- AILEIN DUINN
SONGS IN SCOTS
FLORA McNEIL & OTHERS
FLORA Mc NEIL from Barra in the Outer Hebrides introduces
her own family collection of songs. Other singers include Calum Johnston and
Donald Mc Kinnon and we hear some actuality Work Songs by a group of women from
These are the original recordings of songs #1-24 in FOLKSONGS
OF BRITAIN AND IRELAND, edited by Peter Kennedy (Cassell/ Schirmer 1975/
reprinted in paperback by Oak 1985, distributed by Music Sales). The book, which
won the Library Association McColvin Award for the most outstanding reference
book of 1975, contains the full texts, translations, music notations and background
information on the songs.
1. AILEIN DUINN (Dark-haired Alan) [#1 in FSBI
book] Flora McNEIL (1v/ tune hummed/ verses 1-6 sung) - 2'30"
2. BEINN A'CHEATHAICH (Misty Mountain/ Kismul's Galley)
[#2] Flora tune hummed/ Calum Johnstone (vs 1-3)/ Flora (vs 4-5, 7-9, & 10-11) - 2'24"
3. A BHEAN IADACH (The Jealous Woman) [#3] Flora
(vs 1,4,5,6 & 7) - 1'21"
4. BHEIR MO SHORAIDH THAR GHUNNAIDH (Take my farewell
over Gunna) [#4] Flora (vs 1 & 2/ tune hummed) - 1'16"
5. CAIRISTIONA [#5] Flora (complete: vs 1-14) - 5'36"
6. CAOLAS EADAR MI IS IAIN (Twixt Ian & me's a
stretch of water) [#6] Flora (3 vs & tune hummed) - 1'50"
7. CHAN E CAOIDH MHIC SHIRIDH ('Tis not lamenting
o'er McShiridh) [#7] Flora (3 vs & tune hummed) - 1'26"
8. CHUNNAIC MISE MO LEANNAN (I did see my own true-lover)
[#8] Flora (3 vs & tune hummed) - 1'21"
9. FHIDEAG AIRGID (The Silver Whistle) [#9] Flora
(vs 1-5, 15, 16, 17, 19 & tune hummed) - 2'39"
10 FACA SIBH RAGHAILL NA AILEIN ? (Have you seen Ronald
or Alan?) [#10] Flora (complete & tune hummed) - 1'53"
11. FATH MO MHULAID A BHITH ANN (Being here has caused
my sorrow) [#11] Flora (vs 1, 2, 8 & tune hummed) 1'28"
12. FHIR AN LEADAIN THLATH (Lad of lovely hair)
[#12] Flora (vs 5, 4 & tune hummed) - 2'06"
13. A FHLEASGAICH OIG IS CEANALTA (O, lad, so young
and gentle) [#13] Flora (vs 1, 5, 3 & 6) 2'56"
14. FLIUCH AN OIDCHE (Wet is the night) [#14]
Flora (vs 1-5 & tune hummed)/ 5 women waulking 4'15"
15. GED IS GRIANACH AN LATHA (Although the day it
may be sunny) [#15] Flora (vs 1-3 & tune hummed) - 1'17"
16. A MHIC DHUGHAILL'IC RUAIRIDH (Son of Dougal, son
of Rory) [#16] Flora (vs 1-4 & tune hummed) - 1'49"
17. A MHIC IAIN'IC SHEUMAIS (Son of John, son of James)
[#17] Flora (vs 1-2 & tune hummed) 1'31"
18. MILE MHARBHAISG AIR A'GHAOL (A thousand curses
on love) [#18] Flora (vs 1-3 & tune hummed)/ Barra women waulking last
part of song - 2'37"
19. MO NIGHEAN DONN A CORNAIG (My dark-haired maid
from Cornaig) [#19] Flora (vs 1-2 & tune hummed)/ Barra women waulking
20. HO MO NIGHEAN DONN NAN GOBHAR (O my dark goat-haired
maiden) [#20] Flora (vs 1-2)/ Don McKINNON & company (talk after) -2'41"
21. O CHRAOBH NAN UBHAL (O tree of apples) [#21]
Flora (vs 1-2 & tune hummed) - 1'28"
22. A PHIUTRAG'S A PHIUTHAR (O little sister)
[#22] Flora (vs 1-5 & tune hummed)/ Calum JOHNSTON: talk about song - 3'53"
23. SEAN DUINE CHA GHABH MI IDIR (An old man's not
for me at all) [#23] Flora (vs 1-4 & tune hummed) - 1'02"
24. THUG MI 'N OIDHCHE GED B'FHAD I (I spent the night'though'twas
long) [#24] Flora (vs 1-2 & tune hummed) - 1'15"
Recorded & edited by Peter Kennedy & published
by Folktrax 1975.
FLORA McNEIL was recorded in the studio in Glasgow
in 1968. She was born and brought up in Barra. She learned most of her songs
from her mother but also from her aunt and uncle, Mary and Neil Gillies. They
in turn learnt from their mother, Cairistiona Gillies, a native of Mingulay
who moved to Barra in the late 1880s.
