Gaelic Literature of the Isle of Skye: an annotated  bibliography   


Traditional poets and songmakers:  N







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NICDHOMHNAILL, ---? of Viewfield, Portree


‘Gaol nam Fear Dubh’.  Orain an Eilein.  Cairistìona Mhàrtainn.  Taigh na Teud: An t-Eilian Sgitheanach, 2001, p. 90.


An old song, said to have been composed by a woman of the Viewfield MacDonalds.  Six couplets and a three-line refrain.  Art MacCarmaig got it from D.R. Dòmhnallach of Portree High School.



NICDHOMHNAILL, Catrìona  (1925 - )


Catherine MacDonald (neé MacLeod), Catrìona NicDhòmhnail,l was born in Staffin, Skye.  She spent some years working away from the island and finally returned to Staffin after her marriage.  For a biographical note see

Tuil: Anthology of 20th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse (Black 1999:790-791). 


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


i   Catrìona NicDhòmhnaill.  ‘Cum Sinn Dlùth’, pp. 504-507.


ii  Catrìona NicDhòmhnaill.  ‘An t-Aoibhneas a tha staigh sa Chridhe’, pp. 506-509.


Two beautiful hymns, with parallel English translations.



NICGHILL’EATHAIN, Anna  (Early 19th Century)


Of Sleat, in Skye


Tha mi fo chùram


i     The Highlander (11th October, 1873), p. 3


ii    The Gesto Collection of Highland Music.  Compiled by Keith Norman MacDonald.  Leipzig: For the compiler, 1895,  App. p. 55


iii   Orain an Eilein.  Cairistìona Mhàrtainn.  An t-Eilean Sgitheanach:  Taigh nan Teud, 2001, 72


Neither of the first two versions are ascribed to Anna NicGhill’ Eathain.  A note prefacing the first version states that it was composed by the sweetheart of Tormod MacNeacail, one of the Nicolsons of Scorrybreck, who drowned in

Australia after leaving Skye.  The third version’s text is from the Gesto Collection and its tune is from Seònag NicLeòid.  The metre is strophic.


The Rev. Tormod Domhnallach identified the composer as Anna Bheag Bealach an t-Sliachd, Anna NicGhill’ Eathain (Domhnallach 1965: 38).  A friend, who came from Sleat, told me that his father often used to recite the song and told him that the Nicolsons did not approve of the romance, regarding Anna as their social inferior.


It is clear from internal evidence that the song was composed after Tormod MacNeacail left Skye.  He had been the composer of ‘Is Gann gun dìrich mi chaoidh’ (q.v.)



NIC GUMARAID, Catriona.  See: The New Poetry



NIC GUMARAID, Morag.  See: The New Poetry









NIC LEOID, Sine  (19th Century)


This poetess was born in Skye and emigrated to Prince Edward Island with her parents about 1851.  She composed several poems and had a great store of oral tradition.


(Information from the Rev. A. MacLean Sinclair’s notes to the song noted below).


Sine NicLeòid.  ‘Cumha do Ruari MacLeòid, a chaochail sa bhliadhna 1884.  Bha e ochd bliadhna diag air fhichead de dh’ aois’.  Comhchruinneachadh Ghlinn’-a-Bhàird.  Edited by the Rev. A. MacLean Sinclair.  Charlottetown, P.E. Island: G. Herbert Haszard, 1890, pp. 363-365.


This lament for a brother has many echoes of the Gaelic elegiac tradition.  There is an indication in the penultimate stanza that he met his death while prospecting for gold.  There are seven eight-line stanzas, beginning with ‘Fhuair mi naidheachd Di-luain’, in a cumha metre.



NIC MHATHAIN, Seònaid  (20th Century)


This poetess was a native of Glendale in Skye.  A friend of mine (now deceased), who was also a native of Glendale, told me that her maiden name was Campbell and she was a sister of a well known local personality, Domhnall an Dannsair.


(1)  Seònaid NicMhathain.  Gleann na h-Irioslachd: dàin Spioradail.  Le Seònaid NicMhathain, Eilean a’ Cheò.  Spiritual hymns by Mrs. Jessie Matheson.  Fo làimh Eachainn MhicDhùghaill.  Glaschu: Alasdair MacLabhruinn ‘s a Mhic, n.d.  20p.


Donald John MacLeod notes that MacLaren dates this publication 1927 and that it was advertised in 1929 (MacLeod 1980:144).


There are eleven hymns, with the music for two of them given in tonic sol-fa notation.  The predominant theme is one of trust in God and the tone is joyful and positive, as typified by ‘Cum m’ imeachd suas’ (pp. 7-9).


