Thursday 30 June 2011

A Typhus Outbreak in Lismore

Tirefour/Lismore, Tìr Phuir/Lios Mòr
Given that modern medicine has advanced so much in the last decade not to mention the last few hundred years then it is sometimes easy to forget that diseases such as typhus, cholera, tuberculosis, measles, scarlet fever and so on, that are now to a very great extent completely eradicated throughout Scotland as well as elsewhere, were once the scourge of in particular urban but also rural populations. This particularly moving and personal testimony was taken down in August 1883 by Alexander Carmichael – who himself may have witnessed similar outbreaks of such a disease in his youth in Lismore – from Christina or Christy Campbell née Macintyre (1822–1896). Perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of her story, apart from the fact that the typhus outbreak ravaged her loved ones, was the consequence of debt that she carried for many years afterwards. It is interesting to note that when she regained her health she stated, ‘When I got well all I had left were a few hens – neither of stock nor of crop.’ She further describes how she and her neighbours Dugald Buchanan, who was in arrears, and Donald and Maol-Moire Black, who were not in arrears, were put out of their farms and one single farm at Tirefour was created for Captain Campbell in Oban. It may be argued that the social dimension of such outbreaks had a far greater detrimental impact on rural populations and they could in fact suffer even more their urban equivalent especially with the added consequence of a looming threat of clearance.

About 1918 years ago this
Aut[umn], my brother Dugald
Macintire aged 44(?) took
typhus fever & in eight
days he was dead. My
husband Dun[can] Campbell
took fever & in as short
a time died. Each went out on a Tuesday –
3 weeks between. I drag-
ged both their bodies out
& put them in the coffin
on the field. & I weak
watching them & fighting
with them for they came
strong & feverish. My
nephew Don[ald] Mac
corquodale aged ab[ou]t 13
was down & pulled thro[ugh]
brothers & sister’s boy Dun[can]
Macintire aged 4 y[ea]rs was
down – but pulled thro[ugh].
Mary Carmichael aged
30 30 ab[ou]t 30 was down – A
cousin of weak[mind] I
then lay in fear & lay
unconscious for 3 weeks
& till beg[inning]of spring was weak.
I crept on my magain
to eadar da bhi an doruis
The carts carrying away
our corn were passing
our door but I could not
see them being weak. The
cattle then were all away
– driven away by Do[mh]n[al]l
Iain bhain. We had
4 cows, 1 horse good 2 queys
2 stirks 1 pet lamb which
I fed from the gogan.
The crop was good.
When I came my service
on the Galldac[hd] my mother
& brother were £31. That I paid.
A few years before my
brother died (3 y[ea]rs ) my
bro[ther] lost the price of a ho[r]se
while ret[urn]ing from market
This threw us about £8 in
arrears. We got no
warning & no sale was
made – either of crop
or stock. When I got
well all I had left were
a few hens – neither of
stock nor of crop. pota
Potatoes & corn gone –
I aft[erwards] got one from
Gregor. I got the byre
of a neigh[bour] Dugald
Bauchann Who had been
similarly served. Our
neigh[bours] Donald & Maol-
Moire Black brothers were
not a penny in arrears.
Their farm ours and
Dugald Buch (Buchanan). were put
out & one farm made
of the whole Tirphuir
now in poss[ession] of Cap[tain] Cam[pbell]
Who kept you up there
Bha Ni math fear a
b urrainn – I got paid
relief for my sister[-in-]law[’s]
boy & when Early in Spring
I was delivered of a boy – I was
ab[ou]t 8 mo[months] mar[ried] When
my boy was ab[ou]t 9 y[ea]rs I saw
I could give him no scho[o]l
so I had to app[ly] for relief –
This cont[intued] ab[ou]t 5 y[ea]rs.

CW120, ff. 14v–17r.
Image: Tirefour/Lismore, Tìr Phuir/Lios Mòr.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Alexander Carmichael’s Laureation Address

Dr Alexander Carmichael, 1909
Sir Ludovic Grant (1862–1936) addressed Carmichael in the following terms when he had his degree conferred upon him. It may also be of interest to say something about Sir Ludovic’s style of lecturing who had held the chair of Public Law from 1890 to 1922:

Sir Ludovic Grant held the chair of Jurisprudence and Public International Law. He was the son of a Principal of the university. He was very tall, rubicund, moustached and of an aristocratic personality. He was easy on notetakers, repeating each sentence as he went along and all in a very loud and explosive tone of voice. The names and concepts of his subject were accordingly highly flavoured and memorable. ‘Pumperdink’, ‘Bynkerschoeck’, the ‘mare clausum’ and such reverberate still in one’s ears. We heard with pleasure from him that the first essay in English on the law of warfare at sea was the work of a Scotsman, the notable John Clerk of Eldin …

His career, however, was more that of a university administrator than scholar: he was Dean of the Faculty of Law from 1894 to 1910 and it would have been in this role that he addressed Carmichael:

The Western Isles of Scotland have been Mr Carmichael’s happy hunting-grounds, and his learned labours in these picturesque realms, extending over nearly fifty years, have been crowned with fruitful results. He has made many interesting contributions to philology and archaeology, but none of his achievements is more deserving of commemoration than his work in collecting and recording large portions of the Gaelic folklore, which, but for his timely exertions and pious care, must have perished irretrievably. The task of salvage was no light one. It was from the lips of aged cottars and herdsmen, amidst circumstances often of difficulty and sometimes of danger, that the precious harvest of ballad and legend, of rune and incantation had to be slowly and laboriously gathered in. English readers have now been afforded an opportunity of acquiring themselves with the simple dignity, the beauty, and the power of this literature of the unlettered, for Mr Carmichael had translated considerable sections in his “Carmina Gadelica” – an undertaking of unique character, of which we may be permitted to hope for further instalments.

