A Scottish Gaelic Bard in Vancouver, Domhnall MacIlleathain

Later this week (June 21-25), the second World Congress of Scottish Literatures will be hosted in Vancouver, British Columbia. While the literature of the Scottish Lowlands has not received adequate academic attention, Scottish Gaelic has been marginalized to a much greater extent, so it is important to draw attention to the rich store of materials that originate in the same places where Scottish literature is supposed to be nurtured and cherished. This blog post will, therefore, provide a translation of a song-poem that evokes the life of the Scottish Gaelic community there.

As I’ve mentioned in two previous blog posts (here and here), there were loads of Scottish Gaels in the Pacific North-west, not least in Vancouver itself. There are correspondingly large numbers of Scottish Gaelic texts composed in and about the life of Gaels in the region. No one has yet done a systematic compilation and analysis of such materials (I have just two important sources from Vancouver in my recent anthology Seanchaidh na Coille // Memory-Keeper of the Forest), which I believe would add greatly to our understanding of Vancouver’s extended Gàidhealtachd.

In 2005, Comann Eachdraidh Tholstaidh bho Thuath (the North Tolsta Gaelic Society, on the Isle of Lewis) produced a wonderful volume of literature composed by the poets of town from the mid-nineteenth century through the end of the twentieth entitled Clachan Crìche. It includes several poets who ended up living in Canada. One of these was a man named Domhnall MacIlleathain, commonly known as Domhnall Dhiogan (1889-1962). He and his wife Anna NicLeòid (Anna Dhànaidh) moved to Vancouver before the First World War, but maintained their connection to Lewis through a broad Gaelic social network. They actively maintained such links especially by seeking out the sailors who came to port in Vancouver and providing them accommodation. Their house was clearly a céilidh house, where song and story, victuals and hospitality, were shared. Such sociality is the subject of song, but also the means by which news and oral tradition were transmitted and kept alive.

Amongst the songs composed by Domhnall Dhiogan is one depicting his invitation of Gaelic soldiers back to his home, with many sly bits of humour. It begins with a description of the downscale boat on which they were sailing, the “Induna,” but follows them as they come into this large and unfamiliar city: intimidating to some of the Lewis boys. It is a warm, kindly and vibrant depiction of the intersections of Gaels in the city with their seagoing relations and the exchange of culture between them.

As my time is short, I will not attempt to provide the Gaelic text, only my own translation into English.

  1. On the afternoon of the Sabbath, a boat came to the city, entering the harbour; she was ugly to look at, low around the back, with her high sails in tatters, and the covering of her shoulders was like the top of the soil – lacking paint.
  2. Smoke came out of her high mouth, she moved slowly, nothing was moving in her except a man or two in the prow; the little boss was giving a command: “O Duadan, hurry up! Take this rope, MacRuagan, and tie the boat immediately, before you are stolen!”
  3. Courage, hope and knowledge arose in their conversation: “I am Murchadh son of Seonaidh, this is Domhnall, my brother; this is Murchadh son of Ruagan, and Aonghas son of Murchadh son of Calum, his neighbour; this is Tormod son of Uilleam, his uncle is married to Màrlaid; if you remember.”
  4. “I am pleased to see you! I will be sorry to leave you. Come over to my home; my wife is Anna Dhànaidh.” Murchadh said in response, “You are married into my family! She is the daughter of the brother of my grandfather, the oldest daughter of Dànaidh of Cnoc!”
  5. “Come over, and you can have anything that is in our dwelling; your bellies will be over-stuffed with marag and potato; she will be happy to see you, and she will get news from the place [Lewis] where she was young, and where she left her relations, so far from here.”
  6. A carriage came to get us, and it was quickly filled; with an order to move, going down to the ferry; MacRuagain was praying, “Give my soul mercy; it was safer for me to be travelling the oceans than to be here!”
  7. We arrived at the place, on the edge of the forest; we shook hands, with a smile on every face: “How are you, my dear? Who is the mother of the boys? Come inside to our home, you are welcome,” said the woman of the house.
  8. “This is Bac; this is Duadan; and Aonghas son of Murchadh son of Calum; this is Cutsaidh son of Ruagan; this is Coididh, your relation; he was your neighbour, out on the side of the mountain; and you will get news of the place, nothing will be hidden from you by black-haired Duadan.”
  9. “Come over, friends! Our table is loaded; you can have skate [fish] and potatoes, your grandfathers’ favourite food; it is fresh, as it is best that way, and the smell won’t overwhelm you; you are far away from your children, whom you blessed as you left; down [your gullets] with the skate!”
  10. “Pass the potatoes, they are better unpeeled; take away the spoons, our hands will suffice for them; although it is the custom of this place, we much prefer our fingers as we learned when we were young, eating little fish at home.”
  11. [Prayer] “O, my brothers, we will be closing our eyes: we give thanks to you, o God, that this boat is in Vancouver; but if you were to do us justice, you will break the Induna, so that she will not leave this place as soon as she expected with the lovely lads.”

