Gaelic Literature of the
Traditional poets and songmakers: E – G
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FERGUSSON, Fergus. See MACFHEARGHAIS, Fearghus
FERGUSSON, Finlay. See MACFHEARGHAIS, Fionnlagh
FINLAYSON, Duncan. See MACFHIONNLAIGH, Donnchadh
FIONNGHAL NIGHEAN ALASDAIR RUAIDH (17th Century)
While the poem noted and discussed below is ascribed to a gentlewoman of Clann Mhuirich, both J.C. Watson and the Rev. William Matheson believe that she was probably the ‘Fionnghal nighean Alasdair Ruaidh’ mentioned by John MacKenzie (1872:20). Certain traditions suggest some kink of connection with Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh, and rather than attempt to draw any conclusions from the numerous published references which I have found I have listed them all immediately following the notes to the poem. The first three listed, and which I have already mentioned above, are the most important in that they bear directly upon the poem itself. The remainder are principally concerned with the various traditions suggesting a possible link with Màiri Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh.
‘Cumha do Mac Leoid, le mnaoi uasail de Chloinn Mhuirich, ‘nuair bha i ‘gamharc bhar mullach beinne ann an Troternis air an luing a bha giulan corp Mhic Leoid gu ruig na Hearadh, far an robh e gu bhi air adhlacadh’. Cochruinneacha Taoghta de Shaothair nam Bard Gaeleach. Edited by Alexander and Donald Stewart. Duneidin: T. Stiuart, 1804, pp. 396-401.
The Rev. William Matheson points out, in the third reference listed below, that the reference in the last stanza to the widow of the subject being a daughter of MacDonald of Sleat proves that he was Iain Breac, XVI of Dunvegan who died in 1693.
It is very much a traditional elegy. The dead chief’s generosity and hospitality is described and praised, as is his physical appearance, his proves as a hunter and his bravery.
There are thirteen stanzas, beginning ‘’S mor mo mhulad s mi m’ aonar’. The metre is cumha, and Prof. Colm Ó Baoill has pointed out to me that it is similar to the one used by Sìleas na Ceapaich in her ‘Laoidh air Bàs a Fir agus a h-Igne’ (Ó Baoill 1972: 58-63, 238-239). He has also pointed out to me that the two laments have similar beginnings, and that Sìleas na Ceapaich, who composed her lament c. 1720, may have modelled it upon this lament for Iain Breac, composed c. 1693.
i MacKenzie, John (editor). Sàr-Obair nam Bàrd Gaelach.
In a note MacKenzie writes of a Flora M’Leod, known as ‘Fionaghal Nighean Alasdair Ruaidh’, who lived in Trotternish and whose descendants at the time of writing still lived there. He mentions two of her compositions, a satire on the Martins and an elegy for MacLeod of Dunvegan.
J. Carmichael (editor). Gaelic Songs of Mary MacLeod.
J. C. Watson’s notes on the MacLagan MSS include a discussion of a version of ‘Cumha do Mac Leoid’ which in the MS is entitle ‘Air Bas MhicLeoid, le Nin Alastair Ruaidh’. H writes that this version is not quite as good as that in the Stewart Collection, with which it closely corresponds, but that it contains some correct glosses on unusual words. He gives the words of the concluding stanza, which is not found in the Stewart Collection version, and concludes by saying that the poem is almost certainly that referred to by John MacKenzie (1872: 20).
William (editor). The Blind Harper :
the Songs of Roderick Morison and his Music.
In a note the Rev. Matheson suggests that the composer of ‘Cumha do Mac Leoid’ in the Stewart Collection belonged to the Clann Mhuirich by marriage and that she is probably to be identified with the ‘Fionnghal
nighean Alasdair Ruaidh’ mentioned by John MacKenzie, see first reference listed here.
He writes that internal evidence in the lament suggests that she may have been Florence MacLeod, a widow, who was in receipt of an annuity chargeable to the MacLeod estate (TGSI, 44:320).
Magnus. ‘Skye Bards’.
v Matheson, William. ‘Notes on Mary MacLeod: (1) Her Family Connections; (2) Her Forgotten Songs’. TGSI. 41 (1951-1952), 11.
vi Domhnallach, Tormod. ‘Dioghlum bho Achaidhean na Bàrdachd (2)’. Gairm, 52 (Am Foghar 1965), 316.
vii Collinson, Francis. The Traditional and National Music of
viii MacKinnon, Donald, and Morrison,
Alick. The MacLeods:
the Genealogy of a Clan. Section
ix Tocher, 27 (Winter 1977-1978), 150-151.
