18th-Century Praise of Gaelic by Iain MacGriogair of Glenlyon

As I’ve said in a previous blog post, it is exciting to see a resurgence of interest in Gaelic in Perthshire, a region of Highland Scotland that was once home to thriving Gaelic communities and prolific Gaelic scholars and poets. I have a large collection of Gaelic literature from Perthshire that I would like to publish in complete form (after editing, translating, and interpreting it properly), but until I can find sufficient support to do so (beyond what I’ve already published in several previous books), I’ll only be able to leak out occasional previews.

One of the most important poets of Gaelic Perthshire was Iain MacGriogair (called “John MacGregor” in English), known commonly by his nickname “Am Bard Smeatach.” He seems to have been born in Glenlyon and was identified later as belonging more specifically to Tom na Croich. Have a look at the location of Glenlyon on this map of Scotland: according to Gaelic tradition, this was the centre of Scotland, and Gaelic extended well east and south of this location even into the early twentieth century.

MacGriogair’s first volume of poetry was published in 1801 although he says that most of the material was composed in the mid-1780s. He spent a great deal of time in Edinburgh. I have catalogued a total of 56 song-poems by him from multiple sources. I’m not sure when he was born, but he apparently died shortly after his second volume of poetry was published in 1818.

The following poem (given first in Gaelic, then in English translation) is in praise of the Gaelic language. It emphasizes Gaelic as the language of the founders of Scotland and of her greatest heroes who defended her when her liberty was threatened by hostile enemies. It implies that the heroic leaders who should now come to her assistance are the Gaelic Societies in London, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. These organizations, and people in their orbit, were actually quite active in the 1780s sponsoring Gaelic events, gathering manuscripts, initiating projects (like compiling Gaelic dictionaries and translating religious texts), and so on. Of course, there are still stalwarts and societies in these places, and still bitter conflicts about Gaelic in Scotland – yet she still lives!

Moladh na Gàidhlig

Beir an t-soraidh seo uam
Do bhaile nam buadh
Fo sgéith Uisge Chluaidh,
Far am faca mi sluagh
Air nach luidheadh a ghruaim;
B’e ’n aoibhneas, ’s bu dual,
Pìob na caismeachd ’s mór fuaim,
’Gan cruinneachadh suas comhladh.
’Gan cruinneachadh, &c.

’S e Glaschu nam bùithean,
A ghabhas an cùinneadh,
Ann ’s am faighear an cùnnradh,
’S gach cleachdadh is ùire,
Thig a-nall às gach lùchairt,
’Ga aiseag le mùirne,
A lìonas gach sùil fheòla.
A lìonas, &c.

Tha iad fìrinneach ceart,
Ann nan inntinn ’s ’nan cleachd’;
Chan eil cùl-chainnt ’nam measg
No droch dhùrachd do neach;
’S mur mùth iad am beachd
Bha iad umhal do reachd Dheòrsa.
Bha iad umhal, &c.

Thoir beannachd uam féin,
Do’n Cheanaideach threun,
Fear ealanta geur;
Thig a’ Ghàidhlig o ’bheul
Mar bha i ’s an Fhéinn;
Ann an ranntachd cha ghéill
E do’n bhard bha ’sa’ Ghréig,
Ris an canadh iad féin ‘Homer’.
Ris an canadh, &c.

Tha ’Ghàidhlig co luachmhor,
’S nach cuir sinn i suarach:
Có nach seasmhadh ri guallainn?
’S i tha ’n comhradh nan uaislean,
’Ga labhairt gun truailleadh,
Feadh gach àit’ anns an gluais iad,
Gu caithreamach, cruaidh, ceòlmhor.
Gu caithreamach &c.

Ged chaidh a sàrach’ ’na triall,
Cha do chaill i a miadh;
Tha i fallain o chian,
Gun ghalar, gun ghiamh,
Buan, faramach, dian,
Gun alladh, gun fhiamh,
Anns gach talamh a dh’iarr eòlas.
Anns gach talamh, &c.

Cha do ghéill i do’n Eubhra,
Do’n Fhraingis no Ghréigis,
Do Laidin no Bheurla,
Nao do chainnt fo no speuran:
Nan tarladh i ’n éiginn,
’S math a ghearradh nam beum i,
’S math a ghearradh, &c.

