Gaelic Literature of the Isle of Skye: an annotated  bibliography   

 

Traditional poets and songmakers:  MacLeòid: A - H

 

 

 

 

 

 

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MAC LEOID, Domhnall  (1698 – 1759)

 

Domhnall MacLeòid was the son of the tacksman of Greshornish in Skye.  He was ordained to the ministry of the Church of Scotland in 1725.  After a period in the Uists he moved to Duirinish in Skye, where he received the

renewal of his father’s tack of Greshornish.  Much esteemed for his personal qualities as well as his literary ones, he died in 1759, fifteen days after it is said that his death was foretold by a woman seer.  Domhnall MacLeòid

composed many Gaelic poems, most of which have been lost.

 

(Information from The MacLeods: the Genealogy of a Clan: Section 2 MacKinnon and Morrison 1969:120-121).)

 

(1)  Beannachadh Bàird

 

i     An Gaidheal, 2 (1873), 63-64

 

ii    History of the MacLeods.  Alexander MacKenzie.  Inverness: A. and W. MacKenzie, 1889, pp. 266-269

 

iii   Highland Monthly, 4 (1892-1893), 745-747

 

iv  The Gaelic Bards from 1715 to 1765.  Edited by the Rev. A. MacLean Sinclair.  Charlottetown, P.E.I.: Haszard and Moore, 1892, pp. 71-73

 

v   History of Skye.  Vol. 2.  Alexander Nicolson.  Glasgow: Alex. MacLaren and Sons,  1930, pp. 316-317

 

vi  Carmina Gadelica.  Vol. 2.  Edited by Alexander Carmichael.  Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable, 1900, pp. 212-215

 

I have not here followed my usual practice of listing versions of a poem in chronological order of publication.  As I believe the versions which I have numbered one to five to be closely related to each other and the sixth version to be an independent one, it seemed useful in this case to vary the sequence slightly.

 

Apparently it had been an old custom in the Highlands for a bride to be greeted in verse on the first morning after her marriage.  No one else being able to do this for his bride, the Rev. Domhnall MacLeòid performed this service himself. It is a graceful and charming poem, if somewhat patronisingly didactic.  Professor Donald MacAulay has suggested to me that while the poem’s origin may be ascribed to an older custom, it may be most significantly seen in the context of other love poems of the eighteenth century which were composed by men of similar education and social position to that of the Rev. Domhnall MacLeòid.  Two examples are by the Rev. John MacLean, Maighstir Seathain (Ó Baoill 1979:104-117, 267-274).

 

The first version listed here was given in manuscript form to the Rev.  Mr. Stewart, ‘Nether-Lochaber’.  There are twenty-four lines, beginning ‘Mile failte dhuit le d’ bhreid’, printed as a single stanza, and with an English version by ‘Nether-Lochaber’.  The second version shows a few textual variations from the first and it is accompanied by the Rev. James Sutor’s English language version.  The third version, in Magnus MacLean’s ‘Skye Bards’, reproduces the text of the first, but printed as six quatrains, along with ‘Nether-Lochaber’s English version.  The fourth version is arranged in six quatrains and appears to be based upon both the first and second versions, with a new variation in the second quatrain.  The fifth version is textually identical to the second, but arranged in six quatrains.

 

The notes to the first version indicate that two lines in the manuscript were illegible and could not be reproduced.  Inclusion of these lines would of course preclude the quatrain form, which Sinclair and MacLean evidently believed to be the poem’s proper form.  The quatrain form is quite convincing in terms of the twenty-four lines given and it is possible that the illegible two lines were in fact four.  Even though the syllable count is not totally regular I would describe the metre as a loose form of rannaigheacht mhór.

 

The sixth version, in Carmina Gadelica is an independent one.  Alexander Carmichael noted down the song in South Uist from the singing of a Skye woman, who had learnt it from the singing of a grandson of a MacLeod of Raasay.  He had originally heard it in childhood before learning it as an adult from a Highland soldier in India. 

There are seven stanzas.  It is not ascribed to the Rev. Domhanll MacLeòid  in this volume of Carmina Gadelica, but it is ascribed to him in Angus Matheson’s indexes to the series in Vol. 6 (Matheson 1971).

 

The Rev. Canon R.C. MacLeod presents an English version of this poem and attributes the original to Donald MacLeod of Bernera, who is said to have presented it to each of his three wives.  See The MacLeods: their history and traditions (Edinburgh: Clan MacLeod Society, n.d.), p. 169.

