Gaelic Literature of the Isle of Skye: an annotated  bibliography   


Traditional poets and songmakers:  MacB - MacC







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MACBEATHAIG, Uilleam  (16th or 17th Century)




(1)  Rev. Alex. MacGregor.  ‘The Isle of Skye in the Olden Times’.  Celtic Magazine, (1881-1882), 19-23


(2)  William Matheson (editor).  The Songs of John MacCodrum: Bard to Sir James MacDonald of Sleat.  Edinburgh: SGTS, 1938, pp. 256-258


(3)  I. F. Grant.  The MacLeods: the History of a Clan.  London: Faber and Faber, 1959, p. 379


(4)  John MacInnes.  ‘The Gaelic Songs of Mary Macleod’.  Scottish Gaelic Studies, 11 (1966-1968), 3-25


The first item listed above would appear to be the primary printed source for poetry traditionally attributed to Uilleam MacBeathaig.  All three pieces quoted (pp. 20-23): an epigram beginning ‘ ‘Se sinn fein a mholamaid’, and two longer poems beginning ‘Cha’n fhéudar beannailt ri luchd nan còmhladh’ and ‘ ‘S ann a gheibhinn mo dhuais’ are connected to one story, which the Rev. MacGregor relates, concerning a gathering of chiefs at Dunvegan. The MacLeod of the day was married to a daughter of MacDoanld of Sleat, and the marriage was unhappy.  A prize was offered to the bard present who could compose the best poem in praise of his master.  MacLeod’s wife urged her father’s bard MacArthur, a.k.a Uilleam MacBeathaig, to ensure that his poem would praise hers and her father’s descent above all others, including her husband’s. Dr. John MacInnes, in the course of a discussion of the vernacular tradition of panegyric in the fourth item listed above (pp. 17-18), gives a valuable account of this event and of the metrical structure of the second and third MacBeathaig poems in the Rev. MacGregor’s article.


In the second item listed above the Rev. William Matheson reproduces in full the verse quoted in the Rev. MacGregor’s article and gives the prose narrative in abbreviated form.  In addition he discusses the MacArthur and the MacBeathaig aliases; offering a convincing argument for tradition having in this case confused historical fact.  The Domhnall Gorm mentioned in MacBeathaig’s poem, he writes, is evidently Domhnall Gorm Mor, who died without issue in 1617, and the unhappy MacDonald-MacLeod marriage of the story was that between him and his first wife Mary, daughter of Norman MacLeod of Dunvegan.  Although I. F. Grant, in the third item listed, refers to the Rev. Matheson as her source she ignores his argument as to the true identity of the principles in the story and repeats the tradition that the marriage in question was one between a MacLeod chief and a daughter of MacDonald of Sleat.



MACCALMAIN, Tomas  (1907-1984)


Tomas MacCalmain, the Rev. T. M. Murchison, was born in Glasgow and returned to Skye with his parents when he was six.  After attending the University of Glasgow he was ordained to the ministry of the Church of Scotland and served in Glenelg from 1932 to 1937 and in St. Columba’s, Copland Road, Glasgow from 1937 until his retirement in 1972. 


The Rev. Murchison distinguished himself in both his service to the Church and to the literature and politics of the Gaidhealtachd.  Among his literary activities one might mention his edition for the Scottish Gaelic Texts Society of the prose writings of  Donald Lamont (1960), his editorship of An Gaidheal from 1946 to 1958 and the Gaelic supplement to Life and Work from 1951 to 1980.  His weekly column, ‘Comhradh Cagailte’ in the Stornaway Gazette ran from 1955 to 1983 under the pseudonym of Domhnall Donn.  Before he died he had been working on an edition of the prose works of the Rev. Kenneth Macleod which was published posthumously by the SGTS in 1988.


(For information on the life and works of the Rev. T. M. Murchison see: entry in the Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Thomson 1983:206); an article by Fionnlagh Domhnallach in North 7, 41 (September/October 1980), 18-19) and an obituary in the

West Highland Free Press (13th January 1984).


Tomas MacCalmain.  Buaidh air na Famhairean’.  An Gaidheal, 53 (1958), 115-116.