’S i bh’aig Àdhamh ’s a’ ghàradh;
’S i bh’aig Eubha ’ga thàladh,
Gus ’n do mheall i gu bàs è,
Nuair dh’ith e meas àlainn,
Chaidh a thoirmeasg dha fhàgail
’S e dh’fhag sinn ’nar tràillean;
Ach fhuair sinn ar slànach’, is dòchas.
Ach fhuair, &c.

Nuair a chaidh an saoghal a bhàthadh,
Chaidh a’ Ghàidhlig a thearnadh:
’S i bh’aig Noah ’s an Àirce,
’S aig gach curaidh dh’fhàs uaidh;
Fhuair i ’n t-urram gu cràbhadh,
’S cha mheas’ i gu dànachd:
’S tha i milis a ghabhail òrain.
’S tha i, &c.

’S i bh’aig Treunmor, an toiseach,
A thog cìs o Rìgh Lochlainn;
Aig Fionn is aig Toscar
Aig Cù Chulainn ’s aig Osgar,
’S aig Caoilte nan cos luath,
A’ siubhal aonach, is shlochd, is mhór-bheann.
Siubhal aonach, &c.

’S i bh’aig Conan, ’s aig Diarmad,
Aig Dubhchomar ’s aig Diaran:
Bha i uil’ aig na Fiannaibh,
’N àm togail gu fiadhaich,
No chasgadh an ìotadh
D’ fhuil an naimhdean, ’s an dian thòrachd.
D’ fhuil, &c.

’S ’nan déidh uile bha Oisean
Le deuraibh ’s le osnaidh,
Ag innse a dhochainn,
Gus ’n do dhall air a rosgaibh;
’S e leòn is a lot e,
’S chuir daonnan fuidh sprochd e,
Bhith ’gan dìobhail, ’s e bochd, brònach.
Bhith ’gan dìobhail, &c.

B’i a’ Ghàidhlig chruaidh bhlasta
Bh’aig Coinneach an gaisgeach,
A’ cumail a cheartais,
’S a bualadh nam feachd-fhear
A’ ruagadh ’s a’ sgapadh
Nam Piocach ’bha sgaiteach;
Cha robh h-aon diubh ri fhaicinn,
A ghluaiseadh air faiche.
Dhìol e ’athair, Rìgh Alpin,
’S chan ì ’n luaidh’ a bha aca,
Ach na sleaghanna glasa ’nam feòil.
Ach na sleaghanna, &c.

’S i ’Ghàidhlig gun seachnadh
Bh’aig Uilleam ’s aig Raibeart,
Fhuair an t-urram ’s na feachdaibh
Dhìon Alba, ’s a sheasamh,
’S Rìgh Shasann ga’r creachadh;
Ma leughas sibh ’n eachdraidh,
Gu’n éist sibh ri teachd’reachd mo bheòil
Gu’n éist sibh &c.

Có thairgeadh dhi mì-mhodh,
’S nach cumadh am miadh i?
’S gur i ’Ghàidhlig bha sgrìobhte,
Air na clachanna crìche
Anns gach ionad do’n rìoghachd;
Ged bha i fuidh mhì-ghean,
Tha i nise a’ dìreadh,
’S gum mair i gu dìlinn,
Mar bha i ’s na linnibh o thùs.
Mar bha i, &c.

Guidheam buaidh le luchd furain,
Na mór-uaislean tha ’n Lunainn;
’Ga comhnadh bha ullamh
Nuair bha i fo dhubhar,
Ann an gàbhadh ri cumha:
Ach ’s an tràth seo tha buidheann
Air gach cànan ’s a’ Chruitheachd;
Deas-labhrach gu bruidhinn,
Teas-ghràdhach ’n àm suidhe mu’n chlàr.
Teas-ghràdhach, &c.

Có bheireadh beum dhith
Ann am Baile Dhùn Éideann
Gun dìoladh da réir siud?
’S i cuimeir na h-éididh,
Ann am breacan an fhéilidh,
’S osain ghearr am bròig eutrom,
A dhireadh nan sléibhtean,
’S nan garbh-bheann, nuair dh’éireadh an ceò.
’S nan garbh-bheann, &c.

