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.

Fionn and the Post-colonial Fian

Surely the most popular narratives in the Scottish Highlands in the early modern period were the heroic tales and ballads relating to the warrior Fionn mac Cumhail and his band of superheroes, the Fian (variously called An Fhian, An Fhéinn, na Fiantaichean, etc., in Gaelic). There was a huge selection of material, and on any particular occasion, a performer might recite or sing only a small portion of the adventures that related to the “Ossianic cycle” (or “Fenian cycle,” as it is sometimes called).

It is always the case that once a body of narrative becomes intimately known by an audience, it serves as a vehicle for multiple rhetorical purposes. In other words, it can serve not just as an imaginative story about far-away people and places, but as a means of social commentary about the here and now. Think of “Romeo and Juliet,” for example, and how it has been retold and repackaged to comment on youth gangs in California (as in the 1996 film with Leonardo DiCaprio) or 1960s New York (West Side Story). The many, many retellings of the Arthurian legends provide another example of how the well-kent characters and plot structure have enabled skilled storytellers to comment on power and corruption.

The same was true for Gaelic storytellers in Scotland and Ireland. Although folklorists have emphasized the Gaelic penchant for telling texts exactly as they were heard, we have probably not allowed for, looked for, and paid adequate tribute to the creativity of Gaelic storytellers and singers in adapting texts for their audiences and circumstances.

Although there are many variants and episodes in the Ossianic texts that are worth studying in detail, I think that this particular text is strongly indicative of the sense of injustice and oppression that Highlanders experienced in the aftermath of Culloden. And in fact, I’ve argued elsewhere (in Warriors of the Word and in this extensive article on prophecy), elaborating an argument from Iain MacAonghuis, that some of the popularity of Fionn mac Cumhail in the Highlands was due to his role as a savior figure who would restore Gaels to their proper place in the Scottish kingdom.

This particular text, Iain òg Ìle (John Francis Campbell), tells us, is a synthesis from the recital of three different storytellers tapped between the 1860s and 1870s (see Celtic Review vol. 1 (1905), pp. 363-4 for background information; the text itself is in Celtic Review vol. 2 (1906), pp. 255-8).

It’s hard to read this text without thinking of how much the conditions described in the narrative relate to exactly the conditions of the people reciting it as well as those listening: people who had usually been evicted from their original home areas, dumped on the beaches to fend for themselves, often making a wretched living on the seashore, who sometimes resorted to poaching deer and fish for survival (and were afraid of being caught by the landlord’s officers for so doing), who had once been proud defenders of their own land and tradition (and were reminded of their decline in stature by their own Gaelic traditions), who awaited someone to champion their cause.

== Translated Text below ==

At that time – as MacIsaac said in Uist – people were few in Scotland. There were great empty glens with a man in them here and there, not as it is today when men abound in Scotland. There were many deer in these days, and men hunted them.

Fionn knew by his (psychic) knowledge that his father’s men were there and in dire straits. So he set off to seek them. They were on the land of the king of Scandinavia, as it appears; and the king would not feed them any meat. They had oaken skewers in their bellies to keep them out from sticking to their backs, they were so gaunt, and thin, and starved. They had to hunt for the king, but he did not give them enough to eat. They lived in a cave, or, according to others, in a sheiling.

Fionn, with his sword under his arm and the hound Bran at his heels, walked to the dwelling and looked in.

“I will come in and stay,” said he, “unless I am forced out.”

There was no living thing there but the fire. Swords were there leaning against the wall, rusty old swords and spears, and there were beds and benches. As no one was there to hinder him, Fionn leaned his sword, Mac an Luinn, against the wall, and stretched himself on the floor beside the fire, and Bran lay down beside him and went to sleep.

They had not been long thus when Fionn heard a murmur of voices, and trampling and rattling of feet and arms coming towards the dwelling, but he lay long still and pretended to be sleeping. He looked secretly and saw great, wild, tall, stalwart, terrible, strong men coming, unlike the others in the land of giants, who were under enchantments and spells, and who were phantoms. Seven of them came home, and they had a hind with them, which they killed. They flayed the hind and tossed it into the great kettle that was on the fire, and when it was cooked it provided them with only a morsel apiece.

When they had the kettle ready for the fire they noticed the lad and the hound and the sword, and they began to talk.

“Is not that hound the most similar to Bran that ever was in the world?” said one.

“Did ever man see a sword that is more similar to Mac an Luinn?” said another.

“But look at this lad,” said a third, “who is sleeping there: are not these the two eyes and the cheeks and the very face of Cumhal?”

Then they awoke him and asked him to share what they had, even though it was only a morsel for each.

“It is little enough for yourselves,” said Fionn.

“My lad,” said one, “eat your share, we are ever thus since the terrible day.”

“But who are you?” said Fionn. “I never saw men like you for stature and for grand frightful looks.”

One of them sighed, and then another. And then one said, “We have seen the day when we were not ashamed to tell who we are, but you are a stranger, I swear.”

“Yes,” said Fionn, “I never trod on this ground before.” And that was true.

“Did you ever hear of the Fian?” said one.

“Yes,” said Fionn, “I have heard about the Fian from my foster-mother, that they were the grandest men that ever were seen in the world.”

“So we were on a day,” said the warrior. “But that day is gone.”

And then he told how the kings of Scandinavia and Ireland had slain Cumhal by treachery, how they had shared Scotland between them and turned the Fian into slaves and [text missing] for them, all as it has been told already at the beginning.

“But will the Fian ever be better off than you are now?” said the lad.

“Little jewel,” said the warrior, “under the leadership of Fionn son of Cumhal we will be twelve times better than we ever were, for it was said in the prophecies that he will come and recover the land.”

“We shall never see him,” said one.

“Ay! Ay!” said another, and so they sighed and lamented.

They did not know who he was, but he knew them.

And so they talked all night of the ancient glories of the Fian and their sorrows and hardships and their woes, and then they fell asleep about the fire, the old warriors of Cumhal and Fionn son of Cumhal, whom they did not know. In the morning they had nothing but a gulp of venison broth; they had no proper meal, nothing.