Donald Currie’s address to the New York Gaelic Society (c.1892)

There were a surprising number of organizations created and organized by Scottish Gaels in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the United States, mostly all in large cities. Probably the most active center of activity for Scottish heritage societies in general was New York city (see more details in section 5.2 of this article).

One of the active members of this group was a man named Domhnall MacMhuirich (or “Donald Currie” in English). He gave an address in Gaelic to the organization in late 1892 (as far as I can tell) in which he addresses the landmarks of Highland history and the purpose of the group in maintaining the essentials of Gaelic language, culture and identity. Some extracts, and my translation, follow:

Is cianail ri aithris an t-atharrachadh eagalach a thàinig air gach gleann fasgach, dosrach, an Tìr nam Beann on latha thàinig Prionnsa Teàrlach air tìr am Muideart […] Bho latha Chul-Lodair cha d’fhuair na Gàidheil fois fo chumhachd lagh agus feachd Shasann, ach a-measg gach deuchainn is cruaidh-chàs a dh’fhuiling iad cha do thréig iad an duinealas, agus cha do reic iad an gràdh no ’n spéis a thug iad do phearsa Prionnsa air na bha d’òr an Sasainn. Chaidh am fògradh á tìr an gaoil gu dùthchannan céin […]

Cho fad ’s a bhios  òrain Ghàidhlig is Bheurla ’gan seinn agus innealan ciùil ’gan gleusadh, bidh Bliadhna Theàrlaich beò an inntinn nan Gàidheal. […]

Nach muladach dà-rìreabh na glinn bhòidheach ’s srathan còmhnard an-diugh a bhith dol fàs fo chaoraich ’s fo fhéidh far am b’ àbhaist an sùgradh is an cridhealas a bha daonnan umhail do gach deuchainn is trioblaid a chaidh a sparradh orra le luchd lagha na tìre. […]

Tha mi toilichte cluinntinn gum bheil fìor Ghàidheil a-measg a’ chomainn seo tha déidheil air litreachas, cànain, is ceòl ar n-athraichean, agus seann chleachdainnean Gàidhealtachd na h-Alba chumail beò agus ged tha sinn fada air falbh bho thìr nan àrd bheann, bitheamaid duineal, grunndail, cairdeil agus bàigheil ri càch a chéile.

It is depressing to discuss the terrible changes that have come upon every leafy, sheltering glen in the Highlands since the day that Prince Charles landed in Moidart. Since the day of the battle of Culloden, the Gaels had no peace from the power of the law and military troops of England, but amongst all of the trials and tribulations that they endured, they never relinquished their bravery, and they never sold their love or devotion for the person of Prince Charles for all of the gold of England. They were expelled from their beloved homeland to foreign countries […]

The Year of Prince Charles [1745] will live on in the memory of every Gael for as long as Gaelic and English songs are sung and musical instruments are played. […]

It is truly depressing how the beautiful glens and smooth straths are today being depopulated for sheep and deer, where there was once the human joy and bliss that overcame every trial and tribulation that was forced on them by government politicians. […]

I am happy to hear that there are true Gaels in this society who are passionate about keeping the literature, language, and music of our ancestors, and the ancient traditions of the Scottish Highlands, alive, and although we are far away from the Highlands, let us be brave, well-grounded, friendly and caring to one another.

Domhnall Mac na Ceardaich’s Address to Canadian Gaels

One of the important Gaelic literati in early-twentieth-century Scotland was Barraman Domhnall Mac na Ceardaich. A very large volume containing a collection of his songs, poems, plays, and essays – 473 pages worth! – was released in 2014, entitled D.M.N.C. (his initials). Although I have not fully read it, I don’t think that the editors were aware that Domhnall was a contributor to the newspaper The Casket in Nova Scotia and wrote letters addressed to fellow Gaels in Canada.

Below is an extract from one of his letters (3 March 1927). In it, he addresses readers as Gaels of Canada – not Scots, or Catholics, or any such subgrouping – and exhorts them to stay true to their language. This demonstrates The Casket as one of several periodicals that connected Gaels across the Atlantic as well as Canada via print culture.