Traditional songs tended to run in families and
I was fortunate that my mother and her family had a great love for the poetry
and the music of the old songs. It was natural for them to sing, whatever they
were doing at the time or whatever mood they were in. My aunt Mary, in particular,
was always ready, at any time I called on her, to drop whatever she was doing,
to discuss a song with me, and perhaps, in this way, long forgotten verses would
be recollected. So I learned a great many songs at an early age without any
As is to be expected on a small island, so many songs
deal with the sea, but, of course, many of them may not originally be Barra
songs. Nevertheless the old songs were preserved more in the southermost islands
of Barra and South Uist possibly because the reformed church tended to discourage
Flora now lives near Glasgow, where her husband,
Alasdair McInnes, is a solicitor. They have five children: Kenneth, Cairistiona,
Seumas, Margaret and Donald. Flora sings only the traditional Gaelic songs and
she always sings them unaccompanied. She gives regular recitals on both radio
and TV and has taken part in the Edinburgh Festival on several occasions. She
has also performed songs from the island of St Kilda at the Royal Festival Hall
Annie (1891- 1972) & Calum (1886 - 1963) JOHNSTON
- both contributed songs to Peter Kennedy's great-aunt, MarjorieKennedy-Fraser,
most of them in SONGS OF THE HEBRIDES vols. 2 and 3. Other books containing
their songs are Colm McLochlainn's DEOCH-SLAINTE NAN GILLEAN (1948), John Lorne
Campbell's GAELIC FOLK SONGS FROM THE ISLE OF BARRA (1950), Francis Collinson's
HEBRIDEAN FOLKSONGS (1960) and BEALOIDEAS (vols 1,4 & 6) which contains
animal anecdotes, bird songs, riddles and two stories. TOCHER (School of Scottish
Studies) #13 1974 devotes the whole of their issue to them. Talking about her
own mother was surely a description of Annie herself :-
She was a hard-working woman - never idle at all - she
worked on the croft - milked the cows and attended them in everything - and
in the evenings she carded and spun and made cloth - Of course working - that
kind of work - they treated as recreation - they took a pleasure in it - especially
the work of the cloth - carding and spinning and all that - they had a pride
in it - the greatest pleasure anybody can get - is to see the completion of
the work - a beautiful piece of cloth or tweed - after it had been made - well
that was their reward for the labour they put into it - "All the cloth the men
wore was made by the women - by their wives and mothers - and even the fishermen
- they always had to get blue cloth - it was so thick that they never wore an
overcoat with it - as no rain would go through it - it was waulked for a whole
night - you know - when cloth is made to be shrunk - what they call waulking
- for ordinary blankets and the like - an hour or so's waulking would be sufficient
- but for fishermen's blue cloth it was a whole night - with songs going all
the time they were shrinking it.
1. AILEIN DUINN - SINCLAIR 1876 p414 - TGSI 36
p91 - AN DEO-GREINE 2 p92 & 13 p170 - Cf JFSS 16 1911 #16 p224 "Shiubhlainn,
shiubhlainn" Skye 1900 - KENNEDY-FRASER 1909 1 p130 "Harris Love Lament"
& Cf 1 p84 & 1925 p106 "Harris Love Lament" - JEFDSS 1943 p149 coll
M Shaw Campbell S Uist 1933 - KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #1.
The singer is lamenting not so much the drowning of
her family-brothers, father and son-as the loss of her husband, her greater
grief. The song is a dramatic one in which the approach is shifted several times.
First the singer enumerates the tragedies which have struck her; then she describes,
very concisely, her husband and by implication their relationship. She moves
her stance to address a seagull, who was likely to have first-hand knowledge
of the disaster, and seeks news of her family from it. The bird can only confirm
the worst, and she ends her lament by considering the position of her dead husband's
body in the sea in terms of life. The song is written in the simple single-line
metre and has no reduplication. It is an extremely well-wrought composition
with unityand artistry in style and content alike. It is one of the very few
Gaelic folksongs which indulges in slight romanticism - in the passage where
the singer addresses the seagull. Gaelic folksong is not given to such flights
as one might imagine from a reading of Kennedy Fraser's Songs of the Hebrides,
and normally imaginative passages of this sort have a very clear practical purpose,
as in these lines from CRAIG: 1949, p48: 'S truagh nach robh mi fad seachdain
( It is a pity I was not for a week) An riochd a'ghebidh no na lachann
(In the shape of a duck or a goose) No na faoileige glaiseadh (Or the
grey seagull) 'S mi gu snhmhainn cuan farsuinn (I would swim a wide ocean)
Go ruiginn an caisteal (Until I reached the castle) 'S gun tugainn
a mach as (And I would take out of it) Mac as oige chlann Lachlainn
(The youngest son of Lachlan's children). Flora MaeNeil learned this lament
from her mother; she told us that Tuesday is still the traditional day for weddings
on the Isle of Barra.
2. BEINN A CHEATAICH - KENNEDY-FRASER 1909 1 p80
"Kismul's Galley" - CAMPBELL-COLLINSON 1969 w: p150 & m: pp335-6 - KENNEDY
FSBI 1975 #2 -- Calum JOHNSTON: FOLKTRAX 191 - Flora McNEIL with talk about
grandmother born on Mingulay: A-ROVING Radio Prog 1968 #2 - CORRIES: FONTANA
STL-5465 1968 - Norman KENNEDY: TOPIC 12-T-178 1968
This is an impressionistic view of clan life. The singer
praises the clan Nill's ship and crew as they sail into Kismul, the centre of
clan activity, where hospitality, a great heroic virtue, abounded in the form
of wine both day and night. The song is remarkable for the enthusiasm it has
for a social system in which the singer, apparently, does not take part except
as a hardworking onlooker (he or she was busy at the sheep when the ship passed).
It must date from a period when the clan system was in full swing and totally
accepted as the status quo - probably early seventeenth century at the very
latest. The tune has a fine rhythm, and it is interesting to compare this version
with the one used for Kismul's Galley by Kennedy Fraser. Flora MacNeil
learned her version from her mother and said that it was often used as a waulking
song in Barra.