He had a venomed claw which had a sheath upon it that he lost in the realm of the giants in fighting the monster, as I have told you already, and there, as they could not make another like the one he had lost, they made a golden sheath for it. There was a golden boot upon the venomed spur of Bran.

Bran always killed more than Fionn. If Fionn killed 600 men or beasts, Bran killed 700, always a hundred more than his master.

When Bran came from the dwelling, Fionn loosed the golden sheath from his foot, and he set him at the herd of heavy stags. When he had gone Fionn followed, and before they stopped he and the great hound had killed nine nines.

Then the old soldiers started talking. One said: “Is not that like Bran?”

“This one is as good as Bran any day,” said another.

“That is not Bran’s colour,” said a third.

“They had the same mother,” said Fionn. “But take up the deer and let us go home. If men come to blame you I will take the blame.”

They took nine great stags, and they feasted so that one of the oaken skewers broke in the belly of each of the old warriors that night. Next day they took nine more home, and so day by day, and nine by nine they brought home the nine nines, and feasted so well that all the oaken skewers broke in their bellies.

As each one ate his meal the splintering was heard of the oaken skewers that they had in their bellies to keep them from their backs.

Alexander Fraser as Ethnographer in Gaelic Ontario

I’ve written several previous blog posts about the accomplished Gaelic Canadian Alasdair Friseal (“Alexander Fraser”) and his engagement in Scottish Gaelic literature and scholarship. In this entry, I’ll be focusing on his activities as an ethnographer/folklorist, doing fieldwork amongst the Gaelic speaking communities of Ontario to collect texts floating in oral tradition and commit them to writing.

Fraser was in an ideal position to do such work, given that he was not only literate in Gaelic but also an editor for a number of newspapers in Toronto. This allowed him to solicit further material, share what he had collected himself, and argue for its value. His enduring contribution was given further status when he became Ontario’s first provincial archivist.

I’m not yet sure when he started to do fieldwork and transcribe texts, but the notes he wrote as secretary of the Gaelic Society of Toronto on 13 February 1888 are suggestive:

[the Society] has helped to draw attention to and to develop some of the best traits of the Highland character; and in no small measure to have awakened an interest in Gaelic matters generally throughout the Province. That this is so many evidences are at hand, of which may be mentioned the number of honorary members from distant parts and the impetus given to Gaelic literature. In this latter respect, outside the work done by the Society, the services of the Toronto Daily Mail may be acknowledged. Under the heading “Gaelic Notes” a column of Gaelic matter has been published weekly for about a year, and as a rule interesting topics have been dealt with.

Fraser expanded greatly upon such textual efforts as editor of The Scottish Canadian newspaper (Toronto), which carried a frequent Gaelic column.

Fraser was a co-founder of Comunn Gàidhlig Chanada (The Gaelic Society of Canada). Notes in his papers (F1015-MU1091 in the provincial archives of Ontario) indicate that plans to form the group (initially called “The Gaelic Federation of Canada”) date from 1896. The second article of the organization’s official Constitution states that

The objects of the Society shall be as follows: … (c) To take steps whereby a knowledge of the Gaelic language, Celtic Antiquities, History, Music and Traditions may be disseminated; and Historical, Literary and Scientific Research in the Celtic field encouraged.

Fraser delivered a talk to the Royal Society of Canada on 20 May 1903 entitled, “The Gaelic Folksongs of Canada.” He mentions some of the fieldwork he had done in the course of this paper and includes a short excerpt of material he had collected:

When the Scottish Gael found a lodgement in Canada, the songs of his race were not forgotten. … Here in Canada, therefore, Gaelic poems and songs were composed in the style of the older minstrelsy. … While known, they [the religious lays of Rev. James MacGregor of Pictou] were not widely used in Upper Canada, at least, I have not been able to trace them much beyond the manse of the Gaelic speaking clergymen of Ontario … But the settlers themselves and their descendants to the present time composed love songs which obtained popular recognition, many of which have seen the light of day on pages of books or periodicals, but many, very many, still remain to be collected and preserved as interesting specimens of the Gaelic muse in Canada. … Quite recently, while on a visit in the county of Bruce, I came across a number of Gaelic songs composed by Mr. J. B. Macdonald, a respected citizen of Tiverton …

Fraser printed an extensive Gaelic article containing a transcription of an autobiographical account of migration from Kilmartin to Ontario in the Scottish Canadian in July 1903. He indicates in the article that he had collected the text the previous month from Seumas MacCaluim in Tiverton (see full text and translation in Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest, pp. 154-61).

Fraser’s papers in the Ontario Archives contains a few other Gaelic texts that he collected in fieldwork, especially his notebook in F1015-MU1089 envelope 2. Much of this was from informants in Glengarry, where Fraser resided at times, although he also has material composed in Ottawa and Toronto in other parts of his archival remains.

Fraser expounded in detail on the need to gather local history and ethnographic information in an address to the Caledonian Society of Montreal on December 5, 1902 (in the booklet The Mission of the Scot in Canada):

The pioneer settlers made history; volumes of it have been lost through the neglect of sons whose fathers deserved better at their hands. … The Scottish societies should lose no time in undertaking a statistical account of every Scottish settlement in Canada, with the experience of those who left us our land as a marvellous legacy, experiences in many cases still reclaimable, but which soon will pass into the limbo of oblivion unless the public spirit and patriotism of the Scot in Canada should come to their speedy rescue.

Amongst other books, Fraser wrote a short Gaelic volume about the life of George Ross (Sir Seòras Uilleam Ros, 1915). Fortunately, a copy sent by Fraser to the Gaelic book collector Hew Morrison was digitized by the National Library of Scotland not long ago and contains a hand-written note by Fraser himself which states:

I enlarge rather on the conditions under wh[ich] the Highland pioneers settled in Canada, in order to put the facts I had collected on record.

Indeed, the book contains copious ethnographic details about the lives of the early Highland settlers in Middlesex County, Ontario, and the material conditions of their lives.