A mhuinntir mo ghaoil; a chlanna Ghàidheal Chanada, beannaicheam dhuibh an cànain bhlath, bhinn, bhuadhar ur sinnsir – cuiream failte, furan, agus fichead flath fialaidh oirbh an ainm mo dhùthcha, an ainm ur dearbh-mhuinntreach agus ur Gàidhealtachd fhéin; an ainm nam Beannachdan geala! […]

An là a chailleas gineal a’ Ghàidheil cuimhne air cànain bheannaichte Chaluim Chille, – an là a chailleas e an iuchair luachmhor seo, gun caill e am feasda aon seòl, aon chomas sonraichte, air a leas spioradail fhéin a dhèanamh gu h-iomchuidh. Oir ‘s a’ Ghàidhlig tha taisgte eòlas agus aithne spioradail sluagh a bha, agus a tha, air leth spioradail. […]

A mhuinntir mo ghaoil: Gàidheal gun eòlas air a chànain fhéin, gun ùidh gun aithne an cainnt uasail oileanta a shinnsir, chan eil ann ach leth-duine; duine easbhuidheach. Dh’fhaodainn a ràdh le fìrinne nach eil ann mar an ceudna ach duine aineolach ged an robh aige làn a chinn de theangannan choigreach, oir tha e a dh’easbhuidh eòlas air litreachas agus meanmna cinnich air na bhuilich Dia buadhan toirbheartach anma agus innsgin agus aignidh. Tha e, a dh’aon fhacal, a dh’easbhuidh na h-iuchrach ud – a fhreagras an glais dhìomhair doruis anma fhéin. […]

O my beloved people; o Gaels of Canada, let me bless you in the warm, melodious, virtuous language of your ancestors – I salute you, and send you noble, generous greetings in the name of my country, in the name of your people and your own Gaelic community; in the name of the fair blessings! […]

The day that the Gaelic generation loses its knowledge of the blessed language of St Columba, – the day that it loses this precious key, it will lose forever one means, one special capacity, for its own spiritual well-being to be properly tended. For it is in the Gaelic language that is embedded knowledge and insight of a people who were, and are, exceptionally spiritual. […]

O my beloved people: a Gael who has no knowledge of his own language, with no interest in or acquaintance of the noble, learned language of his ancestors, is only half a person; a person lacking. I can say truthfully [he is] likewise an ignorant person even if his head of full of the languages of strangers, for he lacks knowledge of the literature and imagination of the ethnic group on whom God has bestowed powerful virtues of the soul and mind. He is, in one word, lacking that key that opens the secret door to his own soul. […]

An Athollman’s Bagpipe Song in Defense of Gaelic

Gaels all over the Highlands, even as far east as Strathardle, managed to cling resiliently onto their language and culture until the tumultuous changes of the nineteenth century. English pushed aggressively against Gaelic during the nineteenth century, but not without some resistance.

One of those Perthshire Highlanders who defended his native language and urged others to stand fast in this era was Archibald Farquharson (1800-1878), a native of Moulin (close to Pitlochry). He became a minister, settled in Tiree, and remained a steadfast champion of his native tongue until his death.

One of his publications, printed in 1868, is a 40-page booklet entitled An Address to Highlanders Respecting their Native Gaelic. Towards the end of the booklet, he includes a three page song-poem inciting the Gaels to stay true to their language. He includes an interesting note to this poem which begins by explaining a traditional taunt of rivalry that the Athollmen used against  the men of Strathardle (a couplet with internal rhyme). He then uses this jibe as a starting point for a new song-poem which remains strikingly authentic in its form and content. It is a wonderful example of how tradition can be creatively reshaped in the defense of Gaelic.

Farquharson reshapes the traditional taunt to mock the Strathardle folk for forsaking Gaelic in favour of English, thus becoming unslaved to the language of their former enemies. This demonstrates what is so clear in many other sources, that the Gaelic language was absolutely central and key to Highland identity.

It is also interesting that this song is described as being played on the bagpipes, another example of the common belief that the bagpipes were able to imitate the human voice (and hence that any musician aspiring to play the music of the Highlands needed to understand the Gaelic language).

This provocation quickly turns the Strathardle men back toward their natural Highland allies and goads them to be faithful to their native language. The animosity quickly melts: they are reunited in brotherly love, and share in the bounty of their culture with music, conviviality and nourishment. Lowlanders are depicted in contrast as lying literally in darkness, shivering with the cold. This is one of many examples of temperature being used metaphorically in Gaelic (not unlike in English) as corresponding to emotional state: warmth (affection and kindliness) in opposition to coldness (lack of welcome and friendship).

