seaboardgàidhlig

bilingual blog dà-chànanach

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Tha òran snog ainmeil tradaiseanta ann air a bheil Dh’èirich mi moch madainn Chèitein. ‘S e òran-luaidh a th’ ann, luath, beòthail, aighearach, làn molaidh air na h-eòin ‘s an ceilearadh, air a’ bhradan a’ leum, agus air àilleachd nàdair. Ann an cuid de na tionndaidhean, tha nuallan a’ chruidh a’ nochdadh, is banarach bhòidheach a’ dol dhan bhleoghan. ‘S e dealbh eireachdail a th’ ann, agus nuair a chluinneas tu an t-òran, no gu h-àraid ma ghabhas tu thu fhèin e, bidh thu a’ faireachdainn toilichte, dòchasach, sìtheil, fada air falbh bhon t-sluagh agus saor o dhraghan an t-saoghail.

Ach san darna leth den 19. linn, aig àm na strì airson còraichean nan croiteirean, nochd faclan eile air an aon fhonn – faclan politeagach. An turas seo ‘s e moladh air duine a th’ ann seach air nàdar, is esan Teàrlach Friseal Mac an Tòisich, neach-lagha a sheas airson nan croiteirean,  sgrìobhaiche is òraidiche gun sgìos, ball den Choimisean Napier – agus neach-iomairt sgairteil airson cleachdadh na Gàidhlig anns na sgoiltean (toirmisgte aig an àm sin), mar chànan co-ionnan ri Beurla. ‘S e seo a tha ga chomharrachadh san tionndadh ùr den òran.

B‘ e duine comasach buadhach a bh’ ann, agus araidh air òran le cinnt. Agus nochd e gu dearbh ann am fear eile, le Màiri Mhòr nan Òran fhèin, a chuidich e, a rèir coltais, nuair a bha i fo chasaid mèirle breugaich. ‘S ann a thaing aigesan cuideachd a chaidh Leabharlann Saor Poblach ann an Inbhir Nis a a stèidheachadh ann an 1883, gus cothrom a thoirt do gach neach foghlam is fiosrachadh fhaighinn gus nach biodh iad tuilleadh ann am muinghinn breugan an luchd-politigs no nan uachdaran.

Mar sin, nuair a chomharraicheas sinn Là nan Còraichean Luchd-Obrach a’ chiad latha den Chèitean am bliadhna, bu choir dhuinn a bhith a’ smaoineachadh cuideachd air na gaisgich againn fhèin air a’ Ghàidhealtachd, a dh’oibrich airson nan còraichean againne – agus tha gu leòr ann dhiubh!

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There’s a lovely traditional song called Dh’èirich mi moch madainn Chèitein (I arose early on a May morning). It’s a waulking song, fast, lively, joyful, full of praise for the birds and their singing, the salmon leaping, and the beauty of nature. In some versions there are also cattle lowing and a pretty milkmaid. It’s an idyllic picture, and when you hear the song, or particularly if you sing it yourself, you can’t help but feel happy, optimistic, peaceful, far away from the crowds and free of the worries of the world.

But in the second half of the 19th century, at the time of the struggle for crofters’ rights, another set of words appeared to the same tune – political words. This time it was praising a man instead of nature, and that man was Charles Frazer Mackintosh, a lawyer who stood up for the crofters, a tireless writer and speaker, a member of the Napier Commission – and a vigorous campaigner for the use of Gaelic in the schools (at that time forbidden), on an equal basis to English. This is what is being celebrated in the new version of the song.

He was an able, influential figure and most certainly worthy of a song. And indeed he appears in another one too, by Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (“Big Mary of the Songs”) herself, the poet and land-campaigner whom he apparently helped defend when she was wrongly accused of theft. It’s thanks to him too that a Free Public Library was founded in Inverness in 1883, to enable everyone to access education and information, so that they would no longer be at the mercy of lying politicians or landlords.

So when we celebrate International Workers’ Rights Day on the 1st of May this year, we should also spare a thought for our own Highland heroes who worked for our rights – and there are plenty of them!

DH‘ÈIRICH MI MOCH MADAINN CHÈITEIN

Tionndadh tradiseanta:
Dh’éirich mi moch madainn Chéitein,
Fail ill é hill ù hill ó, Hiuraibh ó na hó ro éile
Fail ill é hill ù hill ó.

Mas moch an-diugh bu mhuich’ an dé e.
‘S binn a’ chòisir rinn mi éisdeachd.
Smeòraichean air bhàrr nan geugan,
Uiseagan os cionn an t-sléibhe.   
‘S bòidhche fhiamh ‘s a’ ghrian ag éirigh,
Madainn chiùin fo dhriùchd nan speuran,
Bric air linneachan a’ leumraich.
Leannaidh slàinte agus éibhneas
Riùthasan a bhios moch ag éirigh.  

Traditional version:
I arose early on a May morning.   
If early today it was earlier yesterday.   
Sweet was the choir I listened to,
thrushes on the tops of the branches,
larks above the moor.   
Beautiful is the prospect, with the sun rising,
a calm morning under the dew of the heavens,
trout leaping in the pools.   
There will follow health and happiness
for those who rise early
 
Tionndadh ùr:
Dh’èirich mi moch madainn Chèitein
Faill il o hill u ill o,
Hiùraibh o ‘s na hòro èile
Faill il o hill u ill o

Chuala mise sgeul bha èibhinn
Gun robh gaisgich dheas air èirigh
A chur beatha ‘n cainnt na Fèinne

Chaidh iad cruinn a ceann a chèile
Thuirt iad gu robh chànan feumail
Anns an sgoil cho math ri Beurla
Siud an duine a rinn feum dhuinn

Friseal Mac an Tòisich gleusta
Togaibh luinneag agus sèist dha
Àrdaichear e gus na speuran
Leis na Gàidheil ‘s gach àite ‘n tèid e.  

New version:
I arose early one May morning
I heard news which gladdened me
That the able heroes had risen
To put spirit in the language of the Feinne

They had gathered together
Declaring the language of use
In the schools as well as English
Now there was a man…

Wise Fraser MacIntosh
Sing songs and tunes for him
Let him be praised to the heavens
By the Gaels wherever he goes
.  

