Gaelic Literature of the Isle of Skye: an annotated  bibliography   


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MACGILL-EAIN, Somhairle  (Sorley MacLean)  (1911 – 1996)


Somhairle MacGill-Eain, Sorley MacLean, was born in Raasay in 1911.  Until his retirement he worked as a schoolteacher: firstly in Mull, then Skye and Edinburgh before becoming headmaster of Plockton High School.  After his retirement he lived in Braes, Skye. He died in Raigmore Hospital, Inverness in November 1996.


Speaking of Somhairle’s place in Scottish Gaelic poetry, Domhnall MacAmhlaigh has referred to his work as being the “vital and imcomparable link” between the older, traditional poetry and the new, modern poetry (MacAmhlaigh 1976: 54).  Recognised not only as a major figure in Scottish Gaelic literature, Somhairle MacGill-Eain was also recognised as a major figure in 20th Century European literature.



Exposition and Criticism


While I make frequent reference to such material elsewhere in this work, it is not my practice to systematically list such material, this being primarily a bibliography of printed source material.  However, I am making an exception in the case of Somhairle MacGill-Eain; partly because of his central position in Gaelic poetry and partly because of the volume of such material which has been published.  The following is a select list:


(1)  Iain Crichton Smith.  ‘The Poetry of Sorley MacLean’.  An Gaidheal, 53 (1958), 99-100, 109-110.


Also published as ‘Homage to Sorley MacLean’ in Saltire Review, 5, No. 15 (Summer 1958), 37-40.


(2)  Sorley MacLean.  ‘Poetry, Passion and Political Consciousness’,  Scottish International, 10 (May 1970), 10-16.


Sorley MacLean describes, in a discussion with Iain Crichton Smith, John MacInnes, Hamish Henderson and Donald MacAulay, the political and personal forces that have shaped his life.


(3)   Derick S. Thomson.  The New Verse in Scottish Gaelic: a Structural Analysis.  Osborn Bergin Memorial Lecture IV.  Dublin: University College, 1974. 30p.


Discusses the work of Somhairle MacGill-Eain, Deòrsa Caimbeul Hay, Ruaraidh MacThómais, Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn and Domhnall MacAmhlaigh.


(4)  Domhnall MacAmhlaigh (Fear-deasachaidh).  Nua-bhàrdachd Ghàidhlig.  Dun Eideann: Deasthaobh, 1976.

Donald MacAulay (Editor).  Modern Scottish Gaelic Poems. 

Edinburgh: Southside, 1976.  220p.


An anthology of the work of Somhairle MacGill-Eain, Deòrsa Caimbeul Hay,  Ruaraidh MacThómais, Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn and Domhnall MacAmhlaigh. In the introduction (pp. 19-45, 46-68), the editor discusses the work of each individually, as well an the modern movement in Scottish Gaelic poetry in general


A new edition of this work was published in 1995 as part of the Canongate Classics series.


(5)  Sorley MacLean.  Chapman, 16 (Summer 1976), 25-32.


The poet discusses his work.


(6)  Breandan P. Ó Doibhlin.  Mórfhile Ghael Alba’.  In Aisti Critice agus Cultuir, Baile Atha Cliath: Foilseacháin Náisiúnta,       [197-], dd. 113-138.


(7)   Brendan P. Devlin.  ‘On Sorley MacLean’.  Lines Review, 61 (June 1977), 5-19.


This essay is in substance a translation of the author’s original Irish essay (see above).


(8)  John Herdman.  ‘The Poetry of Sorley MacLean: a Non-Gael’s View’.  Lines Review, 61 (June 1977), 25-36.


While acknowledging that only the original is the ‘poem’, the writer argues that it is possible for a non-Gael like himself to make valid judgement upon the poetry on the basis of translation.


(9)  John Montague.  ‘A Northern Vision’.  The Pleasures of Gaelic Poetry.  Edited by Seán Mac Réamoinn.  London: Allen Lane, 1982.


A leading Northern Irish poet discusses Somhairle’s poetry.