I give below the original text with my translations into English in square brackets.


The Atholites used to provoke the Ardleites with a tune which they played on the bagpipes when leaving them—Bodaich dhubh Srath Àrdail, gun d’fhàg sinn ’nan cadal iad—The black churls of Strathardle, we have left them asleep.

In the Free Church of Kirkmichael, Strathardle, there has been no Gaelic preached for several years, and it is going and almost gone in the Established Church. I wish with all my heart that a company of the Atholites would cross over with a piper at their head, and play the following on the street of Kirkmichael :—

Bodaich dhubh’ Srath Àrdail,
Cha Ghàidheil iad ach Sasannaich!
Thréig iad mar na tràillean
Cainnte bhlàth an athraichean.

[The black churls of Strathardle,
They are no Gaels, but Englishmen!
Like slaves, they have abandoned
The warm language of their forefathers.]

And that they on their part would play the following:—

Tosdaibb, bithibh sàmhach!
Chan àill leinn sibh bhith magadh oirnn;
Bheir ar cridh do’n Ghàidhlig,
’S a-chaoidh gu bràth, cha dealaich ri’;

’S nuair thig [i] rìs do ar tìr,
Le ceòl pìob is cridhealas,
Aran grinn, ’s comhdach’ ìm’
Agus cìr-mheala leis,

Gheibh sibh uainn gu càirdeal
A shàsachadh ur stamagan;
Is seinnibh do’n Ghàidhlig
Na h-Àrdlaich ’s na h-Athalaich.

Nuair bhios Goill mar na doill
Is an oidhch a’ laidhe orr’, 
Gu ro thruagh, crith gu luath,
Is le fuachd ’gam meileachadh,

Bidh sinne air ar blàth’chadh,
’S a’ Ghàidhlig ’gar teasachadh,
Is caoimhneas, gean is càirdeas

Sìor fhàs ann ar n-anamaibh.

[Hush, be quiet!
We don’t like for you to be mocking us;
Take our hearts to Gaelic
And never ever leave it;

And when it returns to our land,
With bagpipe music, and merriment,
Elegant bread with a coat of butter,
And a honey-comb with it,

You will get enough from us, kindly,
To satisfy your stomachs;
And sing to Gaelic,
The people of Strathardle and Atholl,

When the Lowlanders are like blind-people
As the night-time falls on them,
Very pathetically, shivering madly,
And fainting with the cold,

We will be warmed up,
With Gaelic providing our heat,
And kindness, goodwill and fellowship
Constantly growing in our souls.]

Although my native country, I am quite ashamed of them.

The Great Stag of Monadh Liath

The Central and Eastern Highlands was full of Gaelic-speaking Highlanders until the early twentieth century, when the ethnocidal effects of depopulation and anti-Gaelic educational policies finally came to fruition. Gaels were keen hunters and the deer were frequent prey, but the relations between Gael and deer were not just about slaughter: there is plenty of other lore and tradition that shows affection and symbiotic relations that existed between these “Highland tribes.” I was reminded of this recently when writing an essay about the Gaelic sense of place for a project about The Cairngorms, as well as when reviewing the work of my friend Alec for this project and musing on a blog post by my friend Griogair Labhraidh.

Amongst the remnants of lore that remain of these areas of Gaeldom are stories about a beast called Damh Mór a’ Mhonaidh Liath (‘The Great Stag of Monadh Liath’). I saved a couple references to it in my notebook but have vague memories of having seen others. It may simply be the Highland equivalent of ‘the big fish that got away’, but it is also possible that it has an echo of lore about supernatural beasts. I give the texts I have here in hopes that others may contribute what they know.

An article in The Highlander (27 October 1880) makes reference to an article in Caraid nan Gàidheal (1841, page. 101; the original article is called ‘Thogainn Fonn air Lorg an Fhéidh’).

The eachdraidh air Damh Mór a’ Mhonaidh Liath am Bàideanach air an do loisgeadh leis na sealgairean a b’ fhearr cuimse ’chaidh do’n bheinn, fichead is fichead uair, is dh’fhairtlich orra fuil a tharraing ás. Fad leth cheud bliadhna, bha muinntir na dùthcha sin eòlach air. Agus is iomadh duine tapaidh a chaill cadal na h-oidhche is craiceann nan cas air a thòir gus mu dheireadh an do leònadh e le duine uasail de Chloinn Domhnaill; thuit e ach co-math, co-dhiubh, dh’éirich e is tharr e ás. Deich bliadhna fichead ’na dhéidh sin, mharbhadh a’ cheart damh seo ’m bràigh Bhàideanach is fhuaireadh am peilear a chuireadh ann leis an Domhnallach dà bhliadhna fichead roimhe sin ’na ghualainn! Cha b’ urrainn do Dhamh Mór a’ Mhonaidh Liath bhith fo sheachd fichead bliadhna dh’aois.