Kathleen MacInnes (new version of lyrics):

New York Public Library

‘S ann anns a’ Ghearran a tha mi a’ sgrìobhadh seo, àm nan gealagan-làir.  Anns na mìosan dubha den gheamhradh bidh sinn a’ fèitheamh air a’ chiad sealladh dhiubh,  is iadsan comharra an earraich ri teachd, geal mar an sneachd agus deàrrsach mar sholas na maidne. Anns a’ Ghàidhlig tha an t-ainm a’ ciallachadh “rud beag geal an talmhainn”, ach tha ainm eile ann cuideachd, blàth-sneachda –  “flùr den t-sneachd”. Uaireannan bidh iad a’ nochdadh tron t-sneachd fhèin, uaireannan am measg dhuilleagan donn seargte, ach an-còmhnaidh nan samhla di-beathte dòchais.

Mar sin is beag an t-iongnadh gun nochd a‘ ghealag-làir anns a‘ bheul-aithris mar lus sònraichte. Chì sinn aon deagh eisimpleir san uirsgeul Biara, Brìde is Aonghas. B’ e Banrigh a’ Gheamhraidh a bha ann am Biora Dhorcha, boireannach mòr, grannda, cruaidh, agus chùm i Brìde, bana-phrionnsa òg, àlainn, mar phrìosanach, ag obair na tràill. Aon latha thill Brìde air ais bhon allt reòthte far am b’ fheudar dhi clòimh bho chaora dhonn a nighe geal, saothair gun fheum, le bad ghealagan-làir na làimh, agus abair fearg a bha air Biara, is fios aice gum biodh an rìoghachadh aice a tighinn gu crìoch.  Dh’fheuch i a h-uile rud gus an geamhradh a chumail a’ dol, le stoirmean is gaillinn-sneachda air feadh na h-Alba, ach aig a cheann thall chaidh aig a’ Phrionnsa Aonghas nan Òg às an Eilean Uaine (seòrsa Tìr nan Òg) air Brìde a shàbhaladh, agus chaill Biara a cumhachd. Thàinig an t-earrach agus rìoghaich Aonghas is Brìde mar Rìgh is Banrigh an t-Samhraidh – gus an tilleadh cumhachd Biara sa gheamhradh a-rithist.

Tha gealag-làir shònraichte a’ nochdadh ann an sgeulachd eile. Anns an fhiolm ghoirid tarraingeach Foighidinn – the Crimson Snowdrop le Simon David Miller (2005), tha duine òg uasal air an leannan aige a phuinnseanachadh le tuiteamas, agus feumaidh e an aon chungaidh-leigheis san t-saoghal a shireadh – gealag-làir chrò-dhearg, flùr dearg a‘ chridhe, a dh’fhàsadh air mullach nam beann as àirde ach a chaidh bàs o chionn linntean. Ach cumaidh e a‘ dol, fad seachd bliadhna, gus an ruig e an Cuiltheann san Eilean Sgitheanach…. ma bhios sibh ag iarraidh faighinn a-mach dè thachair an uair sin, seo am fiolm (14 mionaidean): https://vimeo.com/7855573. (14 mion.)

Às dèidh dha a bhith soirbheachail le Foighidinn, rinn Miller fiolm fada mar leasachadh den sgeulachd, Seachd – the Inaccessible Pinnacle ann an 2007 – fiolm uabhasach math cuideachd.

Tha gealagan-làir gu math cumanta ann am Breatainn, ged a tha iad nas sgaoilte air feadh a‘ Ghàidhealtachd ’s nan Eileanan, ach chan e lus dùthchail a tha innte. Tha e coltach gun tàinig iad às a‘ mhòr-thìr Eòrpach mar fhlùraichean sgeadachail san t-siathamh linn deug ach cha deach an clàradh mar lusan fiadhaich ach aig deireadh an ochdaimh linn deug. Tha seòrsaichean gu math eadar-dhealaichte ann san eadar-àm, bhon fheadhainn simplidh as fheàrr leamsa, gu cuid eile le coltas dreasaichean dannsairean-ballet. Tha daoine ann air a bheil Galanthophiles a tha gu sònraichte measail agus eòlach air gealagan-làir is iad a’ feuchainn an uiread ‘s a ghabhas de sheòrsaichean a lorg ‘s a chlàradh.

Bha mi dìreach aig Caisteal Dùn Robain gus na gealagan-làir ainmeil aca fhaicinn, agus leugh mi air sanas gun do thog an t-àrd-gàirnealair an sin, David Melville, seòrsa ùr de ghalag-làir ann an 1879, Galanthus Melvillei, agus bidh na Galanthophiles a’ feuchainn ri eisimpleirean dhi a lorg sna coilltean, agus a’ tadhail air an uaigh aig Melville sa chladh ann an Goillspidh, far a bheil diofair seòrsaichean de ghealag-làir a’ fàs.

Tha na gealagan-làir measail air coilltean agus pàircean, agus gu h-àraidh air cladhan – bidh mòran rim faicinn ann an cladhan na sgìre againne. Agus an robh sibh riamh aig Poyntzfield san Eilean Dubh sa Ghearran? ‘S e sin an làrach as fheàrr leam fhìn air an son. Tha an dà thaobh den cheum suas dhan ghàrradh-lusan loma-làn de ghealagan-làir is winter aconites buidhe. Thèid mi ann gach bliadhna a dh’aona-ghnothach.

Agus chan ann bòidheach a-mhàin a tha gealagan-làir – nì iad feum cuideachd, cuide ri conaisg, dha na seilleanan tràtha, gus an stòr poilein is meala den t-seann bhliadhna a mheudachadh.  Lusan àlainn, feumail is làn dòchais – cò dh’iarradh a bharrachd!

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I’m writing this in February, snowdrop season. In the dark months of winter we wait for the first sight of them, a sign of the spring to come, white as the snow and shining like the morning light. In Gaelic their usual name means “wee white thing of the ground” but they have another name too, blàth-sneachda – “blossom of the snow”. Sometimes they emerge from the snow itself, sometimes against withered brown leaves, but always a welcome sign of hope.

