Gaelic Literature of the Isle of Skye: an annotated  bibliography   

 

Traditional poetry and song:  collectors and collections

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MacDONALD, Keith Norman (1835-1913)

 

Keith Norman MacDonald was the son of Lieutenant Charles MacDonald of Ord, Skye and his wife Ann, daughter of Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto, Skye.  Keith Norman was a physician by profession and worked in India before returning to practice for several years in Bath and Fifeshire.  He was also for a time resident physician in the Gesto Hospital at Edinbane in Skye.  As his obituary in the Celtic Annual 1914: 68) shows, he was a prolific writer on medical subjects.

 

It is against this background of a busy professional life that his achievements in Gaelic music and song should be judged.  He was a passionate defender of James MacPherson’s Ossian (MacDonald 1906), but it is with his work as a collector of Gaelic music and song that we are here concerned.  Ethel Bassin has written of him in her book The Old Songs of Skye (Bassin 1977), and even though she admits that he had a genuine regard for older tunes (p. 80), her judgement of him as a collector and editor is on the whole a harsh and, I believe, rather unfair one.  Admittedly he was not the most skilful of editors, and his methods were frequently haphazard, but at least he did not interfere with his material in the manner of some other editors of his day, and indeed Miss Bassin admits as much (p. 127).  Viewed as an enthusiastic amateur who managed to do a great deal of work for Gaelic music and song in spite of the demands of a busy professional life, his achievements are considerable, and but for him much material has been preserved which would otherwise have been lost.

 

The evidence, as far as his published collections are concerned, would seem to indicate that in spite of having been a Skyeman he cannot be regarded as having been principally a collector of Skye music and song: he was rather a collector of Highland music and song in general.  Of the four hundred tunes in the Gesto Collection, only a little over eighty have any evidence of a Skye origin, and the greater part of these are in the appendices.  Of some one hundred and forty-two songs in Puirt-a-Beul, just under one third may have been of Skye origin.  Where Dr. MacDonald does not ascribe a particular item to any individual or place, I make where possible tentative ascriptions, frequently upon the slenderest of evidence, when I believe that there is some indication of a Skye provenance.  In the case of the Gesto Collection I list only those items to which Dr. MacDonald has not ascribed a Skye origin, but which I believe may have had one.  Material which he has indicated as having a Skye origin is listed on an individual basis elsewhere in this bibliography.  As much of the material in Puirt-a-Beul is textually slight, I list together all of its contents with a possible Skye origin, both ascribed and unascribed by Dr. MacDonald, rather than follow the method which I have outlined for the Gesto Collection.

 

I do not include here individual entries for either the Skye Collection of Reels and Strathspeys (MacDonald 1887), or MacDonald Bards from Mediaeval Times (MacDonald 1900).  The Skye Collection is a collection of tunes only and MacDonald Bards is a series of biographical articles illustrated by poetry, rather than a collection of poetry.  The latter does however include some material not to be found elsewhere in print and relevant items are listed on an individual basis in this bibliography.

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The Gesto Collection of Highland Music.  Keith Norman MacDonald (compiler and arranger).  Leipzig: Engraved and printed by Oscar Brandsetter for the compiler, 1895.  [6], 154p.  Music in staff notation.  Appendices, pp. 1-33 (1898), pp. 34-37 (1902).

(Dates of publication for the appendices from Ethel Bassin (Bassin 1977:81) )

 

When discussing the first edition of the Gesto Collection, Ethel Bassin writes that of its contents, more than half are military marches and the remainder, apart from a sprinkling of dance tunes, are Gaelic songs, with or without words.  Miss Bassin goes on to relate how Dr. MacDonald came into contact with Frances Tolmie after the publication of this first edition, and how she gave to him some forty-five songs, some of which appeared in the appendices to the Gesto Collection and others in Puirt-a-Beul (Bassin 1977:80-83).  Fuller details of all of Frances Tolmie’s songs which appear in the Gesto Collection and Puirt-a-Beul will be found in the Frances Tolmie Collection ( I  &  II ) in this bibliography.

 

i    Tha Gruagach ‘san Aodan’, p. 4.

 

Tune only.  Aodan’ may refer to Edinbane.  It is listed as a Perthshire air in the Rev. Patrick MacDonald’s collection (MacDonald 1784:14).

 

ii   ‘Mo Chruinneag Dhonn’, p. 37

 

References in text to Skye place-names.  See individual entry.

 

iii   ‘An talla am bu gnà le Mhac Leòid, p. 42.

 

Màiri Nighean Alasdair’s song.  Tune only.

 

iv   Sproilac’, p. 145.

 

Tune only.  The composer, Donald Cameron, belonged to Sleat in Skye.  See his entry in section for poetry and song of known authorship.

 

Appendix:

 

i    ‘Laoidh Dhiarmaid’, App. p. 12

 

Tune only.  Frances Tolmie is the source.