Fraser’s efforts did inspire at least a few others to follow his lead in capturing material from human memory and oral tradition. Hugh McColl’s Sketches of the Early Highland Pioneers of the County of Middlesex (1910) and John C. McMillan’s “The First Settlers in Glengarry” in The Scottish Canadian 8 (1903) were produced under Fraser’s influence, and likely others yet to come to my attention …

A Gaelic Poem on the Massacre of Glencoe

There are few events in the history of the Scottish Highlands more notorious than the Massacre of Glencoe, which happened on this day (February 13) in 1692. Although the incident has been the subject of numerous scholarly studies based on anglophone sources, Gaelic sources have not  received adequate attention. The most significant Gaelic commentaries about the event in the form of song-poetry are Iain Lom’s ‘Nam faighinn mar dh’iarrainn’, Am Bard Mucanach’s ‘Mìle marbhaisg air an t-saoghal’, and ‘’S mi ’am shuidh’ air a’ chnocan’. While the first two of these have been edited and translated, the third has not previously been given a scholarly treatment.

Some years ago I started on an effort to edit, translate and analyse the last poem of the three in collaboration with Dr. Nancy McGuire. That joint project has not been completed; she has further materials and suggestions which we have yet to integrate into a complete text. I offer at present my initial attempt at an edition and translation, without all of the editorial apparatus included and with the caveat that this edition is tentative until further work is completed. My edition is based on variants in the Dornie Manuscripts, the Northern Chronicle newspaper, Records of Argyll, the Mac-Talla newspaper, and the Celtic Monthly.

First, the original Gaelic (each stanza numbered); Second, the translation, Third, a few interpretative comments.

Original Text

1. ’S mi ’am shuidh’ air a’ chnocan
Chaidh mo léirsinn an olcas
Is mi mar aon mhac an trotain air m’ fhàgail.

2. Tha mi coimhead a’ ghlinne
Far am b’ aighearach sinne
Mur bhith mì-rùin na fine ’s an robh an fhàilinn.

3. Rinn na Duibhnich oirnn leadairt
Ar fuil uasal ’ga leagail
’S bha Gleann Lìomhann ’na sheasamh mar cheannard.

4. Ach nam b’ ionnan d’ ur macnas
’S nuair bha mise ’nur taice
Nàile! Rachadh iad dhachaidh ’nan deann-ruith.

5. Bhiodh MacFhilip le ’bhrataich
Air tùs na fine neo-ghealtaich
Ged a fhuair iad an nasgadh le ainneart.

6. A MhicEanraig nam feadan
’S tric a bha mi ’s tu beadradh
Leis a’ mhuinntir a ghreas don taigh-shamhraidh.

7. Clann Iain nan gadhar
Rinn na h-uaislean a thadhal
Gu moch Di-Sathairn’ a’ chuthaich gun chàirdeas.

8. Dh’fhàg sibh marcaich’ an eich uaibhrich
Reubt’ air ruighe nan ruadh-bhoc
Ann an sneachda trom fuar nam beann àrda.

9. Dh’fhàg sibh làraichean dubha
Far am b’ àbhaist duibh suidhe
’N comann luchd an fhuilt bhuidhe chais amlaich.

10. Fhir Bhail’ Fearna nam badan
Bu cheann-fheadhn’ thu air brataich
Is chaidh smùid a chur ri t’ aitreabh ’na smàlaibh.

11. Bha do cho-bhràthair guailte
Deagh fhear Bhaile nam Fuaran
Leam is goirt e, ’s an uair air dhroch càradh.

12. Ach mas deònach le’r Rìgh e
Bidh là eile ’ga dhìol sin
Agus Maighdeanan lìobhte ’cur cheann diubh.

13. Bidh na Tuirc air an dathadh
’S bidh Rìgh Uilleam ’na laighe
’S bidh cùird mhór air an amhaich dhen an-toil.

14. B’ e mo rogha sgeul éibhneis
Moch Di-Luain is mi ’g éirigh
Gun tigeadh Rìgh Seumas ’s na Frangaich.

15. ’S gum biodh iomain ball-fhaiche
Air fir mheallt’ nam balg craicinn
Loisg ar n-arbhar ’s ar n-aitreabh ’s a’ gheamhradh.

English Translation

(1) I sit on the hillock, my eyesight has failed me, as I am left behind like a toddling only son.

(2) I gaze at the glen where we would be merry, if not for the ill-will of the blemished clan.

(3) The Campbells massacred us, our noble blood being shed, as (Campbell of) Glenlyon stood as commander.

(4) If only you prospered as you did when I was with you, they would go homeward in a rush!

(5) MacKillop would have his war-banner in the vanguard of the indomitable clan, even though they were hemmed in by violence.

(6) O Henderson of the (bagpipe) chanters, often did we sport and play with those folk who hastened to the summer abode (i.e., sheiling).

(7) Clan Donald of Glencoe, (owners) of greyhounds, were visited by the nobility until the early Saturday of brutal frenzy.

(8) You left the horseman of the proud spirited chargers gored on the sheilings of the roe-bucks in the cold, heavy snows of the great mountains.

(9) You left charred ruins where you were once seated in the company of the people of flowing, ringleted, blonde hair.

(10) O tacksman of Baile Fhearna of the thickets, you were the war-bannered war-leader, and your abode was burnt to ashes.

(11) Your dear companion, the goodly tacksman of Baile nam Fuaran, was charred (by fire): an ill hour it was that makes me sore.

(12) But if our King grants it, there will be another day to avenge that, when the sharpened Maidens will behead them.

(13) The boars (i.e., Campbells) will be stained (with blood) and King William brought down, and there will be heavy cords around their necks bringing them misery.

(14) It would be my choice of good news, awakening early on Monday morning, that King James and the French would come.

(15) And that the deceiving men of haversacks, who burnt our corn and our homes in the winter, would be driven back (as though playing) a ball-game.

Notes and Interpretation

It may be inferred from the text itself that the author was a native of the area who was away during the massacre, perhaps for an extended period of time, but composed this song-poem upon returning to see the devastation. It is not surprising for a song circulating for this length of time in oral tradition to become detached from reliable information about its authorship and to gravitate towards a poet of great stature with some connection to the narrative or area. It seems to me most likely that this is the work of an otherwise unattested poet.