This poem won for its composer the Bardic Crown at the National Mod of 1958 and is reminiscent of Bunyan’s Pilgrim Progress.  The poet recalls his boyhood dreams of heroism which have faded in the mundane realities of adult life, and realises that there are still enemies to be conquered, particularly the enemies within himself.


There are eighty-two lines, beginning with ‘An tùs mo ’, arranged in stanzas of varying length and in a non-traditional metre.



MACCODRUM, John  (1693-1779)


John MacCodrum belonged to North Uist and lived through the upheavals of the Jacobite risings and the subsequent changes in Gaelic society.


When Sir James MacDonald, the eighth Baronet of Sleat, was visiting North Uist in 1763 he met MacCodrum and appointed him as his personal bard.  In 1764 Sir James arranged for MacCodrum to visit the Rev. Donald MacQueen of Kilmuir in Skye to be examined upon his knowledge of Ossianic lore.  It is known that the bard was in Skye again in 1766, when he visited Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh and his wife, Flora MacDonald.


(For information on the life and works of John MacCodrum: see the Rev. William Matheson’s introduction to the work noted below and the entry by Fred MacAuley in the Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Thomson 1983:161)


William Matheson (editor).  The Songs of John MacCodrum: Bard to Sir James MacDonald of Sleat. Edinburgh: SGTS, 1938.  lii, 382p.


Of the songs in this collection, the three listed below have particular relevance to Skye.  All have parallel English translations.


i   Oran do Shir Seumas Mac Dhomhnaill’,  pp. 102-115


Thought to have been MacCodrum’s first composition in his official capacity.


ii   Oran do Chaiptean Allan Chinnseborgh’,  pp. 142-148


Song by the bard upon the occasion of his visit to Kingsburgh.  He is said to have been handsomely rewarded for it.


iii  Marbhrann do Shir Seumas MacDhomhnaill’,  pp. 150-159


Composed upon the premature death of his patron in 1766.



MACCRIMMON, Donald Ban.  See MACCRUIMEIN, Domhnall Bàn



MACCRIMMON, Donald Mor.  See MACCRUIMEIN, Domhnall Mór



MACCRIMMON, Patrick Mor.  See MACCRUIMEIN, Padruig Mór



MACCRUIMEIN, Domhnall Bàn  (d. 1746)


Domhnall Bàn MacCruimein belonged to the family famed as hereditary pipers to the MacLeods of Dunvegan.  He accompanied his chief, Norman MacLeod, when the latter went to fight on the government side in the Jacobite Rising of 1745.  Domhnall Bàn was killed at the Rout of Moy in February 1746.


A popular lament, with a refrain beginning ‘Cha till, cha till, cha till Mac Criomainn’, has been associated with the piper’s departure from Dunvegan and has been believed, outside the Gaelic oral tradition, to be a genuine traditional composition.  Virginia Blankenhorn, in the article noted below, has demonstrated convincingly that this popular version of ‘MacCrimmon’s Lament’ is in fact a nineteenth century composition, almost certainly the work of the Rev. Norman MacLeod (‘Caraid nan Gaidheal’).


V. S. Blankenhorn.  ‘Traditional and Bogus Elements in MacCrimmon’s  Lament’.  Scottish Studies, 22 (1978), 45-67.


On pp. 53-57 there are some traditional versions of the lament and of the associated ‘Uamh an Oir’; none of which are from Skye.  To these might be added a fragment of a traditional Skye version beginning ‘Mo chùl, mo chùl, mo chùl ri ‘m chruinneig’, from the Rev. Niall Ros (Celtic Monthly, 18:47).



MACCRUIMEIN, Domhnall Mór  (c. 1570-1640)


A bloody revenge which Domhnall Mór took for the death of his brother in Glenelg led to his exile for several years before he returned to Skye and succeeded to the position of hereditary piper to MacLeod of Dunvegan in 1620.  He died in 1640.


‘ ‘S fada mar so, ‘s fada mar so’


i   Celtic Monthly, 5 (1896-1897), 129


ii  TGSI, 30 (1919-1922), 155-145


There are four couplets, printed as a single stanza.  The first version, presented by ‘Fionn’, gives the tune in tonic sol-fa notation.  The second version occurs in J. G. MacKay’s article ‘Social Life in Skye from Legend and Story’, TGSI, 30:1-26, 128-174).  Both Fionn and J. G. MacKay relate that Domhnall Mór composed the tune when a guest at a wedding and afterwards composed the words. 


