Wednesday 31 August 2011

Lover’s Rock

Hornish Point, South Uist / Rudha Thornais, Uibhist a Deas
Another song narrative recorded on 27 May 1869 by Alexander Carmichael was recited by a domestic servant, Mary MacMillan (c. 1825–1883) who hailed from Lionauiche, South Uist. The song and accompanying narrative are versions of A’ Bhean Eudach (The Jealous Wife), mentioned in previous blogs, as it contains similar motifs: for instance, the man has to choose between two sweethearts and then when he overheard his eventual choice singing about what she had done in order to gain his affection, he leaves her.

An Leumaire-rua[dh] at Holm
below Ru[bha]-thoirinnis. Then here the wom[an]
was left. There is a deep narrow channel
which a pers[on] might leap. The place
is full of limpets. The two women were
two sweethearts the man had. He mar[ried]
one & left the other & the mar[ried] one remained
on the rock till the first bhoinne
lionai & there[fore] was unable to leave
The man, mar[ried], the young girl & lived with
her till one day when she was milk[in]g
the cows she was sing[ing] this song
He over heard her & under[stood] how his first wife was
lost. He left her & never ret[urne]d.
The woman sat on the top of the rock
and comp[osed] the song while the other
sat opp[osite] her & learnt it from her.
Sin do chasa dhomh hug o
Sin do lamh dhomh
Hug o Cha sin cha sin hao u ri horo s beag mo
chas dhiot hugo
Thig an coite so maireach.
Iain bhig a hao sa naire
Chan iar[r] [th]u noc[hd] cioch do mhathar
This was a truthful song. The two wo[men]
& the man belonged to Ioc[hd]ar & both the man had been
courting. He mar[ried] one & the other resolved upon re-

The lyrics themselves are very truncated in this particular version which may reflect the fact that Carmichael had taken them down previously. Also, the song narrative would have been familiar not only the collector for this song and variations thereof were not only known throughout the Highlands and Islands but also in many parts of Ireland. Its geographic spread is probably a reflection of its popularity which remains to this day among Gaelic singers and musicians.

CW150/59, ff. 33r–34v.
Hornish Point, South Uist / Rudha Thornais, Uibhist a Deas.

Tuesday 30 August 2011

A Jacobite Song: The Silver Whistle

Prince Charles Edward Stuart
Many would perhaps consider one of the most popular Jacobite songs out of more than just a few as An Fhìdeag Airgid (The Silver Whistle) composed in honour of the Young Pretender. The silver whistle in the context of the song refers to a silver reed used in the pipe chanter. Alexander Carmichael collected one of the earliest recordings of this songs from the recitation of Donald MacPhee, a blacksmith from Breivig in Barra, mentioned in an earlier blog. The version given here looks slightly corrupted perhaps because Carmichael had not understood the reciter or that the reciter himself had picked up the song incorrectly or perhaps merely misremembered some of the words:

Co shein[n]eas an fhideag airgid
Hi uill uill o
Mac mo righs eir ti[ghin]n a dh Alba
O ro hu o huill o.
Air luing a mharaiche ghreanan
Ho ro hu o hu ill o
Ribenan an t si[o]da Fhrangach
Ullagan oir eir g [sic] gach ceann diu
Mo ghaol ammister ainmeil
Cha b e mac sin M Fearachar
Cha b e ogha Mairi Simason
Ga b e thrialla gu tai[gh] talla

Carmichael notes that it was taken down on 21 May 1869 and he later wrote out the piece in a transcription book in a neater hand on 16 and 17 June 1869. Perhaps the most interesting part of this recording session is the song narrative that Carmichael had the pleasure of hearing. A further note says the MacPhee had heard from a North Uist bard and catechist called An Dall Mòr that the song had been composed specifically for the Prince. The reciter then goes on to give some historical details about the actual song. It is also of interest to note that this song or rather variations of this song was later recorded from quite a few tradition bearers from Barra:

