Sunday, 4 November 2012

Donald Lamont: his Life and Work

Thousands of pages of undiscovered Gaelic prose – unread for many years, but now brought to light by the National Library of Scotland. The volumes in question are the Gaelic Supplement to the Church of Scotland magazine Life and Work, and they come from the collection of the Rev. Donald Lamont (1874–1958), who edited the Supplement between 1907 and his retiral in 1950. As Lamont states in the handwritten introduction to the first volume, any unsigned contribution was composed by himself.
 
Donald Lamont was a native of the island of Tiree. Like many able young Highlanders at the time, he was educated at Rainings School, Inverness, before going to the University of Edinburgh. Ordained minister in Glen Urquhart in 1902, he transferred to Blair Atholl in 1908, the parish where he remained, with the exception of a spell as a forces chaplain in World War I (he served at Gallipoli in 1915–16), until he retired from the pulpit in 1946. The Prose Writings of Donald Lamont, full of pithy, lively writings by a master of the Gaelic essay, was published as a volume for the Scottish Gaelic Text Society in 1960. His fellow Tirisdeach Professor Donald Meek sums up Lamont’s work as follows:
 
Under Lamont’s ceaselessly provocative pen, the Gaelic Supplement became the main vehicle for thematic and stylistic experimentation in Gaelic; it carried sermons, essays and short stories. Lamont had a particularly lively imagination, and was not afraid to create ‘factional’ characters and scenarios, and to use these to carry the message he wanted to communicate. He was obviously aware, to a remarkable degree, of the opportunity he had, as a clerical writer, to contribute constructively to the well-being of the Gaelic language. His concept of a Gaelic Supplement was not one that ran in the rails of ecclesiastical convention, restricted by doctrinal rigidity and enslavement to purely homiletic styles.

Here is a list of the Gaelic Supplements online:
 
 
Donald Lamont graduated M.A. from Edinburgh in 1898. Among his fellow classmates was none other than Alexander Carmichael’s daughter Ella (1870–1928). A small notebook, numbered CW22, is, according to the cataloguer the Rev. John Mackechnie, in Lamont’s hand. It contains a poem to Ella, about whom Donald Lamont was to write so movingly in Carmina Gadelica iii, xxi–xxiv, beginning:
 
Ella Carmichael was my friend for more than thirty years, my first sight of her being in the Quadrangle of Edinburgh University, when she came to attend Professor Mackinnon's Celtic class, and my last when I went to see her a few days before her death ; and in all these years she was one of the half-dozen friends that I liked best in the world. She was one of those people with whom it is easy to keep one's friendship in good repair, even though one does not see them often. There were fairly long periods of time within these thirty years when I had but few opportunities of meeting her, but that did not matter — the door of her heart and home always remained unlatched, and one could enter without formality or apology and take up the threads of intimate talk where they had been dropped years before.
 
She seemed to me to have changed less between young womanhood and middle life than any other woman I have known, so that one's first impression of her never had to be revised even in small details. This applies even to her physical appearance, as well as to her mind and character. In the middle 'nineties Ella Carmichael was a very beautiful young woman, singularly gracious and dignified, with an air of distinction and charm. …
 
For our Gaelic readers, we give a transcription of the poem’s contents below
 
To
Ella C. Carmichael
this poem
is
respectfully dedicated.
 
/
 
Och! och! ’s truagh mar tha mi
’S mi smuainteachadh ort
’S mo cheann ann an tuaindeal
’S mo chridhe cho goirt.
 
O na faighinn mo dhurachd
’S mi shiubhladh air falbh
’S cha bhithinn na ’b’fhaide
Ri obair cho searbh.
 
’S ged tha mi n’am shuidhe
Ann an cuideachd cho math
Far bheil iorghuill is cabhag
Am meag fhear agus bhan
 
/
 
Tha duin’ ionnsuichte seolta
A comhpairteachadh sgoil
Ach ’s mor m’fheagal gu bheil ‘Seoras’
Le mor fhoghlum air bhoil’
 
Ged tha mise ’s an ait’ so
Ann an cruth ’s ann an dòigh
Tha mo smuaintean ’is m’aire
A ghnàth air an oigh
 
Tha i maisach ’is sgiamhach
Agus cùinn [ciùin] anns gach dòigh
Ion-ghradhach ’is coimhneil
Neo-dhàn’ agus còir
 
/
 
B’e mo dhurachd bhith dluth dhi
Ri comhradh ’s ri ceòl
’S cha ’n iarrainn a fàgail
Fhad sa bhitheas mi beo
 
Ach tha n’uine dol seachad
Le cabhag ro-dhian
’S ann a seachduin no dha
Cha’n fhaic mis’ a fiamh
 
Se ni tha g’am fhagail
Cho bronach ’s cho truagh
Bhi caithibh na h-ùine
Cho fada so uait
 
/
 
O nach bochd nu[a]ir tha ’n samhradh
A nis a tighinn cho dlùth
’S an geamhradh dubh dorcha
A tionndadh a chùl
 
Gu feum mis’ mar an ceudna
Bhi fagail Dhunèdin
’S dol air imrich leam fhein as
Gu tìr a tha céin
 
Cha’n e bhith fagail Dhunèdin
Le mhaise ’s le sgèimh
A tha cho cràiteach ’s cho duilich
O ’s fhada ma ’s e
 
/
 
Ach tha ’n tìm gu bhith seachad
’Is feumaidh mi sgur
Bho’n tha fhios agad fhein air
Mo thinneas gu túr
 
Gach sonas ’is solas
Gu robh gu brath na do sheilbh
’S gu ma fada fada beo thu
Ann a slaint’ agus foirm
 
Leig leam so a ràdh ruit
Gu càirdeil ’s gu fior
Gu bheil agamsa gràdh dhuit
A tha domhain agus sior
 
/
 
Slàn-leat ma tha ’n drasda
’S gun deanadh gràdh agus seirc
Thusa leantainn a’n comhnuidh
‘Gach la chi ’s nach fhaic’
 
Feumaidh gur e Seòras MacEanruig no George Henderson (1866–1912) a th’ ann an ‘Seòras’. Thoiribh an aire mar a bha an Laomainneach ag obair mar Examiner ann an Cànanan agus Litreachas Ceilteach ann an Oilthigh Dhùn Èideann eadar 1903 agus 1906.
 
Sources:
Donald Meek, ‘The Gaelic literature of Argyll’, Association for Scottish Literary Studies
Donald Lamont about Alexander Carmichael, here and here.
 
Image:
Eaglais Sgìre Bhlàr Athall/Blair Atholl Parish Church

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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]