There are stories about the Great Stag of Monadh Liath in Badenoch at which the hunters with the best aim who ever went to the mountain shot, scores and scores of times, and they failed to draw any blood out of him. For fifty years, the folk of that region were familiar with him. Many a skilled man lost his night’s sleep and the skin of his feet in pursuit of him until he was finally wounded by a gentleman of the Clan Donald; he fell down, but in any case, he arose and fled away. Thirty years after that, this same stag was killed in the braes of Badenoch and the bullet that the MacDonald put in him twenty-two years before that was found in his shoulder! The Great Stag of Monadh Liath could not be under one hundred and forty years of age.

There is another reference to him in a Gaelic story written by Fionn (Henry White) called ‘Fearchar Òg’ in the volume Sgeulachdan Fìrinneach (True Stories), vol. 2, p. 191:

air a làimh chlì bha a’ fosgladh ro na glinn tha ruith rathad Loch Tréig, àite-comhnaidh Damh Mór a’ Mhonaidh Liath, a bha cho sean ris a’ cheò is air nach do rinn urchair riamh dolaidh. …

… on his left hand side that was opening before the glens, there is the length of the road to Loch Tréig, the residence of the Great Stag of the Monadh Liath, who was as ancient as the mist and on whom a shot never made an injury. …

This description of the beast sounds a bit less naturalistic and a bit more legendary than the previous. The stag is given a slightly different locality as well. The two items taken together seem to indicate fragments of lore with a wider provenance and great significance. But I hope others can add what they know to this!

Gaelic Literacy in Nova Scotia and Gaelic Literary Networks

One of the most persistent misrepresentations regarding the Gaelic language is that it was a purely oral one, with no written form or literary tradition until the modern period. This misguided notion is not just erroneous, it’s a distortion and insult, given that Gaels (like their Brittonic peers) were reading and writing their own native language generations before the Anglo-Saxons and were certainly instrumental in the creation of literacy in English itself.

In any case, although I’ve provided some discussion about literacy and the practice of Scottish Gaelic literary tradition in Canada in my recent volume Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest: Anthology of the Scottish Gaelic Literature of Canada, there is certainly plenty more information waiting to be gathered to help us gain a more accurate picture of the prevalence of literacy amongst Gaels (breaking it down further according to religion, gender, age, etc), the attitudes surrounding it, methods by which Gaels gained literacy, and so on.

Here is the first two further pieces of evidence, a letter in the Gaelic column of The Casket newspaper dated March 18, 1920. The author discusses people he knows offhand  to have been literate in just one community of mainland Nova Scotia. The letter was signed with the name of the community “Muileann nan Frisealach” (Frasers’ Mills – plural in English, but singular in Gaelic, perhaps capturing an earlier era of the community).

Tha móran dhaoine mu chuairt air feadh seo a leughas a’ Ghàidhlig, agus tha mi cinnteach na[m] feuchadh iad gu[n] sgriobhadh iad i cuideachd. ’S ann diubh seo, Aonghas Alasdair an Ridge (Domhnallach) a leughas agus a nì òrain Ghàidhlig, agus ’s glé mhath a sheinneas e iad; Iain B. mac Aonghais ’ic Eóbhain ’ic Ruairidh ’ic Iain ’ic Dhùghaill (Mac a’ Phearsain) agus a mhàthair a tha glé fhiosrach mu ar sinnsearachd; Bean Dhomhnaill ’ic Iain ’ic Ùistein (Domhnallach) a tha faighinn pàipear naidheachd ás an t-Seann Dùthaich; Aonghas MacAonghais Bhoid a leughas Gàidhlig cho luath ’s a leughas e Beurla ged a tha e ’na mhaighstir-sgoile! — agus e làn òran; Alasdair mac Gilleasbuig ’is Aonghais Mhóir (MacGillÌosa) a tha ’na sgrìobhadair cho math ’s a tha an-seo; Domhnall mac Dhomhnaill ’ic Eóbhain (MacGilleBhràth) a tha ’na dhuine fiosrach agus ’s glé mhath a sheinneas e “An Gleann ’s an robh mi òg”; Aonghas Ailein (Mac a’ Phearsain) a tha math air naidheachdan agus cuid dhiubh ait; Iain mac Iain ’ic Ìosaig á Springfield; agus Iain mac Dhùghaill ’ic a’ Phearsain ás an àite cheudna :— dà sheann mhaighstir sgoil (sgrìobhaidh MacÌosaig a’ Ghàidhlig ach chan eil mi cinnteach mu Mac a’ Phearsain; gheibh mi a-mach fhathast); Iain Dhomhnaill Ailein ’ic Ghilleasbuig a leughas i; mar a i móran eile a chuireas mi sìos fhathast. Tha iad seo far na h-Aibhne Deas agus bho Springfield.