(10)  Raymond J. Ross and Joy Hendry (editors).  Sorley MacLean: Critical Essays.  Edinburgh; Scottish Academic Press, 1986.  230p.


Contains fifteen critical essays from Scottish and Irish poets and critics, plus an introduction by Seumas Heaney and a register of Gaelic place names in Sorley’s poetry by Douglas Sealy


(11)  Máire Annrachráin.  Aisling agus Tóir: an slánu i bhfiliocht Shomhairle MhicGill-Eain.  Maigh Nuadh: An Sagart, 1992.  220p.


Text in Irish, published at Maynooth in Ireland.  I have not had sight of this book.


(12)  Seumas Heaney.  ‘The Trance and the Translation’.  The Guardian (30th November 2002),


The Irish Nobel Laureate celebrates Somhairle’s life and work.



Texts: I


The following includes published collections of Somhairle MacGill-Eain’s work, collections of which he is a joint author, and miscellaneous items.


(1)  Somhairle MacGhill-Eathain, and Robert Garioch.  Seventeen  Poems for Sixpence.  Edinburgh: Chalmers Press, 1940, 28p.


Includes eight poems by Somhairle: Tri Slighean’, ‘An Cuilthionn’ (extract), ‘Coin is Madaidhean-allaidh’, ‘An t-Eilean’, ‘A nighean a’ chùil bhuidhe  (Gaoir na h-Eòrpa), ‘Cha do chuir de bhuaireadh riamh’ and ‘A’ Chorra-ghritheach’.


(2)  Somhairle Mac Ghill Eathain.  Dàin do Eimhir agus Dàin Eile.  Glaschu: William MacLellan, 1943. 103p. illus.


The section ‘Dàin do Eimhir’ is a series of love poems, forty-eight from a sequence of sixty.  Eimhir’ is a coalescence of two different women with whom the poet had had painful love affairs.  Iain Crichton Smith has commented that these love poems also involve problems of contemporary moral choice, (An Gaidheal, 53:99).


The sequence ‘Dàin Eile  has twenty-six long poems which  include some on the theme of love as well as a variety of other themes.  They include ‘Craobh nan Teud’ for George Campbell Hay, ‘An t-Eilean’: a hymn to Skye, and the symbolist poem ‘Coilltean Ratharsair’.


The third sequence, ‘Eisgeachd’, has four short poems as well as the satirical ‘Road to the Isles’.  There are also translations of a number of the poems, partly the work of the poet himself, and partly the work of others.


With the exception of the extract from ‘An Cuilthionn’, those of Soimhairle’s poems which appear in Seventeen Poems for Sixpence are included in this collection.


(3)  Lines Review, 34 (September 1970), 39p.


A special issue devoted to Somhairle MacGill-Eain.  There are five English versions of Gaelic originals and fifteen Gaelic poems along with English versions.  Among the latter are three poems from the ‘Dàin do Eimhir’ sequence not published in Dàin do Eimhir agus Dàin Eile.  These are:  ‘Chan eil mi strì ris a’ chraoibh nach lùb rium’, ‘Tha sinn comhla, a ghaoil  andAithreachas an deaghaidh nam pòg’.


(4)  Sorley MacLean, George Campbell Hay, William Neill, and Stuart MaGregor.  Four Points of a Saltire.  Edinburgh: Reprographia, 1970.  165p.


Includes two extracts from ‘An Cuilthionn’ and fifteen other poems, all with English versions (pp. 113-165).


(5)  Sorley MacLean.  From the Height of the Cuilinn.


I have not had sight of this item. A poster poem published in 1971 containing the text of  ‘An Uair a Labhras mi mu Aodann’ with an English translation. Details in Twentieth Century Publications in Scottish Gaelic (MacLeod 1980: 124).


(6)  Sorley MacLean.  Reothairt.


I have not had sight of this item. A poster poem published in 1973.  Details in Twentieth Century Publications in Scottish Gaelic (MacLeod 1980: 124).


(7)  Somhairle MacGill-Eain.  Barran agus Asbhuain.  Baile Atha Cliath: Ceirmini Cladaigh, 1973.