A particularly interesting hymn is ‘An Neamhuid Luachmhor (pp. 13-15).  From this it appears that there were those who objected to her hymn making and as a result she was expelled from the Free Church.  However, she is undaunted and wishes blessings upon one MacAonghais who had apparently defended her.


Metrically, her influences are mixed.  She uses traditional Gaelic metres along with those of the metrical psalms and English hymns.  She is somewhat given to irregularities of rhyme and she handles language well enough to make this surprising.


(2)  Seònaid NicMhathain.  Gleann-Dail: dàin Spioradail.  Le Seònaid NicMhathain, Eilean a’ Cheò.  Glasgow: Alexander MacLaren and Sons, 1931.  16p.


There are ten hymns and poems which thematically and metrically are very similar to the hymns in Gleann na h-Irioslachd.  The first poem (p. 3) is in praise of the Rev. Hector MacLean, a native of Tiree who served as parish

minister in Strath from 1914 until his death in a road accident in 1943 (Scott 1928:184; Scott 1950:687).  The fifth poem (p. 8) is an address of encouragement to a Campbell who seemed to be suffering some kind of religious persecution.



NICOLSON, Alexander (1827-1893)


Alexander Nicolson was born in Husabost, Glendale, Skye.  He attended the University of Edinburgh where he studied law.  In 1872 he was appointed Sheriff-Substitute at Kirkcudbright and was transferred to Greenock in 1885.  Upon his retirement in 1889 he went to live with his sister in Edinburgh. Twelve years before his sudden death in 1893 his Alma Mater conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D.


In 1865 Sheriff Nicolson was appointed Assistant Commissioner to visit and report upon the state of education in the Highlands.  He was also a member of Lord Napier’s Commission, appointed in 1883 to inquire into the condition of the Highland crofters.


He wrote in both Gaelic and English and on the evidence of his published writings it might be said that English was his preferred medium of literary expression.  Some of his English-language poems and songs achieved

considerable popularity.  His principle contribution to Gaelic literature is the volume A Collection of Gaelic Proverbs and Familiar Phrases based on Macintosh’s Collection (Nicolson 1881).  In 1881 he was appointed to the SPCK’s committee appointed to revise the Gaelic Scriptures.


(Adapted from an appreciation by ‘Fionn’ (Celtic Monthly, 16:91-92).  See also Domhnall S. MacLeòid’s ‘Gaidheal gu Chùl’ (An Gaidheal, 54:104-105) and T.M. Murchison’s entry for him in The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Thomson1983:214).)


Alexander Nicolson.  ‘The Isle of Skye: an Edinburgh Summer Song: An t-Eilean Sgiathanach: Oran Samhraidh’.


i     An Gaidheal, 4 (1875), 167-168.


ii   Celtic Monthly, 16 (1907-1908), 91-92.


Possibly the most popular of Sheriff Nicolson’s compositions, given in the original English along with his own Gaelic translation.  The Gaelic follows fairly closely the rhythm if the original.  Malcolm MacFarlane composed a Mod prize-winning tune for this song (An Deò-Gréine, 9:52).



 NICOLSON, Angus.  See: The New Poetry



NICOLSON, Donald.  See: MACNEACAIL, Domhnall



NICOLSON, John.  See:  MACNEACAIL, Iain (‘An Sgiobair’)



NICOLSON, Malcolm.  See:  MACNEACAIL, Calum






NICOLSON, Norman.  See:  MACNEACAIL, Tormod





Nic Othail was the mother of Faobairne MacCuidhein, probably the greatest name in Raasay heroic tradition.  Upon his death she cried out in a verse beginning ‘Mura b’e mo cheann’ and her cry was so loud that it was heard in Applecross and it split her own skull.


Sorley MacLean has given an account of this in his ‘Some Raasay Traditions’ (TGSI, 49:377-397).






NIC RATH, Catriona  (19th Century)


This poetess belonged to Harlosh, by Loch Bracadale in Skye.


Catriona NicRath.  Bàthadh Chlann-a-Phì’.  Cunnartan Cuain.  Aonghas Mac-a-Phì.  Loanhead: C. MacDhomhnaill, 1981,  dd. 44-45.


A lament for Aonghas Mac-a-Phì and his son, fishermen of Harlosh, who were drowned in Loch Bracadale in November 1889.  Aonhgas’ great-grandson and namesake recovered the words from Bean Choinnich a’ Chanaich, a MacLeod of Roag, who had known the victims when young.  There are seven stanzas, beginning with ‘B’ i siud an naidheachd mhuladach’ in a cumha metre.