I might add that the words of both versions appear to me to be of later composition than the early seventeenth century.



MACCRUIMEIN, Padruig Mór  (1595-1670)


Seumas MacNeill has described Pàdruig Mór as the greatest of the MacCrimmon composers (Thomson 1983:163).  He lists several tunes attributed to Pàdruig Mór and among these is ‘Cumha Ruairidh Mhóir’ (MacLeod of MacLeod’s Lament), composed upon the death of Ruairidh Mór in 1626,  Associated with the tune is a set of verses beginning ‘Tog orm mo phiob, ‘s theid mi dhachaidh  which has appeared in print on several occasions (see below).  I think it extremely unlikely that these verses were composed by Padruig Mór: their style suggests a date of composition much later than the early seventeenth century.


‘Tog orm mo phiob, ‘s theid mi dhachaidh’: sources


(1)  Angus MacKay.  A Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd, or Highland Pipe Music.  Aberdeen, Inverness and Elgin: Logan and Co., [1838], App. p. 12.


All the other versions listed below appear to be derived from this one.  Angus MacKay implies that the piper composed both the words and the tune.  It is to be noted that there is a possibility that MacKay was

attributing the composition of ‘Cumha Ruairidh Mór’ to Domhnall Bàn and not Pàdruig Mór MacCruimein.


(2) Rev. Norman MacLeod].  Clann-‘ic-Chruimein: Piobairean Dhunbheagain’.  Cuairtear nan Gleann, 1 (1840-1841), 134-137.


Includes (p. 136) the verses from Angus MacKay’s Collection: textually identical, apart from a slight amendment in the second line.  In his notes there is a possibility that the Rev. MacLeod is making a distinction between the composer of the tune and the composer of the words.


(3)  Alexander Cameron.  History and Traditions of the Isle of Skye.  Inverness: E. Forsyth, 1871, pp. 69-70.


Alexander Cameron writes that Pàdruig Mór was the composer of the piobaireachd, but it is unclear as to whether he believes him to be also the composer of the words.


(4) Alexander MacKenzie.  History of the MacLeods.  Inverness: A. and W. MacKenzie, 1889, p. 90.


MacKenzie uses Alexander Cameron as his source for the verses and the introductory remarks.


(5)  Fionn (Henry Whyte).  ‘Lament for Rory Mor MacLeod, 1626’.  Celtic Monthly, 2 (1893-1894), 51-53.


Includes the text of the lament, with English translation and the tune arranged for singing in tonic sol-fa notation.  Fionn seems to be indicating in his notes that he believes that the composer of the tune (Pàdruig Mór) was not necessarily the composer of the words.


(6)  N. Ros (Rev. Niall Ros).  Ceòl-mór agus Clann Mhic-Cruimein’.  Celtic Monthly, 18 (1910), 26-28, 45-47, 65-67.


The Rev. Ros quotes part of the text of the lament (p. 28).  He refers to Pàdruig Mór as ‘MacCruimein’ when, according to another authority his father Domhnall Mór was still alive (Thomson 1983:162-163).


(7) Coisir a’ Mhòid II: the Mod Collection of Gaelic Part Songs. Glasgow: Alex. MacLaren and Sons for An Comunn Gaidhealach, [1924], pp. 40-45.


The Gaelic text has vocables added and is unattributed.  There is an English translation by the Rev. M. N. Munro.


(8) Alexander Nicolson.  History of Skye.  Glasgow: Alex. MacLaren and Sons, 1930, p. 123.


In his introduction to the text of the lament Alexander Nicolson does not seem to be implying that Pàdruig Mór composed the text as well as the tune.


(9) Fred. T. MacLeod.  The MacCrimmons of Skye.  Edinburgh: Henderson and Hamilton, [1933], pp. 35-36.


Fred MacLeod introduces the Gaelic text (followed by an English translation) with a clear statement: ‘It is impossible to say by whom and when the following Gaelic verses … were composed’.