It’s therefore small wonder that the snowdrop appears in oral tradition and legends as a special plant. One good example is in the old tale of Biara, Angus and Bride. Biara the Dark was the Queen of Winter, a big, ugly, cruel woman, and she kept Bride, a beautiful young princess, a prisoner, working her like a slave. One day Bride returned from the frozen stream where she had to wash a brown sheep’s fleece white – a senseless task – with a bunch of snowdrops in her hand. What a rage Biara was in, knowing that her reign was coming to an end. She tried everything to keep the winter going, with storms and blizzards across Scotland, but in the end Prince Angus the Ever-young, from the Green Isle (a kind of Land of Youth), managed to rescue Bride, and Biara lost her power. The spring came and Angus and Bride ruled as King and Queen of the Summer – until Biara’s power gradually returned again in winter.

A very special snowdrop features in another story. In the gripping short film Foighidinn – the Crimson Snowdrop by Simon Miller (2005), a young nobleman has accidentally poisoned his sweetheart, and has to search for the only cure in the world – the crimson snowdrop, red flower of the heart, which grew on the highest mountain peaks but which had died out centuries ago. But he keeps going, seven years long, until he reaches the Cuillins on the Isle of Skye…. And if you want to find out what happens, you can watch the film here: https://vimeo.com/7855573. (14 mins.)

After the success of the short film, Miller made a full-length one as a development of the story in 2007 – Seachd – the Inaccessible Pinnacle. Also a wonderful film

Snowdrops are fairly common in Britain, though more scattered in the Highlands and Islands, but they’re not actually a native plant. It’s likely that they came from the European mainland as an ornamental plant in the 16th century but they were not recorded in the wild until the end of the 18th century. There are many different varieties in the meantime, from the simple ones I prefer to the ones that look like ballet-dancers’ tutus.  There are people called Galanthophiles who are particularly fond of and knowledgeable about snowdrops, and who try to find and record as many varieties as possible.

I’ve just come back from a visit to Dunrobin Castle to see their famous snowdrops, and I read on a notice that a head-gardener there, David Melville, raised a new variety in 1879, Galanthus Melvillei, and the Galanthophiles go looking for it in the castle woods, and visit Melville’s grave in Golspie, which is surrounded by many varieties of snowdrop.

Dunrobin

Snowdrops are fond of woods and parks, but especially of graveyards – you can see masses in our own local graveyards. And have you ever been to Poyntzfield on the Black Isle in February? That’s my favourite site for them. Both sides of the path up to the herb-garden are lined with carpets of snowdrops and yellow winter aconites. I go there every year specially.

But they’re not just a pretty face – they’re of use, alongside the whins, to the early bees too, supplementing their diminishing store of pollen and honey from the old year. These snowdrops are beautiful, useful, and full of hope – what more could anyone ask for!

Taing do / Thanks to Anne MacInnes (Logie Wester, Contin images) agus Allan Bremner (Oldmeldrum).

Seo òran beag simplidh do chloinn, air cuspair freagarrach dhan Seaboard! Tha e ag obrachadh san aon dòigh ‘s a chunnaic sinn leis an òran Uiseag Bheag Dhearg, a sgrìobh mi mu dheidhinn o chionn greis. Tha gille òg a’ cur cheistean air iasg beag agus an t-iasg a’ freagairt. Dh’fhaodadh seo a bhith na gheama, le còmhradh eadar pàrant is pàiste, no dithis chloinne, no ann an clas sgoile, le ceòl is cleas. Tha clàradh le facail agus fonn ri chluinntinn air làrach-lìn Urras Leabhraichean na h-Alba. An dòchas gun còrd e ribh!

Èisg bhig

Èisg bhig, èisg bhig,
nach tu tha math air snàmh!

Gu dearbha feumaidh mise sin
oir bidh mi snàmh gu bràth.

Èisg bhig, èisg bhig,
am fairich thusa fuachd?

Chan fhairich idir, ‘ille chòir,
ged tha mi measg nan stuadh
.

Èisg bhig, èisg bhig,
a bheil thu idir sgìth?

O chan eil, chan eil, chan eil,
cha toigh leam bhith air tìr.

Èisg bhig, èisg bhig,
a leig thu idir d’ anail?

Is math a dh’fhaodas mise sin
a-staigh am measg an fheamainn
.

Èisg bhig, èisg bhig,
dè dh’ith thu an-diugh?

Lugaichean is boiteagan,
is smodal anns an t-sruth.

Èisg bhig, èisg bhig,
càite bheil do dhachaigh?

Tha mo dhachaigh anns a’ chuan
mìle mach on chladach
.

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Here’s a simple wee song for children, on an appropriate subject for the Seaboard! It works in the same way as the song Uiseag Bheag Dearg / Little Red Lark, that I wrote about a while ago. A young lad is asking a wee fish questions, and the fish is answering. This could be done as a game, with a conversation between parent and child, or two children, or in a school class, with actions. There’s a recording with words and tune on the website of the Scottish Book Trust. Hope you enjoy it!  (I’ve written the English translation so that the rhythms are the same as the Gaelic, so it can be sung to the same tune.)

Wee fish

Wee fish, wee fish, you’re awful good at swimming!  

I certainly have to be – I have to swim forever!

Wee fish, wee fish, do you ever feel the cold?

I don’t at all, dear laddie, though I’m in among the waves.

Wee fish, wee fish, are you ever tired?

No, I’m never, never, I’ve no wish to be on land!

Wee fish, wee fish, do you ever take a breather?

I may well do that, when I’m in among the seaweed.

Wee fish, wee fish, what did you eat today?

Lugworms and grub-worms and morsels in the stream.

Wee fish, wee fish, what do you call home?

My home is in the ocean, a mile out from the shore.