FIONNLASAN, Donnchadh (1897 – 1966)
From Ord. These songs were among those written down by Uisdean MacCoinnich, a schoolmaster of Ord, a few years before the poet died. For a Biographical notice of this poet, see Tuil: Anthology of 20th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse (Black 1999: 750).
i Donnchadh Fionnlasan, ‘
Appears to have been written during WW2. Ten four-line stanzas, beginning ‘Gur e sinn tha air ar pianadh …’. Reprinted, with parallel English translation in Tuil: Anthology of 20th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse (Black 1999: 220-223).
ii Donnchadh Fionnlasan. ‘A ghràidh ghil as binne guth’. Gairm, 133 (An Foghar 1988), 323-324
A love song of eight four-line verses and a refrain.
iii Donnchadh Fionnlasan. ‘Deoch-slàinte luchd nan camanan’. Gairm, 145 (An Geamhradh 1988-89), 221-223
A song celebrating the Bernisdale team’s prowess at shinty. Ten four-line verses and a refrain.
FLEIDSEAR, Aonghas (1896 – c. 1983)
Aonghas Fleidsear was born in Uig in Skye in 1896 and like his father, was a blacksmith. He fought in the First World War. He lived in Skeabost and died c. 1983. His obituary in in Tocher, 38 (Spring 1983), 73.
Aonghas Fleidsear, agus Iain MacNeacail. Orain Aonghais agus An Sgiobair. Deasaichte le Catriona NicGumaraid. Dundéagh: Catriona NicGumaraid, 1980. 47 d.
The fifteen songs by Aonghais are a good example of the village bard genre of Gaelic poetry. Here we find reflected the events and personalities of the community in which he lived, described with a gentle humour. However, this gentle humour is absent in ‘Oran Dotair Green’ (pp. 24-25) about an absentee landlord. Perhaps the most memorable of Aonghais’ songs is ‘Old Folks Party’ which describes in an amusing and touching way the moment when he had to face the fact that he was no longer as young as he used to be.
Aonghas uses a variety of traditional metres, and frequently with considerable skill. Nine of his songs are in strophic or strophic-type metres. Three are amhran or cumha, and there is one example each of quatrain, limerick and waulking song metres.
‘Orain an Sgiobair’
Of An Sgiobair’s
fourteen songs, six are love songs, including a memorable one ‘Bidh mi cuimhneachadh ‘s ag ionndrainn’
(p. 42): a graceful tribute to the girls left behind when he went to fight in
the war. The war features again in ‘
He uses strophic, quatrain and amhran / cumha metrical forms. He is Perhaps less skilled than Aonghas in his handling of metrical forms and more restricted in his range of topics.
Orain Aonghais agus an Sgiobair is accompanied by a audiocassette recording of both poets singing their songs.
FLETCHER, Angus. See FLEIDSEAR, Aonghas
GILLEASBUIG AOTROM (19th Century)
Gilleasbuig Aotrom, Gilleasbuig MacMhathain, was a well known personality in early nineteenth-century Skye, one of the class of people referred to sometimes in Gaelic as ‘Na h-Amadain’ or in English as ‘Wise Fools’. The following fragments of verse may appear to be slight in themselves, although amusing; but they have
interest and value as part of the corpus of community lore and as part of the lore and legend attached to a colourful and interesting character.
(1) ‘Fear a’ Choire’
i The Gesto Collection of
ii Puirt-a-Beul – Mouth
Tunes. Collected and arranged by
Keith Norman MacDonald.
iii Orain an Eilein: Gaelic Songs of Skye. Cairistìona Mhàrtainn. Taigh na Teud: An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, 2001, p. 104.
Fear a’ Choire, MacKinnon of Corry, was a favourite butt of Gilleasbuig’s mischievous wit. This song is in strathspey time. In the Gesto Collection the tune is given in staff notation along with one four-line stanza beginning ‘U bhi il, Fear a’ Choire. Puirt-a-Beul gives the Gesto Collection version, with the tune in tonic sol-fa notation, and six lines of an alternative version. Puirt-a-Beul also has two stanzas and the refrain of what K. N. MacDonald believed to be a parody on Gilleasbuig Aotrom’s song. Version four is from Seonag NicLeòid.