A record of Somhairle reading thirty-one of his poems.  There is an accompanying booklet containing the texts of the poems, along with English translations; some by the poet himself, others by Iain Crichton Smith.  There is introductory material by Iain Crichton Smith, Máirtín Ó Direáin and Hugh MacDiarmid.


(8)  Somhairle MacGill-Eain.  Clann Ghill-Eain’.  Homage to John MacLean.  Edited by T.S. Law and Thurso Berwick.  Thurso: The John MacLean Society, 1973, p. 7.


The spelling in this version of the poem differs from that in Dàin do Eimhir agus Dàin Eile, but it the poet’s definitive choice.  An English translation is given.


(9)  Domhnall MacAmhlaigh (Fear-deasachaidh).  Nua-bhàrdachd Ghàidhlig.  Dun Eideann: Deasthaobh, 1976.

 Donald MacAulay (Editor).  Modern Scottish Gaelic Poems.  Edinburgh: Southside, 1976.  220p.

 (A new edition of this work was published in 1995 as part of the Canongate Classics series)


This bilingual anthology includes fourteen of Somhairle MacGill-Eain’s poems along with the poet’s own English language versions.


(10) Somhairle MacGill-Eain.  Reothairt is Contraigh:  Taghadh de Dhàin 1932-1972.  Dùn Eideann: Canongate, 1977.

Sorley MacLean.  Spring Tide and Neap Tide.  Selected Poems 1932-1972.  Edinburgh: Canongate, 1977.  181p.


A bilingual selection of seventy-one poems from Dàin do Eimhir agus Dàin Eile and other poems composed during the period 1932 to 1972.  Fifty-five of these poems were composed before 1955.  The translations are the port’s own.


For a Gaelic language review of this book by Ruaraidh MacThómais (Derick Thomson) see Gairm (101:94-96).  For an English language review by the same reviewer see Scottish Review (8:38-40).


(11) Somhairle MacGill-Eain.  Coin is Madaidhean Allaidh.  Glaschu: Comann Leabhraichean, 1990.


A poster poem with the Gaelic text of ‘Coin …’ along with an English translation.


(12) Somhairle MacGill-Eain.  O Choille gu Bearradh / Sorley MacLean.  From Wood to Ridge : Collected Poems in Gaelic and in English Translation.  1st. edition.  Manchester: Carcanet, 1989. 

2nd ed., 1990.

3rd ed.  Manchester; Edinburgh: Carcanet; Birlinn, 1999.  xvi, 317p.


The first part, 1932-1940, comprises twenty-eight poems.  The second is what Somhairle thought ‘tolerable’ of ‘An Cuilthionn’; presented here in seven sections.  The third part, ‘An Tràigh Thathaich’, has twenty-three poems from 1939 to 1941.  Part four is ‘Coilltean Ratharsair’.  Part five, ‘An Iomhaigh Bhriste’, has eleven poems from 1941 to 1944.  The sixth part, ‘Blàr / Battlefield’, has six poems from 1942 to 1943.  The seventh and final part has twenty-eight poems from 1945 to 1972.  There is a parallel English version of each poem by Somhairle who has also written the preface. The book concludes with notes on a number of the poems.


(13)  Angus Peter Campbell (editor).  Somhairle : dàin is deilbh : a celebration on the 80th birthday of Sorley MacLean.  Stornoway: Acair, 1991.  125p.


In Gaelic and English.  I have not had sight of this book


(14)  Sorley MacLean.  Eimhir.  Sorley MacLean, translations by Iain Crichton Smith.  Stornaway: Acair, 1999.  116p.


Poems from the Eimhir sequence in the original Gaelic with parallel English translations by Iain Crichton Smith.  Also includes an obituary for Sorley MacLean by Iain Crichton Smith and a tribute to both poets by Donald Meek.


I have not had sight of this book


(15)  Ronald Black (editor).  An Tuil: Anthology of 20th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse.  Edinburgh: Polygon, 1999 (repr. 2002).