One Peter Campbell from Barra
went to Loch nan Uagh for timber. Food
was scarce in Barra – no grain but
plenty of butter cheese & flesh. They
landed a pot in a nook to boil beef
when they saw a large vessel come
ashore in the Loch. He sent a boat
ashore. A gentleman landed
from the boat under whose arms
two men went & took him outdey[?]
They asked P[eter] Campbell to take
ashore arms swords & guns. He did
so and they hid them. He was asked
what pay he charged. He told them
that if they had grain food he pref[erred]. The
boat was loaded with flour & biscuits
till he told them that they would sink
his boat. He came home to Barra
and the pot is still in Lochnanua [Loch nan Uamh].
This was the landing of P[rince] Charlie.

CW150/13, ff. 5r–5v.
An Fhideag Airgid: (Flora MacNeil) (Captain Donald Joseph MacKinnon) (Nan MacKinnon)
Image: Prince Charles Edward Stuart.

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.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Storm-bound on Mingulay

Ruairidh an Rùma / Roderick MacNeil
A topic and a name mentioned previously in this blog is that of Carmichael’s visit to  Mingulay and also that of the tradition bearer Roderick MacNeil, styled Ruairidh an Rùma (c. 1790–1875), so-called ‘from a hogshead of rum he found on the shore and from the contents of which he nearly died’. Alexander Carmichael visited the remote island of Mingulay on more than one occasion and in September 1871 he found himself there in company of his folklore mentor, John Francis Campbell. Whilst storm-bound for a three whole days, Campbell took the opportunity to sketch MacNeil and Carmichael wrote down some traditions from this excellent tradition bearer. An account written by Campbell says ‘Rory Rum the story man about 85 the best climber in Minglay till he got past work…He never wore shoes or stockings, never had a bonnet on his head till some years ago and how is crippled by the Rheumatism and stoops over a longs stick.’ MacNeil’s knowledge of birds, their habitats and behaviour must have been phenomenal given his many years of actively taking part in bird-fowling. Here is but one example that Carmichael noted down from MacNeil’s recitation about the langaid or guillemot:

Incident in Langai[d] – bird life. A Lang[aid] came
with a siolag and herring and left these with its
peite and left. Another came with the same
to its own peite which was young. The big
pet did not con[sume] what was given it and the
parent bird of the little pet with [went] over
and took the siol[ag] and the her[ring] over to its own pet
and left. The par[ent] bird of the big pet re[turned] and
foun[d] that its pet had nothing. The pet and
bird chattered for a moment after
which the pa[rent] bird went over to the small pet
took it up in its bill gave it a fierce shake
and threw it with the pre[cipice]! An old wom[an]
in Miulay has a pet gull 7 ye[ars] It goes am[ong]
all the house[s] in the place can un[derstand]
all said to it – and do what is said to it.

CW114/41, f. 67v.
Image: Ruairidh an Rùma as sketched by John Francis Campbell. Courtesy of the Trustees of the National Library of Scotland (NLS Adv.MS.50.4.6, f. 119v).

Thursday 18 August 2011

Frìth: A Method of Divination

Silhouette in Doorway

A name by now very familiar to this blog is John Ewen (Iain Eòghann) MacRury who hailed from Torlum, Benbecula, and who supplied quite a lot of information to Alexander Carmichael. It appears that he was something of a tradition bearer himself and so it is rather difficult to ascertain if some of his anecdotes were his own or came from some other source. Either way, what he did write down contains some fascinating details particularly about superstitious beliefs. In this narrative, a Donald MacInnes (fl. 1850), styled Dòmhnall mac Ailein, is name-checked as someone who had a particular bent for making auguries using the frìth. In short, this allowed the augurer to obtain occluded information previously hidden which allowed in some instances to find out the whereabouts of missing people or cattle. The first story tells of a lost vessel and its crew who were thought to have persished but are found safe and well in remote St Kilda whereas the second ones tells of the tragic drowning a young man from Howgarry, North Uist:

MacCallain Duncan
McInnes Balavanich
Benbecula was known
far and wide for his
power of Frith making.