There are many people throughout this area who read Gaelic, and I am sure that if they were to try, that they could write it as well. Amongst these are Angus the Ridge MacDonald, who reads it and composes Gaelic songs, and he sings them well; John B. MacPherson, and his mother who is very knowledgable about our ancestry; the wife of Donald MacDonald, who subscribes to a newspaper in the Old Country; Angus Boyd, who reads Gaelic as quickly as he reads English even though he is a school-master! – and he is full of songs; Alexander Gillies who is as good of a writer as can be found here; Donald MacGillivray who is a learned man and is very good at singing “The Glen in Which I was Born”; Angus MacPherson who is good at reciting stories, some of them humourous; John MacIsaac from Springfield; and John MacPherson from the same place :– two school-masters (MacIsaac writes Gaelic but I’m not sure about MacPherson; I’ll find out yet); John MacGilles who reads it; as do many others who I will record eventually. These are those from South River and Springfield. (N.B.: I have not provided the entire patrilineal lineage of people given in the Gaelic text)

There are some interesting aspects to the eleven people named in this list: two of them are women; one of the women reads a newspaper printed in Scotland and sent across the ocean; one of the men is noted as singing a song which was composed in Scotland well after the original emigrants left, suggesting that it may have been learnt through print media; the list includes three school masters, a profession not generally noted for the support of Gaelic and usually credited with teaching English to the detriment of Gaelic.

The contributor was probably emphasizing the prevalence of Gaelic literacy at this time, and the engagement of people in formal education with it, because there was a popular petition circulating in Nova Scotia in 1920 for the formal recognition and support of Gaelic in the school curriculum. It is further worth noting that the area is predominantly Catholic (which people generally assume to have a weaker tradition of literacy than Protestant communities.)

On to a second source of evidence. A few months ago, a man in Massachusetts contacted me out the blue, asking if I would be interested in the Gaelic texts left by his father. I believe that his name was Gilleasbuig Tormod MacGillFhaolain (Archibald N. MacLellan), although this may have been his grandfather’s name – I’m a little unsure. In any case, he was a native Gaelic speaker originally from Cape Breton. This generous gift consisted of about a dozen books, over a dozen periodicals, and hand-written notes in Gaelic. These materials demonstrate a passionate attachment to his Gaelic heritage and ongoing engagement with it over a considerable period.

The periodicals included a copy of An Gàidheal (1876), several copies of Mac-Talla (1890s), a copy of Guth na Bliadhna (1920s?), The Canadian-American Gael (1944) and 8 copies of Gairm (1950s and ’60s). Almost all of the content of these volumes is in Gaelic only.

Most of the books were printed in Scotland and include Aig Taigh na Beinne (1911), Is Leam Fhìn An Gleann (1935), Òrain Ghaidhlig le Seonaidh Caimbeul (1936), and Rosg Gàidhlig (1929). A couple of the books were printed in Nova Scotia, however: Iùl a’ Chrìostaidh (Antigonish, 1901) and Gaelic Lessons for Beginners (Sydney, 1939).

These texts may have been accumulated from numerous people who owned them previously over a long period of time. What’s interesting, however, is that a few of them bear a mark showing that they were purchased at The MacDonald Music Store in Antigonish, demonstrating that there was some demand for Gaelic materials in the area and that at least one local retailer was attempting to accommodate it.

The hand-written pages include the expected notes on genealogy, but also a transcription of verses of a popular Gaelic song (“Se mo leannan am fear ùr”) as well as an original Gaelic song (with the chorus “Hi o, mise tha fo mhì-ghean / ’s mi leam fhéin an-seo ’s an àthaidh / Hi o, mise tha fo mhì-ghean”). The typewritten copy has the date 1960 on the bottom and is attributed to Gilleasbuig, but whether this is the date of composition or of transcription is not clear. In either case, these texts attest to the tenacity of Gaelic literary tradition amongst members of the Highland immigrant community and to the materials that may still be lingering in attics, waiting to be discovered.