NIC ‘UIRICH  (17th Century?)


An old woman who lived in the mansion house of Rigg in Trotternish.  The Rev. William Matheson, in his notes to the verses noted below, writes that her name is spelt ‘Nic Quiraich’ in the manuscript and that she was probably a member of the MacMhuirich family.


Nic ‘Uirich.  Fhir a thàinig a Cinn-tàile’.  Tocher, 14 (Summer 1974), 235.


Two quatrains from the MSS of Donald Nicolson, parochial schoolmaster of Kilmuir, Skye.  Copied by the Rev. William Matheson and published in his article ‘The Cliar Sheanchain’ (Tocher, 14:235-238).


Two Lochaber bards had entered the mansion house of Rigg and demanded as their right a portion of meat.  Nic ‘Uirich replied in verse that she had prior right and that her infirmity would not stop her from defending it.






Iain Garbh, seventh chief of the MacLeods of Raasay, was renowned for his strength and valour.  His death by drowning in 1671 was much lamented and gave rise to speculation, long current in the oral tradition, that the

tragedy was caused by witchcraft.  Historical evidence suggests however,  that drunkenness was a more likely cause.  Richard Sharpe has discussed the documentary evidence (Sharpe 1978:19-21, and both historical and

traditional sources are cited in the fifth volume of Carmina Gadelica (Matheson 1954:300-301.  See also the Rev. Tormod Domhnallach’s account (Gairm, 79:214-217).


Iain Garbh’s death is the subject of a lament by the poetess Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh (Watson 1934:26-31, 114-117).  There are four other extant laments which have been variously attributed to his sister, or his wife, or his foster mother or nurse, or to Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh.  However, the general consensus seems to be that they were composed by one or other of his sisters, Seònaid and Sìleas.  Sorley MacLean recounts a Raasay tradition that Iain Garbh’s sister made a lament for him every Friday for a year after his death (TGSI, 49:387; TGSI, 52:305).  For a poem about Iain Garbh by a traditional bard of modern times, see Calum MacNeacail’sOran an t-Sìdhiche’ (MacNeacail 1975:10-12).


(1)  ‘Cumha Iain Ghairbh


This lament is of the type described by James Ross as IIB (Ross 1953-5: 235), in which the basic unit of a stressed couplet with aicill takes on the continuation form, where the second couplet of each quatrain is repeated as the first couplet of the next, and there is end rhyme between the final stressed syllables of the couplets.  Among the versions listed below there is variation in the vocable refrains and considerable variation in length.  Several of the versions contain textual material not found in any of the others, but they all have sufficient material in common to be regarded as versions of the one song, with one possible exception.  All versions, with the exception of the fifth one, begin with a couplet similar to one or other of those quoted in the first two versions.


i     Baintighearna D’Oyly.  Orain Ghàidhlig.  Ghlaschu: Gilleasbuig Mac-na-Ceardadh, 1875, dd. 18-19.


Attributed to Iain Garbh’s foster mother.  There are twelve couplets, beginning with ‘ ‘S mi ‘m shuidhe air an fhaoilinn / Ri caoineadh ‘s ri tuireadh.  The tune is given in staff notation on p. [23].


ii   An Gaidheal, 6 (1877), 280.


Ascribed to Iain Garbh’s sister.  There are fourteen couplets, beginning with ‘ ‘S mi na m’ shuidh’ air an fhaodhlainn / Gun fhaoilte, gun fhuran’.  This version has been reprinted on a number of occasions: (a) minus

five couplets in Songs and Hymns of the Scottish Highlands (MacBean 1888: no. 6);  (b) Gaelic Bards from 1411 to 1715 (Sinclair 1890:95-97);  (c) minus four couplets in Orain nam Beann (Morrison 1913:48-49).


In From the Farthest Hebrides (Fergusson 1978:267-268) there is a version which Donald A. Fergusson obtained from the Rev. John N. MacDonald’s manuscript notebook (NLS MS 3783).  Professor Colm

Ó Baoill has told me that he believes this manuscript to be also the source of the An Gaidheal version.


iii   Keith Norman MacDonald (compiler).  The Gesto Collection of Highland Music.  Leipzig: for the Compiler, 1895, App. p. 17.


Ten couplets. The music is given in staff notation.  This version was contributed by Frances Tolmie and has been reprinted in The Old Songs of Skye (Bassin 1977: 44).


iv   Revs. A and A. MacDonald (editors).  The MacDonald Collection of Gaelic Poetry.  Inverness: Northern Counties, 1911, p. 155.