Includes, on pp. 288-335, an extensive selection of Somhairle’s poetry with parallel English translations, some by the author and others by the editor.  On pp. 764-770 there is a biographical and critical summary of the poet’s life and work with notes on the selected poems.


(16)  Christopher Whyte (editor).  Dàin do Eimhir / Poems to Eimhir.  Somhairle MacGill-Eain / Sorley MacLean.  Glasgow: Association for Scottish Literary Studies, 2002.


Drawing on manuscript and published sources, the editor brings together all but one of the Dàin do Eimhir sequence, including six appearing in print for the first time. There are parallel English translations and extensive notes.


(I have not had sight of this book)


Texts: II


Miscellaneous single items.


(1)   Sorley MacLean.  ‘A’ Bheinn’.  An Gaidheal, 41 (1945-1946), 35.


Another poem about the despair of disappointed love.  Five quatrains, beginning ‘Dhìrich mi beinn an uamhais’.


(2)   Somhairle MacGhill-Eathain.  Mhag mo reusan’.  An Gaidheal, 41 (1945-1946), 74.


(3)    Somhairle MacGhill-Eathain.  An t-Ailleagan’.  An Gaidheal, 41 (1945-1946), 24.


A love poem.  Twenty lines, beginning ‘Thainig thusa a bhuadhmhoir’.


(4)   Somhairle MacGhilleathain.  ‘Do Bhoirionnach Briagach Coirbte’.  Poetry Scotland.  Edited by Maurice Lindsay.  Third Collection.  Glasgow: William MacLellan, 1946, pp. 32-33.


A very bitter poem about the betrayal of love.  Four quatrains, beginning ‘Na robh mise marbh san Fhàsaich’.  There is an English prose translation.


(5)   Sorley MacLean.  Feasgar Samhraidh: Linne Ratharsair’.  Poetry Scotland.  Edited by Maurice Lindsay and Hugh MacDiarmid.  Number four.  Edinburgh: Serif Books, 1949, p. 29.


Six lines, beginning ‘An ròs eadar Beinn Dianabhaig’.


(6)   Somhairle MacGhilleathain.  Chunna mi long as’ Chaol Chanach’.  Gairm, 7 (An t-Earrach 1954), 232.


An exile song of great lyric power.  Three quatrains beginning ‘An nochd an Dun-éideann’, and thirteen verse-couplets beginning ‘Gaoth an iar-dheas thar a’ Mhàim’.  There is a different version in Gairm, 31 (p. 67) under the title ‘Sruth Tràghaidh’.


(7)  Somhairle MacGill-Eain.  ‘Do Uilleam MacMhathain’.  Cencrastus, 31 (Autumn 1988), 8-9.


For the Rev. William Matheson.


(8)  Somhairle MacGill-eain.  ‘A’ Ghort Mhòr / The Great Famine’. Somhairle: Dain is Deilbh : a celebration on the 80th birthday of Sorley MacLean.  Edited by Angus Peter Campbell.  Stornoway: Acair, 1991, pp. 6-9.


This was the first publication of this poem of anger and despair at the poverty and oppression suffered by so many people.  In nine parts, beginning with ‘Neòil na gorta le samh sgreataidh’.  There is a parallel English translation by the poet.


(9)  Somhairle MacGill-eain.  ‘Air Sgurr a’  Ghreadaidh.  Natural Light: Portraits of Scottish Writers.  Angela Catlin.  Edinburgh: Paul Harris / Waterfront, 1985, pp. 48-49.


Sgurr a’ Ghreadaidh is one of the Cuillin Hills.  Natural Light is a series of portraits by photographer Angela Catlin; each portrait accompanied by a short extract from the subject’s work.  The poem, of eighteen lines, is a lyrical expression of the love of place and a haunting pain.





In Texts I and II English language versions noted are by Somhairle MacGill-Eain himself, unless otherwise indicated.  The following are those of his poems which have been translated by others into both Scots and English.


