The poet is Alasdair MacGilleMhaoil (Alasdair mac Eóghainn mhic Ghill-Easbuig mhic Domhnaill Duinn). His father belonged to the branch of Lochaber MacMillans known as Clann Iain Léith na Coille; his mother, Eamhair NicGilleMhaoil (Eamhair nighean Gill-Easbuig mhic Eóghainn mhic Dhomhnaill Mhóir) belonged to Suaineart (anglicized “Sunart”).1
Alasdair was born in 1764 in Reisibol, Suaineart but was raised in Lochaber from a young age. In 1802 he left Gleann Cinnidh (anglicized “Glenkingie”) in Lochaber for Gleann Garaidh (Glengarry), Ontario, with many others of the region. He lived at E1/2 of lot 10-8th in Kenyon Township2 until he passed away in
This is one of the longest surviving Scottish Gaelic poems composed in Canada.3 It does not seem to have received any previous scholarly attention. The original text does not indicate which quatrains are in the voice of the goat and which are in the voice of the human (the poet); there are also a few obscure words I have had to guess at (as explained in the notes at the end). I would be glad for any corrections or suggestions.
Rinneadh an t-òran seo a leanas air do’n bhard a bhith àireamh bhliadhnaichean an coilltichean fiadhaich America, gun bhoc no ghobhar fhaicinn no gun mhór-dhùil ri’m faicinn nas mó; gidheadh, thachair dha bhith cho sealbhach is gun d’fhuair e càraid dhiubh a cheannach bho dhuine uasal do Chloinn Domhnaill a fhuair greim air pairt dhiubh, ainneamh is gun robh iad ri fhaotainn an Canada aig an àm sin. Air dha na gobhair a thoirt dhachaigh, rinn e an t-òran.
1 Latha dhomh air thuras
Am Baile Mhuilinn aig Cloinn Domhnaill, Dé b’ ioghnadh leam a chunna mi
Ach boc nan cluigean omair;
5 Chuir mi fàilte ’s furan air
’S gun d’ fhiathaich mi le cuireadh e
’S gun òlainn botal cuide ris
Le sòlas a’s taigh-òsda.
Dh’fharraid mi ’s a’ Ghàidhlig dheth
10 Có ás a thàinig bròinein?
Fhreagair e le gàire mi
“Se sin is cànain dhomh-sa’ – Rugadh mi ’s a’ Ghàidhealtachd
’S na monaidhean am b’ àbhaist duit
15 Bhith siubhal is gunna ’nad làimh agad
’S tu ’g iarraidh fàth air gòraig.”
1 This information appears in the private booklet of poems from which this selection is taken; much of it can also be found in Somerled MacMillan, Bygone Lochaber, 85-7. His patronymic and dates can also be found in Mac-Talla vol. 3 no. 26 p. 8.
2 The location of his home was passed on to me by David Anderson of Williamstown and came from the records of
3 Dr Robert Dunbar has informed me that there are two poems by Am Bard MacGilleathain which are 216 lines long.
“Saoil an tusa a chunna mi [ an duine
Bha fuireach am Beinn Éideann
’S do leannanan ’nan dusanan
20 Am Bruthach nan Clach Éiteag;
’S tric thug thu sgrìob gu h-urranta
Ri Sgurr na Cìch’ is udalan
Mu d’ mhuineal ’s ròp gun trusadh ort
’S cha chuireadh iad geall-réis riut.”
25 “’S mi mac na goibhre luideadaich [ an gobhar
A rugadh an Druim Chòsaidh; B’ eòlach ann an Slat Bheinn mi
’S a’ Sgurr a’ Chlaidheimh còmhla;
’S tric a bha mi spàisdireachd
30 Mu Choire Gorm nan Cathachan
’S bu dùthchas dhomh bho m’ athair
A bhith tathaich am Bràigh Mhórar.
“Cha ruig thu leas bhith ’g innseadh dhomh: Mu d’ shinnsre tha mi eòlach;
35 Is fad bho’n tha còir sgrìobhte ac’ Air gach frìth tha ’n Caledòni;
Bho linn Rìgh Raibeart fhìrinnich
’Chuir iomadh blàr ’s cha strìochdadh e
Do mhuinntir Shasann, dìreach
40 Gus an d’ ìslich e fo ’bhròig iad.”
“A-nise tha mi ’g aithneachadh
Gum bheil thu sean mion-eòlach
’S gur aithne dhut a h-uile àit’ An tuinicheadh mo sheòrsa;
45 Gun teagamh, bidh mi buidheach dhuit
’S thoir fiosrachadh do’n chuideachd air,
’S ged dh’òlamaid am buideal
’S beag is mó oirnn ás ar pòc e.”