Some details in this song-poem can be confirmed by other sources. It implies that the massacre was perpetrated early on a Saturday (verse 7), which was indeed the day of the week of 13 February 1692. Houses were burnt by troops, as mentioned in several lines (9a, 10c, 11a). The harsh weather concurrent with the event is also well known and is reflected in the text.

On the other hand, it is curious that notable victims of the massacre – the lairds of Achnacone and Achtriachtan, and poet Raghnall na Sgéithe – are not mentioned at all in the poem. It may be that the poet had a close personal relationship with the two tacksmen named, Fear Bhaile Fearna and Fear Baile nam Fuaran, but few others. I have not been able to locate Baile Fearna or Baile nam Fuaran, and it may be that these are alternative names for nearby villages where murders did occur, perhaps Achnacone and Achtriachtan.

It is noteworthy that, unlike the two other songs about the Massacre, this song is in iorram metre, normally used for the praise of clan élite and the celebration of noteworthy clan events. The poem seems to reflect the antagonistic relationship between Clan Donald and Clan Campbell in a simplified and polarized manner: na Duibhnich (a reference to the founding figure Duibhne) are shedding ‘our’ blood (verse 3); na Tuirc (a reference to Campbell heraldry as well as their association with Diarmaid of the Fenian cycle) will suffer from future vengeance (verse 13). The association of Clan Donald with Jacobitism, on the one hand, and of Clan Campbell with Hanoverian allegiances, on the other, is also implied by these polarities.

In an article about the seventeenth-century Gàidhealtachd, Allan Macinnes has wisely cautioned that the discourse of clan rivalries in Gaelic poetic sources often masks the complexities of national and international politics which formed the actual backdrop and dynamic of contemporary events. Gaelic poetry as a rhetorical system reflects the highly localised, kin-oriented society of which it was a product; it is not surprising that its discursive practices and literary conventions, well established by the seventeenth century and reinforced by poets in that contemporary ‘crucible’ (as Thomson deems it), could not but reframe the expression of complex contemporary historical events in the terms most natural and traditional to it, i.e., inter-clan rivalry and warfare. It may also be the case that Gaels, especially the non-élite, understood events like the Massacre of Glencoe in these terms, or were at least most easily motivated or mobilised if events were explained in such terms.

Nonetheless, cracks in this traditional literary code do appear in the song: although the poem is a bitter indictment of the Campbells, the ‘vengeance’ called for by the MacDonald poet is capital punishment via the ‘Maiden’ (a guillotine) under the supervision of the civil authorities; he wishes that King James VII would return and depose William and hang the guilty party. These are appeals to the mechanisms of law and order, not the perpetuation of clan feuds.

The likening of the rout wished upon the soldiers (characterised by their leather haversacks) to a field-game  played with a ball – most likely camanachd – is an unusual metaphor in Gaelic song-poetry (although it does occur in Iain Lom’s ‘Latha Inbhir Lòchaidh’).

Gaelic Language and Identity in Glengarry, Ontario, 1901

I’m preparing for a talk at the Second World Congress of Scottish Literatures (in June in Vancouver) on the literary and cultural activities of Alasdair Friseal (“Alexander Fraser” in English). He’s an interesting and complicated man (the first archivist of the Province of Ontario, among other things) who left an important but largely unexamined Gaelic legacy.

I’ve already edited and translated several things he wrote in my recent anthology of Canadian-Gaelic literature, Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest, but he wrote and edited much more, such as the address to the first annual meeting of the Clan Donald Society in 1901 printed in the brochure I examine in this blog post. The brochure is titled Cànain agus Cliù ar Sinnsearan and was printed in 1901.

I have translated the text of this address into English from the original Gaelic below and precede each paragraph with a number in square brackets for reference. You can find a digitized scan of the original Gaelic text at this webpage (unfortunately I’ve been told that it is not accessible in every country).

Analysis

One word in the title of this brochure requires some discussion: cliù. Etymologically it refers to what is heard, but in common usage it signifies the reputation that a person acquires through their behavior and actions. It has positive associations, by default, as other terms would be used for infamy, and in particular it often refers to the exemplary precedents set by role models. It is a concept at the centre of the Gaelic literary world, given that the role of the poet was to uphold traditional ideals and those who lived up to them through the composition and performance of texts. I have chosen to translate cliù as “renown,” but it should be clear that it carries a deep communal and historical resonance in Gaelic.

Friseal makes a number of very important points about identity, culture and oral tradition in this address, ones that are entirely consistent with Gaelic perspectives across generations that I have examined in previous articles (such as “Scotland’s Two Solitudes Abroad”) and books (Warriors of the Word for Scotland and Seanchaidh na Coille for Canada), but that contrast with common contemporary beliefs and assumptions.

Gaelic identity, in specific, is Friseal’s concern: he does not conjure any generalized notion of Scottishness; he does not invoke tartans or tartanism or other forms of symbolic ethnicity. While he does refer to the Highlands and the heather (paragraph 3), these provide geographical associations rather than any essentialized tokens or sublimations for ethnic expression. Like many other Gaels before and after him, Friseal states explicitly that language, not ancestry, is at the core of Gaelic identity and he provides evidence of this (also in paragraph 3) in the form of the assimilated population of early Gaelic settlements in Canada as well as an aristocrat who rejected his own Gaelic ancestry.

While it may not be clear in the translation, in the original Gaelic the terms for Gael and Highlander (as ethnonyms), Gaelic and Highland (as adjectives), Gaeldom and the Highlands (as locales and communities) are all the same: it is only the recent alienation of language from culture that has created the distinction.

It’s also interesting to note the difference between this Gaelic cultural stance and the orientation of modern clan associations. Many descendants of the Highland diaspora today who join clan associations experience “Scottishness” through a narrow lens of genealogy or surname affiliation, that is, solely through people sharing the same surname (or supposed septs of the same clan federation). Friseal delivered this talk to the first annual meeting of the Clan Donald Society, yet he downplays any such exclusive focus on the MacDonalds, even to the point of naming and setting aside the great founder figures and warrior-figures of the clan (paragraph 6). He instead states that their common identity as Gaels is the most important issue (paragraph 1) and extols the achievements of the common Gael in the domestication of the landscape (paragraph 6).