But there is another aspect of his work which must not be lost of sight to-day. Mr Carmichael has been a close student of social conditions in the Outer Hebrides, and it is beyond question that his sympathetic and illuminative papers on the system of holding and working land, and on the grazing customs in these islands, were instrumental in awakening public interest in the condition of the crofters, and in preparing the way for remedial legislation. I present Mr. Carmichael to you as an eminent Gaelic scholar and archaeologist, and as a literary salvor whose services may be fitly recompensed by the Degree of Doctor of Laws.

Image: Dr Alexander Carmichael’s Graduation Photograph from The Oban Times.

Monday 27 June 2011

Alexander Carmichael’s Letter of Acceptance

Dr Alexander Carmichael, 1909
Through the advocacy of Professor Donald MacKinnon (1839–1914), the first holder of the Chair of Celtic at the University of Edinburgh, Alexander Carmichael was conferred with the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in recognition of his fifty year folklore collecting career. The honour was fully justified for if it had not been for his unstinting and selfless work then much tradition would have been irrevocably lost. Carmichael’s letter is perhaps uncharacteristically short but it clearly shows that he was deeply touched and highly appreciative of the honour that the University authorities were to bestow upon him:

15 Barnton Terrace

11th Feb[ruar]y 1909

Sir Ludovic Grant Bart,

Dear Sir,
I have the honour
to acknowledge the re-
solution of the University
of Edinburgh to confer
upon me the degree
of Doctor of Laws.
May I use the freedom
of asking you to con
vey to the Senatus my
high appreciation
of this honour.
I hope to have the
pleasure of being present
to receive this distinction.

Yours sincerely,
Alexander Carmichael

Reference and Images:
EUA/INI/ADS/STA/15, 1889–1913, Letter of Acceptance.
Alexander Carmichael’s Graduation.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

A Stroll in Lochaber

Inverlochy Castle by Horatio MacCulloch
On occasion Alexander Carmichael would note down short diary entries about something that must have moved in some way or another. On 28 September 1890, Carmichael happened to be in Lochaber and was in the company of John MacCallum, the Baillie. Not a great deal can be said about his short description other than to say Carmichael presumably had enjoyed himself in the company of the Baillie and would also have been delighted with the impressive scenery. The next couple of days Carmichael spent in Brae Lochaber on a collecting trip where he took down material from Archibald MacInnes, Ishbel Mackintosh (both in Inverroy) on 1 October and Ann and Mary MacDonald in Bohuntine in Glenroy on 2 October. Coincidentally, the first item, Rann romh Urnaigh (‘Rune Before Prayer’),  to appear in volume 1 of Carmina Gadelica was ascribed to Ann MacDonald née Campbell (1818–1897), described by Carmichael as a crofter’s daughter living at Bohuntineville.

Along with Bail[l]e John Maccallum
went to see old I^[onnor] Lochaidh Castle
after that walked to Banaovi [Banavie]. In the
evening Baile Maccallum drove me
with carriage and pair up Glenevis
to head of Glen One half or more right
round Ben-nevis. Magnificent scenery
The nevis runs level and land on
either bank level for many miles.

CW1, f. 9r.
Carmina Gadelica, i, pp. 2–3.
Carmina Gadelica, ii, p. 374.
Inverlochy Castle painted in 1857 by Horatio MacCulloch (1805–1867).

Monday 20 June 2011

John Duncan, R. S. A. on Carmina Gadelica

Deirdre of the Sorrows
In a beautifully produced and lavishly illustrated book, Voices from the Hills / Guthan o na Beanntaibh (1927) edited by John ‘Celtic’ MacDonald and printed by Archibald Sinclair of the Celtic Press, John Duncan (1866–1945), a leading artist of the Scottish Symbolist movement, wrote eulogistically about Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica. The review begins thus:

To praise this book duly would be but to print it again in its own words, adding nothing and taking nothing away—it is its own best praise. From its first hymn, an act of adoration, “I am bending my knee in the eye of the Father who created me,” to its last note at the end, “This is what I would ordain to thee, the daughter of a King, with gold and gems,” it is a necklace for a King’s daughter, of spiritual gold and jewels, to be worn like the talisman of Patrick, as a breastplate against all evil.

Carmichael and Duncan were acquainted with one another from at least the mid-1890s probably through their mutual association with Patrick Geddes (1854–1932). When Carmichael published his book-length account of Deirdire (1905), Duncan provided an illustration as a frontispiece although this was only given due acknowledgement in the second edition that made its appearance in 1914.