3. A BHEAN IADACH - McDONALD 1901 p44 - McFADYEN
1902 - JFSS 10  p205 coll F Tolmie, Skye 1854 "Bhean Mhic A' Mhaoir" -
O'MUIRGHEASA 1915 p380, 451-2 - KENNEDY-FRASER 2 1917 56ff - MORISON 1935 p37
- ANDERSSON 1952 p47 - CERAIG 1949 p1 - SHAW 1955 p254 - McLAGAN Ms (Univ Glasgow)
#110 - CREIGHTON-McLEOD 1964 p158 - AN GAIDHEAL 1871-3 2 p165 - AN DEO-GREINE
1914 10 p10 - AN GAIDHEAL 1926 21 p9/ 1927 22 p88 - GAIRM 4 p328 (Nova Scotia
version from Sydney Post Record - KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #3.
This song is supposed to be composed by a woman in danger
of drowning by being cut off by the rising tide. She appeals to another woman
on the shore to help her, but she refuses, saying that she herself wishes to
sleep with the drowning woman's husband. The drowning woman then goes on to
send her farewell to her young children, and visualizes her family's discovery
of her dead body the next day. The emotions of a wife and mother facing death
are most realistically portrayed. (An excellent version of the events leading
Lip to the situation can be found in SHAW: I955 p254.) The song is not entirely
self-explanatory, and yet the story behind it provides an effective emotional
build-up. Verse used in narrative in this way has a very long history in Gaelic
(very early examples occur in the Tain Bo Cuailnge) and in these early examples
the poetry was generally used to heighten the drama of a situation rather than
simply to narrate events. As recited poetry this particular art form m as used
frequently in the nineteenth century for performances at ceilidhs', and so on.
(See MACFADYEN: 1902 for examples.) Flora MacNeil learned the song from her
mother, and it is widely known in the Western Isles. There. are several published
variants of both words and music, all apparently related despite some marked
differences in character of the various tunes. A version has been recorded as
far afield as Nova Scotia, where a Gaelic-speaking community still pre. serves
songs in the oral tradition. An Irish version is also known, which gives this
song an extraordinary geographical range. The theme, too, can be discerned outside
the Gaelic tradition as it is reminiscent of the Anglo-Scots ballad Binnorie
(The Twa Sisters; Child No.10). The song employs the broken-line metre,
and was used occasionally for waulking. The tune, which uses a wide range of
effective intervals, is well suited to the sad but rather philosophical acceptance
of approaching death.
4. BHEIR MO SHORAIDH THAR GHUNNAIDH - KENNEDY-FRASER
1909 I p119 - GAIRM 4 p239 - KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #4
In a fairly straightforward lament for a lover, the
poet first bids farewell to Mull, where he has heard the cuckoo call. The cuckoo
is perhaps used as an image of death here, as there seems to have been an old
superstition associating its call with death in some areas (see MARTIN: 1934,
PP. 104 and 424); this may well explain the appearance of this verse in an elegy.
Next the narrator moves more directly to his subject, incidentally changing
the end rhyme as he changes his approach, and he visualizes the funeral ship
coming with his sweetheart aboard in her coffin. Carrying the coffin on board
ship seems to have been a fairly common practice (see Cairistiona (No.
5)), and indeed most communications of any nature had to be carried out by sea
in the Western Isles. In the last verse the poet simply states that he regrets
ever having known her, presumably because of the great sorrow her death has
caused him. The fifth version of a song in GAIRM: Vol. IV, P. 239, resembles
the last verse, and the tunes and the general tone of the two songs are very
similar. Flora MacNeil learned her version from Donald MacPherson of Barra who
heard it in Mull.
5. CAIRISTIONA - (Lady Clanranald's Lament) -
KENNEDY FRASER 2 p182 - CRAIG 1949 p87 - GAIRM 1 p45 - CAMPBELL- COLLINSON 1969
p54 & p251-4 - KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #5 -- Flora McNEIL, rec by Alan Lomax, Castlebay,
Barra 1951: COLUMBIA SL-207 1952/ ROUNDER CD-1743 1998/ GAEL FONN GLA-2002/
FOLKWAYS FE-4430/ COLUMBIA KL-4946 - Alasdair FRASER rec 25/7/58: BBC LP 27307.
The maker of this song was Cairistiona's foster-mother,
and it was composed as a lament on her death. In this version first the nobility
of Cairistiona is stressed by mentioning that she spent some time in the King's
court. This did not mean the King of Scotland, but more likely one of the great
clan chiefs like MacDonald or MacLeod. (For this use of the word "righ"
see the Praise Poem to Domhnall Gorm of Sleat in GAIRM: Vol.II p239) Then the
story moves to the funeral ships waiting to carry off Cairistiona so that she
can be placed in the earth, ships which might have carried her to her happy
wedding. At verse ten there are changes in both the approach and the rhyme of
the song and the full significance of the image is perhaps lost in our version.
CRAIG:1949, however, is slightly different, and suggests that some misfortune
befell Cairistiona while she was in Glencoe, and that her foster-mother intends
to fight for justice to be done by her there. The dating of the song depends
very much on the social milieu it represents, and it would thus appear an early
one. The idea of fosterage is an old one, and the CRAIG: 1949 version's suggestion
of justice being sought from MacLeod would certainly point to a period when
the clan system was well established and accepted. The date, on these grounds,
can hardly be later than the seventeenth century, though one would hesitate
to make it much earlier than this because of the symmetry and simplicity of
the refrain (see EIGSE: vol.7, p233), though this may of course be deceptive.
