Gaelic Literature of the
Traditional poets and songmakers: D - Domhnall
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DOMHNALL GORM MOR (d. 1616)
Domhnall Gorm Mór, eighth Chief of the MacDonalds of Sleat, succeeded to the chieftainship in 1585 and died in 1616 (Nicolson 1930:80, 121-122). J.G. MacKay recounts several traditions concerning him in part of his article ‘Social Life in Skye from Legend and Story’ (TGSI, 30:16-19)
i TGSI, 30 (1919-1922), 16.
ii TSGI, 41 (1951-1952), 371-372.
iii Tocher, 14 (Summer 1974), 237-238
Accounts of how this flyting came to be composed vary as widely as versions of the flyting itself. According to J.G. MacKay, the encounter took place between Domhnall Gorm and a youth near Staffin. He gives two quatrains, of which Domhnall Gorm’s opening line is ‘A bhiatach sin, ‘s a bhiatach’.
The second version is a transcription from the Dornie MSS, and appears in Angus Matheson’s article ‘Gleanings from the Dornie Manuscripts’, (TGSI, 41:310-381). Here, Domhnall Gorm’s protagonist is one ‘Fear Carrach’. The opening quatrain is Domhnall Gorm’s and begins: ‘S math a chàirich thu do churran’. The remainder, two quatrains and three
couplets, is Am Fear Carrach’s.
The third version is a transcription made by the Rev. William Matheson from the manuscript of Donald Nicolson, one time schoolteacher of Kilmuir, Skye. This time the encounter is between Domhnall Gorm, here referred to as ‘MacDonald’, and a boy at Earlish. There are two quatrains from Domhnall Gorm, beginning with ‘A bhiataich sin ‘s a bhiataich ud’, and two from the boy. There is an English translation.
(2) Domhnall Gorm Mór. ‘Seun is teasairg thu, bhean’. TGSI, 30 (1919-1922), 16-17.
Said to have been composed when Domhnall Gorm was on a visit to Barra. Four quatrains in reply to a servant girl who did not take kindly to his attentions, not realising who he was.
(3) Domhnall Gorm Mór. . ‘Leagail bheag, is togail bhog’. TGSI, 30 (1919-1922), 18.
Instructions given to MacNeill of Barra’s boatbuilder in seven lines of verse.
(4) Domhnall Gorm Mór. ‘Fheara, ‘s mithich dhuinn bhi triall’. TGSI, 30 (1919-1922), 18.
A less than complimentary quatrain, composed upon his leaving Barra.
(5) ‘Bha mi am baile Dhuin-eideann an raoir’
i TGSI, 30 (1919-1922), 19.
Edited by Alexander Carmichael.
p. 251. 2nd
by Angus Matheson. Vol. 6.
In a note to the eleven lines of the first version, J.G. MacKay relates how the ghost of Domhnall Gorm Mór frequently haunted Duntulm, and on one occasion addressed these pious words of admonition to his son.
The Carmina Gadelica versions are of four lines each, the first one beginning with ‘Bha mi ‘n Duneidean an de’, and the second one with ‘Bha mi ‘n Dùn Eideann an dé’
The ascription of these lines to a ghost may serve as a reminder that it is safer to regard all the other ascriptions to Domhnall Gorm as a matter of tradition rather than historical fact.
DOMHNALL MAC IAIN ‘IC SHEUMAIS (16th / 17th Century)
Domhnall Mac Iain ‘Ic Sheumais, ancestor of the MacDonalds of Kingsburgh, belonged to the MacDonalds of Castle Camus, in Skye who were descended from the MacDonalds of Sleat.
Born in Moidart, Domhnall Mac Iain ‘Ic Sheumais was brought up mainly at Castle Camus. He distinguished himself both as a warrior and a poet. Snatches of his songs survived for a long time in the oral tradition of Skye and Uist.
He was badly wounded at the battle of Carinish in North Uist in 1601. According to a North Uist tradition his foster mother, Nic Coisean, tended to his wounds and composed a song which she had several women sing to drown the sound of her foster son’s groans. For a composite text of this song, with notes see Hebridean Folksongs III (Campbell and Collinson 1981 : 94-99, 250-256.
