Gaelic Literature of the
Traditional poetry and song: collectors and collections
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MACLEOD, Kenneth (1871-1955)
During his long life the Rev. Kenneth Macleod was in contact with most of the well-known names in the Gaelic literary world, but perhaps he is best known as the Gaelic collaborator of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser). Professor Donald MacKinnon proposed him as collaborator to Mrs. Kennedy-Fraser and from the late spring of 1908 he worked with her on the four volumes of Hebridean song series (see: The Kennedy-Fraser Collection). The nature and results of that collaboration are discussed in Marjory Kennedy-Fraser’s autobiography A Life of Song
(Kennedy-Fraser 1929:144-153), in Ethel Bassin’s The Old Songs of Skye: Frances Tolmie and her Circle (Bassin 1977:127-143) and in the introduction to T. M. Murchison’s edition of the prose works of Kenneth MacLeod
(Murchison 1988: xxxiii-xxxix). On p. 239 of an article in Scottish Gaelic Studies (12:220-265)), Hamish Robertson quotes Kenneth MacLeod’s own statement that his versions of songs were put together with a view to harmonious effect. This accords with the picture which emerges from the first three sources quoted, that the Gaelic lyrics contained in Songs of the Hebrides, apart from those actually listed as Kenneth MacLeod’s own compositions, are the result of a very considerable degree of reworking of traditional materials. They appear
too to be very much subordinate to Mrs. Kennedy-Fraser’s musical arrangements, having what Ethel Bassin describes as a ‘period charm’ (Bassin 1977:143).
Ethel Bassin appears to believe that Kenneth MacLeod was a willing collaborator in Marjory Kennedy-Fraser’s treatment of traditional Gaelic song, a view which would seem to be supported by Hamish Robertson’s quotation of Kenneth MacLeod’s own words mentioned above. However, in a review of The Old Songs of Skye Professor Colm Ó Baoill quotes a letter from the late J. L. Campbell in which he told him that in fact Kenneth was unhappy with what Mrs. Kennedy-Fraser was doing, but was persuaded by Donald MacKinnon that if he did not stay on
someone less suitable might take his place (Scottish Gaelic Studies, 12, Pt. 1:142). However, in his introduction to his edition of the prose works of Kenneth MacLeod the Rev. T. M. Murchison gives extensive quotations from
Kenneth MacLeod’s own comments on the collaboration and these seem to indicate that whatever doubts Kenneth may have had in the beginning, he and Mrs. Kennedy-Fraser were eventually in accord concerning their approach to the work.
Ethel Bassin , when discussing the reworking of ‘A’ Bhean Eudach’, which appears as ‘Sea-Tangle’ in Songs of the Hebrides (Kennedy-Fraser and MacLeod) 1917:55) writes that the motif of the entanglement of hair and seaweed does not occur in the original song and that it is an invention of Kenneth MacLeod’s (Bassin 1977:139-140). Miss Bassin appears to have been unaware of an apparently independent tale with the hair and seaweed motif related by the Rev. Tormod Domhnallach (An Gaidheal Og 7:19-20).
The following is a list of poems and songs collected and edited by the Rev. Kenneth MacLeod which are relevant to this bibliography and which do not appear in the Songs of the Hebrides series.
Carmina Gadelica. Vol. 4. Edited by James Carmichael Watson.
‘A’ bhricein bhallaich’. pp. 366-367.
A poem based upon the legend of a wise, all-knowing troutling. I suspect that it may have been composed by Kenneth MacLeod, rather than having been collected by him. There are five quatrains with a parallel English translation.
An Deò-Gréine, 7 (1911-1912)
‘Brataichean na Feinne’, pp. 93-94.
An Ossianic ballad noted by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser from the singing of Kenneth MacLeod. The text is closely related to that of a ballad, ‘The Flags’, in J. F. Campbell’s Leabhar na Feinne, Vol. 1 (Campbell 1872:74). However, the Leabhar na Feinne version does not have the refrain of the Rev. MacLeod’s version. Kenneth MacLeod’s version of ‘Brataichean na Feinne’ was also published in Orain a’ Mhoid IV (Glasho: MacLabhruinn ‘s a Mhic, n.d., pp. 8-9).
There are thirty-six lines (excluding the refrain) beginning with ‘Arsa Manus, Righ Lochlainn’. The tune is given in tonic sol-fa notation.
Celtic Review, 1 (1904-1905).
‘Oisean an Deigh na Feinne’, pp. 172-174.
A brief prose tale from Eigg which contains a few verse fragments.
Celtic Review, 3 (1906-1907).
i ‘An Tràigh-shìolag’, pp. 332-334.
Kenneth learnt what he describes as this ‘weird dirge’ from an old woman, Catriona Neill Bhàin, when a schoolboy in Eigg. It tells of a ghostly encounter with a woman mourning the loss of her son in a shipwreck. There are thirty-one lines, beginning with ‘Oidhche dhomh ‘s mi ‘san tràigh-shìolag’.
ii ‘Gaisgeach na Sgéithe Deirge’, pp. 257-266, 346-359.