Given that language is key to Gaelic identity and culture, Friseal spends the majority of his address exhorting his fellow Gaels to sustain it and to value it. He explicitly names some of the factors working against the transmission of Gaelic (in paragraph 5), such as the stigmatization of the language during cultural conflict with anglophones and the perceived competition between the material rewards available through English and an allegiance to Gaelic based on non-material factors. He peppers his text with lyrics from popular Gaelic songs and makes explicit mention of how oral tradition keeps memory of specific places and historical experiences alive in communal memory (paragraphs 3, 6, 8, 12 and 14).

There is a very notable aspect of visual symbolism in the booklet, and that is the use of “Celtic knotwork” at the beginning and end of the book. This appeared at the same time as a few other Gaelic publications (such as Carmina Gadelica) were drawing on this medieval artistic heritage. It seems to be indicative of the growing “pan-Celtic consciousness” of the era and its appearance is noteworthy in a brochure printed in Gaelic in Canada.

It should be explicitly noted that there are a number of concepts around identity and culture Friseal does not invoke: he never mentions the notion of whiteness, Britishness, or even Scottishness. He never says that he is proud of his clan, nor does he disparage the French or any other ethnic group, or overplay military stereotypes or militancy. He merely underscores the importance of the Gaelic language and culture, its role in expressing and maintaining Gaelic identity, and its perilous condition at the time. These, I will argue, are features of most of his writings in Gaelic and contrast with the discourse of racialism and anglocentric triumphalism that we generally expect in anglophone discourse of the time.

Translation

[Blurb below the portrait of Friseal]

“Reminiscing about the good humour of the old days. Respectfully, I am Alexander Fraser.”

[1] O, great leader, and gentle women and men: I consider it one of the greatest privileges that my compatriots in Canada have ever been bestowed upon me to have received an invitation to be with you here today, at this great spectacular gathering for the Clan Donald Society. I do not have suitable words to express to you the pleasure that it gives me to be with my compatriots here at the first annual meeting of this organization, and to be gazing at the kind visages of the Gaels of Glengarry, people who are famous as true Gaels throughout this country and throughout the Highlands of Scotland. Under the patronage of Clan Donald, this large crowd meets today, and if there is one of the Highland clans that has garnered renown beyond the others in Canada, it is the MacDonalds. But, as the poet said, – “We are all brothers, give me your hand,” – we are here as Gaels, and especially as the Gaels of Glengarry, to be exhorting and encouraging each other, to sustain the customs, traditions and renown of our ancestors – especially their renown.

[2] We have acquired as a people an invaluable heritage from our forefathers – religion, virtue, loyalty, natural beauty, kindness, morality, generosity, and many other assets, and the golden vessel in which those virtues are stored is the pure, melodious tongue of our forefathers. It would be a sad and ugly day for the Gaels if Gaelic were to die :— a dark, sad day on which the most precious gift which we have ever received from our mothers and fathers would be forever lost.

[3] My compatriots — I am before you today with two primary messages — on the one hand, keep alive our mother tongue; on the other hand, keep alive the renown of our ancestors. When Gaelic will die, the glorious crown of the Gael will fall from his head; the emblem of our people will be blotted out from the history of the world; the pine tree will shoot out its branches, and the heather will open its pink-blossomed leaves on the Scottish mountains, as always – they will not change, for they follow the eternal habits of nature; but, alas! The pine tree will no longer be the emblem of the Clan Alpine on that sorrowful day, or the heather the emblem of the Clan Donald, for in the absence of that ancient language that “Adam spoke in Paradise itself,” where would the Gaels be? They would not be able to be found throughout the peoples of the world. Don’t we find evidence of this in our own country? On every side of the great St. Lawrence River, in Quebec City, there are MacDonalds and Frasers, branches of the MacGillivrays, MacIntoshes, MacKenzies, MacLeans, Munros and Rosses, and other people with Highland names; generations of Gaels who came to Canada about 150 years ago. The names are there, but are they Gaels who bear them? Alas, they are not, but people who became French in their language, in their traditions, in their religion and in their hearts. It’s not long since Sir John Ross, a person who was, according to the opinion of many a seanchaidh, the heir of the Earldom of Ross, said that he would rather be a member of the French Parliament in Canada, than to be a great lord among the Gaels of Scotland. Likewise, the thoughts of many men have been corrupted by worldly desires, and there is no escape from this conclusion, that the end of our generation will be likewise, when Gaelic bows its grey, aged, honorable head, and gives its last breath. It will not leave a people who will be called “Gaels” in its wake, since the generations who will follow us will be swallowed up in the fatal, forgetful ocean of the world.

[4] But, must that happen? Is the condition of Gaelic so bad and hopeless as this? It is difficult to answer those questions. If the Gaels would arise, as they should, there would be no doubt about the matter. It is still in their own hands to deliver a solid victory. Are we, the Gaels as a whole, doing would we can do and should do in this matter? It must be admitted, with sadness, with great sadness, that we are not. In many families, very little is done to acquire a knowledge of Gaelic. Isn’t this a shameful thing? Is it any wonder that some of us are pained about this back-sliding? I entreat you to lend an open ear to these words, and to be repentant, before it is too late. I am unfurling the victorious banner of Gaelic open before you today; I am casting its sails open on the wind; I am obliging you, o men and women of Glengarry, – children of the warriors, generation of the renowned people from whom you spring – that you will not rest and that you will not fail, until you carry this banner to enduring, eternal and foundational victory!

[5] Will it be said that it was left to the Gaels of our day to sell our birthright for money? for worldly contentment? for the tainted gold of mercantilism? or that the language was betrayed because of the mockery of the Englishman? Is it a trivial matter for us to be as irresponsible as this? O Gaels! Take careful attention that we do not make ourselves a laughing stock and cause of shame to the generations who come after us. Let us be loyal to our language today, let us teach it to our children, and let us pass it down as we received it, pure and uncorrupted, from our forefathers.