On one occasion a
boat with four men
were driven, by a severee [sic]
storm from the N[orth] E[ast]
off the coast of Uig
Lewis. The idea was
at the time that the
boat was swamped
and all perished but
as no wreckage was
cast on shore on
the west of Lewis
or Harris resembling
the belongings of the
boat people thought
they managed to get
on shore in the Flannan
Isles. A boat & crew
went there but got
no trace of the miss
ing boat.
People advised
the nearest relative
of the missing crew
to visit MacCallen
in Benbecula and
he lost no time in doing
so. In his arrival at
his destination Mac
Callen received him
hospitably and told
him to at rest
It was late at night
for to make a Frith
but early the following
morning he told him
that his missing friends
were all well on
the Islan[d] of St
Kilda, and were actually
k[i]l[l]ing & flaying a
cow along with
some of the natives
and that they could
not come home till
the Month of March
This happ[e]ned in Winter.

On another occasion
a fine young man
from Howgarry
North Uist was
drowned and his
remains could not
be found,
His father
weeks after the
accident visited
MacCallen and
he told him to
go back at onc[e]
and that his son
was lying face
downward under
a quantity of sea-
weed in a “geobha”
at the point of
Instances of this
sort could be followed
to a great length.

Elsewhere in Carmina Gadelica, Alexander Carmichael offers a description of this method of divination in connection with Frìth Mhoire (‘Augury of Mary’):

The ‘frith’ augury, was a species of divination enabling the ‘frithir’, augurer, to see into the unseen. This divination was made to ascertain the position and condition of the absent and the lost, and was applied to man and beast. The augury was made on the first Monday of the quarter and immediately before sunrise. The augurer, fasting, and with bare feet, bare head, and closed eyes, went to the doorstep and placed a hand on each jamb. Mentally beseeching the God the unseen to show him his quest and to grant him his augury, the augurer opened his eyes and looked steadfastly straight in front of him. From the nature and position of the objects within his sight, he drew his conclusions.

Carmina Gadelica, ii, p. 24, p. 158, p,. 295; iii, p. 156; iv, p. 150; v, p. 286, p. 290, p. 292, p. 294, p. 296.
CW 1/65, ff. 28r–30r.
Silhouette in Doorway.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

A Charm to Avert the Evil Eye

Evil Eye / Droch-Shùil
Another example of the use of a thread cure used as a charm to avert the evil eye, or droch-shùil, was collected by Alexander Carmichael on 10 April 1875, from the recitation of Fionnghal NicLeòid, Flora MacLeod, a cottar, from Carnan, Ìochdar, South Uist. Immediately following the charm, the reciter then goes on to describe the actions that made such a charm efficacious. In effect, what she is describing is the method used to produce uisge-airgid, or silver-water, a cure used most commonly to heal cattle that had been subjected to the pervasive influence of the evil eye. The charmer would sprinkle the water over the animal, or in some cases, the person so affected, while reciting the verse and, if done correctly, this would relieve the sick animal or person which, according to the testimony, would make the charmer ill for the next twenty-four hours. This is most likely an example of what may be described as sympathetic magic. In recompense for such a service the charmer would require to be paid even it was merely something as insignificant like a pin.