This prose tale is a conflation of an Eigg and a Colonsay version. Among the verse ‘runs’ there are two from Eigg. The first has eight lines, beginning with ‘Sheinneadh e puirt is uirt is cruitean’ (pp. 257-8). The second has four
lines, beginning ‘Is leamsa an long’ (p. 260).
iii ‘Cha robh cleas a dheanadh sgiataiche no sgoitiche’, p. 358.
Nine lines of a verse ‘run’ from an unnamed Eigg tale, with an English translation.
Celtic Review, 4 (1907-1908).
i ‘An Iubhrach Ur’, p. 28.
A song from Trotternish, where it had been used as a waulking song. Twenty-seven lines beginning ‘Thug an iubhrach ùr an cuan oirr’ ‘. The lines are arranged in verses of irregular length which correspond to the thematic
development of the song.
iii ‘Tàladh an Leinibh Hearaich’, p. 166.
A MacLeod of Harris lullaby which Kenneth MacLeod got from his aunt, Janet MacLeod of Skye and Eigg. Thematically, it is similar to ‘Ailein Duinn’ with its lament for three brothers lost at sea. For Kenneth MacLeod’s involvement with ‘Ailein Duinn’, see The Old Songs of Skye (Bassin 1977:132-137). ‘Tàladh an Leinibh Hearaich’ also shows some thematic similarity with a song in the first volume of Hebridean Folksongs (Campbell and Collinson 1969:154-157), as well as sharing the same opening line, ‘ ‘S fhada bhuam a chì mi ‘n ceò’.
ii ‘Nighean Righ Eireann’, pp. 313-315.
A collation of four different versions collected by Kenneth MacLeod in Eigg, Skye, Uist, Lorn and Morvern. There are eighty lines beginning with ‘Chaidh mi shuirghe air nighinn Righ Eireann’, and a recurring refrain, ‘Chailin big, an stiùir thu mi’. It would appear to be related to ‘Cailin ó chois tSiúire mé’, an Irish song, probably of sixteenth century origin, which in a metamorphosed form has become embedded in the Scottish Gaelic tradition (Thomson 1977: 63; Campbell and Collinson 1977: 206-209).
iv ‘Teachd Leòid’, pp. 348-351.
The subject of this heroic ballad is Leod, the thirteenth century eponymous ancestor of the MacLeods. Kenneth MacLeod got it from his aunt, Janet MacLeod. He writes that while it evidently contains various accretions from
sources such as ‘Laoidh an Amadain Mhòir’, most of the original ballad seems to have been lost in the course of transmission.
The language in this version of the ballad is modern Scottish Gaelic, with no obvious archaisms. Whether this indicates editing on Kenneth MacLeod’s part, or a late date of composition is difficult to determine. The omposition
of ‘Ossianic’ verse on a large scale took place in the eighteenth century (Thomson 1977:105).
There are sixteen quatrains, beginning with ‘Latha do ‘n Ridire Leod’.
Celtic Review, 5 (1908-1909).
‘Urnaigh-mhara Shìl-Leòid’, pp. 147-148.
A verse-prayer, described by Kenneth MacLeod as ‘heathenish’, which he learnt from his aunt, Janet MacLeod.
Celtic Review, 7 (1911-1912).
i ‘Duan na h-Aoigheachd’, pp. 50-51.
A rune of hospitality, taken down by Kenneth MacLeod from his aunt, Janet MacLeod. Twelve lines, beginning with ‘Chunnaic mi coigreach an dé’.
ii ‘Duan an Deòiridh’, p. 51.
A pilgrim’s rune, taken down by Kenneth from Finlay MacCormick and Jean MacKay of Eigg. Twenty-seven lines, beginning with ‘A Dhé nan Dùl …’
Gairm, 34 (An Geamhradh 1960).
i ‘Tàladh’, p. 144.
A lullaby learnt by Kenneth from Curstaidh NicCormaig in Eigg in 1889. Three four-line verses, beginning with ‘Caidealan m’ eudail …’, with the tune in staff notation.
ii ‘An Luadh Sìthe’, p. 145.
A vocable refrain and two three-line verses beginning with ‘Buidh’ air an uain’ cuiream’. The tune is given in staff notation.
‘Diùran’. See individual entry for this song.
‘Seathan Mac Rìgh Eireann’. See individual entry for this song.
‘Tàladh Mhic Leòid’. See individual entry for this song.
Annie Arnott An Cabairneach Carmina Gadelica Catriona Dhùghlas Tormod Domhnallach Marjory Kennedy-Fraser Angus Lamont K. N. MacDonald Johan MacInnes Hugh MacKinnon Calum I. MacLean Sorley MacLean Kenneth MacLeod Niall MacLeòid Màiri Nighean Alasdair
© A. Loughran, 2016