“Ma tha thu ag iarraidh fiosrach’ [ an duine
50 Air do chinne, mar a bha iad, Bheir mise dhut a chlisgeadh e Mur dèan a’ mhisg ar tàladh –
Bha cuid dhiubh tàmh ’s a’ Sgicideadh
’S bha pairt am Beinn an Sgreil dhiubh
55 ’M bràigh Chnòideirt bha na ficheadan
’S bu sgiobalt’ iad air fàire.
“Bha móran an Ceann t-Sàile dhiubh
’S gach àite bha mu’n cuairt da;
’S bha cunntas mór gun àireamh dhiubh
60 Air farsa Ghlinne Cuaiche;
Bu chridheil clann a’ gàireachd ann
Gu’n cumail cruinn, ’s na màthraichean
’S bu mhilis gruth is càise ann
Is bainne blàth gun truailleadh.
65 “Bha gleadhraich mhór fo Shaod-Bheum ac’ Bha Gearraich ’s Fraoch-Bheinn làn diubh;
’S bha Gleann Cinnidh saor aca Gun dad a dhaorainn màil orr’; Bhiodh coin is gillean caonnagach
70 ’Gan tional cruinn gu aon àite
’S bhiodh mnàthan òga saoithreachail
’Gam bleodhann taobh nan àthan.
“Bha ’n Coire Buidhe ’s gaol ac’ air
Is dh’fhaodadh iad bhith sealbhach;
75 Bha Coire Réidh ri thaobh aca
Gun aodannan nan Garbh-Chrìoch; Bha uaireigin ’am shaoghal
Bha mi sunndach falbhach aotrom ann
Ag òl am bainne, ’s shaoileadh tu
80 Gum faodainn a bhith làidir.
“Bha còir air Sgurr nan Ad aca
Gu Srath Cheann Locha Mórar
’S bha Eóghan Bàn ’na Chaiptein orra
’S e tacanan ’nan óban;
85 Gleann Ìlidh ’s coire ’n taice ris Bha Gleann a’ Chùil ’s an Stac aca Gleann Taothadail fo fhasgadh dhoibh
’S a ghabhaltas ’nam póca.
“Is chunnaic mi do sheanair
90 Ann am beannaibh Streap a’ Chomhlain; Bha eòlas aige ’n Gobhal Bheinn
’S bha thadhal mu Loch Beòraig;
Bu mhiann leis a bhith ’s t-fhoghar ann
Le buidheann ghorm a thaghadh e
95 D’ an t-seòrsa cheann-ghlas adharcach
’S bu toigh leis bhith ’gam pògadh.
“Bha cairdean dha m’a choinneimh
An Creag Thònachain a chomhnaidh;
’S cha ghluaiseadh iad le gleadhar ás
100 Le gadhar no le comhstrith;
Iad fhéin ’s an àl gu loinneil ann
Bho linn gu linn a’ tadhal ann
’S cha tugadh feachd no faoghaid
Port na Creige dhiubh gu cròdhach.
105 “Bha cairdean daibh a’ tathaich
Am Bràigh Ghlastair ’s Cill Fhionain
’S bu lìonmhor iad le’n daimh-fhiadhaich ann: Breac lachdann ballach stiallach;
Bha cuid diubh donn is tarr-fhionn diubh
110 ’S bha cuid diubh riabhach breac-airneach
’S a’ chuid bhiodh fiadhach, ghlacamaid
’Gam fasdadh air am fiasaig.
“Bu leò Sgurr a’ Ghiubhsachain
’S bu lùthmhor iad ga dhìreadh
115 ’S na fuarain bhrùchdach dlùth dha sin
Le biolair ùr bu mhilse;
Mial-daimh ’na shruthain dhubh-ghorm, Bhiodh daimh is aighean siubhlach ann Is chunna mi le m’ shùilean
120 A bhith rùsgadh dhiubh nam bian ann.
“Bha pairt an Sgurr an Uidheir dhiubh
’S an tuineadh Nead an Fhìrein;
Bha cuid an Coire Ghoc-bheinn dhiubh
Le’n bocaibh ’s le’n cuid misleach;
125 Sròin Dhiamhain air a stòcadh Sròin Chorra Bhuilg bu dòcha leo A’ ruith nam bileag dosach
Bhiodh air sgorraichean nan stìopall.