The song, though it may seem quite unsuited to the purpose, has been heard by
Flora MacNeil being used as a w aulking song, and yet it has not suffered from
this use by becoming over-rhythmical. However, she regards this song as a very
sad love lament and as one of the oldest and most effective of all Gaelic songs.
Her eldest daughter has taken the name. It was, she says a particular favourite
of Father John MacMillan: "Whenever I visited him at his home, Tamara, overlooking
one of the most beautiful beaches in Barra, he would ask for this, saying that
there was a sob in the chorus and that was how it should be sung."
6. CAOLAS EADAR MI IS IAIN - CRAIG 1949 p9 - CARMICHAEL
1954 V p44 - KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #6
A simple love song of wishful thinking rather than passion
in which the girl expresses her hope that obstacles between her and her lover
can be removed and that they can soon be together. The direct and with which
she confesses her love is endearing. The wish expressed in verse three to be
with him on t rocky mountain is consistent with the impression conveyed in other
songs that love-making was prefera 'n'w can be seen from the version in CRAIG:
1949 of Fliuch an oidhche (No. 14): Bu thric a laigh mi fo d'earradh/ Ma
tha, chan ann aig a'bhaile/ An lagan uaigneach an cluain a'bharraich/ Do lamh
fo m'cheann t'aodach faram/ 'S mi fo chirb do bhreacain bhallaich/ Gaoth nan
ard bheann draghadh fairis/ Uisge florghlan fuarghlan, fallain/ 0 theang' an
fheidh a ni langan/ Often I lay under your clothes/ If so, it was not in
the village/ But in a lonely dell, in the branchy retreat/ Your hand under my
head, your clothes over me/ As I lay under the edge of your tartan plaid/ As
the wind of the high hills/ Drenched over fresh, clear, cold wholesome water/
From the tongue of the deer which bells. Probably this attitude developed from
the use of natural imagery to give the telling of the love-making more intensity
and power. A possible connection too is that very often the lovers in these
songs were not married and a clandestine affair was much less likely to be discovered
if it was conducted outside. Note, however, that the author of "Seathan Mac
Righ Eireann" (CARMICHAEL: 1954, vol. V, p66) still seems to think it pleasant
to make love outside even if the couple appear to be married. The melody of
the song has an effective wide range, and the rhythm would imply that it has
been used forv waulking though the single-line unit with end rhyme on the last
stressed word has not been utilized and used for redupication. This could have
been done with this song with none of the loss of rhyme which occurs in "Thug
mi 'n oidh" (no. 24). Flora MacNeil said this song is not widely known
in Barra and that she had never heard it outside the island.
7. CHAN E CAOIDH MHIC SHIRIDH -McDONALD 1911 pp172
& 175 - JFSS 16  p202 "Cumha Bhraithrean" coll Tolmie Rosses 1870
- MURRAY 1920 p148 - CRAIG 1949 p48 - Celtic Review IV p247 - CAMPBELL- COLLINSON
1969 w: p120 & m: pp311-3 - Cf KENNEDY-FRASER 1917 vol II p16 - KENNEDY FSBI
The singer starts by defining the source of her grief,
and as a side effect of it she gives a very clear picture of how deep a relationship
there was between her and her dead brother. In verse four she moves to a very
emotive though realistic description of the sea's effect of disintegrating.his
body. Straight from this she moves to her own revulsion from going to make his
bed, which he has left unmade. She finishes by indicating that she keeps looking
out for his ship, thus implying the continuation of emotional hope in the face
of rational despair. The verse phrase has a lovely shape, building up to a climax
at the end of the first line of the couplet and gradually curving downwards,
and the refrain helps to maintain movement and rhythmic variety in the song
as a whole. Flora MacNeil explained that Mac Siridh was a chief of a sept of
the MacKinnon clan. She learned this version from her aunt, Mary Gillies, but
had also heard a Skye version from a friend which has variations in both the
verses and in the chorus, which went: Hu oro hu o ho ro ho hi o hi he Hu
oro hu o
8. CHUNNAIC MISE MO LEANNAN - GILLIES 1786 p245
- TGSI 1878-9 VIII p115/ 1908-10 XXVI p240 - SINCLAIR 1879 p504 - McFARLANE
1908 p8 - McDONALD 1911 p49 - KENNEDY-FRASER 1917 II p22 - CRAIG 1949 p34 -
GAIRM IV pp47-9 - SHAW 1955 p228 - CREIGHTON-McLEOD 1964 p190 - KENNEDY FSBI
A girl, ignored by her lover, begins by describing how
he has passed by her on his noble horse. She pretends indifference to him and
takes refuge from his unfaithfulness in the unfailing reliability of the clan
McDonald, which she praises with obvious pride. This is used as a waulking song,
and several versions of both tune and words have been collected. There were
in fact possibly two different songs at one time which have become confused,
or the text given by Flora MceNeil may only be part of a longer song. Her version,
however, well illustrates the metre based on the couplet with internal rhyme
(verse one, leannan/aithnich). The rhyme between the last stressed word
in every line is maintained, though this is not always the case with songs of
this type. According to this version the date of the song would appear to be
fairly early for the clan system is seen to be still in operation. This is borne
out by the version in CRAIG: 1949, where references to Auldearn and possibly
Inverlochy pinpoint the date to the period of the Montrose wan in the mid-seventeenth
century. The drive of this song lies mainly in the lively well-established rhythmic
pattern and from the rather unusual change in timing in the last line of the
verse which lends a syncopated effect to the whole song. Flora MacNeil learned
her version from her mother but said she had heard it elsewhere with a variety
9. CO SHEINNEAS AN FHIDEAG AIRGID? - KENNEDY-FRASER
I p134 - CRAIG 1949 p35 - Celtic Review I pp147-9 - CAMPBELL/COLLINSON 1969
w: p136 & m: pp325-6 - KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #9 "Co Sheinneas an fhideag airgid?"
with English version -- Flora McNeil of Barra rec by PK 1967: FOLKTRAX 001
- Mrs Kate BUCHANAN & Ch rec by The School of Scottish Studies, Barra: TANGENT
TNGM-111 1972 - Mary O HARA (in Gaelic): DECCA GES-1116 1974/ CELTIC CX-#2 (in
English - unacc) "The Silver Whistle" - Maddy PRIOR & June TABOR (sung
in English): CHRYSALIS CHR-1101 1976 "The Silver Whistle"
This Jacobite song welcomes Prince Charles to Scotland.