[6] A word or two now about the renown of our ancestors. I don’t intend to speak about Conn of the Hundred Battles, or Colla, or Somerled, or the poets, or the brave warriors who belonged to Clan Donald, at this time. That history is inscribed in the poetry of our land, and will be known for as long as people speak and write Gaelic. But at the heart of this Gaelic county, where I am standing today, I would like to speak about our fathers and mothers who settled in Canada. They were Highland soldiers who won Canada for the British Crown in 1759. Highland claymores protected the country in 1812, and again in 1837, 1866 and in 1884. Our compatriots have not diminished in heroism; they are soldiers, as is their birthright. But as the poet said:

[7] “Alexander the Great was no warrior
Nor Caesar who forced Rome to surrender …
But he is a warrior who earns victory
Over the fear of life and the horror of death,
Who meets with a courageous heart
Everything which is destined.”

[8] Even though the history of our soldiers is renowned, it is very appropriate that we should honor the people who left their homes in the Highlands and who came into the thick, dark forests in Canada, and who opened up this country for the world. We can hardly understand the extent of the toil they undertook, to be clearing the land and laying a foundation for the country that will endure the ages. Circumstances were hard for the majority of them; they have no luxury in their homes, there was no elegance around them. But the hearts in their bodies were courageous, their arms were strong, optimism guided their steps and there was no fear that the heroes would give up. Their labours are clear here today. Observe the fertile, productive fields that encompass us – land as beautiful as any on which the merciful sun of Providence shines warm rays; those are the fields, those are the homes, that your forefathers left to us to possess. Often do you sing the songs of the Old Country; about

[9] “The isle of Mull, the prosperous isle
The sunny isle, which the salt water surrounds.”

[10] And songs about “The green isle of Islay,” “Islay of the grass,” “where the goodly nobles would be.” You have never seen grassy Lochaber, or the Scottish Highlands. That is where I was born, and until the day I die, my love for the land of my birth and ancestors will never diminish.

[11] “I love the Highlands, I love every glen,
Every waterfall and corrie in the land of the mountains.”

[12] Although that is true indeed, I am telling you here, today, that I have never in Scotland or England seen grasslands more beautiful, rich, productive or elegant than the grasslands that your forefathers won from the marshes and the forests, that they left to you. Therefore, keep up their memory in name and in renown. Build a memorial in your hearts for their sake; and let their feats be written down in the history of the country. Follow in their footsteps closely, proclaim that you descended from them and that you are proud of their renown.

[13] These two things. The renown and language of our people. Do not let the day come in which they are rejected.

[14] “I love Gaelic, her poetry and her music,
It has often uplifted us when we were harmed;
It is what we learned in the days of our youth
And what we will never leave until we lie down in the sod.”

A Gaelic Valentine from 1909 L.A.

If there were a Gaelic equivalent to Paul MacCartney’s “Silly Love Songs,” this would be it. Even more remarkably, it was composed in Los Angeles no later than 1909 by Domhnall MacAoidh, apparently an emigrant from one of the Western Isles (though that is as specific as I can currently guess).

This is one of many texts in my files that shows not only the continuity of Gaelic literary tradition and production in North America, but also the ability of Gaelic poets to engage in the contemporary world and issues which concerned them. Although MacAoidh draws upon the literary conventions and allusions available to him in Gaelic literature, he does not shy away from invoking popular music and literature of his own time (Dame Nellie Melba in line 25, Mozart in line 26, Robert Burns in line 31 and Tennyson in line 33).

The title given by the poet is “Gaol is Ceòl,” an allusion to an old Gaelic proverb: “Thig crìoch air an t-saoghal / Ach mairidh gaol is ceòl” (Life may come to an end, but music and love will endure).

The song begins its exploration of the theme of love – its universality and endurance – by reflecting its presence among species of birds. This literary conceit needs to be examined in the light of old Gaelic cosmological ideas, such as that birds originally spoke Gaelic. Indeed, there are many Gaelic sayings attributed to birds, some of them gnomic, and they are represented as paragons of poetic eloquence. MacAoidh is here finding precedence for the human need to express love in the form of song in the bird kingdom.

After spending an exhaustive five stanzas (and chorus) on this idea, he moves towards human poets and literary expression. Although it is somewhat implied that Gaelic poets form part of this lineage (lines 22 and 29), none are actually mentioned. This may be because love was actually a very minor theme in the poetic profession and dismissed by many who held the Classical Gaelic tradition in great regard. Instead, MacAoidh focuses on literary expressions of love in other traditions in an inclusive, multilingual and multicultural manner.

Like the old professional Gaelic poets, one of his final stanzas is offered to God and the connection of love between humanity and the divine. He concludes his piece with his devotion to his homeland, the Scottish Highlands, probably one of the Western Isles (line 43 – this may refer to Lewis “Eilean Fraoich,” although he has used a different and slightly broad connotation). But notice that he has not generalized any attachment to a wider sense of Scotland that would encompass the Lowlands.

It may be surprising to learn about Gaelic poets composing Gaelic songs in Los Angeles in the early 20th century, but there was clearly an audience of fellow Gaels for this kind of work. There was, for example, a Celtic Club in the City of Angels co-founded by a Gaelic speaker (Calum MacLeòid) in 1905. Hopefully other evidence of their literary efforts – even if in the form of “silly love songs” – will eventually emerge.

The Original Gaelic Text

Gaol is Ceòl

Séist
1 Car-son a bhithinn muladach?
No cuime bhithinn brònach?
Is na h-uile eun ’s a’ choill’ a’ seinn
“Mo ghaol!  Mo ghaol!” ’nan òran?

5 Na h-uile eun air sliabh na coill’
Ri seinn an gaoil an comhnaidh;
’S e guth na cuthaig, “Mo rùn! mo rùn!
“Gug-gùg! Gug-gùg! thoirt pòg dhomh!”

Tha ’n uiseag bhinn ’s a’ mhadainn chiùin
10 Ri seinn chluich le sòlas;
Ri seinn cho binn os cionn nan neòil
“Mo ghaol! mo ghaol! Tuig m’ òran!”