(10) J. Carmichael Watson (editor).  Gaelic Songs of Mary MacLeod.  London & Glasgow: Blackie & Son, 1934.  2nd edition.  Edinburgh: SGTS, 1965, p.119.


J. C. Watson’s introduction to the text of the lament seems to imply that Pàdruig Mór composed the text, but it is not certain that it was his intention to make this implication.


(11) I. F. Grant.  The MacLeods: the History of a Clan 1200-1956. London: Faber and Faber, 1959, p. 245.


Discussing Pàdruig Mór, Dr. Grant writes that he is “said to have composed the text of the lament.  This is surprising, as she quotes Fred. T. MacLeod’s The MacCrimmons of Skye as her source.  Mr. MacLeod, as we have seen above, states quite clearly that it is impossible to say who composed the verses in question.


(12) Eoin Domhnallach.  Piobairean an Eilein’.  Gairm, 31 (An t-Earrach 1960), 223-227.


After discussing Pàdruig Mór’s composition of the piobaireachd, the writer introduces the text without seeming to imply that it also was composed by Pàdruig Mór.


(13)  Francis Collinson.  The Traditional and National Music of Scotland.  London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966, pp. 63-65.


Dr. Collinson writes that tradition ascribes the words as well as the music of the lament to Pàdruig Mór, but seems to be reserving his own judgement on the matter.






MACCUITHEIN, Iain  (Early 19th Century)


Iain MacCuithein was born in Tote, Trotternish, early in the nineteenth century and died in Kilmuir, Trotternish, about 1835.  He has been variously referred to as Iain MacCuithein (Sinclair 1904: 81-82),  Donald MacCuithein (TGSI, 38:310),  Iain Domhnallach (Mac-Talla, 28th January 1893), John MacQueen (MacDonell 1982: 94), and ‘Am Bàrd’ MacGuthain (Gairm, 51:273).


(1)    Am Bàrd MacGuthain.  ‘ ‘Sann thall ud anns an earball’.  Gairm, 51 (An Samhradh 1965), 273, 275.


This satire appears in the Rev. Tormod Domhnallach’s article ‘Dioghlum bho Achaidhean na Bàrdachd (1) (Gairm, 51:270-278).  The occasion of the satire was a visit  to a badly kept house when the poet’s fine new suit was   ruined.  The Rev. Domhnallach writes that according to local tradition nothing went right for the poet after its composition.


There are five quatrains, with a b a b end rhyme and irregular aicill.


(2)    C’àit an caidil an nighneag an nochd?’


i     The Highlander (7th March 1879), p. 6


ii     An t-Oranaiche.  Edited by Gilleasbuig Mac-na-Ceardadh.  Glasgow: Archibald Sinclair, 1879, p. 507.


iii   The Celtic Garland.  Edited by ‘Fionn’.  Glasgow: Archibald Sinclair, 1881, pp. 221-223


iv  Mac-Talla (28th January 1893), no pagination.


v   Mac-Talla (2nd October 1903), p. 56


In two articles:  Scottish Gaelic Studies 14, Pt. 2 (1986:44-50) and Scottish Gaelic Studies 15 (1988:153-154), I discuss these five versions of the song.  My argument is that the first and third versions, whose source was Niall

MacLeòid, and the fourth version, from Nova Scotia, are reasonable representations of what was then current in the oral tradition.  The second version I believe to be largely the composition of ‘Fionn’.  The fifth version, which was reprinted in The Gaelic Bards from 1825 to 1875 (Sinclair 1904: 81-84), I believe to be largely derivative and almost certainly from the editorial pen of the Rev. A. MacLean Sinclair.  The late Kenny S. MacLeod, ‘Kenny Chron’ of Portree, has recorded an independent version for the School of Scottish Studies in the University of Edinburgh, where it is on tape No. SA 1957/70/A2.


Apparently Iain MacCuithein was in love with a girl. When she left with her family for Cape Breton about 1829 he was forcibly restrained from following her and composed this lament for his lost love. 


The tune has been published in the Gesto Collection (MacDonald 1895:45) and in several subsequent publications.  The metre is in quatrain form, with end rhyme between lines two and four, and aicill.






















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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