After giving some representative examples, including The Invocation of the Graces, from Carmina, Duncan ends his review with the following rather optimistic and idealistic thoughts:

We have here the richest body of ancient spiritual poetry, given again to us in our own time. About this spiritual inheritance of the Gael will rise, we hope, seanachies, seers, singers, and artists of all kinds, as a strong guard of paladins, to protect it, and to shape it into ever fresh forms to speak to the changing generations, and chief of these paladins stands, and shall stand, Alexander Carmichael, seannachie, seer, singer and artist in one.
This book is the result of much search and much pondering. Alexander Carmichael was a true artist, and had the artist’s hunger for perfection. He went for days, weighing the exact word to render the finest had of the meaning of the original, the word that gave the colour and the quality to it. One may say of him what he said of Catherine Macaulay:—Alexander Carmichael was greatly gifted in speaking, and was marvellously endowed with memory for old tales and hymns, runes and incantations, and for literature and traditions of many kinds. He went from house to house, from townland to townland, warmly welcomed and cordially received wherever he went. May his book travel as he travelled, bringing joy, and beauty, and inspiration wherever it goes.

MacDonald, John (ed.), Voices from the Hills / Guthan o na Beanntaibh (Glasgow: An Comunn Gàidhealach (The Highland Association), 1927), pp. 24–30.
Image: Deirdre of the Sorrows by John Duncan, c. 1905.

Friday 17 June 2011

A Royal Autopsy: Prince Sobieski of Poland

Tollbooth and Canongate, Edinburgh.
Mentioned in a previous blog was John Stuart Sobieski and here is another mention of a Sobieski, an exiled Prince from Poland. Alexander Carmichael collected this rather unusual anecdote from Dr Aisley, Killiemor House, Mull, which tells of how he dissected a royal subject while at the University of Edinburgh when he was acting as an assistant to a Professor of Anatomy, John Goodsir (1814–1867), who was also a pioneer in the study of the cell. The royal subject was none other than Prince Sobieski of Poland, who had been wounded in battle and had eventually escaped to Edinburgh. He later died in the infirmary of his wounds. The anecdote is rather truncated and eventually trails off which may indicate that Carmichael was interrupted either when he was writing it down at the time or, more likely perhaps, from memory afterwards:

Coillimore house Tuesday
Night 17 Aug[ust] 1886.
Dr. Aisley mar[ried] to niece
of Mrs Colin Maciver here
says he dissected a royal
subject in Edinburgh Uni[versi]ty
when assist[ant] to Professor
G[o]odsir Dr Go[o]dsir came
round and said you will
oblige me much by dis
cont[inuin]g you. Often on that
subject. Young. Subject
was Prince Sob[i]eski
of Poland wounded in the
tibia at the battle of [words omitted]
He found his way as refugee
to Scotland became re-
[?] lived in the Cannon
gate supp[orted] by a 2 or 3 friends
of whom I am I happily
was one. He got ill went
into the infirmary where he
died three days ago unknown
to us. You will find a
bullet wound in [words omitted]
I wish to bury him &c
All the wounds were as described

CW122, fos. 10v–11r.
Tollbooth and Canongate, Edinburgh.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

How to Cure a Cow: Silver Water

Silver Water
A well-known cure for any ailing cow was picked up by Alexander Carmichael from John Cameron (1805–1889) in Borve, Barra. This practice, it seems, would have been widespread throughout the Highlands and Islands as well as in other parts of Scotland. Such a method was usually referred to traditionally as uisge-airgid and the silver agent was used for its apotropaic qualities in order to avert the evil-eye or droch-shùil (usually the agency to have caused the cow to fall into ill-health in the first place):

Cattle Cure – An old dairy
maid request[ed] John Cameron
Borve to go to a tobar fior
uisg nach tra'adh [traghadh] or to a
stream forming a march &
to take home water from that –
To go ere sun rise or sun
set with an eye of man
or woman to see Place
silver in the dish & sprinkle
this 3 times on the cow.

The remarkable ability of people to remember such folk-cures is demonstrated by the following example which was taken down in Easter Ross by Prof. Seosamh Watson some three decades ago:

Bha bobhla mor fiodh aca agus bhitheadh leth-chrun anns am bobhla agus, reist, bhitheadh sia sgilling anns am bobhla agus bonnan tì sgilling anns am bobhla. Bheireadh iad sin dut a dh'ol agus nan fhastadh an t-airgead ri toin am bobhla se buidsidheachd a bha ann, buidsidheachd. Nan fhastadh an t-airgead gu toin am bobhla bhitheadh fhios aca, reist, gur buidsidheachd bha deis dut. A bheil thu tuigeil? Agus nis, rachadh e tron aite.

This above narrative is given in translation as follows:

They had a big wooden bowl and there would be a half-crown in the bowl and then there would be sixpence in the bowl and a little threepenny piece in the bowl. They would give you that to drink and if the money stuck to the bottom of the bowl it would be witchcraft, witchcraft. If the money stuck to the bottom of the bowl then that witchcraft had been done on you. Do you see? Now that news would go trough the locality.