Fonn / tune (taing do/thanks to The Scottish Book Trust):

(All pictures Wikimedia Creative Commons)

Turraisg gheal na Nollaig / White Christmas pudding

Taing do Janet, caraid dhomh ann an Liverpool, airson an reasabaidh seo. Rinn i an turraisg shònraichte seo do bhuidheann chàirdean gach Nollaig fad bhliadhnaichean, agus am bliadhna fheuch mi fhìn oirre – agus bha i blasda fhèin! Tha i math mar roghainn eile ma bhios tu sgìth den turraisg na Nollaig àbhaisteach, agus tha i fada nas fhasa ri dèanamh. Ach tha i ceart cho sàthach!

Grìtheidean (do mu shianar)

150 gr spuinnse thioram (leithid trifle no cèis flan), air a briseadh ann am pìosan glè bheag

1 no 1 ½ tiona orainsearean mandarin, gun sùgh!

75 gr measan tioram measgaichte

100 gr siristean glace

50 gr cnòthan-almoin bleithte

50 gr siùcar-fùdair

50 gr ìm, air a bhogachadh

1 spàin-bhuird sherry

Dòigh

Buail an t-ìm agus an siùcar gus am bi iad nan uachdar agus paisg na cnòthan-almoin a-steach dhan mheasgachadh. Cuir an sherry ris.

Measg a-steach, beag air bheag, na pìosan spuinnse, na measan tioram agus na siristean.

An uair sin cuir an darna leth de na h-orainsearan mandarin (air an deagh thraoghadh!) ris, agus measgaich gu math a-rithist. Thèid na pìosan a bhriseadh – tha sin ceart gu leòr, bheir iad taiseachd dhan mheasgachadh.

Aig an deireadh cuir an leth eile de na mandarins ris, gu cùramach, gus nach bris iad seo.

– Ma bhios am measgachadh ro thioram, cuir barrachd mandarins ris; agus ma bhios e ro fhliuch, barrachd spuinnse. Feuch blasad agus cuir barrachd siùcair no measan ris ma thogras tu, a-rèir do bhlais fhèin.

Cuir ann am bobhla-milseig e agus brùth am measgachadh sìos. Cuir film-còmhdachaidh air an uachdar agus fàg tron oidhche anns an fhrids e.

Mus cleachd thu an turraisg, tionndaidh a-mach air truinnsear i, agus sgeadaich i le “sneachd” siùcair-fhùdair agus measan no dearcan air a’ mhullach, no cuileann, agus ith le uachdar no reòiteag i. No ma bhios tu ag iarraidh turraisg fìor gheal, faodaidh tu a còmhdachadh le uachdar dùbailte no uachdar air a bhualadh.

Nollaig chridheil dhuibh uile!

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White Christmas pudding

Thanks to Janet, a friend of mine in Liverpool, for this recipe. She made this special pudding for a group of friends every Christmas for many years, and this year I gave it a try myself – and it was delicious! It’s a good alternative if you’re tired of the regular Christmas pudding, and is much easier to make. But it’s just as filling!

Ingredients (for approx.. 6)

150 gr dry sponge-cake (e.g. trifle sponges, flan case), broken into very small pieces

1 or 1 ½ tins mandarin oranges, without the juice!

75 gr mixed dried fruit

100 gr glace cherries

50 gr ground almonds

50 gr icing sugar

50 gr butter, softened

1 tablespoon sherry

Method

Cream the butter and icing sugar and fold in the ground almonds. Add the sherry.

Gradually work in the sponge pieces, the dried fruit and the cherries.

Now add half the mandarin oranges (well-drained!), and stir well in. The pieces of mandarin will break up – that’s OK, as they give moisture to the mixture.

At the end add the rest of the mandarins carefully, so these don’t break up.

– If the mixture is too dry, add a few more mandarins. If it’s too wet, add more sponge. Taste it and add more sugar or fruit if wished, to your own taste.

Put into a pudding-basin and press the mixture firmly down. Cover the surface with cling-film and leave in the fridge overnight.

Before serving, turn out onto a plate and decorate with icing-sugar “snow”, and fruit or berries on the top, or some holly, and eat it with cream or ice-cream. Or if you want a completely white pudding, cover it all over it in double cream or whipped cream.

Merry Christmas!

Chunnaic sinn am mìos sa chaidh mar a dh’fhalbh na Hiortaich mu dhèireadh ann an 1930. San latha an-diugh chan eil daoine ann a’ bhios a’ fuireach anns an eilean ach buidheann luchd-obrach anns an stèisean beag an airm, feadhainn eile ag obair airson an Urrais Nàiseanta, agus bho àm gu àm luchd-saidheans tadhalach.

Bha ceangal ann eadar Hiort agus na Feachdan aig àm a’ Chogaidh Mhòir, mar a chunnaic sinn, le stèisean-siognail an nèibhidh 1915-19, agus bha fiù ‘s ionnsaigh le U-Boot ann an 1918, a rinn cròn mòr air an stèisean agus gu ìre air cuid-seilbhe muinntir an eilein. Ach cha robh uidh idir aig am MOD ann an Hiort anns an Dàrna Cogaidh agus cha b’ ann ach sna leth-cheudan, tron Chogadh Fhuar, a thàinig an t-arm gus stèisean eile a thogail – an turas seo stèisean-radar gus na rocaidean bhon rainse ùr ann an Uibhist a Deas a thracadh.  Tha iad anns an eilean a-nis o chionn 1957. Agus tha ceangal Seaboard ann – cò eile a bha an sas anns a’ chiad ìre-thogail ach Geordie Oliver againn fhein, aig an àm sin a’ dèanamh greis san RAF!

Bhon a’ chiad champa shimplidh, is iad a’ cleachdadh na h-eaglais mar sheòmar-bidh agus thaigh-dealbh, bha iomadh leasachadh ann, gu h-àraidh sna trì-ficheadan. An ceann ùine dh’fhàs e gu bhith na ionad steidhichte leis a h-uile goireas, fiù ‘s taigh-seinnse beag air a bheil The Puff Inn. A-nis tha iad dìreach ga ath-thogail ann an cruth nas fheagarraiche dhan eilean, togalaichean ìosal le còmhdach fiodha agus mullaichean sgratha, agus stuth-togail is uidheam gan toirt air tìr le soithichean-landaidh, mar aig an toiseach. Tha raon-laighe heileacoptair ann cuideachd a-nis. San eadar-àm ‘s e QinetiQ, fo-chùmhnantair ùghdarraichte den MOD, a bhios a’ ruith an ionaid.