Ascribed to Iain Garbh’s sister Seònaid (p. xxix).  There are seven couplets, beginning with ‘Tha do mhiolchoin air iallan / ‘S cha triall iad do ‘n mhunadh.  Contains a reference to the grief of  ‘MacDhomhnuill’ not to be found in any of the other versions noted here.  This version might possibly be regarded as an independent one. 

Professor Colm Ó Baoill has suggested to me that its probable source is Carmichael Watson MS 135 (p. 119).


v    An Deò-Gréine,  8 (1912-1913), 103-105.


The text is a conflation of versions recorded by Kenneth MacLeod from Mary MacLeod of Eigg and Catriona MacLean of Raasay.  The tune, in tonic sol-fa notation, was noted by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser from Fr. Macmillan of Benbecula.  In his introductory notes Kenneth MacLeod remarks that this lament is generally attributed to Iain Garbh’s sister.  There are sixteen couplets with a prose translation.  An abbreviated version is in Songs of the Hebrides, 2 (Kennedy-Fraser and MacLeod 1917:102-109).


vi   Fr. John MacMillan.  Gaelic Songs of the Isles of the West.   Vol. 2.  London: Boosey and Co., 1930, pp. 14-19.


Eight couplets with a verse translation.  The music is in staff notation.  A note attributes the lament to Iain Garbh’s stepmother.


vii   Alexander Carmichael.  Carmina Gadelica.  Vol. 5.  Edited by Angus Matheson.  Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1954, pp. 300-304.


Version noted from a seanchaidh of Fiskavaig, Skye, who attributes it to Iain Garbh’s wife.  There are ten couplets.  Traditional accounts of Iain Garbh’s death are given.


viii  K. C. Craig.  Orain Luaidh Màiri Nighean Alasdair.  Glasgow: for K.C. Craig, [1948].


A South Uist version of eleven couplets.


ix   TGSI, 49 (1974-1976), 385.


From Sorley MacLean’s article ‘Some Raasay Traditions’ (TGSI, 49:377-397).  He got this version, attributed to Iain Garbh’s wet nurse, from his grandmother Mary Matheson and his aunt, Peggie MacLean.  There are twelve couplets.


(2)  ‘Cumha Iain Ghairbh


This lament was at one time attributed to Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh, but her editor, J. C. Watson, accepts the Raasay tradition that it was composed by Iain Garbh’s sister.


i     Donald Campbell.  A Treatise on the Language, Poetry and Music of the Highland Clans.  Edinburgh: D. R. Collie and Son, 1862, pp. 269-270.


Attributed to Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh.  Four quatrains, beginning with ‘Och nan och, mo leir chràdh / Mar dh-eirich do ‘n ghaisgeach’.  Melody, in staff notation, from Mrs. Macdonell of Keppoch (App., p. 12).


ii   Keith Norman MacDonald (compiler).  The Gesto Collection of Highland Music.  Leipzig: for the Compiler, 1895, p. 36.


Derived from the version in Donald Campbell’s A Treatise … (see above) and attributed to Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh.


iii   Celtic Monthly, 18 (1910), 60.


An improved edition of the version in Donald Campbell’s A Treatise …, with the music given in tonic sol-fa notation.  Calum MacPharlain’s introductory notes include a highly critical analysis of An Comunn Gaidhealach’s Mod version (see below).  He appears to leave the question of authorship open.


iv   Coisir a’ Mhòid I.  The Mod Collection of Gaelic Part Songs 1896-1912 (First Book).  Glasgow: Alex. MacLaren and Sons for An Comunn Gaidhealach, n.d., p. 50.


Based upon the version in Donald Campbell’s A Treatise …, but with one extra quatrain and different vocables.  The tune, given in staff notation, has been considerably remodelled.  Attributed to Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh.



v    Marjory Kennedy-Fraser and Kenneth MacLeod.  Songs of the Hebrides.  Vol. 3.  London: Boosey and Co., 1921, p. xx.


One quatrain, with vocable refrain, corresponding closely to the first quatrain and the refrain of the A Treatise … version.  The tune given in staff notation.  Attributed to Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh,  as “singer at least”.


vi   An Gaidheal, 29 (1933-1934), 168.


Some Perthshire traditions concerning Iain Garbh’s drowning are related by ‘F.M.’, with a little known quatrain, apparently by Iain Garbh’s foster-mother, beginning ‘Tha do phiuthar gun bhràthair’.  F.M.’s notes imply that the quatrain belongs to the first group listed here, but the end rhyme between lines two and four make it more likely that it belongs to this second group.


vii  J. Carmichael Watson (Editor).  Gaelic Songs of Mary MacLeod.  London and Glasgow: Blackie and Son, 1934.  Repr.  Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd for the SGTS, 1965, pp. 100-101.