“B’ aithne dhomh do shìn-seanair
130 ’S cha strìochdadh e Rìgh Deòrsa;
’S gum b’ acfhuinneach a dhìreadh e
Ri filleadh Sgurra Dhomhnaill; Bha Sgurra na h-Inghinn sìnte ris
’S bha Gleann Mhic Phàil mar stìopan da
135 Gleann Dubh Choirean fo chìs aige
’S na mìlltean ann d’a sheòrsa.
“Bha mac am Beanna Beaga dha
’S fear eile ’n Salachan Àrd dhiubh; Is chunna mi, gun teagamh,
140 Bhith ’gan leigeil air a’ Mhanaisreadh,
Maighdeannan is fleasgaichean
’Gan cuallach thun an eadraidh ann;
’S i ’chainnt a b’ fheàrr a fhreagradh iad
’S “hug hug” aca ’gan tàladh.
145 “Bha còir ac’ air na Cearcaill
Agus seachad Saor an Daobhaidh
Sloc Molach ’na choir’ altraim dhaibh
’S e fasgach air gach taobh dhiubh;
’S bu lìonmhor air a’ chreachann
150 Ann am Beinn na h-Uamha pailteas dhiubh; Fear maol ’s an Eilean Daraich dhiubh
’S thug m’ athair ás air thaoid e.
“Bha mac do’n fhear mhaol dhonn sin
Ann an Goir-Bheinn Glas an taobh sin;
155 ’S bha Bruthach Liath gun tiormasg dha
’S dà thaobh an Tairbeirt daonnan; Bha ’chrìochan farsaing falbhanach Car-son nach biodh e mórdhalach?
E siubhal ’s caitean colgar air
160 Mar shuirgheach stoirmeil aotrom.
“Cuid do’n t-seòrsa b’ urramaich
A’ tuineachadh ’s a’ Bhaodlaich
’S bha cuid dhiubh ’n Gleann Galmadail
Ged shearg iad leis na caoirich;
165 Bha pairt am Beinn na Beithrich dhiubh Cha robh Beinn Iaidean falamh dhiubh; Dh’òl mise pairt dhe’m bainne ann
’S dh’ith mi caisein an deagh laosbhuic.
“Bha cuid d’an treud a b’ éibhinne
170 ’M Beinn Reiseabol a’ tàmhachd
’S bha Camus Bhlàthann réidh aca
’S a’ choill gu léir ’na fàsaich; Ach ’s mór a chuir e dh’éis orra
Bhith rùsgadh chrann le’n deudaichean
175 Ri gailleann, nuair bhiodh feum orra,
’S bha ’n lagh ’nan déidh ’s gach àite.
“Cha robh beinn no sléibhte
Nach robh géilleadh dhaibh an Albainn;
’S dh’ainmichinn na ceudan diubh
180 Ach bheir thu céill do m’ sheanchas; Nise bhon a dh’éirich dhuinn
Gun ’thachair sinn ri chéile seo
Bidh mise ’s tusa réidh-sgeulach
Ma théid thu fhéin air falbh leam.
185 “Is mise ’m fear théid comhla riut [ an gobhar
’S a tha ro dheònach falbh leat Bhon chuir thu sìos air òran domh Mar bha mo sheòrs’ an Albainn; Mas ann an cath no’n comhrag e,
190 A Spàinn na streup a sheòlas tu
Cha dealaich mi ri m’ bheò riut
Ach thoir dhomh mo bheòshlaint aimsreil.”
“Mhic na goibhre ’s urramaich
[ an duine
A rugadh ’s an tìr bhòidhich,
Chan ei mi nis gun chuideachda
’S tu cuide rium an comhnaidh;
’S ann dh’fhàs mi aotrom iollagach
Bhon thréig a h-uile mulad mi, Tha spiorad air tigh’nn thugam
200 A bha cuide rium ’am òige.
“Nuair théid mi anns an leaba
’S e ’m boc tarr-fhionn bhios mi feòraich; Gur taitneach leam thu ’n taice rium
Gu carthannach ’gad phògadh;
205 Tha Gréigis agus Làideann
Air am foghlam ann am pailteas leat
’S cha thréiginn air òr Shasann thu
Ged dh’aisigeadh iad dhomh-s’ e.