Tha an làrach air mhàl fad-ùineach dhan arm bho Urras Nàiseanta na h-Alba, aig a bheil na h-eileanan o chionn 1957, agus tha an com-pàirteachas seo annabarrach feumail dhan Urras. Bidh taic leis an obair aca ri fhaighinn, co-chleachadh nan goireasan (m.e. dealan is cian-chonaltradh, còmhdhail, an t-ionad-slàinte – agus am Puff Inn) agus bidh iad a’ co-roinn cuid mhòr de na cosgaisean. Tha an t-Urras ag obair bho sheann taigh a’ mhinisteir, ri taobh na h-eaglais agus bho sheann taigh no dhà san t-sràid. Is obair an Urrais a bhith a’ coimhead às dèidh an dà chuid an dualchas eachdraidheil agus an àrainneachd. ‘S e Làrach Dualchas na Cruinne dùbailte a th’ anns na h-eileanan Hiortach.

Agus bidh luchd-saidheans ann gu cunbhalach, sa mhòr-chuid gus na caoraich Shòthaigh a sgrùdadh. Tha na caoraich seo air feadh an eilein, agus ‘s ann gu tur fiadhain a tha iad. Cha bhithear gam biadhachadh no gan rùsgadh. Tha iad uabhasach brèagha, nas lugha agus nas caoile na an co-oghaichean air an tìr-mhòr, agus a’ mhòr-chuid donn, dorch no soilleir. Ach chan e an fheadhainn seo a bha aig na Hiortaich – chaidh na caoraich bheannach (Hebrideans) acasan a reic leis an riaghaltas mar lach ri cosgais na h-imrich. Chaidh na caoraich fhiadhain Shòthaigh a thoirt a Hiort às dèidh an fhalamhachaidh, gus an fhàs-bheatha a cumail sìos airson nan eun beaga eileanach, anns an robh ùidh mhòr aig an t-sealbhadair ùr, Diuc Dhùn Phrìs. Bha fiù ‘s aige ri cuid de dh’fhir nan creagan a thoirt air ais gus na caorach a thogail bho chas-chreagan Shòthaigh gu Hiort (cothrom-tillidh sealach a chòrd riuthasan gu mòr, a rèir coltais).

Tha dà bheathach sònraichte eile ann an Hiort, nach eil ri lorg ann an àite sam bith eile – an dreathan donn Hiortach agus an luch Hiortach, an dà chuid nas motha na am bràithrean air an tìr mhòr. Bha sinn fìor thoilichte dreathann donn fhaicinn, ach dh’fhàn na luchan am falach. (Bha ar ceapairean-càise sàbhailte!)

Chan fhaod mi falbh gun iomradh air eòin ainmeil nan creagan is stacannan seo. Tha iad timcheall ort fad na h-ùine ann an Hiort fhèin, air iteig gu h-àrd no a’ dàibheadh gu grad anns a’ mhuir, ach air an t-slighe air ais dhan tìr-mhòr, rinn ar bàta cuairt fad uair a thìde timcheall air Eilean Bhoraraigh agus na stacannan-mara ri thaobh, Stac an Armin agus Stac Lì, agus bha sin dìreach mìorbhaileach. Mìltean thar mhìltean de dh’fhulmairean, shùlairean agus aileanan bod-àtha, agus na creagan-mara as àirde ann am Breatainn, aig amannan a’ dol à sealladh sna sgòthan siùbhlach. Bha na speuran agus na creagan loma-làn dhiubh, agus lìon an glaodhadh an t-adhar os cionn fuaim bàrcadh nan tonn air a’ creig – chan urrainnear samhla-sùl’ a dhèanamh dheth gun a bhith ann. Gu mì-fhortanach bha na buthaidean air falbh mar-thà, ach bha tuilleadh is gu leòr ann ri fhaicinn às an aonais. Doirbh ri chreidsinn gun do dhìrich na Hiortaich suas gu mullaichean nan stacannan dubha ud, fo ionnsaigh nan eun, air an sgailceadh leis na gaothan, agus creagan geura agus anfhadh na mara fada fada fohpa!  Agus tha caoraich fhiadhain air Boraraigh cuideachd, cho sgileil air na slèibhtean casa, faisg air inghearach, ri fir nan creagan fhèin. Seallaidhean nach gabh dìochuimhneachadh!

B’ fhiach dhomhsa an turas-mara agus an latha fada – trì uairean a thìde gach slighe às an Tòb anns na Hearadh, 4 ½ uairean ann an Hiort fhèin, agus uair eile aig na stacannan – agus a’ phrìs (barrachd is £200 gach neach) gus sin uile fhaicinn. ‘S e rud nach dèan a’ mhòr-chuid barrachd is aon uair, agus dhan fheadhainn eile chan e ach bruadar a bhios ann. Àite dìreach sònraichte, agus fèin-fhiosrachadh air leth. Mholainn e!

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Last month we saw how the last St Kildans left in 1930. Nowadays no one lives on the island but the staff of a small army base, a few others who work for the National Trust, and the occasional visiting scientist.

There was a link between the island and the Forces in World War I, with the navy signal-station there 1915-19, and there was even a U-Boot attack which badly damaged the station and some of the islanders’ property. But the MOD had no interest in St Kilda during World War 2, and it wasn’t until the 1950s and the Cold War that the army came back to build another base, this time a radar tracking station for the new rocket range in South Uist. They’ve been on the island now since 1957. And there’s even a Seaboard link – who should be involved in that first building phase but our own Geordie Oliver, who was doing a stint in the RAF at the time!