CW90, f. 59v.
Watson, Seosamh, ‘Saoghal Bana-Mharaiche: Oral Accounts of Life in an Easter Ross Community’ (Part II), Béaloideas, vol. 72 (2004), pp. 99–218.
Image: Silver Water.

Monday 13 June 2011

John Sobieski Stuart’s Headstone Inscription

John Sobieski Stuart
While on a visit to Eskadale Church in Strathglass, near Eilean Aigas on the River Beauly in Inverness-shire, Alexander Carmichael took the opportunity to write down the inscription on John Sobieski Stuart’s headstone. John, and his brother Charles, were both rather eccentric gentlemen who claimed to be direct descendants of the Stuart monarchy. Both brothers had been born in Wales under the respective names of John Carter Allen and Charles Manning Allen and are chiefly remembered today for their role in Scottish cultural history. Perhaps their lasting if dubious legacy was their sumptuously published limited edition book on Scottish tartans and Highland dress, the Vestiarium Scoticum (1842). John Telfer Dunbar, in his seminal work History of Highland Dress referred to it as “probably the most controversial costume book ever written.” An obituary notice appeared in The Inverness Courier on 22 February 1872: ‘The Chevalier John Stuart Sobieski: the papers announce the death, at the age of 73 or 74, of one of the brothers, reputed descendants of Prince Charles Edward, who were known in the North thirty years since ... The gentlemen dress in Highland costume, which they wore in an attractive, picturesque manner, and had long flowing black hair... Their assumption of royalty was believed by some, though it was well known to readers of history and geneology that Charles Edward (the Young Pretender) left no progeny, but one daughter, by his mistress, Jane Walkinshaw.’ Being as he was an inveterate wearer of the kilt and also having rather a romantic trait in his persona it is little wonder that Carmichael not only took time to visit the spot but also that he took the trouble to write down the inscription carved upon the headstone.

In the holy name of
Pray for the soul of
John Sobieski Stuart
Count D’ Albanie
Who died 13 February 1872
Aged 74 years
Eternal Rest Give Unto Him
O Lord
R[equiescat] I[n] P[ace]

Eskadale Church

CW117, f. 9r.
John Sobieski Stuart and Eskadale Church.

Sunday 12 June 2011

Trawling for Mullet in North Uist

Timetable issued by Martin Orme
Scraps of paper were often difficult to come by and so Alexander Carmichael would use anything that he could lay his hands on. Here, for example, is a wonderful piece of ephemera for the July sailings between Glasgow and the Highlands and Islands on the steamers “Dunara Castle” and the “Aros Castle” by Martin Orme, 20 Robertson Street, Glasgow. The timetable is dated 21st of June, 1880. On the reverse of this piece of paper Carmichael wrote an account in an execrable hand, it must be said, about trawling for mullet in North Uist where he describes how the mud was ‘tenacious’ and it was easy to sink down into it and where he also recollected an episode in which ‘the gaffer’ got stuck in the mud and after an hour and fifteen minutes was dragged out using heather.

Left aft[er] breakf[a]st with
Stoddart Ranald Rob[er]t[son]
Seoras Beag & Willie Davidson
across hill to [words omitted]
Telegram for Lord Dunmore
com[in]g to Newton to shoot seals.
Newton rem[ain]ing behind to go with
Reach[e]d the place trawl[e]d
two ^two pools – got only a few
small flounders – No mullet
up to knees in tenacious
mud – on sea side of pools,
for many score y[a]rds. Dragged
ourselves & net to land as best we
could – we
raised the net thro[ugh] water & one
of men [sent] to up[per] pool –
Lower end of this full of stones.
We stone the fish to up[per] fr[om] this
& then throw the net across – 1 went
at each end – two to drag & one
to keep net in order & keep in fish.
But fish w[ou]ld not be kept in
& they flew over the top of
net like pheasants over
over battue net with a
spring & ^a whirr like a grouse
A young shep[herd] laid this
4 off these with stones as they
rushed down to lower end
Aft[er] much man[ou]vering we
got net ashore it cont[ained] 12
mullets and 2 flounders.
Those on my side narr[owly]
escaped stick[in]g in mud. [It]
was soft & nasty as mud c[ou]ld
be the accounts of those
of years & to the depth of many
feet – To stop was to go sink down
to the hip – I went down &
I could not come till our
gaffer stretch[e]d me his hand.
To stay myself out was very
diff[icult] – The mud was tena[cious] as strong
glue & my f[oo]t felt as if a ton
weight w[a]s hold[in]g it down
But what bet[ter] the gaffer[’]s
scold[in]g & help I got out
& dragged myself to shore
sat on a stone exhausted
to rest. And now it was
gaffers turn. He was going
fast along to keep from
sinking but down deeper
& deeper he sank in both
legs bey[on]d knee & then he stuck
He laughed as he struggled
floundered scolded & cajoled
all by turns. But what
between craw[l]ing & dragging
he got out. But 2 on the
other side were in stuck tho[ugh]
one with great exertion
struggled out. But the other
struck fast on only up to
hip – We could not app[roach] him
for if we did we too were down.
We decided then to exort him
& our gaffer fumed and
cautioned him with his
scathing tongue but to no
effect. He comp[lained] that cramp
was in his leg – gaffer ask[ed]
him to whom he was was leav[in]g his
property incl[udin]g his watch! After
vain sugg[estions] we fell upon
mak[in]g a foot path of long
heather over the mud to
where he was – We hailed
men who were pul[ling] heath[er]
for ropes & they came & help[ed]
We made a road way
some 50 or 60 y[a]r[d]s long to where
he was – A bundle of heath[er] was
pla[ce]d upon he pla[ce]d his chest
& so extract[ed] himself out after
being 1 hour & 15 min[utes] in.
It was not too soon for
the tide was rushing in
to the pool. The man sunk?
the foot path of heath[er] had
nothin[g] on but his shirt & cap
We all cramed [sic]
to the water & going in up to
our hips washed off the mud.
After which we dried ourselves
In the sun in walk[in]g home.
weary & worn over the hills.
The heavy [heaviest] got fish was
7 lbs.