ENGLISH TRANSLATION (by M Newton)
The following song was made after the poet had spent a number of years in the wild forests of America, without seeing a buck or she-goat and without much hope of seeing them either; however, it happened that he was so lucky as to get a pair of them by buying them from a gentleman of the Clan Donald who got some of them, despite how rare they were at that time in Canada. After he had brought the goats home, he made this song.
1 One day while I was travelling
In Alexandria of the Clan Donald
What surprising thing did I see
But the buck-goat of the amber dangly-bits [dewlap?];
5 I bade him him welcome
And I greeted him with an invitation
That I should drink a bottle with him
Joyfully in the tavern.
I asked him in Gaelic
10 Where did the sad-guy come from?
He answered me with a laugh
“That (Gaelic) is my own language; [ the goat
I was born in Scottish Gaelic world,
In the moors that were customary for you
15 To travel with a gun in your hand
While you were sneaking up on a foolish creature.”
“I wonder if it was you that I saw [ the man
Who was living in Beinn Éideann? You had sweethearts by the dozen
20 On the Bruthach nan Clach Éiteag [“Bank of the White Crystals”]; Often did you boldly take a trip
To Sgurr na Cìch’ with a collar
Around your neck, and a loose rope on you, And they could not beat you in a race.”
25 “I am the son of the ragged goat [ the goat
Who was born in Druim Chòsaidh [“Ridge of Crevices”]; I was well known in Slat Bheinn
As well as in Sgurr a’ Chlaidheimh [“Peak of the Sword”]; Often was I sauntering
30 Around Coire Gorm nan Cathachan [“Green Corrie of the Battles”] From my father it is my inheritance/culture [dùthchas]
To frequent the braes of Mórar.
“You don’t need to explain to me
Your ancestry – I know it;
35 For a long time they have had written charters For every hunting ground that is in Caledonia; Since the era of honest King Robert (the Bruce)
Who fought many a battle, and he would not submit
To the people of England, until the exact moment
40 That he brought them down under his shoe.”
“Now, I recognize
That you are old and have precise knowledge And that you are acquainted with every place That my folk inhabited;
45 Without a doubt, I will be indebted to you – Provide information about them to the company, And even if we drink the bottle
(The cost for it) out of our pocket will be of little consequence.”
“If you seek information [ the man
50 About your relations, as they were, I will give it to you immediately
Unless drunkenness tempts us away – Some of them abode in Sgicideadh And some at Beinn an Sgreil;
55 There were scores in the braes of Knoydart
And they were lively on the skyline.
“There were many of them in Kintail
And everywhere around there;
And there was an innumerable slew of them
60 In the breadth of Glen Quoich;
It was heartening to hear children laughing there Kept together in a group, and their mothers; Curds and cheese were delicious there
And warm milk, unsullied;
65 “They caused a tremendous clangour under Saod-Bheum
Gearraich and Fraoch-Bheinn [“Heather Mountain”] were full of them; They had Gleann Cinnidh free of charge,
Without their rents being raised; Hunting hounds and warrior-lads
70 Would gather together in one place; And young, industrious women Would be milking next to the fords.
“They were in Coire Buidhe [“Yellow Corrie”], and they loved it, And they had the chance to be prosperous;
75 Coire Réidh [“Smooth Corrie”] was next to them, Without the (harsh) edges of the Rough Bounds; There was a time in my life
When I was happy, carefree and footloose there
Drinking their milk, and you would think
80 That I could be strong.
“They had the (land) rights to Sgurr nan Ad [“the Peak of the Hats”] To the strath of the head of Loch Mórar;
And Eóghann Bàn was their leader
While he was for a time in their harbours;
85 They had Gleann Ìlidh and the corrie next to it, Gleann a’ Chùil [“The Back Glen”] and the Stac; Gleann Taothadail was a shelter for them
And they had a land-title in their pocket.
“And I saw your grandfather
90 In the mountains of Streap a’ Chomhlain [“Climbing of the Company”]; He was familiar with Gobhal Bheinn [“Forked Mountain”]
And he travelled around Loch Beòraig; He delighted to be there in the autumn
With a dark-coloured group that he would choose
95 Of the antlered, grey-headed breed, And he loved to kiss them.
“He had relations across from him
Living in Creag Thònachain;
And they would not move out of there from a rude blow,
100 From a hunting hound or from conflict;
They themselves and their offspring were elegant there
From generation to generation frequenting there, And neither war-troop nor hunting party
Could take Port na Creige from them by force.