From that first very simple camp, with the soldiers using the old church as a dining-room and cinema, there have been various developments in the base, particularly in the 1960s. Over time it has grown into a permanent base with every facility, even its own wee pub called the Puff Inn. Now they are just re-building it in a form more appropriate to its island setting, low buildings with wood cladding and turf roofs, the building materials and equipment, as ever, brought in by landing-craft. There’s a helicopter landing-pad today too. In the meantime it’s the MOD-approved sub-contractor QinetiQ who are running the base.

The army has the site on long-term lease from the National Trust for Scotland, who’ve owned the archipelago since 1957, and this partnership has proved extremely useful for the Trust. They get help with their work, share the use of the facilities (e.g. electricity and telecommunications, transport, the medical unit – and the Puff Inn), and also share many of the general costs. The Trust works out of the Old Manse, beside the church, and a couple of the restored Village houses. The Trust’s job is to look after both the historical heritage and the natural one.  The St Kilda archipelago is a double World Heritage Site.

And there are also scientists who regularly visit the islands, mainly to study the Soay sheep.  These sheep live all over Hirta, and are completely wild. They’re neither fed nor shorn. They’re really pretty animals, smaller and slimmer than their mainland cousins, and most of them are brown, either dark or light.  But they’re not the ones that were kept by the St Kildans themselves – these were Hebridean sheep, not Soays, and were sold by the government to help offset the cost of the 1930 move. The wild Soay sheep were brought over from the island of Soay after the evacuation to help keep down the vegetation for the sake of the small birds of the islands, which were of great interest to the new owner, the Earl of Dumfries. He even had to bring back some of the cragsmen to lift the sheep off Soay’s steep precipices and bring them over to Hirta (a very welcome if temporary return for the men, by all accounts).

There are two other animals peculiar to Hirta – the St Kilda wren and the St Kilda mouse, both larger than their mainland counterparts. We were delighted to see a wren, but the mice stayed hidden. (So our cheese sandwiches were safe!)

I can’t close without mentioning the famous birds of these cliffs and stacks. They’re around you all the time on Hirta itself, soaring high or swooping straight down into the sea, but on the way back to the mainland our boat took a trip of a good hour around the island of Boreray and its neighbouring sea-stacks Stac an Armin and Stac Lì, and that was absolutely breathtaking. Thousands upon thousands of fulmars, gannets and skuas (also known as “bonxies”), and the highest sea-cliffs in Britain, at times disappearing into the swirling clouds. The skies were full of birds and so were the cliffs, their calls filling the air over the sound of the waves crashing on the rock – impossible to imagine without experiencing it. Unfortunately the puffins had already left, but there was more than enough to see without them. Hard to believe that the St Kildans actually climbed all the way up to the tops of these black stacks, dive-bombed by birds, buffeted by winds, and the raging seas and sharp rocks far, far below! And there are wild sheep on Boreray too, as skilful on the precipitous, almost vertical slopes as the cragsmen themselves. Sights too vivid to forget!

For me the sea-trip, the long day (3 hours each way from Leverburgh in Harris, 4 ½  hours on Hirta, and another hour at the stacks) and the price (over £200 per person) were definitely worth it to see all we did.  It’s something most people only do once, or indeed only dream of. A very special place indeed, and a unique experience. Highly recommended!

Tha a’ mhòr-chuid dhibh eòlach air sgeul falamhachadh muinntir Hiort ann an 1930. Bha mi cho fortanach ‘s gun deach mi dhan bhuidheann-eileanan seo am bliadhna, cuairt fìor iongantach  Tha na h-eileanan fad a-muigh san Atlantaig, 41 mìltean bho Bheinn na Faoghla agus 101 bhon tìr-mhòir, ach bha clann-daonna a’ fuireach an sin o chionn Linn an Umha (tha lorgan ann fhathast), ged a dh’fhaodas nach robh gun stad. Ach chan e an t-astar a-mhàin a chuireas iongantas ort, ach gun do rinn iad bith-beò cho fada ann an àrainneachd cho mì-thorrach is dùbhlanach, fiù ‘s air a’ phrìomh eilean, far an do dh’fhuirich na daoine. B’ e sin mo chiad bheachd mar a chunnaic mi na cas-chreagan ag èirigh am meadhan a’ chuain, às dèidh trì uairean a thìde bho na Hearadh air bàta luath. Ciamar a rinn iad e?

Ach rinn iad am bith-beò gu dearbh thar nan linntean, a’ cur beagan eòrna agus bùntata air na bha aca de dh’fhearann (stiallan caol air cùl taighean a’ Bhaile), a’ cumail crodh is caoraich na b’ fhaide shuas an sliabh air an ionaltradh choitcheann, agus gu h-àraidh ann a bhith a’ glacadh eun-mara air na creagan. Bha an t-iasgach mar as trice ro dhoirbh leis na sruthan cunnartach is na gèilean, agus gun bhàtaichean freagarrach. Phàigh iad am màl do MhicLeòid Dhùn Bheagain, leis a bha na h-eileanan fad ùine mhòir, ann an òla eun-mara, iteagan (gu h-àraidh iteagan-buthaid, airson mhatrasan), cloimh is clò, agus beagan eòrna, bainne is càise.  Chan fhaod gun robh mòran air fhàgail dha na Hiortaich!

Agus gu dearbh ‘s e feòil agus uighean nan eun-mara a bha aca mar phrìomh bhiadh, gu h-àraidh sùlairean is fulmairean. Tha sinn uile eòlach air na dealbhan de na “fir nan creagan” le an ropannan, a’ dìreadh mar eòin iad fhèin air na cas-creagan den phrìomh eilean (Hiort) agus de na h-eileanan beaga (Dùn, Sòthaigh, Boraraigh) agus stacannan-mara eile, obair chunnartach agus sgileil. Roinn iad na h-eòin a-mach air a chèile, a rèir meud an teaghlaich, agus às dèidh dhaibh a bhith air am plucadh agus an tiormachadh, rachadh an stòradh anns na ceudan is ceudan de chleitean air feadh an eilein – taighean-stòir bheaga cloiche mar sheann sgìopan-seillean.