CW109, f. 80r.
Timetable issued by Martin Orme.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Cumha Mhic an Tòisich – Mackintosh’s Lament III

Black Steed
Around this time last year two blogs were published with regard to Cumha Mhic an Tòisich, or Mackintosh’s Lament. This short anecdote was collected by Alexander Carmichael probably from the recitation of Marion MacNeil, styled Mòr nighean Alasdair ’ic Ruaraidh Bhàin (1843–1927), Kentangaval, Barra. She tells the background to how it was composed by a lady whose husband was killed on his return from being married. His death by a black horse had been predicted so he struck the black horse with his pistol and took a white horse instead but he was careless and his feet got tangled in the stirrups and he was dragged along the ground by the horse and was killed. Carmichael was later to publish a long article about this lament in The Highlander and the version given there is based upon this short note:

This cumha was comp[osed] by a
lady whose affianced was kil[led]
in riding home from being
married. He had a spl[e]nd[id] black
horse wild to a degree
and it was faisneac[hd] that the
black horse would kill him.
That morn[in]g the black [horse] was so restive
that he leapt off his back & struck
him with his pistol. He then
took a white horse & in set[tin]g home
the white horse saw the dead
horse lying. He start[ed] & the
young man riding gayly un
guarded lost his seat & his
feet get[tin]g entang[led] in the strirrips
he was dragged aft[er] the horse
& kil[led] ere he could be rescued.
The bride was riding on before
& some turn in the road took him
out of her sight till he was
bro[ugh]t home dead & thus taigh
solais was turn[ed] into tai[gh]

CW90, fos. 50v–51r.
Carmichael, Alexander, ‘Cumha Mhic-an-Toisich’, The Highlander, vol. IV, no. 165 (8 Jul., 1876), p. 3., cc. 3 –5.
Image: Black Steed.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

The Burial Ground of Clanranald

Angus MacLellan, South Uist storyteller
According to a short account noted down by Alexander Carmichael there were only three Clanranald chiefs thought to have been buried at Howmore in South Uist. The last of them is said to have been Dòmhnall mac ’ic Ailein, a man who had an extremely evil reputation and who managed to earn himself the sobriquet Dòmhnall Dubh na Cuthaige (‘Black Donald of the Cuckoo’). This, on first appearance, may seem like a harmless enough nick-name until it is realised that the ‘Cuckoo’ refers to his gun and every time it sang somebody was murdered:

Only 3 of the Clanran[ald] bur[ied] in How[more].
Do[mh]nu[l]l mac ic Ail[ein]. was the last of
bur[ied] in the turn[in]g at Hough. Do[mh]nu[l]l
was fath[er] to Allan of Sherri[fmuir]
& son to Iain Muid[eartach]. He m[arried] da[ugh]t[er]. of heir
of Harris. Bha fear eile ga toirst
a mach he built a pla[ce] for her
in Canna & left 6 men to guard her
while away in the wars. She tied on
the blanket & let herself down & went
with her parmo[u]r. Her
pl[ace] is call[ed] [Blank in MS]
built by him. Do[mhn]u[l]l died in Can[na]
& 12 boatsmen went to fetch home
his corpse. The wind drove them
into Tearmatrai[gh] S[outh] Harris fr[om] where
they travel[led] thro[ugh] N[orth] Uist to Hough.
When teo[gh]l[ach] an taotari got
the oi[gh]reac[hd] they bur[ied them] at Nunton

The story of Dòmhnall Dubh mac ’ic Ailein and his eventual burial is given at great length by Fr. Charles MacDonald in his Moidart or Among the Clanranalds and such was this chief’s reputation that it continued to be a topic for the ceilidh house. John Lorne Campbell recorded a version of this tale from the recitation of the great storyteller Angus ‘Beag’ MacLellan (1869–1966), styled Aonghas Beag mac Aonghais ’ic Eachainn ’ic Dhòmhnaill ’ic Chaluim ’ic Dhòmhnaill, from Loch Eynort, South Uist, on 1 November 1950, and here given in translation:

This Black Donald of the ‘Cuckoo’, one of the Clanranalds, lived at Caisteal Tioram; and I understand that he was not a very good man. He had a gun, which he himself called the ‘Cuckoo’; and he would say to anyone who did anything to him ‘I’ll put the “Cuckoo” to you’. That’s how he was called ‘Black Donald of the “Cuckoo”.’ He hanged an old woman at Caisteal Tioram for stealing a snuff-box; and the spot had been called Tom na Caillich, ‘the Old Woman’s Mound’, every since.