In times of peace Domhnall was a drover or cattle dealer. In his early days he lived on Eriskay. He afterwards lived at Carinish, the scene of one of his greatest exploits. There is a tradition that it was due to the intervention of his fellow-poet, Iain Lom, that he was granted the farm of Cuidreach in Skye. He spent a good
deal of his old age in the house of his daughter, wife of MacLeod of Gesto. He appears to have been unhappy at Gesto, where he is said to have died about 1650.
(Information mainly from Clan Donald, Vol. III (MacDonald and MacDonald 1904: 499-503). Alasdair MacNeacail has give an account in Gaelic of Domhnall Mac Iain’s life in An Gaidheal, (22:179-183).
All three songs listed below are of the metrical type described by James Ross as 1A (Éigse, 7:2 20-225).
Mac Iain ‘Ic Sheumais. ‘Cò beag, no Iorram Mhor Mhic Iain
‘ic Sheumuis’. The
MacDonald Collection of Gaelic Poetry.
Edited by The Revs. A. and A. MacDonald.
In their notes (p. xi), the editors do not suggest as does Alexander Nicolson, that this song appears to make a reference to the Massacre of Isay, which took place about 1568 (Nicolson 1930:435) and in which Roderick MacLeod, Ruairidh Nimheach, of Gairloch murdered several of the MacLeods of Raasay. The last four lines given by the MacDonalds are:
‘N tulgadh so go Eilein Isaidh!
Far an d’ rinn MacLeoid a dhìnneir.
‘S far an d’ rinn Mac Colla ‘n diobhail.
Dhoirt e fuil ‘s gun d’ chaisg e iotadh
Alexander Nicolson’s version of these four lines is as follows:
‘N tulgadh so gu Eilean Iosaidh,
Far ‘n d’ rinn MacLeòid an dinear,
Far ‘n d’ rinn MacAilein diobairt;
Dhoirt e fuil, ‘s gu ‘n chaisg e ìotadh.
The third line is crucial to Nicolson’s contention that the reference is to the Massacre of Isay, for ‘Mac Ailein’ could refer to Ruairidh Nimheach, who was the son of Allan MacLeod of Gairloch, whereas the style ‘MacLeòid’ belonged to the MacLeod chiefs of Harris and Dunvegan. The MacDonald Collection version would seem to refer to an event other than the massacre perpetrated by Ruairidh Nimheach. There could possibly be a connection between it and the subject of the anonymous lament ‘ ‘S ann mu ‘n taca so ‘n dé’ (MacLeòid 1811:2 37-239 ; Sinclair 1901: 107-108; Creighton and MacLeod 1964: 90-92).
There are eight single-line verses, beginning with ‘Luchd tighe dheanadh mo fhreagairt’, and a refrain of mixed vocables and text.
Mac Iain ‘Ic Sheumais. ‘Creagag, no Iorram Bheag Mhic Iain ‘ic Sheumais’. The
MacDonald Collection of Gaelic Poetry.
Edited by the Revs. A. and A. MacDonald.
Here the poet recalls two of the great events of his youth, Blar a’ Chuilthionn, or the Battle of Coire na Creiche, and the raid made on Dunvegan by Domhnall Gorm and his brother. According to Alexander Nicolson, the battle of Coire na Creiche took place in 1601 (Nicolson 1930:110).
There are ten single-line verses, and a refrain of mixed text and vocables.
Mac iain ‘Ic Sheumais. ‘
In their notes (pp. xi-xii) the editors write of the tradition that this song had been an ex tempore composition, composed upon an existing refrain when Domhnall was living as an old man in his daughter’s house. Commenting upon this, Dr. John MacInnes (1969-70) writes that, taken at face value, the tradition could imply the existence of freely circulating
vocable refrains to which a text was fitted whenever the need arose (TGSI, 46: 63).
There are thirteen single-line verses, with a vocable refrain ‘Hu-ò hi rithibh ò’.
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