’S e Glaschu a b’ urrainn,
Gun truailleadh a cumail;
’N sin tha àireamh à Muile,
’S às na bràidheanna lurach,
A fhuair ’s gach àite an t-urram:
Cha bhi ’Ghàidhlig an cunnart,
’S cha bhàsaich i tuille,
’S na h-armuinn ud uile,
Ga h-àrach, ’s ’ga sìor-chumail beò.
Ga h-àrach, &c.

In Praise of Gaelic

Take my greeting to the city of wonders, under the wing of the Clyde, where I have seen the crowd who would show no gloom; it would be their customary pleasure to hear the bagpipes, of the incitement and overwhelming sound, grathering them all together.

It is Glasgow of the many shops, which takes the coinage, in which the bargains are found and every innovation which comes over from courts, transported with excitement, and fills every eye.

They are honest and right, in their minds and in their behaviour; there is no backbiting amongst them, or any ill-wish; and unless they have changed their minds, they have been loyal to George’s law.

Bear my greetings to brave (Duncan) Kennedy, a sharp and talented man; Gaelic comes out of his mouth just as it did from the Fianna; in matters of poetry, he will not yield to the poet of Greece they called ‘Homer’.

Gaelic is so valuable that we will not belittle it; who would not defend it? She is in the conversation of the nobility, spoken unsullied, in every place that they travel, triumphantly, solidly and melodiously.

Although she has been persecuted in her travels, she has not lost her honour; she was healthy in ancient times, without sickness or blemish; long-lasting, sonorous, intense, free of defamation or cowardice in every land where knowledge is sought.

She has not yielded to Hebrew, French, Greek, Latin, English, or any language in existence; if she were to encounter difficulty, she is good at dealing blows.

Gaelic was the language of Adam in the Garden, and of Eve, who enticed him, until her deception caused his morality when he ate the gorgeous fruit; he was commanded to leave (the Garden) and that is what left us as slaves, although we got salvation and hope.

When the world was flooded, Gaelic was saved: Noah in the Ark spoke it, as did every warrior descended from him; she is renowned for devotion, and no less for poetry: she is sweet for the singing of songs.

Treunmhor spoke it, who first took tribute from the King of Lochlann; Fionn, Toscar, Cù Chulainn, Osgar and Caoilte of the swift feet spoke it, travelling moor, dell and great mountain.

Conan, Diarmad, Dubhchomar, Diaran and all of the Fianna spoke it, when it was time for them to go hunting, or to quench their thirst with the blood of their enemies in the hot pursuit.

And coming after all the others there was Ossian, with tears and sighs, relating his sorrow until his eyes were blinded; it pained and wounded him, and kept him constantly dejected, to be lacking them, when he was poorly and sad.

It was vigorous eloquent Gaelic that the hero Kenneth (MacAlpine) spoke, keeping his justice, and striking the warriors, routing and scattering the fierce Picts; there was one left of them left, who could move on the battle-field; he avenged his father, King Alpìn; they had no bullets, but pale spears (thrust) in their flesh.

It was Gaelic that William (Wallace) and Robert (the Bruce) spoke, and they did not shun it; they won honour in the armies that defended Scotland when the King of England was plundering us; if you read history, you will listen to my oral testimony.

Who would abuse her or not uphold her reputation? It is Gaelic (ogham) that was inscribed on the boundary stones of every site in the kingdom; although she was depressed, she is now prevailing so that she will last forever, as she was in ancient times.

I wish the welcoming company victory, the great nobles in London; assisting her expediently when she was disheartened, in danger of being subject of an elegy; but at this time there is an organisation for every tongue in Creation, well-spoken and warmly-disposed at the time to sit down together.

Who in the city of Edinburgh would strike her without being punished in return? She is comely in her apparel, in the belted plaid, with short hose in lightweight shoes for the climbing of hills and rough mountains, when the mist would rise.

It is Glasgow that could keep her unsullied, and then there is a number from Mull and from the bonny braes which have been praised everywhere; Gaelic will not be in danger, and she will never die, while all of those warriors care for her and constantly keep her alive.

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