Canary seinn ’na eudadan
A ghaoil-shéis bhinn an comhnaidh;
15 An cluinn thu ’m fonn a th’ aig an truis?
Tha gaol ’na ghuth ro bhòidheach.

Tha eòin cho binn ri seinn ’s an oidhch’
Le guth nas binn’ na òrgan;
Ri seinn gu gaolach fad na h-oidhch’
20 ’Nan comhradh leis an comhnaidh.

An cridh’ tha làn de ghaol do chàch
’Se luaidh nam Bàrd ’nan òran;
’Se ’n ceòl as binn’ ’s na nèamhan àrd
’Se ’n ceòl tha ’n guth nan smeòrach.

25 ’Se fonn as binn’ thug Melba dhuinn
’Se ’n ceòl as binn’ thug Mozart;
Tha ’n gaol ’ga sheinn ’na h-uile cainnt
Cho tric ’s tha ruinn an òrain. [ roinn?

Na h-uile bàrd, ’s na h-uile linn
30 Ri seinn an gaoil an comhnaidh;
Chuir Burns ri seinn, le taghadh cainnt
A ghaol do “Highland Mary.”

Cluinn Tennyson! Leugh “Locksley Hall”
Gus an tuig thu gràdh ’na òrain;
35 Ged ghuil e goirt mu Hallam Hall
Cha bhàsaich “In Memoriam.”

’Se ’ghaol thug Crìosd a-nuas o nèamh
’Se gaol th’ an Dia na tròcair’;
’Se ’n gaol bheir buaidh air bàs is uaigh
40 ’Se gaol bheir suas do ghlòir sinn.

Mo bheannachd null gu Tìr nam Beann
Nan gleann, nan creag is nam mór-shruth!
’S gach aon a tha ’s na h-Eilein Fraoich:
Mo ghaol daibh seo le m’ òran!

My English Translation

Love and Music

Chorus: (1-4) Why would we be sorrowful? And about what would we be sad? When every bird in the forest is singing “My love! My love!” in their songs?

(5-8) Every bird on the forest slope is always singing their love; the voice of the cuckoo says, “Coo coo! Coo coo! Give me a kiss!”

(9-12) The melodious lark in the quiet morning is playfully singing with joy; singing sweetly above the clouds, “My love! My love! Heed my song!”

(13-16) A canary sings its tune in its cage constantly; can you hear the melody of their thrush? There is love in its voice which is very beautiful.

(17-20) Musical birds sing in the night with voices as sweet as an organ; singing of love all night long, their conversation is constantly about it.

(21-24) Their hearts are full of love for others, the topic of the poets is in their songs; it is the sweetest music in the heavens; it is the music in the voice of the thrush.

(25-28) It is the sweetest tune that Melba gave to us; it is the sweetest music of Mozart; love is sung in every language, whenever we listen to their songs.

(29-32) Every poet in every age has always sung of their love; Burns added to that singing, with eloquence of his love to “Highland Mary.”

(33-36) Listen to Tennyson! Read “Locksley Hall” so that you may understand love in his songs; although he sorely lamented Hallam Hall, “In Memoriam” will never die.

(37-40) It is love that Christ brought down from heaven, the God of Mercy is love; it is love that will triumph over death and the grave; it is love that will deliver us up to glory.

(41-44) [Take] my blessings over to the Land of the Mountains, the glens, the craigs and the great rivers! And to everyone in the heathery islands: [give] my love to them with my song!

Seanchaidh na Coille: An Abundance of Excellent Material

I was delighted and honoured to receive a review of my latest book, Seanchaidh na Coille / Memory-Keeper of the Forest, from Ruairidh MacIlleathain (aka Roddy Maclean, below) this week which he wrote in his column “Am Peursa” for the newspaper The Inverness Courier (29 January 2016) in Scotland.

Below is his original review in Gaelic (italics), interspersed with my English translation.

Uaireannan tha mi a’ smaoineachadh gur iad na daoine à dùthchannan cèin, gu h-àraidh Ameireaga a Tuath, as soilleire a thuigeas suidheachadh nan Gàidheal bho shealladh ìmpireachdas agus colòiniachd. Leughaibh seo: ‘Gaels in Scotland and Canada can act as allies, partners and collaborators in the necessary tasks of decolonization by disavowing and helping to deconstruct the oppressive ideologies of imperialism that legitimated the conquest and domination of their own homeland and those of other subordinated peoples’. A bheil e na iongnadh dhuibh nach e Gàidheal Albannach a sgrìobh sin?! Saoilidh mi gu bheil sinn cus ro chaomhnach aig amannan a thaobh mar a dh’fhuiling sinn mar shluagh ri linn Ìmpireachd Bhreatainn.

Sometimes I think that it is people from foreign countries, especially North America, who best understand the plight of the Gaels from the perspective of imperialism and colonialism. Take this: “Gaels in Scotland and Canada can act as allies, partners and collaborators in the necessary tasks of decolonization by disavowing and helping to deconstruct the oppressive ideologies of imperialism that legitimated the conquest and domination of their own homeland and those of other subordinated peoples.” Is it any surprise to you that it was not written by a Scottish Gael? I think that at times we far underestimate the oppression we experienced as a people on account of the British Empire.

ʼS e an t-ùghdar an t-Oll. Mìcheal Newton, acadamaigeach Ameireaganach agus sgoilear Gàidhlig a bha uaireigin ag obair aig Oilthigh St F X ann an Alba Nuaidh agus roimhe sin ann an Alba. Mar a tha mòran a tha eòlach air dùthaich far an tàinig sluagh dùthchasach fo bhuaidh Ìmpireachd Bhreatainn, tha e a’ faicinn gu soilleir mar a tha gnothaichean anns a’ chumantas eadar na Gàidheil agus tùsanaich ann an dùthchannan mar Chanada. ʼS dòcha nach eil sin cho follaiseach do Ghàidheil nach robh a’ fuireach ann an dùthaich eile, ach a-mhàin Sasainn no Galltachd na h-Alba.