(2) ‘ ‘Nuair a theid thu do ‘n chùbaid’
i Clàrsach an Doire. Niall MacLeòid. 6th edition. Glaschu: Gairm, 1975, p. 231
ii The Men of Skye. Roderick MacCowan.
iii Guth na Bliadhna, 16 (1919), 74
: Iochdar-Trotternish and District. William
The Rev. Mr. Souter, Minister of Diurinish, was another of Gilleasbuig’s frequent ‘victims’. In these lines he pokes fun at the minister’s less than perfect Gaelic.
The first version has eight lines and first appeared in the 1893 edition of Clàrsach an Doire. The second version has fourteen lines, beginning ‘Bith an saoghal na bhutarras’. The third version is printed as four long lines. The fourth version has eight lines.
(3) Gilleasbuig Aotrom. ‘O, a shaoghail shalaich’. Stornaway Gazette (7th October 1972), p. 3.
Four lines composed when Gilleasbuig was visiting two elderly maiden sisters who lived at Cnoc na Gaoithe in Portree. From a manuscript compiled by the Rev. Roderick MacCowan and published in the Rev. T. M. Murchison’s ‘Còmhradh Cagailte’ column.
GILLE CALUIM GARBH MAC GHILLE CHALUIM (obit. C. 1596)
The composer of the poem noted below was probably
the third chief of the MacLeods of Raasay, who died
c. 1596, although W. J. Watson has in Bàrdachd
Ghaidhlig gives the date of the composer’s
death as being c. 1616. There has been
some confusion about the succession of the early chiefs of the MacLeods of Raasay, a confusion which has been discussed
by Richard Sharpe in his Raasay: a
‘Shaoghail, is diombuan do mhùirn’
i Reliquiae Celticae. Alexander
Cameron. Edited by Alexander MacBain and the Rev. John Kennedy. Vol. 2.
ii Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig. Edited by William J. Watson. 2nd edition.
iii The Fernaig Manuscript.
Edited by Malcolm MacFarlane.
The first version is a transcription from the 1688 Fernaig MS, and is cited by W. J. Watson as his source for the second version, which he has entitled ‘Na trì làmha bu phailte’. The third version is Malcolm MacFarlane’s transcription from the Fernaig was composed in old age and combines with simplicity and effect a meditation upon the impermanence of the world with praise for the generosity of three dead chiefs.
W. J. Watson identifies the metre of the first of the five stanzas as deibhidhe. The metre of the remaining stanzas resembles the Middle Irish rannaigheacht bec mór. Prof. Colm Ó Baoill has discussed the use of this metre in various seventeenth and eighteenth-century poems (Ó Baoill 1972: 240-241).
GILLIES, Alastair (1808-1880)
Father Alastair Gillies (Alexander Gillis) came from Sunart in Argyllshire. He came to Eigg as parish priest in 1842 and died there in 1880. His memory survived long in Eigg and in Canna, which he also served.
(Information from Canon Alexander MacWilliam of Aboyne, and from J. L. Campbell’s Canna (Campbell 1984:226.257) ).
Alastair Gillies. ‘Latha nan Tri-Righrean’. Mac-Talla (17th March 1899), p. 264.
A poem of sixty lines, beginning ‘Air dhuinn bhi là ‘sa bheinn sheilg’, in which the story of the Three Kings is told in the style of Ossianic balladry. It is impossible to say whether Fr. Gillies was the author of the poem, or whether he had collected it from another source. A note heading the version in the Carmichael-Watson MSS, and reproduced with slight adaptation in Mac-Talla, indicates that it was found among Fr. Gillies’ papers after his death. Indeed, John MacKechnie has speculated upon a possible connection with Alasdair Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair (Mackechnie 1973: 464), who was for a time Baillie of Canna and whose son Ronald became tacksman of Laig in Eigg.
The manuscript version to which I
have referred above is in MS no. 61 of the Carmichael-Watson MSS in the
library of the
MacKechnie’s Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts (Mackechnie 1973:464).
