Canada, Modern, Scotland, Scottish Gaelic Literature, Song

Gaelic Song by a Bute-man?

I have an 8-month old daughter, Róisín, who loves edges: she crawls up to the boundary of the carpet – or, this morning, to the serrated edge of the café play mat –, feels the texture of the edge, pulls it up and looks under, and seems to be fascinated with the interface between the two areas. I’m a lot like that where Gaelic culture, history and literature are concerned. I’m very interested in peripheral areas, like Perthshire and Argyllshire in Scotland, or Glengarry, Ontario in Canada.

In this blog I’ll examine one of these items from the edges, a fascinating periphery text from 18th-century Scotland (via Ireland!), which in fact connects to another song-poem collected in Ontario in 1960. The text implies that the author may have been from Bute, or at least spent a considerable amount of time there. This should be of interest to our friends at Droitseach, who are working to revive Argyllshire dialects in Scotland. Even if Duncan Campbell himself is the author of this song, his origins in Cowal should be of interest to those working on the southern borders of Gaeldom.

The song-poem was printed in a very odd little book entitled in Gaelic Nuadh Orain Ghailach, or in English A New Gaelic Song-Book. The author (and/or collector, as not all items may have been composed by him) was Duncan Campbell, a native of Cowal who joined the 2nd battalion of Rothsay and Caithness Fencibles. He was one of many Scottish Gaels who fought in British regiments in Ireland during the 1798 Rising – I’ll return to that issue momentarily.

He stayed on in Ireland and this volume itself was printed in Cork in 1798. As he says himself in the book’s Preface, there are a number of typos in the book, not to mention difficult and obscure orthographical usages, so the texts are difficult to work with. I’ve done my best to reconstruct the words of this song-poem, but I can’t swear that I’ve mastered it (the first line of stanza 7 eludes me).

This book, the texts, the author, and his agenda deserve much greater attention. I’m not aware of any previous scholarship about this material in the past, although there is much to glean here. Note his comments in the Preface, for example, that the book is meant “For the amusement of those who are acquainted with the [Gaelic] Language, and would wish to revive it for its fame in former times.” The vulnerability of Gaels during this period, and their search for patrons who would provide leadership and support for Gaels when the persecution of the language and culture were severe, is evident in the dedication to Colonel James Fraser of Culduthil, “That your honour may live long an Ornament to your Country, and every real Highlander, the Friend of every Bard, who may endeavour to attract the notice of Men of Worth, by contributing his small portion towards the knowledge of the Gaelic Language …”

We might have no idea of what this song-poem sounded like in performance, except for a strange quirk of fate: the late Professor Charles Dunn of Harvard University recorded a song in Glengarry, Ontario, in 1960 that clearly has a variant of the same chorus! The song was later arranged and recorded by Mary Jane Lamond on her first album of 1995. (I also found an independent variant of the Ontario song in a manuscript from Ontario written in the early 1900s that I’ll be publishing next year in an anthology of Canadian Gaelic literature from CBU Press, Seanchaidh na Coille.)  In any case, by connecting these two survivals from the margins we can connect the melody to the text.

Another interesting thing about this text is that it is by a Scottish Gaelic soldier stationed in Ireland (who may or may not be a Bute-man) who is less than enthusiastic about his job. In fact, it seems to have veiled pro-Jacobite sympathies (stanzas 6 and 8 in particular)!  Note the literary convention of a soldier’s weapons being his partner, and being married to “George’s daughter” a literary device for enlistment (a less-than-happy arrangement, according to the song). Such evidence needs to be seriously considered by those looking at the history of the involvement of Gaels in the British military from a bottom-up perspective.

As Duncan himself says in the Preface, “only those that understand that Tongue are competent judges of” these song-poems, so I render this only in the original Gaelic.

(I’m sorry about the formatting – I can’t seem to find a decent way to format the text on this blog.)

Duanag a chaidh a dhèanadh le fear a bha gabhail fadail an Éirinn

  [Séisd] Ho ró, tha mise fo ghruaimean

  Chan ioghnadh dhomh gluasad duilich

  ’S fad tha mi air chuairt an Éirinn

  Dh’fhàg siud mo chéile fo mhulad

  Ho ró, tha mise fo ghruaimean.

[1] ’S fadalach mi ’s mi ’nam ònrachd,

Leam fhéin ’s an t-seòmar air m’ uilinn;

Theannadh mi ri dhèanadh òrain

Chuireas air fògradh am mulad.

[2] Fhuair mi cothrom le làn òrdugh

Fo làimh Choirneil air mo chruinneag;

’S ged tha i do theaghlach Dheòrsa

Chan eil mi deònach m’a cumail.

[3] ’S rìoghail a’ chuilidh air òigear:

Còta dearg gun sgòd e air cumadh,

’S bonaid chruinn gun chearb an òrdugh

Suaicheantas Dheòrsa ’na mullach.

[4] ’S lìonmhor cuilean th’ aig stòras

Nach bu tais ann an Carraig Builean [?]

’S nach obadh gu dol an òrdugh

Nuair thogadh iad sròl is druma.

[5] Rìgh! gur diùmbach mi do’n Choirneil:

Dh’fhalbh e air fòrladh á Lunnainn

’S mise aig sentry aig a sheòmar,

Air mo leòn a’ giùlain gunna.

[6] Soraidh uam do’n Eilean Bhòdach

’S ann bu nòs leam a bhith fuireach

B’ annsa leam bhith an caidreabh Mòraig

Na nighean Deòrsa ’s ceol an druma.

[7] Dha m’ fhallain dhò [?], nach fhàg mi

Anns an àite, dhèanainn fuireach:

B’ e dùrachd gun rachainn sàbhailt

Air gach aird am bi mo thuras.

[8] Ged a thàir mi rìbhinn uasal

Ás an tùr uainn an Lunnainn

Chan eil a comann ach fuaraidh

’S fàileadh na luadhaidh g’a muineal.

[9] Tha mi fo lionn-dubh ’s fo smuairean –

Mo bheachd, cha ghluaisear ach dubhach –

Mar chulaidh nach snàmh an uachdar

Air luasgan fo ghruaim an tuinne.


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