 

ii   ‘Laoidh Osgair’, App. p. 12

 

Tune only.  Frances Tolmie is the source

 

iii  ‘Laoidh Fhraoich’, App. p. 12

 

Tune only.  Frances Tolmie is the source

 

iv   , hùg o, húg o’, App. 15

 

Tune only.  Frances Tolmie is the source

 

v    Tha sneachd air na beannaibh Diùrach’, App. p.15

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

vi   ‘Ailean, Ailean, ‘s fad an cadal’, App. p. 16

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

vii  Chaidh misdha ‘n tràigh’, App. p. 16

 

Tune only.  Frances Tolmie is the source

 

viii  Ailein Duinn, nach till thu ‘n taobhsa?’, App. p. 16

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

ix   ‘Cumha Mhic Gille-Chalum a b’ òige’, App. p. 17

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

x    Thog am bàta na siùil’, App. p. 19

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

xi   Oran na Gruagaich’, App. p. 19

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

xii  ‘Oran Cadail’, App. p. 19

 

Frances Tolmie may have been the source

 

xiii  Oran an t-Each Uisge nuair theich a bhean bhuaidh’, App. p. 20

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.  See: ‘Cumha an Eich-Uisge

 

xiv  ‘Oisein ri Mhàthair’, App. p. 12

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.  See Comhairl’ Oisein dha Mhàthair

 

xv   Chaidh na fir a Sgathabheig’, App. p.21

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

xvi  ‘An raoir chunna mi ‘n aisling’, App. p. 22

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.  See: ‘Fear Bhalai.

 

xvii  Chaidh misdha ‘n tràigh’, App. p. 22

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.  See also no. vii above.

 

xviii  Faca tu ‘n gobh’ ?’, App. p. 22

 

Frances Tolmie may have been the source.

 

xix  Uamh an Oir’, App. 23

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

xx   Griogal Cridhe’, App. 25

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

xxi  ‘Cumha Dhiarmaid’, App. p. 26

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

xxii  ‘Port Dhomhnaill Mhic Guthagain’, App. p. 33

 

The tune is the same as that in the Skye Collection of Reels and Strathspeys  (MacDonald 1887:51), where it is described as being the “Skye set”.

 

xxiii  Tha mi fo chùram’, App. p. 55

 

Ascribed by Dr. MacDonald to a Sleat woman.  This is Anna  Nic Ghilleathain.  See entry in section for poetry and song of known authorship.

 

xxiv  Tha mi ‘n dùil, tha mi ‘n dùil’, App. p. 56

 

According to one tradition, this song was composed by a Skye soldier who fought in the Peninsular Wars.  See individual entry under Tha mo dhùil,  tha mo dhuil’.

 

xxv   ‘Ailean Donn’, App. p. 61

 

Frances Tolmie is the source

 

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Puirt-a-Beul: Mouth-Tunes.  Collected and arranged by Keith Norman MacDonald. Music in tonic sol-fa notation.  Reprinted from the Oban Times, 1901.  viii, 54p.  Reprinted.  Glasgow: Alex MacLaren and Sons, 1931.  viii, 54, [1] p.. 

 

Not all the songs contained in this work are in fact puirt-a-beul.  Ethel Bassin writes of Frances Tolmie’s dismay when she found out that many of her waulking songs, rowing songs and lullabies included here were thus wrongly categorized (Bassin 1977:82-83).  Miss Bassin writes that of all Miss Tolmie’s songs included here, only ‘For a Child’ (Cha ‘n fhaigh duine Màigean) is a port-a-beul.  However, ‘H-Eadaraibh a h-uinn O’ (Poca sìl an t-sealgair) is also a port-a-beul.  It should be noted too in Dr. MacDonald’s defence, that for the most part he describes songs correctly on an individual basis.

 

i    Casag lachduinn Ruairidh Ruaidh’, p. 5

 

Dr. MacDonald notes that this song is almost peculiar to Skye.

 

ii   Tulach Gorm’, pp. 7-8

 

Brochan tìoraidh, Anna Tholm’.  Refers to a woman, Anna Tholm, who lived in a glen between Portree and East Trotternish.

 

iii  Brochan lom, tana lom’, pp. 8-9

 

Similar to the version in Frances Tolmie’s collection (Journal of the Folk-Song Society, 16:192-193).  References in the text to ‘Nighean Gobhan Dùine’ may also indicate a Skye origin for this version.

 

iv   Fhir a dh’ ith am bonnach mór’, p. 9

 

There is a reference in the text to Minginish in Skye.

 

v    Hin o Haradal O’, pp. 9-10

 

Described as an “ancient Skye reel” in Songs of the Hebrides 3 (Kennedy-Fraser and MacLeod 1921:60-61).

 

vi   ‘Port Dhomhnuill Mhic Guthagain’, pp. 10-11

 

‘Calum beag, Mac Ruari Mhaoir’.  Also in the Gesto Collection (App. p. 33).

 

vii  ‘An gille dubh mo laochan’, p. 11

 

Described as a “very old favourite” in Skye.  Two versions of the text.

 

viii  Hilen is Hogu’, p. 11

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.

 

ix   ‘H-Eadaraibh a h-uinn O’, p. 12.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.  See: ‘Hill-ean is ó hug ù’.

 

x    Bithidh Clann bheag a’ bhaile muigh’, p. 12.