Once Black Donald heard that there was a priest on Canna who wanted to go to Uist. Black Donald went with his boat to Canna. It seems there was an animal that followed the Clanranalds – it followed him, Black Donald, anyway – its picture is on the stone on their grave at Howmore. The animal was following the boat, and the day became very bad. The animal was on top of each wave that followed the boat. One of the crew said it looked as if they wouldn’t manage, that they would be lost. Black Donald himself was steering, and the animal came alongside the boat. At last Black Donald beckoned to it, and it came on board. The sea improved then, and they got to Canna.

Black Donald made a plan to remove a plank from every boat on Canna, so that the priest could not get away to Uist. He kept the priest seven weeks on Canna. One day, when the priest was down on the shore, he saw a boat going past, and he began to beckon to it. The boat kept in to the shore, and the priest got into it, and where it was going to but Loch Eynort! When the boat took off from the land, the priest turned and looked back and said:

‘I am not asking torment for your soul, but that your body may be kept here unburied as long as you’ve kept me.’

When Black Donald was dying on Canna, he was in terrible distress. People were going in to see him. There was a widow’s son there, a brave, strong fellow. A whistle was heard outside the house, and the man who was in the death-throes on the bed got up to go out. Everyone who was there cleared out but the widow’s son, who caught hold of Black Donald and put him back on the bed. Then they heard another whistle, and he tried to get out. The widow’s son caught him at the door, and put him back on the bed. There was someone standing on a knoll opposite the house, and he was so tall that the could see the island of Rum between his legs. This person went away, and they saw him walking on the surface of the sea over to Rum. This has been the worst piece of sea ever since, the sea between Rum and Canna.

As long as Black Donald was alive, he was thanking God and the widow’s son that the widow’s son had kept him in the house; and when he died, there came bad weather; and his body was seven weeks on Canna, before they got away with it to Howmore and the day they went with it, there came such a gale that they had to land at Peterport in Benbecula, and take the body from there overland to Howmore. Black Donald is buried there along with the other Clanranalds, and I understand that he was not the best of them.

CW 90, fos. 34r–34v.
Campbell, J. L., Canna: The Story of a Hebridean Island (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2002), pp. 87–88.
MacDonald, Fr. Charles, Moidart or Among the Clanranalds (Oban: Duncan Cameron, 1889), pp. 82–99.
Angus MacLellan, South Uist storyteller.

Tuesday 7 June 2011

Exhibition open: “Unlocking the Celtic Collector”

Well, things are really getting hectic here in Carmichael corner. We are less than three weeks away from the conference (have you registered yet?) and concert (got your tickets?), there is tagging and cataloguing to finish, a website to complete, biographical records to write amongst other things and so it’s all systems go. At least we have now managed to tick one thing off our list. Our small exhibition on the life and work of Alexander Carmichael was installed on Tuesday 31 May and we are delighted to see it all in place in Special Collections’ display wall. It’s also good to see people taking time to look at the notebooks and pictures and read a bit about who Carmichael was.

As anyone who has ever curated an exhibition would tell you, there’s a lot more to getting it from idea to display case than meets the eye. Our captions and text panels were drafted by Domhnall Uilleam and Andrew; a large amount of practical expertise was given by Andrew Grout, Joe Marshall and Caroline Scharfenberg; the artwork and layout was designed by Iain Coates and David Roberts of Studio SP; the notebooks were conserved and made presentable with the combination of a National Manuscripts Conservation Trust Grant and Carronvale Bindery; and the exhibition was installed by Jenny Gypaki, Iain, David and Kirsty. Below are some photographs of the process of installation and in due course we will have impressive, official photographs, not my lowly attempts!
Of course, the best way to see the exhibition is to be there in person, which everyone is welcome to do. It is open from 1 June to 22 July 2011 and can be found in Special Collections, on the 6th Floor of Edinburgh University Library, George Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9LJ. The Library is open seven days a week but times vary, so please check the website for details:

There is also a café on the ground floor so you can add a tea, coffee or even a bun into your itinerary for the day.
Sincerest thanks to everyone who helped to put this exhibition together – we do hope that all our visitors enjoy it.

The trolley loaded up with exhibits, exhibition paraphernalia, and ready to go
Empty cases waiting for decoration

The first exhibits in place and ready for captions, text panels and banners.

David and Jenny construct caption holders.

The printed banners are revealed - so much more impressive than on A4!

All in a day's work for Jenny, Iain and David.
The finished product as viewed by a phone snap.

Images: All photographs were taken by Kirsty Stewart, archivist,and belong to the Carmichael Watson Project.