(1)   'Ban-Ghàidheal


i     Into Scots as ‘Hielant Woman’ by Douglas Young (Lindsay 1946:101-103;  Lindsay 1966: 94-95;  Lindsay 1976:105-107;  Young 1952: 266-267).


ii   Into English as ‘Highland Woman’ by Derick Thomson (1977: 291-292)


(2)   Bha ‘m bàt agam fo sheòl ‘s a’ Chlàrach


Into English as ‘My boat was under sail …’ by Derick Thomson (1977:287-288)


(3)  ‘Bu tu camhanaich air a’ Chuilthionn


i      Into Scots as ‘Ye were the Dawn’ by Douglas Young (Lindsay 1946:100; Lindsay 1966: 92-93; Lindsay 1976:103; Young 1952: 264-265).


ii    Into English as ‘You were a daybreak on the Cuilthionn’ by Iain Crichton Smith (1971: 57)


(4)  Calbharaigh


i     Into Scots as ‘My een are nae on Calvary’ by Douglas Young (Lindsay 1946:100-101;  Lindsay 1966: 93;  Lindsay 1976:105;  Young 1952:272-273).


ii    Into English as ‘My eyes are not on Calvary’ by Derick Thomson (1977: 269)


(5)  ‘Cha do chuir de bhuaireadh


i     Into Scots as ‘I never kent sic glawmerie’ by Robert Garioch (MacGhill-Eathain 1943: 25;  Young 1952: 264-265)


ii   Into English as ‘Never was I so tormented’ by Iain Crichton Smith (1971:19).


(6)  ‘Coin is Madaidhean-allaidh


i     Into English as ‘Dogs and Wolves’ by J.M. Russell (Young 1952: 270-271)


ii    Into English as ‘Dogs and Wolves’ by Iain Crichton Smith (1971: 41)


(7)  ‘An Cuilthionn


Part of the finale translated into English as ‘Who goes there on an evil night/’ by Douglas Young (1952: 268-271)


(8)  ‘ ‘S mi ‘m Bhoilseabhach nach tuig suim


i    Into English as ‘though I’m a Bolshevik who would never sing’ by Iain Crichton Smith (1971: 42)


ii   Into English as ‘As a Bolshevik who gave no heed’ by Derick Thomson (1977: 268)


(9)  ‘An Trom-laighe


Into Scots as ‘The Widdreme’ by Sydney Goodsir Smith (Lindsay 1946:103-104;  Lindsay 1966: 96-97;  Lindsay 1976: 107-108;  Young 1952: 272-273).


(10)  Iain Crichton Smith.  Poems to Eimhir: Sorley MacLean.  Poems from Dàin do Eimhir translated from the Gaelic.  London: Victor Gollancz, 1971, 64p.


(11)  Seumas Heaney.  English version of ‘Hallaig’.  The Guardian (30th November 2002), 






Bha ‘m Bàt Agam Fo Sheòl’.  Gairm, 16 (An Samhradh 1956), 335-337.


The text of the poem is given along with Iain Whyte’s setting in staff notation.




Audiovisual Materials


(1)   Somhairle MacGill-Eain.  Barran agus Asbhuain.  Baile Atha Cliath: Ceirmini Cladaigh, 1973.


A record of Somhairle reading thirty-one of his poems.  There is an accompanying booklet containing the texts of the poems, along with English translations; some by the poet himself, others by Iain Crichton Smith.  There is introductory material by Iain Crichton Smith, Máirtín Ó Direáin and Hugh MacDiarmid.


(2)   Iain Crichton Smith (presenter).  Hallaig: poetry and landscape of Sorley MacLean.  Camach Hill: Eagle Eye Productions, 1990.  Videocassette, VHS, 60 mins.


A documentary by Timothy Neat, filmed on Skye, in which Somhairle reads his poems in Gaelic and English.  Includes a contribution from Seumas Heaney.  I saw this film on television some time ago, but have not seen it again when writing this entry in 2006





Somhairle MacGill-Eain Air-loidhne (Sorley MacLean Online), is devoted to the life and work of Somhairle.  It is at and is available in both Gaelic and English.






















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



Somhairle MacGill-Eain         The New Poetry



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



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