 

(2)  Domhnall Mac Leòid.  An Dealachadh’.  The Gaelic Bards from 1715 to 1765.  Edited by the Rev. A. MacLean Sinclair.  Charlottetown, P.E.I.:  Haszard and Moore, 1892, pp. 73-74.

 

This poem is headed ‘Le Mr Domhnall Mac-Leoid, Ministir an Uibhist a’ Chinn-a-Tuath’.  As the Rev. Domhnall was minister in North Uist from 1736 to 1754 the poem could be dated to any time during that period.  It was composed for a group of people going to Skye and the sixth stanza contains some puzzling allusions to the religious persuasion of the group.

 

There are eleven quatrains, beginning ‘Ge subhach comunn nan cairdean’.  As with ‘Beannachadh Bàird’, I would describe the metre as rannaigheacht mhór, even though there are irregularities in the syllable count.

 

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MACLEOID, Domhnall  (1787 – 1873)

 

Domhnall MacLeòid, Domhnall nan Oran was born in Glendale, Skye, the only son of Niall MacLeòid, a small farmer reputed by some to be a bard (TGSI, 47:393; Morrison 1976:17).  When Domhnall left school he could speak and write English fairly well.  He composed his first song, ‘Rann Mollaidh do Thigh Uir’, when he was only fifteen.  When he was about twenty he became collector of road rates for Skye.  This position gave him the opportunity to travel all over the island and to acquire an extensive collection of poetry, lore and tradition.  At about this time he fell in love with the daughter of Mr. Stewart of Borrodale, but the girl’s family were strongly opposed to the relationship and it ended with her early death at the age of twenty-one.

 

In 1811, at the age of twenty-three, Domhnall MacLeòid published a collection of Gaelic poems, many of which were his own composition.  Unfortunately the book has many errors, but R.C. MacDiarmid believes that this was due to poor editing and the poet was not altogether responsible for them.  Eventually a representative selection of works from this 1811 collection were edited by Meg Bateman and published in an anthology of works by

Domhnall and his two sons, Niall and Iain Dubh (Bateman and Loughran 2014).  John MacKenzie tells us of Domhnall’s unsuccessful attempt in 1829 to raise funds for the publication of a book on Calum-Cille and a number of other Gaelic historical figures (MacKenzie 1872:352).  Eventually Domhnall emigrated to America, where he remained for fifteen years.  Upon his return to Skye he set up as a general merchant in Glendale and at the age of sixty married a girl of nineteen.  Domhnall and his wife had ten children and of these two, Niall and Iain, were to achieve fame as poets.

 

Domhnall’s poetic gifts were inherited by at least three of his other children, apart from Niall and Iain.  A son Fionnlagh (Finlay) is named as a bard in a Macleod genealogy (Morrison 1976:50).  This was confirmed to me by a friend who was a native of Glendale and who was born sometime early in the 20th century.  She said that Fionnlagh had been a bard, although not as gifted as his brothers, and she doubted whether any of his poetry had survived.  She also told me that two of Domhnall nan Oran’s daughters, Catriona and Anna, were both as gifted as the men for song at local functions.  The Rev. Domhnall Budge writes of two of Domhnall’s grandchildren’s talent for poetry (TGSI, 47:394).

 

In 1871 a second, smaller, collection of Domhnall nan Oran’s poetry was published.  However, most of his songs have never been published and R. C. MacDiarmid, writing in the late 1880’s, tells us that the manuscripts of

many of them were then in the possession of the poet’s widow in the family home in Glendale (TGSG, 1:25).  Domhnall nan Oran died in 1872 at the age of eighty-five and was buried in the churchyard of Kilchoan, not far from where he had been born.

 

R. C. MacDiarmid has given a vivid account of Domhnall nan Oran as an old man which is based partly on personal recollection of the poet.  It is well worth reading: (TGSG, 1:23-24).

 

Sources of information on the life and work of Domhnall MacLeòid:

 

Sàr-Obair nam Bàrd Gaelach (MacKenzie 1872:351-352);

 

‘Donald MacLeod, the Skye Bard – His Life and Songs’ by Dr. R.C. MacDiarmid (TGSG, 1:18-33); 

 

Domhnull nan Oran: Am Bàrd Sgitheanach’’, by John N. MacLeod (TGSI, 29:119-133;  Guth na Bliadhna, 14:444-467); 

 

Bàird an Eilean Sgiathanaich: Domhnull MacLeòid, ‘Domhnull nan Oran’ by the Rev. Domhnull Budge (TGSI, 47:392-403); 

 

The MacLeods – the Genealogy of a Clan: Section 5 (Morrison 1976:17-51).

