbell (1868–1971), Mòr bean Néill, mother of Bean Eàirdsidh Raghnaill and
grandmother of Rona Lightfoot. Donald Archie Macdonald recorded her praising
John Morrison of Torinturk (‘’S ann a bha an duine còir’) on SSS SA1967/136.
Secondly, just before Mòr left Torinturk, the Morrisons had another baby son. William
(1893–1961) was better known as ‘Shakes’ Morrison, hailed by Chips
Channon as the great white hope of the Conservative Party in the early thirties,
Speaker of the House of Commons between 1951 and 1959, and Governor-General of
Australia for the year until his death. The title chosen by the only
Gaelic-speaking Speaker: Viscount Dunrossil of Vallaquie, North Uist.
Trumaisgearraidh Manse and the now roofless Telford Church, last used in 1941. Ar taing dha Iain Eàirdsidh Iain an Dùin a
bha cho coibhneil ann a bhith ag innse dhuinn mu eachdraidh na sgìre is sinn
air ar cuairt.
Peter Morrison, ‘Alexander Carmichael and the Morrisons of Rucaidh’ in Domhnall
Uilleam Stiùbhart (ed.), Alexander
Carmichael: Life and Legacy (Port of Ness, 2006), 181–2.