Just what the significance of the silver whistle was is not now known, but it
may have been some sort of signal. The exact description of Prince Charles'
ship can be compared to other Praise Poems where the ship is described in equally
enthusiastic terms (as in CRAIG: 1949, p12). This gives the whole poem an elevation
and a feeling of regality which is further sustained by the reference to the
fact that Prince Charles' food was out of the ordinary, and finer than the common
man's fare. The respect shown to the Prince in the song and the anticipation
with which he is expected are consistent with the rather romantic and certainly
tenacious affection which the Highlands in general had for him. The melody is
more wistful than rousing or passionate. The phrases in the second two lines
of the refrain have a soaring effect which offsets the quicker movement of the
verse line. Flora MacNeil told us that on Barra itself you may hear a number
of different versions of this song.
10. FACA SIBH RAGHAILL NA AILEIN? - CAMPBELL-COLLINSON
1969 w: p90 & m: pp284-6 - Cf McMILLAN 1930 II p21 - Cf CRAIG 1949 p114 - KENNEDY
FSBI 1975 -- Flora McNEIL rec by Alan Lomax 14/7/51/ rec Glasgow 21/10/64:
BBC LP 28767/ rec by PK 1967: A- ROVING Radio Prog 1968/ FOLKTRAX 308 with talk
about the song
This is a poem praising a young sailor whose prowess
at sea is extolled in rather exaggerated terms: as long as a single piece of
the ship remains above water, lain will manage to bring her to harbour safely.
It is perhaps worth noting here that ability at sea was no mean virtue in a
place where one's existence could depend on the sea for food, and where the
only form of transport was by ship. Flora MacNeil told us she never heard anyone
except her mother sing this song and that it was always used " a Work Song for
the various repetitive tasks that were required: churning butter, waulking and
also for rowing a boat. 'ne tempo of the song was adapted to suit the particular
11. FATH MO MHULAID A BHITH ANN - KENNEDY-FRASER
1917 2 p225 - McMILLAN 1930 I p13 - McKINNON 1939 p60 - O LOCHLAINN 1948 p11
- An Gaigheal #36 p16 - Celtic Review #9 p248 - Cf KENNEDY-FRASER 1909 #1 p124
This song of exile is obviously written by someone who
misses very much the call of the sea while she is imprisoned in a strange landlocked
glen. She first visualizes the home scene, her brothers coming to meet her to
ferry her across to Barra. Then she describes the call of the sea and realises
that the sun will reach Barra that very night, while she is unable to travel
with it, but must remain among the hills. The song may be regarded as a late
composition, as the earlier songwriters were not exiled as much as later Gaels
and their reaction did not become quite so sentimental as the Glasgow Gael did
during the nineteenth century. Flora McNeil first heard this Exile' Song from
the late Father John MacMillan of Barra who was himself a well-known local bard.
She obtained verses 12-15 from him when she visited him in Glasgow shortly before
he died: "The words were so beautiful that I asked him to recite them to
me from his bed in the nursing home" .
12. FHIR AN LEADAIN THLATH - McKENZIE 1841 p385
& 1907 ed p423 - Celtic Review IV p80 - KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #12
A love song, in which the girl praises and describes
her lover. He has deserted her, although she is pregnant by him, but this does
not prevent her loving him, and, in common with the folk tradition, she bears
him no grudge for leaving her in this position. There is a large body of pregnancy
songs in Gaelic folksong, but this one is perhaps rather different from most
in that it is a much more 'literary' product, with a wide use of descriptive
images. The adjectives, rather more frequent than in most folksongs, are used
as much for their sound value as for their meaning (for example, the first line,
where "dualaich" and "chleachdaich" both mean practically the
same thing). The verse pattern is more in keeping with later folksong, for earlier
forms tend to use either a single-line unit or couplets. Since it has no function
as a labour song, it may be concluded that it probably dates from the nineteenth
century, but it is a considerably better composition than most products of that
period. This late dating tends to be confirmed by the attitude to drink displayed
in verse four, for early songs regard it as a virtue to drink and a true stamp
of nobility and manliness, as these lines show: Tadhlaidh m'eudail Mac'ic
Ailein ort/ Marcraich nan each cruidhtheach scanga/ Poiteir an fhiona air gach
carraig dhiubh/ Chan c na caird ach na gallain/ Togsaidean 1an air an ceannaibh/
'S na dh'o1adh esch phaigheadh Ailein e/ My dear Mac'ic Ailein will visit
you/ The rider of the slender well-shod horses/ The drinker of wine on every
headland/ Not pints, but gallons, full hogsheads upended/ And all that everyone
else would drink/ Ailein would pay for it. The tune of the song, which matches
the words so well, is beautiful in its sweeping simplicity. It demands a wide
range and makes use of interesting intervals. Flora MacNeil said she never heard
the song outside Barra.