Ni mis[e] air obair ri shuil
A uc[hd] Phead[air] a uc[hd] Phoil
A uc[hd] Phadra mhin na feaist
Is gach math ga math gan tig
Ga be rinn a t suil dhuit
Gun till i eir fhein
Gun till eir a dhaoine
Gun till eir a sprei[dh]
Eir a chaillich mhiongaich
Mhangaich bheur-luirg
Dh-eirich sa mhaduin[n]
A suil na seilbh a seilbh
na toin
Nar a lethi le a buaile fhein
A chuid nach ich na fith
ich dhi
gun ich na h eoin i
4 rin[n] an t suil dhuit.
Fear agus bean gill & ni[gh]ean
3 eile thileas e A[n] t Ath[air] s mac
agus an Spiord naomh.
Anothers – Goes ere sunrise
to a well where the living & the dead
pass – a spring that does not
dry. She puts the cuman sun-
wise round the well & strikes the
bot[tom] on the water say an ainm an
A[thai]r sa Mhi[c] san Sp[iorad] n[aomh] amen.
This is done 3 times. She then
lifts a small quant[ity] of water
a glassful will suffice. Then
3 leugagan beaga bronach
from the edge or bot[tom] of the
well. She throws on over the
guala thoisgeul left saying
Rosad [ag]us farmad na bhas
deoi[gh] a bheo’aich [bheothaich] (no’n duine)
sin a lai[gh] eir a siod. She then
brings home the 2 other & silver
 (1/-) (6d is broken money & will not
do) or a brooch in the water
which she bri[n]gs home sprinkles
it on the animal saying an
ainm an A[thai]r sa Mhic san
Sp[iorad] N[aoimh]. The illness then
leaves (a greim?) the sick
and goes to the expert which
makes her sick & vomiting
for 24 hours. She w[ou]ld re-
quire to be well paid – some
thing must be given her – even
a pin.

Carmina Gadelica, ii, pp. 56–57.
CW111/89 & 90, ff. 20v–21r.
Image: Evil Eye / Droch-Shùil.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Red Thread: A Charm to Counteract the Evil Eye

Red Thread
One of the most persistent superstitious beliefs to have survived until relatively late in the Western Isles (as well as on the mainland Highlands) was in the curative powers of the snàithle or thread. This, it seems, was often resorted to in order to negate or counteract the effects of the evil-eye especially, as is the case here, if it in any way involved cattle. At least two interesting points may be observed from Alexander Carmichael’s note: that a different colour was used to differentiate between animals and humans (although this might vary depending on the locality) and that an incantation (of which Carmichael had a few examples, some of which were published in Carmina Gadelica, iv, pp. 166–69) was recited over the thread in order to make the charm effectual.

Elsewhere in Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael defines snàithle thus:

Thread. gearradh snàithle, ‘cutting the thread’, gearradh snàithle na beatha, ‘cutting the thread of life’, are symbolic phrases frequent among the old people and often symbolised on the old tombstones. On some of these shears only are shown, on some shears and thread, on some the shears, thread and ball of thread. The ball is down at the foot of the stone; from it the thread ascends, winding and twisting between the blades of the shears and thence ascends and disappears in cloud above. On some stones the thread is between the blades ready to be cut, on the others the thread is cut, the lower part falling in crooked coils on the ground.

Extraordinary. While travelling along the road
today – Friday the 5th July [recte: August] 1870 – I overtook a
woman who told me that she had a cow
very poorly and that she could not understand the
nature of her illness – diseased. Ultimately
she confided to me that she had just been away
at a “wisewoman” getting a “snai[th]le” made
for the cure of her cow. The wise woman told
my friend that 2 or 3 per[sons] put an eye in the cow
Bu leoir a h-aon ’s cha ionada i bhi fo ghealai[dh]
crai[dh] said the owner religiously believing her
witch friends. She got 2 Snai[th]les which
she kindly showed me each about 6 or 9 inches
long and twisted of natural dusky brow[n] wool
This is the colour “ciar” for brutes and
scarlet for human beings. The woman
witch des[ired] her to put on the shorter first and
to put it hide na h-earubal where it would not be
seen & if not efficacious to put in the longer
which would for certain efficacious. Her
snai[th]le is made with much mystery and
secrecy dipt [dipped] in some mystery water
saliva &c and incantations said over
it. Some ecclesiastics here are not
proof ag[ains]t the snai[th]le and I have heard of some upon
whose cattle the snai[th]le was put if not at their re
quest at least with their sanctions.

It is interesting to note that some of the clergy seemed to approve of (or did not actively condone) this method perhaps because some of their prayers were not being answered and resorting to the snàithle may have been a last resort. The longevity of this ‘occult’ method can be gauged by the observation of one of Scotland’s best ever collectors:

The making of a snaithle or charm of plaited wool of varying colours was common. The late Calum I. MacLean, of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh, said in 1947 he saw an old woman spinning a charm and chanting a spell as she worked. This was a rare privilege as the spell was usually kept a secret of great potency. This woman was well known throughout the Hebrides and her charms were often so be seen adorning even the radiator caps of lorries or tractors.