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(1)   Domhnul MacLeòid.  Orain Nuadh Ghaelach: maille ri beagain do cho-chruinneachadh urramach na ‘n aireamh.  Le Domhnul MacLeòid, ann an Durinish, sa ‘n Eilan Sciatheanach.  Inbhirnis: Eoin Young, 1811.  viii, 271d.

 

Of the sixty poems in this collection, twenty are of Domhnall nan Oran’s own composition.  These may be divided into four broad categories: eulogy and elegy, satire and comedy, love, and didactic and social comment.

 

Eulogy and Elegy:

 

The largest category, with eight poems in all.  It is useful to bear in mind here Dr. John MacInnes’ comment that the poet saw himself in the role of Clan MacLeod bard (Thomson 1983: 64).

 

i    Oran do Eòin Tormaid Macleoid’,  pp. 9-13

 

Composed upon the occasion of the return of the young chief,  John Norman, XXIV MacLeod of MacLeod, in 1809.  Most of the motifs of the traditional praise poem are to be found here.

 

ii    Marbhrann do Dhomhnul Domhnulach, an Grishernish, ann sa  Bhliadhna 1808’, pp. 31-35.

 

A traditional elegy with a strong emphasis on the subject as protector of his people.

 

iii  ‘Oran Nuadh air Reismeid Mhic-Shimi’, pp. 61-65

 

Also published in Sàr-Obair nam Bàrd Gaelach, where MacKenzie declares his editorial work on it (MacKenzie 1872: 352-354).

 

iv  Marbhrann do Chaiptean Alastair MacLeòid,  ann a Bhattuin’, pp. 107-112

 

Celebrates in particular Captain MacLeod’s military exploits in America.  One of Domhnall’s better poems.

 

v   ‘Cumha do Theaghlach Ois’, pp. 112-116

 

Mourns the deaths of several members of the Ose family.

 

vi   Oran do Mrs. Macrae ann a Bhaterstoine’, pp. 120-124

 

vii  Smeòrach na Leòdach’, pp. 127-133

 

Takes up a convention first used by Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair and John MacCodrum.  There is an abbreviated version in Sàr-Obair nam Bàrd Gaelach with some textual variations (MacKenzie 1872:

354-355).  There is a version in The Gaelic Bards from 1775 to 1825 which is only a fragment of the original and whose refrain shows variations in the vocables (Sinclair 1896:145-146).

 

viii ‘Cumha Shiorram Farluin’, pp. 239-241

 

Satire and Comedy:

 

i   Oran Mhurchaidh Bhig’, pp. 42-47

 

Satire on a Church elder’s herdsman.  Revealing of the attitude towards anyone who tries to act ‘above his station’.

 

ii    Rann Molaidh do Sheann Bhàta’, pp. 151-155

Rann Firinn do n’ Bhàta Cheudna’, pp. 156-158

 

Among the most accomplished and amusing of Domhnall nan

Oran’s poems.

 

iii  Rann Mollaidh do Thigh Uir’,  pp. 175-176

 

A satire upon the pretensions of one Ruairidh Mac Néill, a merchant of Stein, in which the fifteen-year old poet makes fun of his fine,  new house with extravagant overpraise.  It has also been published in Guth na Bliadhna, 15 (1918), 68-71.  A version from the oral tradition, sent from Australia by the Rev. D. M’Calman, was published in Celtic Magazine (4:232-235).  The Rev. M’Calman had heard the poem in his youth in Skye and was unaware of who had composed it.  In a notice the Rev. Alexander MacGregor confidently declares the poem to be a straightforward one in praise of Dunvegan Castle, composed during the lifetime of Ruairidh Mor.  In a letter (pp. 277-278), Domhnall nan Oran’s son Niall sets the matter straight with tact and courtesy and gives an account of the poem’s composition.

 

iv   Duan calluin’, pp. 177-178

 

Love:

 

i     Orandha Leanan’, pp. 77-79

Oran dha Leanan Cheudna’, pp. 79-83

 

Two songs composed to the daughter of Stewart of Borrodale, both with the dánta grá theme of love as a fatal sickness.  The first is modelled upon the popular song ‘O ‘s tu ‘s gur a tu th’ air m’ aire’.