105 “Their relations were frequenting
Bràigh Ghlastair and Cill Fhionain
And they were plentiful there, with their wild oxen: Speckled, swarthy, striped, streaked;
Some of them were brown, and some white-bellied,
110 And some of them were grizzled and speckle-bellied, And we could capture those that were wild
Seizing them by their beards.
“They owned Sgurr a’ Ghiubhsachain [“Peak of the Pine-wood”] And they were vigorous in climbing it
115 With the gushing springs close to that With the sweetest fresh watercress; Fawns form a shiny dark stream,
There would be nimble stags and hinds
And I saw with my (own) eyes
120 Their hides being stripped from them.
“Some of them were in Sgurr an Uidheir [“Peak of the Sallow One”] In which would be found the eagle’s nest;
Some of them were in Coire Ghoc-bheinn
With their roebucks and their young does;
125 Sròin Dhiamhain was well stocked; They preferred Sròin Chorra Bhuilg Chasing the bushy leaves
That would be on the spurs of the peaks. “I knew your great-grandfather
130 And he would not yield to King George; And he would climb well-equipped
Up the folds of Sgurra Dhomhnaill [“Donald’s Peak”];
Sgurra na h-Inghinn [“The Daughter’s Peak”] was stretched out against it
And Gleann Mhic Phàil was his stipend,
135 Gleann Dubh Choirean was under his command
As thousands of his kin were there.
“He had a son in Beanna Beaga [“Small Mountains”] And another of them in Salachan Àrd;
And I saw without a doubt
140 Them milking [cattle?] at Manaisreadh, Young women and men
Herding them there towards the folds;
The words to which they would best respond
Was their “hug hug” as they were being coaxed.
145 “They had the land-rights up to the Cearcaill
And past Saor an Daobhaidh;
Sloc Molach was their cauldron of sustenance
And a shelter on either side;
They were plentiful on the rocky slope
150 And loads of them on Beinn na h-Uamha [“The Mountain of the Cave”]; A hornless one in Eilean Daraich
Who my father took out without a tether.
“That brown, hornless one had a son
On that side of Goir-Bheinn Glas;
155 And Bruthach Liath [“Grey Bank”] was his without hinderance
And both sides of Tarbert eternally;
His territory was extensive and well-travelled
Why wouldn’t he be pompous
As he travelled, with his rugged fleece
160 Like a stormy, light-footed wooer.
“Some of the most noble of that kin
Were living in Baodlach
And some of them in Gleann Galmadail
Although they have dwindled with the sheep;
165 Part of them were in Beinn na Beithrich [“Mountain of the Beast”] Beinn Iaidean did not lack them;
I drank some of my milk there
And I ate the dewlap of the goodly goat.
“Some of the most joyful flock
170 Were living in Beinn Reiseabol
And they cleared Camus Bhlàthann When the entire forest was a wilderness; But it caused them great annoyance
To be stripping branches with their teeth
175 During a storm, when they needed them (wood), And the law was after them everywhere.
“There was no mountain or moorland In Scotland that did not yield to them; And I could name hundreds of them,
180 But you understand my meaning; Now, since it has happened
That we have encountered each other here
You and I will be reconciled
If you yourself leave with me.
185 “I’m the one who will go with you indeed [ the goat
And who is most willing to accompany you Since you have recorded in a song for me How my kin were in Scotland;
Whether it is in battle or conflict
190 In Spain of the skirmishes to which you sail, I will never part from you all my life
If you only give me my seasonal earnings.”
“O son of the most noble goat [ the man
Who was born in the beautiful land,
195 I am now not without company
So long as you stay with me;
Indeed, I have become light-hearted and frolicsome
Since every sorrow has left me; A mood has come to me
200 That I had in my youth.
“When I go to bed
It is the fair-bellied buck I will be asking for; I enjoy having you next to me,
Kissing you affectionately;
205 Greek and Latin
You have learned in abundance
And I would not abandon you for England’s gold
Even if they carried it over to me.”
The literary convention of creating a dialogue between the human poet and an animal is an old one, and fairly common in Gaelic poetry of the central Highlands, especially as a way of offering social commentary.