Carmina Gadelica, vi, pp. 128–29.
CW116/105, ff. 32v–33r.
Thompson, Francis, The Supernatural Highlands (London: Robert Hale & Co., 1976), p. 51.
Image: Red Thread.

Monday 15 August 2011

When Kelping First Came to North Uist

Sollas / Solas, North Uist / Uibhist a Tuath
In this historical narrative Alexander Carmichael noted down the origins of how the kelping industry was first introduced to North Uist. This anecdote was recited by Alexander MacDonald (fl. 1850), known as Alasdair na h-Aibhne, who hailed from Claddach Kirkibost, North Uist. The first part of the story tells of the arrival of Am Moraire Bàn, the by-name of Sir Alexander MacDonald of Sleat (c. 1740–1795) along with his wife and family. Judging from the next part of the narrative, the North Uist people were then living in a state of dire poverty and this is probably the catalyst behind the introduction of kelping to North Uist as Kingsburgh, yet another Alexander MacDonald (c. 1689–1772), saw that there was ‘plenty of gold on the shores & rocks of Lochmaddy.’ Surprisingly, perhaps, the expertise for the manufacture of kelping is said to have originated in Ireland for a dozen Irishmen were brought in to teach the locals how to go about burning the seaweed most effectively in order to produce the precious ash which resulted from such a process. Unfortunately, an unforeseen mishap occurred whereby nearly all of them were burned when one of the kelp kilns exploded but this, it seems, never put off any of the locals who remained unhurt and who then went on to become successful kelp-makers in their own right.

When the Moraire Ban and his wife
& 3 child[ren] & factor Kingsburgh came to Uist The
family lived at Sollas partly. They went round
& when they reac[hed] Bailemhartain they found a man
plough[ing] with two horses & 2 cows all of which were mere
skeletons. Kinsg [Kingsburgh] told the man that Lady Macdonald
had come among her Uist tenantry for assist[ance] to enable
her to educate her child & that she expext[ed] 5/- fr[om] each
crofter. The crofter told him that there were only £3 [of money] in the
whole of Uist & that this was sent from one man to another
ment[ionin]g the dif[erent]t per[son] who had the use of it an[d] where
it was lying there. Lady Mac[donald] wept & said that she
could not ask money of people so poor. Kinsg [Kingsburgh]
then asked the man if they would make kelp. The
man asked what that was. Kinsg [Kingsburgh] told him & that
there was plenty of gold on the shores & rocks of
Lochmaddy that they w[ou]ld get £1 a ton for the kelp
& that Lady MacDon[ald] would have 5/- profit
out of this & that he w[oul]ld send them min gheal chor
A vessel with 12 Irishmen then came to L[och]maddy
& began kelp[ing]. The peop[le] on the west side heard this & they
flocked to L[och]maddy to see the oper[ation] The Irish
had the kelp kilns in full operation. The 12 men
went to the sea to fetch buckets of water which they
threw into the kilns. They then progged the burning
kelp with their long oak cabers expecting
thereby to burn & frighten the Uist people. The
burning kelp flew out in all direct[ion]s & burnt most
severally 11 of the Irish men & all the Uist peop[le]
escaped injuries. One Irish man alone rem[aine]d
to carry his comp[anions] to the smack where they lay
a long time at deaths door. And so this was the beg[inning]
of kelp making in N[orth] Uist.

CW116/165, ff. 62r–63r.
Image: Sollas / Solas, North Uist / Uibhist a Tuath.