 

ii    Litir Ghaoil ga Freagairt’, pp. 144-147

 

Reminiscent in metre, and in its use of the dialogue form, of ‘Úr-Chnoc Chéin Mhic Cáinte’ by the eighteenth century Irish poet Peadar Ó Doirnín.  In my opinion, one of the best of Domhnall nan Oran’s poems.

 

iii   Luinneag Gaol’, pp. 222-224

 

It is not clear whether this was composed to Stewart of Borrodale’s daughter.

 

iv   ‘Oran Sugraidh mar Chomhairle do Ghillean Oga’, pp. 248-252

 

Didactic and Social Comment:

 

i    Oran Mollaidh a Bhontado’, pp. 96-100

 

Of considerable social interest, composed when the potato already formed a substantial part of the Highlanders’ diet and before the disastrous potato blight of the mid-nineteenth century.

 

ii   Rann … air dha Samhla fhaicinn’, pp. 186-194

 

Takes the form of an encounter between the poet and the spirit of a long dead Viking who lectures him on the meaning of life, spiritual values and kindred matters.  Echoes of Dùghall Bochanan, but lacks his power and intensity.

 

Metres:

 

Domhnall MacLeòid uses a variety of traditional stressed metres in this 1811 collection,  In at least two instances he uses a syllabic metre:  Rann Molaidh do Sheann Bhàta’ and ‘Rann Firinn do n’ Bhàta Cheudna’ are in snéadhbhairdne.

 

(2)   Domhnull MacLeòid.  Dàin agus Orain.  Glascho: G. Mac-na-Ceardadh, 1871, 20d.

 

One would need to be cautious when making comparisons between this collection and Domhnall nan Oran’s first collection.  The seven poems here can only represent a small part of his poetic output during the intervening sixty years.  Having said that, it will be noticed that the didactic element, represented by a single poem (‘Rann … air dha Samhla fhaicinn’) in the first collection is much more prominent here.  Perhaps this is due as much to changing fashions and influences as to the onset of old age.

 

i     Rann do dh’ Eildeirean an Loin Mhóir’, pp. 3-6

 

Otherwise known as ‘Eildeirean Dubha an Loinmhoir’ (TGSI. 47:400), this is probably the best known of Domhnall nan Oran’s poems.  The poet had asked for baptism for one of his children, but was refused

by the Lonmore church elders.  They may have rued the day they did so, for Domhnall turned on them with this stinging satire in which he displays his own knowledge of Scripture.

 

It was again published in An Deò-Gréine (12:7-8) in a version almost identical to that in the poet’s collection.  A noticeably different version is given by the Rev. Domhnull Budge (TGSI, 47:400-403).  This

version probably came from oral tradition and in addition to the fourteen stanzas of the previous ones has an extra stanza in which favourable mention is made of Tormod Mac Mhurchaidh Shaoir.  Tormod was the maternal grandfather of the Rev. Coinneach Ros: see his Aitealan Dlù is Cian (Ros 1972: 23-24)

 

ii    ‘Dan do ‘n Ghréin’, pp. 6-9.  ‘Dan d ‘n Ghealaich’, pp. 9-11

 

The poet discusses religious and moral issues with the sun and moon.  A similar device as in ‘Rann … air dha Samhla fhaicinn’ in his earlier collection, although in that case the dialogue is with another human, albeit a long dead one.  The question of influences arises.  Domhnall nan Oran may have been influenced by some of the bogus Ossianic material produced by James MacPherson and others during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  Derick Thomson discusses this bogus Gaelic literature, ncluding two addresses to the sun, supposedly by Ossian (Thomson 1958: 172-188).  Domhnall nan Oran may also have read and been influenced by some of the poetry of the Romantic Revival movement in English literature: a movement which Professor Thomson writes has had its points of contact with Gaelic literature (op. cit., pp. 172ff.).

 

The poem to the sun is, with some variations, also in An Deò-Gréine (12:61-62).

 

iii   Dàn a’ Bhreithanais’, pp. 11-14

 

There is little description of the actual Day of Judgement and the poet concentrates on warning men of the wages of sin, etc.  It is rather pedestrian, but occasionally lightened by some vivid imagery.  There are also references to the sun and the moon in the same role assigned to them in the previous two poems.

 

iv   Dàn do ‘n uaigh’, pp. 14-16

 

Another dialogue poem, this time with the grave.  The predominant theme is that of Christ conquering death.

 

v    Oran do Thullaich Ghlais ris an AbrarTungag” ‘, pp. 16-18

 

A delightful poem, strongly reminiscent of eighteenth century nature poetry.  It has also been published in An Deò-Gréine (12:172-173).