Sunday 5 June 2011

Plague in Mingulay III

Neil Gillies, Niall Mhìcheil Nìll
Gus crìoch a chur air an naidheachd mun phlàigh a bha uaireigin ann am Miughalaigh, seo agaibh an còrr dheth a chlàraich agus a sgrìobh Calum Iain MacGilleathain bhon t-seanchas Nèil MhicGillÌosa. Cha mhòr nach e an aon naidheachd th’ ann a thog MacGilleMhìcheil agus MacGilleathain bho dhiofar dhaoine agus mu thrì fichead bliadhna eadarra:

“Well, on a tha thusa air tìr, gun fhios nach e plàigh air choreigin a bh’ air na daoine, nuair a tha iad marbh air fad, chan fhaigh thu dhan sgothaidh idir.”
Agus dh’fhàgadh an duine ann am Miughalaigh agus thill an sgoth gu ruige Bàgh a’ Chaisteil, agus cha robh aig an duine ach a bhith ann am Miughalaigh leis fhèin, agus cha leigeadh an t-eagal dà fuireach as na taighean. Ach cò-dhiù bha e a’ gabhail beagan dhen bhiadh a bha sna taighean. Dh’fheumadh e. Cha robh an còrr ann agus ’s ann shuas as a’ bheinn a bhiodh e a’ cadal air an oidhche, agus tha a’ bheinn ann am Miughalaigh fhathast, beinn ris an can iad Beinn Mhic a’ Phì. Sin far am biodh e a’ cadal. Co-dhiù bha e cola-deug ann, agus an ceann a’ chola-deug chuir MacNèill a-null an sgoth air n-ais feuch am faiceadh e a robh duine beò, ma bha iad a dhol air, tìr agus feuch gu dè mar a bha an gnothach.
Seo mar a bha.
Dh’fhalbh an sgoth à Bàgh a’ Chaisteil air n-ais an ceann a’ chola-deug agus nuair a ràinig iad Miughalaigh, bha Mac a’ Phì rompa gun bhàn, gun dearg agus e pailt cho beò is cho fallain is a bha iad fhèin. Cha robh ach dh’iarr iad air tighinn dhan sgothaidh, agus thàinig e a Bhàgh a’ Chaisteil, agus ghabh iad leis do chaisteal MhicNèill agus sin nuair a rinn e an naidheachd air n-ais do MhacNèill:
“Agus gheibh thusa a-nist Miughalaigh dhut fhèin, ma thèid thu ann, agus sgrìobhaidh mise dhut i, gum bidh i agad fhad ’s is beò thu, agus nach urrainn duine eile dragh a chur ort.”
Well ’s e seo a rinneadh. Thill Mac a’ Phì a-null gu ruige Miughalaigh, agus thìodhlaic e na daoine a bha marbh. Chuir e ’n a’ chladh a h-uile duine aca, agus thug e a-null feadhainn eile còmh’ ris, an fheadhainn a thogair e fhèin, agus bha iad all right dheth ann am Miughalaigh, agus cha robh sgàth air dìth orra.
Siud agad mar a chuala mise e.

Here is the rest of the anecdote about the plague that once visited Mingulay that was recorded and written out by Calum Iain Maclean from the recitation of Neil Gillies. Comparing this anecdote transcribed by Maclean and that by Carmichael even though collected from different people and with a gap of around sixty years intervening, it is practically the same with only minor variations:

“Well, since you are on land, and seeing that it might be some sort of plague or another that killed them all, you can’t get back into the boat at all.”
And the lad was left stranded on Mingulay. The boat then returned to Castlebay and he was the only person remaining on Mingulay. He was so afraid he wouldn’t venture near the houses. But, in any case, he managed to pilfer some food within the homesteads. He had no other option. There was nothing else for it but the go up the hill where he would sleep at night, and that hill is still there on Mingulay which is called Beinn Mhic a’ Phì (MacPhee’s Mountain). That’s where he would go to sleep. He spent a fortnight there and at the end of this period MacNeil of Barra sent a boat back to find out if he was still alive and as they were going to land to find out how things were.
This is how things turned out.
The boat left Castlebay and went back to Mingulay after a fortnight and they found MacPhee in as rude health as they were themselves. They merely then asked him to board the boat and so he returned to Castlebay and they took him to MacNeil’s castle [Kisimul] where he told MacNeil his news:
“And you’ll get Mingulay to yourself, if you are prepared to return, and I’ll grant this to you, and you’ll own it so long as you live, and no one will trouble you.”
Well, this was done. MacPhee returned to Mingulay. He then buried the dead in the cemetery, and he also brought along with him others who he had picked out and they were well off in Mingulay as they were never in any want.
That’s how I heard it.

IFC MS 1029, pp. 413–16, Am Plàigh ann am Miùlaidh.
Image: Neil Gillies.