Tuesday 9 August 2011

The Old Woman of the Mill-Dust

A 6/8 jig still popular amongst musicians, especially pipers, is Cailleach an Dùdain (‘The Old Woman of the Mill-Dust’). Alexander Carmichael notes down three versions of a port-à-beul (mouth music) that accompany this tune but they all appear to be unfortunately rather fragmentary. The most complete version is given at the very end of one of his longest fieldwork notebooks (CW120):

An toir thu do nighean domh
Chailleach an dudain?
An toir thu do nighean domh
Chailleach an Dudain?
An toir thu do nighean domh
Dheanainns mire rithe
Ghleusainn fiodha[l] dhi
S dhannsainn cridheil rithe
Chailleach an dudain!
&c &c

Elsewhere in Carmina Gadelica, Carmichael has a long note about the curious ‘resurrection’ dance which accompanied the playing of this jig:

One dance is called, ‘Cailleach an Dudain,’ carlin of the mill-dust. This is a curious character-dance. The writer got it performed for him several times.
It is danced by a man and a woman. The man has a rod in his right hand, variously called ‘slachdan druidheachd,’ druidic wand, ‘slachdan geasachd,’ magic wand. The man and the woman gesticulate and attitudinise before one another, dancing round and round, in and out, crossing and recrossing, changing and exchanging places. The man flourishes the wand over his own head and over the head of the woman, whom lie touches with the wand, and who fills down, as if dead, at his feet. He bemoans his dead ‘carlin,’ dancing and gesticulating round her body. He then lifts up her left hand, and looking into the palm, breathes upon it, and touches it with the wand. Immediately the limp hand becomes alive and moves from side to side and up and down. The man rejoices, and dances round the figure on the floor. And having done the same to the right hand, and to the left and right foot in succession, they also become alive and move. But although the limbs are living, the body is still inert. The man kneels over the woman and breathes into her mouth and touches her heart with the wand. The woman comes to life and springs up, confronting the man. Then the two dance vigorously and joyously as in the first part. The tune varies with the varying phases of the dance.
It is played by a piper or a fiddler, or sung as a ‘port-a-bial,’ mouth tune, by a looker-on, or by the performers themselves. The air is quaint and irregular, and the words are curious and archaic. In his West Highland Tales Iain F. Campbell of Islay mentions that he saw ‘cailleach an dudain’ danced in the house of Lord Stanley of Alderley. He does not say by whom it was danced, but probably it was by the gifted narrator himself. In October 1871, Mr. Campbell spent some time with the writer and his wife in Uist. When driving him to Lochmaddy, at the conclusion of his stay, I mentioned that there were two famous dancers of ‘cailleach an dudain’ at Clachan-a-ghluip. We went to their bothy, but they were away. The neighbours told us that they were in the direction of Lochmaddy. When we reached there we went in search of them, but were unsuccessful. Some hours afterwards, as I was coming up from the shore after seeing Mr. Campbell on board the packet for Dunvegan, I saw the two women racing down the hill, their long hair and short dresses flying wildly in tlie wind. They had heard that we had been inquiring for them. But it was too late. The packet, with Mr. Campbell on board, was already hoisting her sails and heaving her anchor.

With regard to the name of the jig itself the cailleach may well refer to the Corn Dolly or Maiden, the last sheaf to be taken in from the harvest which in some regions of the Highlands and Islands was referred to as the cailleach. And if this is the case then the dust even on the mill floor could still retain the spirit of grain. Perhaps the ‘resurrection’ dance associated with the tune can be interpreted as mimicking the life, death and rebirth of the cailleach while she is meant to represent the spirit of the grain.

Carmina Gadelica, pp. 206–07.
CW120/344, f. 100v.