The best known example in Scottish Gaelic tradition is a complex, multilayered poem dated to the late sixteenth century commonly called Òran na Comhachaig “The Song of the Owl,” in which an owl recalls the glories of olden days in Lochaber to the poet-hunter. I believe that that poem can be seen as one of the major influences on this one.
There are several dialogue-poems featuring animals from the eighteenth century as well, however. In a poem by Fear Shrath Mhaisidh (of Badenoch), posing as a dialogue between a Highland hunter and a deer, the deer teases the Highlander for having to wear trousers (after the kilt was banned for civilian males in 1746). The poem makes clear political statements about cultural subjugation in several spheres.4
The idyllic pastoral conjured up by the poet of a pre-conquest Gaelic world is certainly a contrast to the broken world which he left. Is the poet using the literary device of putting a critique in the voice of a goat as a way of preventing censure against this critique of anglophone conquest, or is this actually a mock-heroic portrait of an irretrievable past? Is it a mixture of sarcasm and serious commentary?
The hyperbolic praise of the goat’s machismo and the flattery of the goat as lovable bedmate demonstrate that there is a definite tongue-in-cheek element to the poem. Despite this, I think it worth taking the idea seriously that the poet is voicing a critique of the post-Culloden regime in the Highlands and contrasting current conditions with those that prevailed beforehand. If my identification of the voice of the poet and goat are correct, it is the human and not the animal who has detailed memories of the past (who lived where), an inversion of the typical dialogue poem, thus a confirmation of it mock-heroic nature.
It is generally difficult to distinguish the lines meant to depict the human community from those presumably meant to describe the animal life (such as the relations of the buck-goat), and I believe that this ambiguity is deliberate. Therefore, in my following comments, I treat these communities as essentially synonymous unless there is reason otherwise.
From the mid-18th century onwards Highland estates were run by commissions, lawyers and managers who used their power to enrich themselves and divest themselves of their tenantry. This poem reflects the new insecurity over land tenure which enabled landlords and bureaucrats to remove so many inhabitants from their ancestral habitations. There are several references in the poem to inhabitants having the rights to their land (lines 81, 113), enjoying unhindered occupation (lines 155-6), and sometimes even possessing written charters (lines 35-6, 88). The poet also contrasts the present with the times when tenants did not have to pay rack-rents (line 68) and could not be removed from land by force (lines 99-104). On the other hand, he mentions the negative consequences of the introduction of sheep (line 164).
There is, further, a strong emphasis on the long-term occupation of land and sense of attachment to it, reflected, for example, in the term dùthchas (line 31) and the intimate knowledge of territory and inhabitants that people had (lines 41-44). Like Òran na Comhachaig (and many other Gaelic texts), this poem delights in enumerating the names of locations where people lived and some of the associations of those locales, displaying a very strong sense of place. The inhabitants’ claim of possession is also implied by their clearing the area of woods for agriculture (lines 171-2), a process paralleled by European settlers in the Americas during the poet’s own time.
4 Paruig Mac an Tuairneir, Comhchruinneacha de dh’Òrain Taghta, 332-4.
The inhabitants are portrayed as vigorous and healthy from their right relationship to land (e.g., lines 56,
61-4, 69-72, 74, 76-80, 101, 114, 147, 167-8), and, like Òran na Comhachaig (and many other Gaelic texts), well-being, self-reliance and individual freedom is expressed by depictions of hunting scenes (lines 14-16, 69,
There must be a reason why these particular place names are mentioned which is hard to recover today. I suspect that these may be townships that where evictions took place and/or where the author had relations. Some of the place names are significant in their conjuring an heroic and sovereign past (such as lines 28,
30). The emblem of the MacDonalds was the heather, which is part of the place name of Fraoch-Bheinn (line 65). The poet mentions the area where he was raised near the beginning of the poem (line 67) and the piece culminates with the area where he was born (line 171).
It is also noteworthy, regarding perceptions of cultural subjugation, that the poem reflects a strong sense of Scottish nationhood, as when King Robert the Bruce is praised for unyielding resistance to English domination (lines 37-40) as well as when allegiance to the Jacobite cause is applauded (line 130). Although the mention of “Caledonia” (line 36) suggests the influence of contemporary anglophone literature, Robert the Bruce is the best attested Scottish king in Gaelic oral tradition and his appearance in this piece is not out of the ordinary.