 

vi   Oran an Uillt-Mhoir’, pp. 18-20

 

Similar in spirit and content to the previous poem.

 

Metres:

 

There is not the same variety of metres as in the 1811 collection; not surprisingly, considering the much smaller number of poems.  The most favoured forms are different types of cumha and amhran.

 

(3)   Domhnull MacLeòid.  ‘Oran Molaidh do Dhomhnull MacLeoid, Fear a’ Chlaiginn’.  The MacDonald Collection of Gaelic Poetry.  Edited by the Revs. A. and A. MacDonald.  Inverness: Northern Counties, 1911, pp. 181-182.

 

According to the editors’ note (p. xxxiii), the subject of this eulogy is Donald MacLeod, tacksman of Claggan on the MacLeod Estate in Skye and afterwards of Kingsburgh and then Coulmore, where he died in 1877. 

 

There are many of the elements of the traditional praise poem, although the mood is pleasantly informal.  There are six stanzas, beginning with Moch ‘s mi ‘g eiridh ‘s a’ mhaduinn’.  It is modelled upon ‘Mo Rùn geal òg’.

 

(5)   Meg Bateman and Anne Loughran (eds).  Bàird Ghleann Dail: theGlendale Bards.  Edinburgh: John Donald, 2014.

 

This work brought together the work of Domhnall nan Oran and his two sons, with a representative selection from Domhnall's 1811 and 1871 collections, along with a selection of works from Niall's Clàrsach an Doire and all of Iain Dubh's identifiable works, most of which were previously unpublished.

 

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MACLEOID, Gilleasbuig  (19th / 20th Century)

 

Gilleasbuig MacLeòid belonged to Grealin in East Trotternish, Skye.  He later moved to Edinbane.

 

(Information from Old Skye Tales (MacKenzie 1934: 97).)

 

(1)   Archibald MacLeod.  Oran do ‘n Chogadh Mhór’.  Old Skye Tales.   William MacKenzie.  Glasgow: MacLaren and Sons, 1934, pp. 97-100

 

Composed during the First World War, which the poet sees in terms of a struggle between Good (Britannia) and Evil (Kaiser Wilhelm).  There is no sense of a distinct Scottish or Highland identity.

 

There are ten stanzas, beginning ‘ ‘S goirt an sgeul a dh’ iomadh creutair’, in an amhran metre.

 

(2)  Gilleasbuig MacLeòid.  Aig sruthan coimheach Bhabilon.  Gairm, 53 (An Geamhradh 1965), 29

 

Composed during the time the poet was working Glasgow and was rescued after falling into the water at Port Dundas.  It is in the Rev. Tormod Domhnallach’s article ‘Dioghlum bho Achaidhean na Bàrdachd (3)  (Gairm, 53:29-42).

 

One eight-line stanza is given.  The metre is similar to that of the metrical Psalms.

 

(3)  ‘Mo rùn an ainnir

 

i     Gairm, 53 (An Geamhradh 1965), 29-30

 

ii    Orain an Eilein.  Cairistiona Mhàrtainn.  An t-Eilean Sgiatheanach: Taigh nan Teud, 2001, p. 37

 

Composed to Màiri Nic-an-toisich, a teacher in the school at Valtos who died young.  The first version is entitled ‘Mo rùn an ainnir’ and is from the Rev. Tormod Domhnallach’s article ‘Dioghlum bho Achaidhean na Bàrdachd (3)  (Gairm, 53:29-42.  Just five lines of the song are given.  The second version has four six-line verses and the tune, from Eòin Domhnallach, in staff notation.

 

(4)  Gilleasbuig MacLeòid.  Dh’éirich Tormod Og is Màrtainn’.  Gairm, 76  (Am Foghar 1971), 307-308

 

A song about the land agitation in Valtos: from the Rev. Tormod Domhnallach’s article ‘Aoirean agus Luinneagan Eibhinn’ (Gairm, 76:299-319).  The Tormod Og mentioned was the Rev. Domhnallach’s grandfather.  Four lines only are given. 

 

(5)  Gilleasbuig MacLeòid.  ‘A chruinneag dhonn, ‘s toigh leam thu’.  Orain an Eilein.  Cairistiona Mhàrtainn.  An t-Eilean Sgiatheanach: Taigh nan Teud, 2001, p. 38.

 

A pleasant love song.  Four four-line verses and a refrain.  The tune, from Eòin Domhnallach, is given in staff notation.

 

 

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Poetry   

 

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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