Gaelic Song on Culloden’s Carnage

There are quite a few Gaelic song-poems that provide us with eyewitness testimony about the 1745 Jacobite Rising and its tragic conclusion on Culloden Moor. These texts are extremely important in relating the Highland point of view on these events, especially because texts written by anglophones predominate and they generally convey rather negative, biased and misleading views about Scottish Gaels and what the latter actually felt and thought about the historical events that had such a dramatic effect on their lives.

Many of Gaelic texts were edited and translated in the volume Highland Songs of the ’45 by accomplished scholar John Lorne Campbell back in 1933. An excellent overview of the material and how to interpret it was written by William Gillies in his article “Gaelic Songs of the Forty-Five” in Scottish Studies 30 (1991). Somehow the following powerful poem seems to have eluded the attention of previous scholars of this Jacobite material. It was printed (along with other miscellaneous Gaelic song-poems) by Domhnull Mac-An-Roich in his volume Orain Ghaidhealach  (Edinburgh, 1848), pp. 172-4.

I give three versions of the text below, in the following order: my English translation; my edition of the Gaelic text; and the original text as printed verbatim in the book. I’m providing the original as well as my edition of the Gaelic sources given that there are some irregularities in spelling and I’m open to feedback on my attempts to regularize the text and interpret it. (The very last line of the text in particular seems defective – it should end on ò – and I have attempted an emendation.)

I am not familiar with the identity of the poet (Eóghann Dubh MacLachainn, “Black-haired Ewan MacLachlan”) and would be glad to hear from anyone who knows anything about him.

His poem provides an emotionally compelling view of the battlefield and its casualties, not least Lachlann MacLachlainn, the seventeenth chief of the clan, a staunch Jacobite who fought and died at Culloden. This personal view of the death of the chieftain can be expected, given that the poet undoubtedly knew him personally. But it also touches on the terrible human losses to all involved in the Rising: the death of the handsome Gaelic warriors and the vulnerability of families in the brutal treatment of the Highlands by the Hanoverian troops after the great warriors of the clans lay in defeat.

The idea that the Jacobites lost through some kind of witchcraft (found in stanza 2) can also be found in other poems about Culloden, giving the impression that this was a rhetorical strategy shared by a number of the Jacobite literati (see discussion in Gillies, p. 42).

My English Translation

A Song by Black-haired Ewan MacLachlan after the Battle of Culloden

1. Dearly did we pay for [Prince] Charles, coming to gather us from across the ocean, against England while he was strong; this is what happened: thousands of our clansmen have fallen and those who remain alive have lost their rights.

2. Tragic is the news we’ve received from the calamitous battlefield of misery: we lost so many of our nobility; troops have surrounded us in the hour of our misfortune, who, through witchcraft, have conquered us for the rest of our lives.

3. There is many a courageous hero – blooming, young, high-spirited, light-stepping, excellent when needed if it were a fair fight, who would race with each other – who will never come home, being called to meeting.

4. One of them was Colonel MacLachlan, a great-hearted one who knew no cowardice; he was handsome, sitting on a horse when giving commands to the gorgeous warriors; they found a way to kill you, woe is me!

5. Your hand would share out the money in the market-town; you were esteemed by many who are grieved by the way that you departed, never to return home to your children who have no one to whom they can be entrusted for their rest of their lives.

6. The news of the beautiful corpses who would not retreat wounds my heart, as they (linger under) the cries of the ravens and as our kin do not come to give a proper burial, while our enemies’ guard occupy our area.

7. The state of the Lochaber-men, lying in the ditches, pains me; no bagpipe or battle-banner can awaken them as the clangor of the (government) pillagers pass by so that the government’s side can destroy you: terrible is the loss that you cannot see our condition.

My Gaelic Edition

Òran Le Eóghann Dubh MacLachainn an déidh Blàr Chuilodair

1. ’S daor a cheannaich sinn Teàrlach
Thighinn gar togail thar sàile;
’N aghaidh Shasgann is e làidir;
’S ionnan sud is mar tharladh:
Thuit na mìltean d’ar càirdean,
’S chaill na dh’fhuirich an làthair an còir,
’S chaill na dh’fhuirich an làthair an còir.