Friday 5 August 2011

An Anecdote about Bonnie Prince Charlie

Berneray, Harris / Beàrnaraigh na Hearadh
Anecdotes and legendary accounts of Bonnie Prince Charlie were legion in the Western Isles and Alexander Carmichael was particularly fortunate to have collected quite a few of them. Although Carmichael is given rather scant acknowledgement by William Jolly, a school inspector and close friend, in his book Flora MacDonald in Uist: A Study of the Heroine in Her Native Surroundings (1886), it may be assumed with some degree of certainty that Carmichael would have supplied him with as much historical information as he had then to hand. In any case, this short anecdote tells of the Prince in the isle of Harris and his involvement with the Campbell of Srannda. He is said to have stayed, while on the lam, for six nights in Donald MacLeod’s house. Subsequently, or perhaps during the Prince’s visit, the host felt it expedient to make himself scarce and fled for safety to the nearby Cave of Ulladale. This would have been a wise move given that he did not wish himself to be associated with harbouring Public Enemy Number One at least as seen in the eyes of the Hanoverian Government. Nevertheless, MacLeod had clear Jacobite sympathies – he had been out – otherwise the Prince would not have been invited to have stayed in his house. For his trouble in offering such generosity despite the risks involved Berneray house was threatened by Captain Ferguson to be blown to kingdom come, a warning which came via the intermediary of Iain Laith mac ’ic Choinnich (a Campbell). It would seem that such a dire consequence was avoided as the house, it would seem, remained intact. The personalities mentioned were well-known in Jacobite circles: Dòmhnall mac Iain Òig, was Donald MacLeod (1671–1781), perhaps better known as Old Beneray or Old Trojan and Iain Mòr Liath mac ’ic Choinnich was John Campbell. The Captain Ferguson mentioned was a naval officer who originally hailed from Inverurie, Aberdeenshire and more details of his career can be found in John S. Gibson’s Ships of the ’45: The Rescue of the Young Pretender (1967):

Prince Charlie live[d] 6 nights in Don[ald]
Mac Iain oig[’s] ho[use]. Old Bearn[ar]y
fled to Ua[mh] Ulladail Capt[ain] F[e]rg[uson] set
his guns & casks of powder at the
house. Gen[e]r[al] Campbell came
to see Iain mor lia[th] mac
mhic Coinnich (Campbell)
(Strannd) then blind who told him
of their com[in]g & if he blew up Bearn[ar]y
house that he might levy Harris of
all the Camp[bells]. Gen[eral] took Iain lia[th] out
to see the long chog[aidh]. On their arri[val] F[e]rg[uson]
cursed Campbell insolentl[y] what
kept him.

CW90/63, f. 24v.
Berneray, Harris / Beàrnaraigh na Hearadh.

Tuesday 2 August 2011

A Clan Battle fought at Lagan a’ Chatha

Glenlyon, Perthshire / Gleann Lìomhann, Siorramachd Pheairt
Highland history is replete with legendary accounts of clan battles from small skirmishes to large-scale fights. Outright violence or the mere threat of violence in the Highlands never seems to have been too far away but for the fact that this would be overstating the case. Perhaps such an image was partly inspired by the Highlanders martial spirit which was very much to the fore particularly because of their famous regiments which pushed, kept control and consolidated the boundaries of the British Empire. Be that as it may, in comparison to the Lowlands of an earlier period, blood-feuds were more or less on par with those that took place in the Highlands. It is rather surprising that Alexander Carmichael did not take down more than he did about the legendary accounts of clan battles for they were the stock in trade of most reciters who had any kind of historical bent. This example, set in Perthshire (specifically Glenlyon), was taken down by Carmichael from an unnamed source and name-checks those clans that held sway in this part of the Highlands:

Gleann Li-un
Cama ghleann du[bh] nan clach.
32 miles long. Battle fo[ugh]t between
the Robertson Campbells & Mac
Gregor & the Clann Imhear.
Killed the Macivors out[right?]. They then
went to Breadalbane. The Mac
grigors came down from Bun
rainich. They battle at Lagan
a chatha & stopped at Ceann
Chnoc at Cainis nan cam.
The men washed themselves
& arms at Ford Li’un & the river
ran red with blood. There
a man said. Bho la[tha] nighe
nan arm bith Li’un mar
ainm air Diubh. Srath
Dubh-uisg. Where the
river ran before – silent water
remains there still –
where the river ran before.
My informant killed two otters
here with one shot.

CW1/38, f. 11v.
Image: Glenlyon, Perthshire / Gleann Lìomhann, Siorramachd Pheairt.

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). [©]