13. A FHLEASGAICH OIG IS CEANALTA - MacDONALD:
1911 p222 - GAIRM vol Vii p143
This straightforward love song is popular with Gaelic
singers. The girl praises her young man. He can do no wrong in her eyes, and
even though he has left her, the fault, she implies, lies with "nighean a'ghobha".
The metre is a four line stanza with internal rhyme, as in "fada/ deas",
"Ronach/ bheo", and so on. There is consistent end rhyme berween lines
two and four, as in "tuath/ fuath, ghluasad/suas". This metre was to
become very popular during the nineteenth century, when poets seemed to develop
a remarkable fluency in this art of 'vowel music'. The song probably dates from
the reign of King George III (1740-1820), as indicated in verse four. Flora
MacNeil first heard it from an old man at a 'ceilidh' in Barra. She asked her
mother about it and this is the version her mother sang to her.
14. FLIUCH AN OIDHCHE - McDONALD 1911 p258 - JFSS
16 1911 p211 Tolmie Skye 1870 "Casich a Ruin" - KENNEDY-FRASER 1925 p84 - CRAIG
1949 p36 - SHAW 1955 p208 S Uist - KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #14 - Kitty McLEOD and
group rec by BBC Glasgow 1951: COLUMBIA SL-207 1952/ ROUNDER CD-1743 1998
Women on Barra rec by Alan Lomax 1951. This version of
the song is a song of clan praise, with a description of Clann Nill at sea in
their ships. Other versions (MACDONALD: 1911; CRAIG: 1949) are longer, and contain
several other additional elements. The song was used for waulking and possibly
also for rowing. It has the broken-line metre which many songs of this type
have, as "A Phiuthrag's a Phiuthar" (No. 22). When this is the case the
natural line seems to be broken into two halves by a short chorus, and there
is thus a complete disregard foer the syntactical relationships within the line,
and even the more closely related lines can be interrupted by chorus, as "Brataichean
Dearg is uane" (Banners red and green). It may be that the line was not
originally intended to be sung to this sort of tune and had therefore to be
adapted to it. There are, however, several other examples of this with shorter
lines designed to fit it. Flora McNeil says that this was usually the very first
song that her mother would sing when she was taking part in a "luadh"
or gathering for waulking.
15. GED IS GRIANACH AN LATHA - KENNEDY FSBI 1975
-- Peggy Mc NEIL & group & Joan Mc KENZIE & children rec Greenock, Renfrewsh
4/6/63: BBC LP 29714
The girl in the song is determined to show her love for
her sailor, in spite of the danger that she may be called to account by the
Kirk Session. The emotions ring true and one finds sympathy for one who was
prepared to face the clergy for the sake of a kiss. The metre is interesting.
While the melody only demands a single line pattern, the verse unit should really
be couplets because of the internal rhyme (latha/ m'aighear, chaolais/ ghaol-sa).
There seems to be some disintegration at lines five, six, seven and eight, but
the pattern is re-established after line nine. This may indicate an adaptation
of the words to a tune not originally their own. Here the reverse of the confusion
which has occurred in "Thug mi'n oidhch ged bfhad i" (No. 24) is apparent.
The tune is rather gentle for such bold statements as lines nine onwards, but
it is well suited to the overall character of the song and especially to the
rather wistful atmosphere of the opening lines in which she wishes she could
see her lover's ship approaching. Note that the first 'o' of the refrain is
phrased as the last note of the verse, thus leaving a symmetrical chorus of
the ABA structure. This might appear a rather artificial arrangement, as does
the division of the second and third lines of the chorus where the musical phrase
has no break. Flora MacNeil believed this to be originally a Skye song but said
she never heard anyone sing it except her mother: "The story behind this
song is that of an illicit love affair. The singer is unhappily married and
is watching for the one she really loves for whom she would risk the penalty
16. A MHIC DHUGHAILL 'IC RUAIRIDH - GILLIES 1786
p298 - Cf MURRAY 1920 p146 - KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #16
Preserved in the island of South Uist, this fine narrative
song is of a girl whose lover has been killed. The opening venes are concerned
with the emotional tensions within the girl's own family, whom, apart from her
father, she seems to resent. Next she moves to telling how the youths were roused
by the shepherd early in the morning, presumably either as she was eloping with
her lover or as he was stealing away from visiting her. The youths fire on him,
and he is fatally wounded. Even though the girl drinks his blood in an attempt
to save him, he dies and she wishes she had been far away rather than have been
the cause of his death, for in the last verse she seems to blame herself for
having delayed him. The metre is a common enough one in waulking songs, but
in this case there is no chorus, a fact which speaks strongly against its ever
having been used for waulking. The basis of the metre is the couplet with internal
rhyme, and end rhyme with the last word in every verse. The last couplet in
the first verse forms the first couplet in the next. The date of the song is
difficult to ascertain. The reference to blood-drinking is not helpful here,
as there is an example as late as 1774 (in "Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn
leat", CRAIG: 1949, p107). Probably it is used here as a literary motif,
to give the effect of heightened emotions and stress (see CRAIG: I949 and JFSS:
I915, No. 19, p67).