2. ’S bochd an naidheachd a fhuair sinn
O bhlàr dosgach na truaighe,
’Mheud ’s a chaill sinn d’ar n-uaislean;
Thàinig trupa mu’n cuairt oirnn
Ann am mì-fhortan uaire:
Fhuair le buidseachd an uachdar oirnn beò,
Fhuair le buidseachd an uachdar oirnn beò.

3. Liuthad lasgarra treubhach,
Ùr, òg, aigeanntach, eutrom,
Bu ro math ’n àm feuma
Nam b’e comhrag na Féinne,
Bhitheadh eadar-ruith le chéile,
Nach tig dachaigh ga éigheach aig mòd.
Nach tig dachaigh ga éigheach aig mòd.

4. B’ann dhiubh ’n Còirneal MacLachainn,
Cridhe mór ’s nach robh ’ghealtachd;
Bu loghmhor air each e
’N àm an t-ordugh ’thoirt seachad
Do na seòid a bha reachdmhor,
Fhuair iad seòl air cuir as duit, mo leòn!
Fhuair iad seòl air cuir as duit, mo leòn!

5. Làmh sgapdh an airgid
Ann am bailtidh a’ mhargaidh,
’S lìonmhor neach aig ’n robh ainm ort
Leis nach b’ ait mar a dh’fhalbh thu
Gun tighinn dachaigh gu d’ leanabaidh
’S gun ann neach ris an earbar iad beò,
’S gun ann neach ris an earbar iad beò.

6. Sgeul tha cràiteach le ’m chridhe
Air cuirp àlainn gun ruitheadh,
’S iad fo ghàraich nam fitheach;
’S gun ar càirdean a’ tighinn:
Gar càradh fo dhlighe,
’S geard ar naimhdean ’na shuidhe ’gar còir.
’S geard ar naimhdean ’na shuidhe ’gar còir.

7. ’S olc leam càradh nan Abrach,
’S iad ’nan sìneadh ’s na claisean;
Cha dùisg pìob iad, no bratach,
’S foirm na creach’ a’ dol seachad,
Taobh a’ Chrùin a chur ás duibh:
’S mór an diùbhail nach faic sibh ar còir,
’S mór an diùbhail nach faic sibh ar còir.

Verbatim Transcript

Òran Le Eobhan Dubh Mac Lachuin an Deigh Blar Chuilodair

’S daor a cheannuich sinn Tearlach
Thighinn gar togail thar Saile;
’N aghaidh Shasgunn is e ladair;
’S ionnan sud is mar tharladh;
Thuit na miltean d’ar cairdean,
’S chaill na dh’fhuirich a lathair an coir.
’S chaill na dh’fhuirich a lathair an coir.

’S bochd an naigheachd a fhuair sinn
O bhlar dosgach na truaighe,
Mheud sa chaill sinn d’ar ’n uaislean;
Thainig trupa mu’n cuairt oirn:
Ann am mio-fhortan uaire,
Fhuair le buidseachd, an uachdar oirn beo.
Fhuair le buidseachd, an uachdar oirn beo.

Liuthad lasgura treubhach
Ur, og, aigeantach, eutrom
Bu ro math ’n am feuma;
Nam be comhrag na Feine:
Bhith’dh eadar ruidh le cheile,
Nach tig dachaidh ga eigheach aig mod.
Nach tig dachaidh ga eigheach aig mod.

Ban dhiu ’n Coirneal Mac Lachuin,
Cridhe mor ’snach robh ghealtachd,
Bu logh-mhor air each e;
Nam an t-ordugh thoirt seachad.
Do na seoid a bha reachd mhor,
Fhuair iad seol air cuir as duit, mo leon!
Fhuair iad seol air cuir as duit, mo leon!

Lamh scapdh an airgiod,
Ann am bailtidh a mhargaidh,
’S lion-mhor neach aig ’n robh ainm ort;
Leis nach bait mar a dh’fhalbh thu.
Gun tighinn dachaidh gu d’ leanabaidh,
’S gun ann neach ris an earbar iad beo,
’S gun ann neach ris an earbar iad beo.

Sgeul tha craiteach le ’m chridhe,
Air cuirp alluinn gun ruitheadh,
’S iad fo gharaich nam fiach;
’S gun air cairdean a tighinn:
Gar caradh fo dhlighe,
’S geard air naimhdean na shuidhe ga’r coir.
’S geard air naimhdean na shuidhe ga’r coir.

’S olc leam caradh nan Abrach,
’S iad nan sineadh ’sna claisean,
Cha duisg Piob iad, na Bratach;
’S foirm na creacha dol seachad;
Taobh a chruin a chuir as duibh,
’S mor an diubhail nach faic sibh air cair.