A reproduction of the Coisir a’ Mhòid text (see no. iv above), with a parallel English translation.  In his notes, J.C. Watson writes that although Coisir a’ Mhòid ascribes it to Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh, Alexander Nicolson and other Raasay informants have not hesitation in ascribing it to Iain Garbh’s sister.  J.C. Watson also believes that the style of the song itself indicates that it was not composed by Màiri.


(3)  ‘Cumha Iain Ghairbh


i     Angus MacKay.  A Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd, or Highland Pipe Music.  Aberdeen, Inverness & Elgin: Logan and Co., [1838], App., p. 5.


Two quatrains, beginning ‘Iain Ghairbh Mhic ghille Challum / B’e mo bharantas làider’, with a vocable refrain.  Included in the notes to Pàdruig Mór MacCruimein’s piobaireachd ‘Cumha Iain Ghairbh’.


ii   TGSI, 24 (1899-1901), 166.


Seventeen couplets, beginning with ‘Seall a mach an e e / ‘S mi feitheamh na faire’, arranged in five stanzas of unequal length, with a refrain of mixed vocables and text.  From MacLagan MS 137 (MacKechnie 1973:436).


iii   Gairm, 145 (An Geamhradh 1988-1989), 65-66.


Also from MacLagan MS 137 and entitled ‘Marbhrann Do Mhac Ghille Chalum Rarasa’.  The text is arranged as a quatrain with mixed vocable and text refrain, followed by the remaining fifteen couplets in a single sequence.  In Ruaraidh MacThomais’s ‘Bho Lamh-Sgriobhainnean MhicLathagain (XII)’ (Gairm, 145:63-66).


iv   Colm Ó Baoill.  Gàir nan Clàrsach: The Harps’ Cry.  Translated by Meg Bateman.  Edinburgh: Birlinn, 1994, 156-161, 229.


Again from the MacLagan MS and with a parallel verse translation.  The editor has omitted one difficult couplet and the vocables given here are not from the MS, but from the tune as sung by J.C.M. Campbell.


v    Alexander MacDonald.  Story and Song from Loch Ness-Side. 2nd edition.  Inverness: Gaelic Society of Inverness, 1982, pp. 289-290.  (1st edition, 1914).


Eight couplets, beginning ‘Seall a mach … ‘.  Attributed to Iain Garbh’s sister.  The tune is given in tonic sol-fa notation on p. 438.


vi    TGSI, 49 (1974-1975), 386-387.


From Sorley MacLean’s ‘Some Raasay Traditions’ (TGSI, 49:377-397).  He got this version from his aunt Peggie MacLean.  It begins ‘ ‘S mi ‘nam shuidh’ air an tulaich’ and there are eight couplets with a refrain of mixed vocables and text.


vii   Donald A Fergusson (editor).  From the Farthest Hebrides.  Toronto: Macmillan of Canada, 1978, pp. 265-267.


A version collected in Raasay by the singer J.C.M. Campbell.  There are nine couplets, beginning ‘Sgeula nach binn leam’ with a refrain of mixed vocables and text.


(4)  ‘Cumha Iain Ghairbh


Rev. A. MacLean Sinclair (editor).  Clàrsach na Coille.  Glasgow: Archibald Sinclair, 1881, pp. 262-263.


The source of this version appears to be the John MacLean MS (p. 418).  MacLean Sinclair uses stanzas 1-3, 5-8 and 11-12 of the MS version with a considerable amount of textual editing.  There are seven three-line stanzas in a strophic metre beginning ‘Moch ‘s a’ mhaduinn Di-dòmhnaich’.  This lament not only differs in metre from all the other ones noted here, but in theme as well.  It begins as the lament of a seduced and abandoned young girl and then becomes a lament for her dead brother.  Prof. Colm Ó Baoill has suggested to me that it may be a conflation of two different songs.



NOBLE, Andrew.  See NOBUL, Andreas.



NOBUL, Andreas.


This poet taught Gaelic at the school in Glendale, Skye.  The poem noted below was published posthumously.


Andreas Nobul.  ‘An Duine Mi-Fhéin’.  Life and Work: Na Duilleagan Gàidhlig (1943: Aireamh 5), 6-8.


Twenty-one stanzas in an amhran metre, beginning ‘Thug mi beum air Maighstir-féin’.























Traditional: known authorship

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