That is [the writing of] Dr. Michael Newton, American academic and Gaelic scholar, who once worked at St. F. X. University in Nova Scotia and previously in Scotland. As are many who are knowledgeable about a country where a native people came under the influence of the British Empire, he sees clearly the parallels between the Gaels and the indigenous peoples in countries like Canada. That’s probably not so obvious to Gaels who haven’t lived in other lands apart from England and the Scottish Lowlands.

Thàinig an cuot shuas bho leabhar a rinn Newton agus a nochd an-uiridh – ‘Seanchaidh na Coille: The Memory Keeper of the Forest’ – a chaidh fhoillseachadh le Oilthigh Cheap Bhreatainn. ʼS e cruinneachadh a th’ ann de litreachas Gàidhlig à Canada agus tha an t-uabhas de stuth math ann. Agus dhuibhse a th’ air sùil a thoirt air ‘Outlander’, sgrìobh Diana Gabaldon, ùghdar nan leabhraichean sin, ro-ràdh airson an leabhair seo.

The quote above came from a book that Newton wrote which appeared last year – ‘Seanchaidh na Coille: The Memory Keeper of the Forest’– that was published by Cape Breton University. It is an anthology of Gaelic literature from Canada and it has an abundance of excellent material. And for those of you who are watching ‘Outlander,’ Diana Gabaldon, the author of those books, wrote the foreword for this book.

Tha còrr is còig ceud duilleag de theacs ann, agus mholainn gu mòr e do dhuine sam bith aig a bheil ùidh ann an dualchas nan Gàidheal. Tha a’ bhàrdachd agus rosg Gàidhlig a chaidh a sgrìobhadh ann an Canada dìreach iongantach. Tha an litreachas a’ tighinn ris na chaidh a sgrìobhadh anns an t-seann dùthaich, agus a’ cur ris, agus tha tòrr eachdraidh anns an leabhar a tha a’ dearbhadh cho sgapte ʼs a bha ar cànan ann an Canada.

There are more than five hundred pages of text and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in Gaelic heritage. The Gaelic poetry and prose that was composed in Canada is simply amazing. The literature complements that which was written in the old country, and augments it, and the book contains a great deal of history which demonstrates how widely dispersed our language was in Canada.

Ach ʼs e an rud as fhìor thoigh leam mu dheidhinn ‘Seanchaidh na Coille’ am mion-sgrùdadh a tha Newton a’ dèanamh air na Gàidheil mar shluagh. Tha e gar moladh gu mòr airson ar cultair thraidiseanta, ach tha e a’ cuideachd a’ cur a phrosbaig air na h-easbhaidhean againn. ʼS e sgàthan mòr a tha e a’ cur air ar beulaibh agus uaireannan tha e goirt ag amharc ann.

But the thing that I truly love about ‘Seanchaidh na Coille’ is the detailed analysis that Newton gives about the Gaels as a people. He praises us greatly for our traditional culture, but he also examines our deficiencies. It is a giant mirror that he lays before us and sometimes it is painful to look at.

Tha Newton a’ soilleireachadh mar a chuir mòran Ghàidheal an dùthchas prìseil an dàrna taobh nuair a ghluais iad a-steach gu far an robh an cumhachd – ann an saoghal na Beurla. Nuair a bha mi a’ fàs suas, dh’fhàs mi seachd sgìth de bhith a’ cluinntinn mholaidhean air daoine airson cho ‘soirbheachailʼ ʼs a bha iad. Anns a h-uile cùis, cha mhòr, bha cuspair a’ mholaidh air saoghal nan Gàidheal a thrèigsinn agus bha e air a dhol gu àrd-dreuchd ann an saoghal na Beurla. ʼS e aon rud a dh’aidichinn – nach robh mòran àrd-dreuchdan ann an saoghal na Gàidhlig aig an àm sin.

Newton discusses how many Gaels cast aside their cherished culture when they shifted towards the centre of power – in the Anglophone world. When I was growing up, I became sick and tired of hearing the praise of people because of how “successful” they were. In practically every case, the praise was predicated on their ability to leave the Gaelic world behind and rise to great prominence in the Anglophone world. I can only express one reservation – there weren’t many positions of prominence in the Gaelic world at that time.

Bha an aon rud fìor ann an Canada, agus cuid de na Gàidheil a’ taobhadh le Sasannaich is Breatannaich na h-Ìmpireachd an aghaidh nan tùsanach is an aghaidh nam Frangach. Cha robh iad a’ tuigsinn cho dlùth ʼs a tha sinn mar shluagh dùthchasach do na tùsanach no, ma bha, bha iad a’ cur sin an dàrna taobh. Bha an sinnsirean air strì an aghaidh ìmpireachdas ach bha iadsan ga sparradh air feadhainn eile. Bha iad ‘soirbheachail’ ach cò nan teaghlaichean a bhruidhneas a’ Ghàidhlig an-diugh?

The same thing was true in Canada, with some of the Gaels siding with the English and British Imperialists against First Nations and against the French. They did not understand how close we are as an indigenous people to First Nations, or if they did, they cast that aside. Their ancestors struggled against imperialism but they were forcing it on others. They were “successful” but where are the families who speak Gaelic today?

Tha guth na Gàidhlig fhathast beò ann an Canada (air èiginn), ge-tà, agus tha Mìcheal Newton air sealltainn mar a tha dìleab phrìseil aig na gaisgich a chumas beò i air taobh thall a’ chuain.

Gaelic is still alive – just barely –in Canada today, however, and Michael Newton shows how there is a cherished heritage for those warriors who will keep it alive on the other side of the sea.

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Roddy Maclean (Ruairidh MacIlleathain) is an Inverness-based journalist, broadcaster and educator working in the Gaelic language. He has strong family links to Applecross in Wester Ross and the Isle of Lewis. He makes two weekly programmes on BBC Radio nan Gàidheal for adult learners of Gaelic (which have a worldwide internet listenership), runs a variety of training courses that explore the intimate relationship between the Gaelic language and Scotland’s environment and is the author of several booklets on Highland place-names. Roddy is in regular demand as a lecturer on Highland heritage, enjoys telling stories from Gaelic tradition in both Gaelic and English, and is a published author of Gaelic fiction for both adults and children.