Thursday, August 18, 2016

Highland Bards: Rambling Recollections of My Schools and School Days

Article XI written by Alexander Gunn was printed in the Northern Ensign 24 March 1881 – Part C

Dorothy Brown

Dearbhail nie a Bhunthaim (in English, Dorothy Brown) belonged to the island of Leung, in the west of Argyle, between Oban and the Crinan Canal. She was contemporary with Ioin Lom , and, like him, hated the Campbells and loved the Stuarts. Long after her death, one Colin Campbell came and trampled upon her grave, and called down upon her memory the curse of heaven. This was seen by one Duncan McLellan, who pulled Campbell away, and, fetching some whisky, drank “deach slainte” to the injured ghost of the departed poetess.

Kilchatton graveyard, Luing

Killchatton - ruins of a medieval church

Silis or Cicily McDonald

Silis or Cicily McDonald, daughter of McDonald, a member of that part of the clan in Keppoch, flourished in the time of Charles II and on to George I. She married one of the family of Lovat; and her husband brought her to Inverness, which place did not suit her poetic genius. Her happiness was terminated by her husband dying in a fit of intoxication; but this did not prevent her from singing the “marbrann” or death song. It began  -

S’i so bliadhna’s faid a claoidh mi,
Gu’n cheol gu’n aighear gun fhaiolteas;
Mi mar bhat air traigh air sgaoileadh
Gun stiur, gun seol, gun ramh, gun toaman

“Tis a year and a day since I learned to pine
Nor music, nor mirth, nor joy is mine
Like a pilotless boat on a lonely shore
I drift without a rudder, or sail, or oar

Neill MacMhuorich

Neill MacMhuorich, born about the beginning of the 17th century, belonging to the clan Ronald branch of the Macdonald family, and as such had his patrimony in South Uist, under the name of Baele bhaird – “the bard’s farm.” He was the family genealogist, local historian and bard of the clan.

The Red Book of Niall MacMhuirich

The Red Book was composed by Niall MacMhuirich, a member of the MacMhuirich bardic family, who wrote the clan history in the book and was responsible for the collection of some of the manuscripts other poetical material

 Ioin Dubh MacIan MacAilein

Ioin Dubh MacIan MacAilein, Black John, son of John, the son of Allan, belonged to the Clan Ronald family. He was born about 1665 and his head quarters was Gulean, in the parish of Eigg.

Aosdon MacMhathain

Aosdon MacMhathain (the old singer MacMathie) flourished in the 17th century. He lived in Loch Ailsh, in Perthshire, was the family bard of the earls of Seaforth, and had free lands from his lordship in that capacity. He, like many Highland poets, committed nothing to paper, and only two poems remain, which have been imitated by Sit Walter Scott in his “Farewell to Mackenzie,” high chief of Kintail.

Aosdan MacIllean, or Maclean

Aosdan MacIllean, or Maclean, flourished in the same century. He was the bard of Sir Lachlan Maclean, and left only two fragments.

 MacKinnon of Strath

The next is one of the MacKinnons of Strath, in Skye. He was a good musician, as well as a poet. He died in 1734, aged 69 years.

Roderick Morrison

Roderick Morrison (an clairsair dall) the blind harper, was born in Lews in 1646. Lost his eyes through small-pox. He acted as harper in the Highlands, Ireland and Edinburgh. In Edinburgh he became acquainted with John Macleod of Harris, but after his death, Roderick retired to his own native isle, and died at a good old age. 

John Mackay or Iain Dall Mackay 

John Mackay aka Iain Dall Mackay  Piper and poet, was also blind, but his blindness was inherited from his father. He was born in Gairloch in 1666 [1656]. He was sent to the college of pipers in Skye, at the head of which was MacCroimmein. Here he soon outshone the eleven pipers there. One, Patreig Caogach, or Winking Peter, had composed a piece of music, but it was deficient in one of the parts. Mackay put in a proper one, and called it “Lasan Phadraig Chaogaich.” Caogach looked upon this as a piece of impertinence, and attempted to put an end to the poet. He, along with some other pipers, induced Mackay to take a walk with them. They brought him to a precipice 24 feet high, and gave him a push, but he fell upon his feet like a cat, and the place has since been pointed out as “Liam an doell” (the devil’s leap aka The Blind Man’s Leap). After completing his seven years apprenticeship there, he became piper to Mackenzie of Gairloch, and produced pibruchs, strathspeys, reels, jigs, laments, eulogies etc. He died at Gairloch, aged 98.

For a fascinating story about the chanter of Blind John Mackay see link below

Memorial to Iain Dall MacKay near Gairloch
The memorial stands close to a footpath through the woods south of the Abhainn Ghlas. The inscription is in English and Gaelic, and reads (in English) 'Iain Dall MacKay, 1656 - 1754, Blind Piper of Gairloch'.

Detail of memorial

Alexander McDonald of Ardnamurchan

Alexander McDonald of Ardnamurchan (Mac-Master), received a college education and was a fair classical scholar. His father who was a Presbyterian clergyman, a man of great strength, wished him to be educated in the church but Alasdair did not think himself fitted for this. He published in Gaelic vocabulary the first dictionary in Gaelic, which was printed in 1741.  While at college he married, and this destroyed his social position. As he had to do something he became a schoolmaster at Ardnamurchan and besides had the farm at Corri-Mhuilinn opposite the harbour of Tobermoray.  It does not appear that Alasdair shone as a teacher. He joined the army of the Pretender in 1745 and became a soldier. After the battle of Culloden, he and Angus his brother, also a man of great strength, escaped. He lived to a good old age.

The Highlanders talk of Macdonald “vigourous, masculine, and most accomplished” of their poets. They especially laud his large command of the language. He exhibits a love of scenic writings. He wrote a poem concerning suppression of the Highland dress, which he thought of –

He an clo dubh,
He an clo dubh
He an clo dubh
B’fearr leam am breacan

Give me the plaid, the light, the airy
Round my shoulders, under my arms
Rather than English wool the choicest,
To keep my body tight and warm.

Good is the plaid in the day or the night time
High on the Ben, or low in the glen;
No king was he, but a coward, who banned it
Fearing the look of the plaided men.

A coward was he, not a king, who did it,
Banning with statutes the garb of the brave,
But the breast that wears the plaidie,
Ne’er was a home to the heart of a slave

A Native of Badbea

(To be continued)

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