Friday 3 June 2011

Plague in Mingulay II

Neil Gillies, Niall Mhìcheil Nìll
Chan eil e idir na iongnadh nach do leig cuid de na seanchaidhean Bharrach air dìochuimhne na thachair ann am Miughalaigh. Mu thrì fichead bliadhna as deaghaidh do MhacGilleMhìcheil an naidheachd fhaotainn bho Ruairidh an Rùma mun phlàigh ann am Miughalaigh (anns a’ bhlog mu dheireadh), fhuair Calum Iain MacGilleathain an dearbh rud ann an 1947 bho Niall MacGillÌosa, no mar a theirear ris Niall Mhìcheil Nìll (1887–1965), iasgair agus croitear a bha uaireigin ann an Gearraidh Gadhal faisg air Bàgh a’ Chàisteil, Barraigh. A rèir teist an t-seanchaidh fhèin, bhuineadh a phàrantan do Mhiughalaigh agus phos iad ann an sin. Chuir iad an cùl ri Miughalaigh mun bhliadhna 1912 dar a dh’fhàg na daoine air fad an t-eilean agus chaidh iad a-null a Bharraigh. B’ ann bho athair fhèin agus Ruairidh Ruairidh Mhòir a chuala Niall a chuid sheanchais agus naidheachdan. A rèir Chaluim Iain, rachadh Niall gu taigh Ruairidh Ruairidh Mhòir a h-uile h-oidhche gheamhraidh thar air barrachd na dusan bliadhna gus a sheanchas a chluinntinn agus gur gann a chualadh e an aon naidheachd!

Well, tha naidheachd eile ann an seoachd air a dhèanamh mun àm a bha MacNèill ann am Barraigh, MacNèill Bharraigh mar a bh’ air a ghràdha ris: agus bha daoine a’ fuireach ann a Miughalaigh an uair sin, mar a bha iad as a dheoghaidh; agus trup a bha seoachd bha iad a’ gabhail fadachd nach robh eathair a’ tighinn a-nall à Miughalaigh idir, MacNèill, agus dheònaich e sgoth agus sgiobadh a chur a-null gu ruige Miughalaigh feuch am faiceadh iad gu dè bha ceàrr, agus rinn e seoachd. Fhuair e sgoth agus sgiobadh agus chuireadh a-null a Mhiughalaigh iad agus ràinig iad thall Miughalaigh agus cha robh duine beò ri fhaicinn ann am Miughalaigh. Cha robh duine rompa air creig, ach nuair a chunnaic iad sineachd chuir iad air tìr fear dheth na gillean a bha san sgothaidh, fear Mac a’ Phì, agus dh’iarr iad air a dhol suas feuch am faiceadh e gu dè bha ceàrr nach robh duine ri fhaicinn; agus dh’fhalbh am fear sa suas, agus chaidh e dhan chiad taigh a thachair ris, agus nuair a chaidh e a-staigh cha robh duine beò a bha san taigh nach robh marbh a-staigh. Chaidh e an seo a thaigh eile, agus bha iad sin air an nòs cianda – o thaigh gu taigh gus na chuir e cuairt air a h-uile taigh a bh’ ann a Miughalaigh, is cha robh duine beò ann am Miughalaigh nach robh marbh a-staigh. Nuair a chunnaic e seoachd dh’fhalbh e agus thill e sìos a dh’ ionnsaigh na sgothadh, agus dh’innis e dhaibh mar a bha an grothach, nach robh duine beò ann am Miughalaigh nach robh marbh as na taighean: agus thuirt iad sin ris: (ri leanntainn…)

It comes as no surprise that some of the Barra storytellers did not forget about what had happened in Mingulay. Some sixty years after Alexander Carmichael collected the story from Roderick MacNeil about the plague visiting Mingulay (posted in a previous blog), Calum Iain Maclean recorded the very same story in 1947 from Neil Gillies (1887–1965), styled Niall Mhìcheil Nìll, a crofter fisherman from Garrygall near Castlebay, Barra. According to the storyteller’s own testimony, his parents belonged to Mingulay where they were married. They left the island around 1912 along with everyone else and settled in Barra. Neil heard all his stories and anecdotes from his father and Roderick Mòr MacNeil. According to Calum Maclean, Neil would go to listen to the latter’s storytelling almost every winter’s night for a space of fifteen years and maintained that he hardly ever heard the same tale told twice!

Well, there’s another story here that happened in the time of MacNeil of Barra as he was called: people stayed in Mingulay then just as they did after that; and one of these times they were getting anxious that there was no sign at all of a boat coming over from Mingulay and so MacNeil of Barra was willing enough to send over a boat and crew to Mingulay to try and find out what has gone wrong. This was done. A boat and crew were found and sent over to Mingulay and when they reached Mingulay they found that there was no one alive there. No one was standing before them on the rock [to greet them] and when they saw this they put one of the lads from the boat on land – a MacPhee – and they asked him to go up and to see what was wrong as there was no one to be seen; the lad went up and he entered the first house he encountered and saw that no one was alive in the house: they were all dead. He then went to another house and met with the same sight – from house to house he went until he had been in all the houses in Mingulay; there was not one left alive in Mingulay as they were all dead. When he saw all of this he returned to the boat and told them what he had seen: that no one was left alive in Mingulay – they were all dead and they then said to him: (to be continued…)

IFC MS 1029, pp. 413–16, Am Plàigh ann am Miùlaidh.
Image: Neil Gillies.

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). [©]