Finally, poet makes some interesting comments on the importance of oral tradition in preserving communal memory: first, in the request to have the knowledge about the associations between people and place recounted (lines 41-8), second, in the thankfulness that these associations were encoded in song form (lines 177-8). In fact, the bond that forms between the poet and the goat (who promises to accompany the poet in his future adventures) is very reminiscent of the relationship between patron and poet (or that of the leader of the war-band and member of his retinue), except that the roles have been reserved: here it is the poet who is going off for adventures, and the warrior (presumably the role of the goat) who will accompany him. And it is the ridiculousness of the idea a goat excited about serving as a warrior that returns us, Quixotic-like (is it just a coincidence that all of the “action” happens in Spain?), to the mock-heroic aspect of the poem, reminding us that the Heroic Age of Gaeldom is now actually over, despite its vibrancy in literature.
This poem, then, is an important testimony to both the continuities of Gaelic tradition – transplanted from the Scottish Highlands to numerous communities in North America, including Glengarry, Ontario – and the discontinuities, as Gaels were forced to reconcile the heroism of their past as a proud, independent people with the broken world in which they found themselves.
Line 2: Alexandria, Ontario, was originally called in Gaelic Muileann an t-Sagairt, for the mill built there by
Bishop Alexander Macdonell. This must be the place referred to.
Line 76: Garbh-Chrìochan “Rough-bounds” was the term commonly used in Gaelic for the geographical Highlands of Scotland into the nineteenth century. However, it was also used in a more restrictive sense for the western parts of Inverness-shire of Knoydart, Morar, Arisaig and Moidart.
Line 83: Eóghann Bàn is not an uncommon name in Lochaber, and there are several possible candidates for who is intended. Probably the strongest candidate is Eóghann Bàn Chalpa, who died in 1840 at Callart. He had been the foster-brother of John Cameron of Fassiefern (1771–1815), colonel of the Gordon Highlanders.5
Line 107: The original text (which is hard to read) seems to be “dabhaidh.” In the copy that I have, a hand has crossed out that word and written “daithaidh.” The best match that I can make with this is “daimh- fhiadhaich” (wild oxen).
Line 110: The original text has “breacairneach,” a form with which I am not familiar, but seems to be a compound of breac and àirne(ach).
Line 117: The original text has “Meall-daimh.” I have not found this word elsewhere, but it looks to me like “meall” is a mistake for either mial or mìol, both compounded with animal names, sometimes with the connotation of something small, or even a parasite.
Lines 173-4: There were increasing conflicts over woodland resources in the post-Culloden era, and many trees died after having the bark stripped from them.6
Duwe, Kurt. “Gàidhlig (Scottish Gaelic) Local Studies: Vol. 01: Àird nam Murchan & Loch Abar an Iar.”
2nd edition, 2005. Online at: http://www.linguae-celticae.org/GLS_english.htm
Mac an Tuairneir, Paruig, ed. Comhchruinneacha do dh’Òrain Taghta Ghàidhealach. Edinburgh: T. Stiubhard,
MacIlleMhaoil, Alasdair. Òrain le Alasdair MacIlleMhaoil an Gleann a Garaidh, an Canada Ard. Inverness: The
Highlander Office, 1882.
MacMillan, Somerled. Bygone Lochaber: Historical and Traditional. Glasgow: Davidson & sons, 1971.
McLean, Marianne. The People of Glengarry: Highlanders in Transition, 1745-1820. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1991.
Menzie, Pat, ed. Òran na Comhachaig. Edinburgh: Scottish Gaelic Texts Society, 2012.
Smout, T. C., Alan MacDonald and Fiona Watson. A History of the Native Woodlands of Scotland, 1500-1920.
Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2005.
Geographical and Linguistic Background:
The map below shows the “Rough Bounds” and some of the area around it. Gleann Cinnidh
(“Glenkingie”) is south of Loch Cuaich (“Loch Quoich”) and very close to Gleann Garaidh (“Glen Garry”).
5 Somerled MacMillan, Bygone Lochaber, 87.
6 Marianne McLean, The People of Glengarry, 55-6; T. C. Smout, et al, A History.
The solidly Gaelic character of the area, and the results of attacks on the Gaelic language and culture (especially after the 1872 Education Act), is represented in the chart below of the percentage of the population who spoke Gaelic when the census was taken (Duwe 2005: 6).
Aird nam Murchan Loch Abar an Iar
The map below shows Alexandria in Ontario. Note the placement of the Gaelic settlements (roughly the blue area) in relation to the United States and Francophone Canada.