17. A MHIC IAIN 'IC SHEUMAIS - CRAIG 1949 p2 -
OLIVER-SMITH 1949 - SINCLAIR 1879 p131 - SSS Booklet p29 - JFSS 16  p255
Tolmie N Uist 1879 - McDONALD 1895 p58 App - KENNEDY-FRASER 1921 3 p16 - KENNEDY
FSBI 1975 #17
This song was composed about the son of John, son of
James by his foster-mother (for the story of its composition, see JFSS: 1911
p255ff). She praises his bravery in battle and is passionately involved when
he is wounded. The reference to blood-drinking here is one of the earliest dateable
examples, and it seems more readily accounted for than many of the apparently
later ones, for here the warrior is wounded in battle, and the nurse may simply
be trying to stop the blood pouring from his wounds by sucking them, much as
a dog naturally licks its own wounds to heal them. In "Ailein Duinn o hi
Shiubhlainn Leat" (see CRAIG: 1949, p107 and JEFDSS: 1951 p67), which is
from the eighteenth century, the man has been drowned, and the blood-drinking
motif seems much more unnatural and artificial. It is interesting to note that
the motif also appears in Lowlands Scots in the ballad The Dowie Dens o' Yarrow
(Child, No. 2I4): She kiss'd his cheek, she kaim'd his hair As oft she did before,
0 She drank the red blood frae him ran On the dowie houms o' Yarrow.
The song seems to date from about 1601, the date of the Battle of Carinish in
North Uist, which was fought by the clans MacLeod and MacDonald. Flora McNeil's
version, with its stirring tune used for waulking, has some fine syncopation
in the long chorus. The verse pattern AB, BC, CD, etc., is used, but the unit
is the couplet with internal rhyme, and since a single end rhyme is not maintained
throughout the song, only every second verse (starting with verse one) will
have end-rhyme between lines one and three, though the rhyme in lines two and
four is constant throughout the song. It is worth noting that here we have a
fully developed rhyming couplet which can be dated quite confidently to the
early seventeenth, if not the late sixteenth. This indicates that the couplet
was accepted as a metre in the oral tradition as early as any other metre. Whatever
'literary' influence there may have been on the song, it must be conceded that
it would not be accepted in the Bardic tradition. Obviously the composer was
not trained in the Bardic school of poetry. Not only was the narrator a nurse,
but the fact that she was a woman at all would have debarred her from this honour.
The song does not survive at all in the written word: the earliest version is
in SINCLAIR: 1879, and this was written about 275 years after the composition
of the song. This leads one to question the certainty with which James Ross
(EIGSE: Vol. 7, p237) claims that: The appearance of the fully-fashioned couplet
with aicill rhyming stress must be taken to show literary influence as revealing
that the notion of regular poetic stress common in modern Scottish Gaelic and
Irish poetry came into the oral tradition from the literary, and not vice versa
as is usually thought. Flora MacNeil believed this song to have been made by
the stepmother of the son of John, son of James after he had been killed in
the Battle of Carinish. She heard it from her aunt, Mary Gillies, who told her
that the song came originally from Eriskay, whence came "Son of John, Son
of James". It is sometimes known as "The Eriskay Lament" and sung
as such, but Flora McNeil heard it used as a work song for waulking.
18. MILE MARBHAISG AIR A'GHAOL - McCALLUM 1821
p215 - McDONALD 1911 p266 - CRAIG 1939 p191 - KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #18 -- Flora
McNEIL of Barra, rec Glasgow 21/10/64: BBC LP 28767 - Catherine-Ann MacPHEE:
LIVING TRADITION LTCD-001 1994 (from GREENTRAX CDTRAX-038 1991).
Flora McNeil learned this song from her aunt, Mary Gillies.
It starts on a comment on the effects of love on a girl, who goes on to refuse
to accept either the ground-officer's or the joiner's sons as husbands. She
does this because she prefers the young noble who goes out hunting to any of
them. This disparagement of tradesmen and professional men is fairly common
in Gaelic folksong, and it seems to be that such stay-at-home employments were
rather looked down upon as being unmanly (see CRAIG: 1949 pp15-16 & 28-9). This
is a waulking song with single lines and end-rhymes. The lines are used in pairs,
with the verse pattern AB, BC, CD etc. the tune is extremely lively and very
suitable to the rather light-hearted way in which she casts aside the two youths
as prospective husbands.
19. MO NIGHEAN DONN A CORNAIG - McDONALD 1895
p24 App - KENNEDY-FRASER 1917 2 p140 - CRAIG 1949 p108 - TGSI XXXVII p88 - KENNEDY
FSBI 1975 #19 Flora McNeil - TOCHER 43 (1991) pp62-3 rec from Alasdair MacLeod
by Hamish Henderson -- J C M Campbell: COLUMBIA DB-191 (78)
This song is a lament for a girl who was assaulted and
murdered on the moor only a day or two before her wedding, whilke the rest of
the village was in church. It describes the significant details of the murder,
and in verse five expresses very well the sense of loss and waste of a young
life. A parallel is drawn between the funeral celebrations and the wedding which
she might have celebrated had she lived. Finally the song-maker wishes he could
avenge her death. It is a difficult song to date. The references to "claidheamh"
(sword) and to the "bhreacan" (tartan plaid) as a woman's garment tend
to indicate an earlier milieu, probably late seventeenth or early eighteenth
century. The use of the word "ghun" to describe the woman's dress is
also an indication of lateness, as the very early songs always describe women
as wearing the "cota" or "leine". Although she has only ever heard
this song in Barra, Flora MacNeil wonders whether it may come originally from
the Island of Tirce, where there is a place called Cornaig.
20. HO MO NIGHEAN DONN NAN GOBHAR - McDONALD 1895
p24 App - KENNEDY-FRASER 1917 2 p140 - CRAIG 1949 p108 - TGSI XXXVII p88 - KENNEDY
FSBI 1975 #19 Flora McNeil - TOCHER 43 (1991) pp62-3 rec from Alasdair MacLeod
by Hamish Henderson -- J C M Campbell: COLUMBIA DB-191 (78)
Here is a song of the pastoral love poetry school, in
which the poet describes a girl for whom he has an affection against her natural
background, whether it be tending the goats, as in the refrain, or going to
the dance or to church. The date of the song is probably the eighteenth century,
as the presence of goats suggests. Goats were still common when Dr Johnson visited
the islands in 1775. Yet from the general appearance and style of the song one
might feel justified in placing it at the end of the century. Flora MacNeil
learned this song from her mother when she was a young girl and has not heard
it except at home.