 

Frances Tolmie is probably the source.  Prefaced by a note that this children’s dancing song was very popular in Skye.

 

xi   Tha toll air a’ bhàta’, p. 13.

 

Alternative English title given: ‘The Portree Girls’.

 

xii  ‘A Mhorag nighean Dhomhnuill duinn’;  Tha smeòrach ‘s a’ mhaduin chiùin’;  Ruidhlidh na coilich dhubha!’;  pp. 16-17.  Dannsaidh na coilich dhubh’, p. 26.

 

Four sets of words to the tune of ‘Lord MacDonald’s Reel’, composed by Sir Alexander MacDonald, first Lord MacDonald of Sleat.  It is unclear whether or not he was also responsible for any of the words.  There is another version of ‘Dannsaidh na coilich dhubh’ on p. [55] of the 1931 reprint.

 

xiii  Cailleach liath Rarsaidh’, p. 18.

 

Said to have been composed by John Dall MacKay.  There is a version from Seonag NicLeòid in Orain an Eilein (Mhàrtainn 2001:103).

 

xiv   Chuir mi biodag anns a’ bhodach’, p. 20.

 

Tune same as that in the Skye Collection of Reels and Strathspeys (MacDonald 1887:111), although in a different key, where it is described as the “Skye set”.

 

xv   Brigis fad’ air Mhaighstir Ord’, p. 20.

 

The subject of this may have been a member of Dr. MacDonald’s own family.

 

xvi  Daor-i-itil aor ann’, p. 20.

 

Described as a Skye tune in the Skye Collection of Reels and Strathspeys (MacDonald 1887:71).

 

xvii  ‘Fear a’ Choire’, pp. 23-24.

 

Two textual variants of a song said to have been composed by Gilleasbuig Aotrom to Mackinnon of Corry: see entry for Gilleasbuig Aotrom in the section for poetry and song of known authorship.

 

xviii  Sproileag, p. 24.

 

Composed by Donald Cameron of Sleat, Skye.  See his entry in the section for poetry and song of known authorship.

 

xix   ‘Cha toir Iain Mór a nighean dhomh’, pp. 24-25.

 

The tune was a favourite with the famous Skye fiddler, Sandy MacDonald.

 

xx   Shiubhlainn, Shiubhlainn’, pp. 28-29.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.

 

xxi  Tha mi air mo chuir ‘s an Talamh’, pp. 28-29.

 

Dr. MacDonald notes that the words and music have a Skye flavour about them.  There are two versions of the text.

 

xxii  Théid mi null thar a’ Bheinn’, pp. 29-30.

 

The tune was a great favourite with the fiddler, Iain Ruadh Kennedy of Sleat.  There are three versions of the text.

 

xxiii  Oran na Feannaig’, pp. 35-36.

 

Described by Dr. MacDonald as a very ancient Skye song.  See individual entry for it.

 

xxiv   ‘S i Mórag, ‘S i Mórag’, p. 36.

 

Dr. MacDonald notes that this had been a very popular strathspey in Skye fifty years before the time of writing.

 

xxv  ‘Cha ‘n fhaigh duine Màigean’, p. 40.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.

 

xxvi  -an, O-an, ars’ an bàn’, p. 40.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.  See ‘An cu ban’, in her collection.

 

xxvii  Ba-bà mo leanabh’, p. 43.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.

 

xxviii  ‘A’ Bhean Eudach’, pp. 44-45.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.  See ‘Bean Mhic a’ Mhaoir in her Collection.

 

xxix  Oran mu ‘n Ghruagaich-Mhara’, pp. 45-46.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.

 

xxx  Chaidh misdha ‘n tràigh’, p. 46.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.

 

xxxi  Tha sìor chaoineadh air Beinn Dobhran’, p. 46.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.

 

xxxii  ‘O hi a bho, ho ro ‘n aill leibh’, pp. 46-47.

 

Frances Tolmie is probably the source.  See: ‘O hi ibh o’ in the Frances Tolmie Collection II.

 

xxxiii  Iùraibh o , iuraibh o ’, p. 47.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.

 

xxxiv  Uamh an Oir’, pp. 47-48, 54.

 

Frances Tolmie is the source.  A variant of the words of the first version is on p. 44.

 

 

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Abbreviations 

 

Traditional: known authorship

A-C       D-Domhnall       Domhnallach-Dz        E–G       H–L       M–MacA       MacB–MacC        MacD        MacE-MacK,  MacLa-MacLeod        MacLeòid A-H        MacLeòid I-Z        MacM-MacN       MacO-MacZ      M      N      O-Q      R-Z

 

Traditional: anonymous

A-B      C-D      E-K      L-N       O       P-Z     

 

Traditional: collections

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

Cairistiona Mhàrtainn         Alexander Morison          Kenneth Morrison         Angus Nicolson          Portree HS Magazine   Lachlann Robertson         Frances Tolmie I          Frances Tolmie II

 

Modern

Somhairle MacGill-Eain         The New Poetry

 

References

Books etc: A-L         Books etc: MacA-MacL         Books etc: MacM-Z   Periodicals, MSS, AV

 

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