GILLIES, Archibald. See MACGILL-IOSA, Gilleasbuig
GILLIES, Donald. See MACGHILL-IOSA, Domhnall
GILLIES, John. See MACGHILL-IOSA, Iain
GORDAN, Niall (present day )
Born and brought up in Dingwall and Muir of Ord. Niall Gòrdan has long been Interested in the poetry of Skye, both traditional and modern and this interest has Inspired his own work as a poet. He and his wife Sadie have settled in Skye where he works as a translator and continues to compose poetry in both Irish and Scottish Gaelic. He and Sadie also form the Biorachan Beag Céilidh Band. The collection of his poetry noted below includes a number of poems related to both Skye and Raasay.
Niall Gòrdan. Eadar Baile is Beann.
Dual-language poems in Gaelic and English with a foreword by Maoilios Caimbeul, who writes that Niall is between being “a traditional local poet and a lyrical modern poet”.
GORDAN, Uisdean (20th Century?)
This poet was from Lonfearn in Staffin.
Uisdean Gòrdan. ‘
An amusing song about misfortune
GORDON, Hugh. See GORDAN, Uisdean.
GORMAN, Rody. See: The New Poetry
GRANND, Domhnall (1903-1970)
Domhnall Grannd was born in Camuscross,
in Sleat, Skye and had a distinguished career in
education. In his youth he was a noted
shinty player and throughout his life he served on
numerous bodies concerned with Gaelic language and culture and achieved
considerable success as a Gaelic poet, playwright and prose writer. He died in
As far as style and metrics are concerned it would appear that the influences on Domhnall Grannd’s literary output are predominantly non-Gaelic. However, taken on their own terms, there is considerable enjoyment to be had from his poems, particularly the comic ones.
(1) Domhnall Grannd. Tìr an Aigh. Glaschu: Gairm, 1971. 243d; dealbh.
This selection from the poetry and prose writings of Domhnall Grannd was published as a posthumous tribute. The following are the poems therein:
i ‘Cò leis an dìoghaltas?’, pp. 212-216
This poem relates the Romeo-and-Juliet romance between an invading Norseman and a Skye girl and has a suggestion of a tongue-in-cheek attitude on the part of the poet. There are thirty quatrains in a ballad metre,
beginning with ‘Long nan Lochlannach air sàl’.
ii ‘Turus Samhraidh’, pp. 216-223
Poignant description of an exile’s
return to the
iii ‘Turus Chnoideirt’, pp. 224-228
An amusing account of a camping trip. There are thirty-three four-line stanzas, beginning with ‘Thug Iain coir an uiridh dhomh’. The metre loosely resembles the strophic form.
iv ‘An Uile-bheist is na Foghlumaich’, pp. 229-239
A hilarious send-up of the Loch Ness Monster phenomenon which won for the poet the Bardic Crown at the National Mod of 1935. There are thirty-seven eight-line stanzas, beginning with ‘An éisd sibh tacan ri mo sgeul’. The metre bears some resemblance to the cumha form, but is closer to that of some popular English language ballads.
v ‘Comhfhurtachd’, pp. 239-241
A poem whose serious philosophical message tends to be obscured by its epigrammatic style and highly-wrought metre. Each stanza has six double-stressed lines, with a dense system of aicill and end rhyme with
linkage between each stanza forming a regular pattern of sound and rhythm.
vi ‘Luinneag’, pp. 241-242
A short love poem with some echoes of dánta grá. Four quatrains, beginning with ‘Có their rium le faclan faoin’, with variable stress and end rhyme.
vii ‘Abou ‘
(2) Domhnall Grannd. ‘An Laoidh Bheurla, 197-‘, Life and Work: Na Duilleagan Gàidhlig (1934: Aireamh 12), 7.
A religious poem of five quatrains, beginning with ‘Tha anail bhlath an Spioraid Naoimh’.
(3) Domhnall Grannd. ‘Dà Naidheachd agus Fonn’. Sruth (6th March 1969), p. 2
A witty poem, but with serious intent. A look at several then-current topics from around the world. Two four-line stanzas and a refrain.
(4) Domhnall Grannd. ‘Rannan do Chalum is Frangag air dhaibh a bhith leth-cheud Bliadhna pòsda’. Sruth (26th June 1969), p. 2
GRANT, Donald. See GRANND, Domhnall.
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