Tha dealbh shuaicheanta eile a chunnaic sinn uile – an aon sràid den Bhaile, na sìneadh ann an lùb fhada fharsaing shuas os cionn a’ bhàigh, far an robh am fearann as torraiche, an aon chothrom bàta a lainnseadh, agus beagan fasgaidh bho na gèilean. Tha na taighean, no an tobhtaichean, a tha rim faicinn an-diugh, gu ìre mhòr à dà linn-togail. Chaidh an fheadhainn nas ùire, le uinneagan nas motha, similearan, agus mullaichean zinc, a thogail mu 1860 (pròiseact coltach ris na council houses an seo ceud biadhna às dèidh sin), an àite nan seann taighean dubha, a bha an ceann nas ìsle na bhàthach-geamhraidh dhan chrodh – iad fhèin mar leasachadh nan àitichean-còmhnaidh fiù ‘s na bu shimplidhe romhpa. Chaidh na taighean dubha air am fàgail eadar na taighean ùra mar bhàthaich no àiteachan-stòir. ‘S e sin a bhios tu a’ faicinn an-diugh fhathast – tha Urras Nàiseanta na h-Alba, leis a bheil na h-eileanan o chionn 1957, air feadhainn de na taighean à 1860 a chàradh agus an cumail mar thaigh-tasgaidh beag (uabhasach math!) agus oifisean no àite-fuirich, agus a’ feuchainn ri na togalaichean eile a cumail ann an “arrested decay”. Thig faireachdainn fìor shònraiche ort is tu nad sheasamh san t-sràid fhalamh ud, am measg thaibhsean is an cuimhneachain.

Agus carson a chaidh an t-eilean fhalamhachadh idir?  Thòisich na h-atharrachaidhean a bu mhotha aig àm nan stìomairean den linn Bhictorianach, a thug caochladh na b’ fharsainge bathair às an t-saoghal mhòr, ach barrachd daoine cuideachd, nam measg luchd-turais airgeadach às na bailtean mòra a bha airson muinntir neònach, phrìomhadail an eilein iomallaich romànsaich ud fhaicinn.  Tha seann fhilmichean ann anns a bhios tu ag aithneachadh gun robh na Hiortaich dìreach mar bheathaichean cian-annasach san zoo dhan luchd-tadhail sin. Saoil dè bha na h-eileanaich a’ faireachdainn?

Còmhla ris na daoine ùra thàinig galaran ùra cuideachd agus na h-eileanaich gun ion-dhìonachd nan aghaidh,  rud a lagaich an slàinte is an comas-seasaimh san fharsaingeachd.

Cha b’ e ach ministearan agus uaireannan luchd-teagaisg a thàinig às an tìr-mhòr a dh’fhuireach anns an eilean san 19mh linn, agus ‘s e buaidh mhòr a thug iad air dòigh-beatha Hiort. ‘S e Crìostaidhean a bha anns na Hiortaich mar-thà, ach tharraing an suidheacadh dùbhlanach mar as trice ministearan le eud miseanaraidh, a thug tionndadh seanaireachd gu sònraichte cruaidh leotha, agus chaidh na bha aig na h-eileanaich de chur-seachadan is dibhearsain, mar chèilidhean, òrain is sheanchas, a thoirmeasg a-nis. Mar sin dh’fhàs am beatha fiù ‘s na bu chruaidhe, agus a-nis tha cuid mhòr de na h-òrain is sgeulachdan caillte a-nis. Agus bha na tidsearan a’ cur an ìre teagasg sa Bheurla an àite Gàidhlig, rud a lagaich an dualchas traidiseanta cuideachd, agus thug na h-eileanaich nas fhaisge air an t-saoghal mhòr. Tha an eaglais simplidh (1820an) agus an seòmar-sgoile (1890an) rim faicinn an-diugh fhathast mar a bha iad sna ficheadan.

Beag air bheag thòisich daoine òga ri Hiort fhàgail, agus san Chogadh Mhòr thog a’ mhòr-cuid de na fir dha na Feachdan. Cha do thill mòran dhiubh, agus ged a bha stèisean rèidio an nèibhidh ann 1915 – 1919, a thabhainn taic agus chothrom-obrach no dhà, cha b’ fhada gus an tuit àireamh an t-sluaigh fon ìre a bha riatanach airson mairsinn beò mar choimhearsnachd. Mu dheireadh thall, le cuideachadh Nurse Barclay a bha ann sna ficheadan, dh’iarr na 36 a bha air am fàgail air an riaghaltas an gluasad chun na tìr-mòir. Thachair sin ann an 1930.

Cuiridh mi crìoch air an aithris seo an ath thuras – san eadar-àm, an dòchas gun còrd na dealbhan ribh!

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Most of you will be familiar with the story of the St Kilda evacuation in 1930.  I was lucky enough to go on a visit to the archipelago this year, a really wonderful trip. The islands are far out in the Atlantic, 41 miles from Benbecula and 101 from the mainland, but humans have been living there since the Bronze Age (traces still remain), even if not necessarily continuously. But it’s not just the distance that takes you aback, it’s knowing that they managed to make a living for so long in such an infertile and challenging environment, even on the main island, Hirta, where the people lived. That was my first thought when I saw the sheer precipices rising out the middle of the ocean, after 3 hours on a fast boat from Harris. How did they do it?

But they did indeed survive over the centuries, planting some barley and potatoes on the little fertile ground that they had (narrow strips behind the Village houses), keeping cattle and sheep further up the hillside on the common grazing, and especially by catching seabirds on the cliffs. Fishing was generally too difficult with the dangerous currents and the gales, and without suitable boats. They paid their rent to the Macleods of Dunvegan (long-time owners of the islands) in seabird oil, feathers (especially puffin feathers, for mattresses), wool and tweed, and some barley, milk and cheese. There can’t have been a lot left for the St Kildans!

And it was actually the flesh and eggs of the seabirds that formed their staple diet, especially gannets and fulmars. We’re all familiar with the photos of the “cragsmen” with their ropes, scaling the sheer cliffs like birds themselves on Hirta, the other smaller islands (Dùn, Soay, Boreray), and the sea-stacks. This was dangerous and skilled work. They divided the birds among themselves according to family size, and after being plucked and dried, they were stored in the many hundreds of cleits all over the island, small drystone storehouses like old beehives.