21. CHRAOBH NAN UBHAL - LEODHAIS 1938 p65 - ANDERSSON
1952 p42 - CARMICHAEL 1954 5 p2 7 p6 - CAMPBELL-COLLINSON 1969 w: p144 & M:
pp329-32 -- Cf Ruairidh McKINNON: LINGUAPHONE 1950 "Gaelic FS from Barra"
-- Engl transl: Mary O'HARA (voc/ harp): DECCA GES-1095.
This is a Praise Poem in which the young chief addressed
(probably MacKay of Islay) is eulogised in the image of an apple tree. This
is a very common image in both folk-poetry and bardic poetry, and is a favourite
of Mairi Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh. It is not often that an image in folk poetry
is as extended as this, but the invocation of the natural elements of sun and
moon lend this blessing an additional power. The song appears to be of fairly
early origin, possibly early seventeenth century or even earlier, for its subject
is within the framework of the clan system. It may at one time have been used
as a waulking song, for the rhyme scheme is of this rhythm type, that is, single
with ending rhyme. Note the change in rhyme in verse three which occurs when
a new approach to the subject being made. The tune employed depends for its
appeal on the use made of grace-notes, which would seem to be more an integral
part of the tune than mere decorations. Note that the 'o' at the beginning of
the refrain is used as a link between verse and chorus, so that there is no
real break between them. Flora McNeil said that this must have been one of the
first songs she ever heard as it was one of her mother's particular favourites.
22. A PHIUTHRAG 'S A PHIUTHAR - CRAIG: 1949 p4
- KENNEDY FSBI 1975 #22 p50 notes p62 -- Kitty McLEOD with a group of 8 women
rec by BBC, Glasgow 1951: BBC LP 28767/ COLUMBIA SL-209 1952/ ROUNDER CD-1743
1998 - EMBER FA-2055 1968 titled "Sister's Lament" (also on this LP is
"Lament for Wm Chisholm")
There is a story about this song that it is a girl's
cry for help to her sister after being carried off by the fairies to Heaval,
a hill in Barra (see KENNEDY FRASER: 1909, vol. 1, p38ff). From the text as
given by Flora MacNeil, however, all that can be definitely stated is that the
singer is in some uncomfortable if not dangerous plight, and that she is seeking
the aid, or at least the sympathy, of her sister. It may be a waulking song,
as it conforms to the metrical and vocable pattern of such functional songs,
and a version is given in CRAIG: 1949, though the story there would appear to
be of a very realistic and human murder rather than a vague fairy elopement.
The date of this text is not easy to ascertain, though the description of the
thatchless house, which implies the thatched as being the norm, certainly makes
it no later than the eighteenth century. The version in CRAIG: 1949 would confirm
this, as it refers to writing as being one of the accomplishments of the murdered
shepherdess; this could hardly have been the case at any pointln the seventeenth
century. There is, however, a completely different song beginning with the same
line in CARMICHAEL: I954, vol. V, p56. This appears to fit the same metrical
and vocable pattern, and may in fact be an older song whose words were supplanted
by more modern ones. The music of the song depends very much on the use of grace-notes
which vary to suit the cadences of the words, and tghere is a fluidity of tempo
within a fairly strict rhythmic pattern. Flora McNeil learned the song from
a first cousin of her mother's, Mrs Mary Johnstone, who was born on the uninhabited
land of Mingulay.
23. SEAN DUINE CHA GHABH MI IDIR - KENNEDY FSBI
1975 #23 - Cf SCOTTISH STUDIES 1960 p34 "Bodachan cha phos mi"
This song is humorous at the expense of the failings
that old age brings a man; it is lighthearted and fanciful, with no malicious
intent. It is a waulking song with single lines with end-rhyme. It cannot be
dated with any certainty, but seems unlikely to be any older than the eighteenth
century, as the earlier surviving poetry tends to have a more serious flavour.
The music is well in keeping with the words, for it races along very lightly
and breathlessly, with a strong, but not compulsive, rhythmic pattern. Flora
MacNeil said that this song was often used to accompany the folding of the tweed
at the completion of the waulking. Such songs are known as "Orain Basaidh",
and those taking part would frequently be expected to add a verse or two extempore.
Versions of the song, she added, were sung in many of the other islands besides
24. THUG MI 'N OIDHCHE GED B'FHAD' I - KENNEDY
FSBI 1975 #24 -- LINGUAPHONE 1950 FS from Barra p36
"This song was often sung by my mother and her friends
when a number of them were gathered together and also for the waulking".
Flora MaeNeil. This would appear to be a fragment of a longer song but we have
so far been unable to trace any other versions of it outside Barra. Here again
we have the waulking song rhythm. The metre is interesting in that it is sung
to the verse pattern AB, BC, CD, etc. Yet a close look at the rhymes reveals
that it was not built for this pattern, but for individual fixed couplets. Only
three verses have internal rhyme, while the others have no rhyme at all, as
in: Chaidh an cadal a dhith om 'S mi ri feitheamh nam braithrean (Long
past sleep, 1 went without it As I waited for the brothers). This would indicate
that singers have extended the use of this AB, BC verse pattern beyond songs
adapted, or adaptable, to it, possibly simply to lengthen the song for waulking.