There’s another iconic picture we’ve all seen – the one street of the Village stretched out in a long wide curve up above the bay, where there was the most fertile land, the only chance to launch a boat, and some shelter from the gales. The houses, or their ruins, which we see today mainly stem from two building periods. The newer ones, with the larger windows, chimneys and zinc roofs were built around 1860 (a project like our council houses a hundred years later) to replace the earlier “blackhouses”, whose lower ends provided winter shelter for the cattle – themselves an “improvement” on the even more primitive dwellings before them. The blackhouses were left standing between the new houses as byres or storage space.  That’s what you still see today – the National Trust for Scotland, owners since 1957, have restored a few of the 1860 houses as office and accommodation space, and are trying to keep the other buildings in a state of “arrested decay”. It’s a really strange feeling to stand in that empty street among ghosts and their memorials.

So why was the island evacuated? The greatest changes began with the advent of the steamers of the Victorian age, bringing a wider variety of goods from the outside world, but also more people, including well-off tourists from the cities keen to see these curious, primitive people and their remote, romantic island. There are still old films extant in which you realise that the St Kildans were like exotic zoo animals to these visitors. I wonder what they were feeling?

Along with the new people also came new diseases, which the islanders had no immunity against, and this weakened their health and resistance in general.

It was only ministers and sometimes teachers who came from the mainland to stay on Hirta in the 19th century, and they had a major influence on the island way of life. The St Kildans were already Christians, but the challenge of the situation tended to attract ministers with missionary zeal, bringing a particularly strict variety of Presbyterianism with them, and the little the islanders had in the way of pastimes and diversion, such as ceilidhs, songs and story-telling, were now forbidden. Life therefore became even harder, and many of the songs and stories are now lost. The teachers who came insisted on teaching in English instead of Gaelic, and that too undermined the traditional culture, and brought the islanders closer to the outside world. The simple church (1820s) and the schoolroom (1890s) can still be visited today, looking just as they were in the 1920s.

Gradually young people began to leave St Kilda, and in the Great War most of the men were called up. Many did not return, and although there was a naval wireless base there 1915-1919, offering support and some work, it wasn’t long before population numbers fell below the level required to survive as a community. Finally, with the help of a Nurse Barclay who was there in the 1920s, the remaining 36 inhabitants petitioned the government to be moved to the mainland. This happened in 1930.

I’ll finish off this account the next time – meanwhile, hope you enjoy the photos!

Loch Fleet

Òrain an ròin

Bha an ròn riamh na chreutair fìor shònraichte do mhuinntir sgìrean a’ chladaich, le iomadh sgeulachd mu ròin a thilgeadh am bian air an tràigh, a’ nochdadh ann an cruth fhear no bhoireannach brèagha. Bha fiù cuid ann a phòsadh clann-daoine, ged aig a’ cheann thall bhiodh iad a’ tilleadh gu muir, air an tarraing air ais le cumhachd an t-saoghail aca fhèin – coltach ris na maighdinnean-mara anns na sgeulachdan againne.

Aig an aon àm bha an ròn mar bheathach gu math cudromach dha na dearbh choimhearsnachdan seo, a sheilgeadh ròin airson na feòla, a’ chraicinn agus gu sònraichte an ola. Bha seo uabhasach prìseil, is e ga chleachdadh ann an lampaichean ach mar leigheas cuideachd. Agus mharbhadh na h-iasgairean iad cuideachd gus àireamhean bhradan a ghlèidheadh.

Mar sin bha dàimh dhà-bharaileach eadar na daoine agus na ròin, an dà chuid an sealladh prataigeach agus an doras fosgailte fhathast dhan t-seann chreideamh os-nàdarra. Mar a mhothaich sinn roimhe san sgìre againne, cha robh riamh dragh sam bith do dh’iasgairean a bhith fìor chràbhach agus anabarrach saobh-chràbhach aig an aon àm.

Seo dà òran tradaiseanta glè bhrèagha mu ròin às na h-Eileanan Siar. Anns a’ chiad fhear, tha maighdeann-ròin a’ mineachadh cò às a thàinig na ròin. Anns an dàrna fear tha ròn eile a’ gearan gum bi iasgairean a’ sealg agus ag ithe daoine eile, leis nach e beathaichean a th’ ann an ròin, ach daoine cuideachd.

Tha an dà chuid rin cluinntinn air YouTube amsaa, le Julie Fowlis is eile, ceanglaichean nas ìsle. An dòchas gun còrd iad ribh!

An t-Eilean Sgitheanach / Skye

Seal songs

The seal has always been a really special creature to the people of coastal areas, with many tales of seals who would cast their skins on the beach and appear in the form of beautiful men and women. There were even some who married humans, though in the long run they would return to the sea, drawn back by the power of their own world – just like the mermaids in our own stories.

At the same time the seal as an animal was extremely important to these very communities, who would hunt seals for the meat, the skin and especially the oil. This was exceptionally precious, being used not just for lamps but also as medicine. And fishermen also killed seals to preserve the salmon stock.

That meant there was an ambivalent relationship between humans and seals, on the one hand the practical aspect and on the other hand still a door left open to the old belief in the supernatural. As we’ve seen before in our own communities, the fisherfolk never had any trouble being both sincerely devout and highly superstitious.

Here are two lovely traditional songs about seals from the Western Isles. In the first, a seal-maiden explains where the seals came from. In the second, another seal complains that fishermen are hunting and eating other people, as seals aren’t animals but people too.

Both songs can be heard on YouTube etc, sung by Julie Fowlis and others – links below.  I hope you enjoy them!

Loch Fleet

An Ròn

“Mise nighean Rìgh-fo-Thuinn
Fuil nan rìghrean na mo chrè –
Ged a chì sibh mi nam ròn
Tha mi mòrail nam thìr fhèin.

“Tìr-fo-Thuinn mo dhachaigh dhùint’
Innis dhùthchasach nan ròn;
Caidlidh mi air leacan sàil’,
Mi fhìn ‘s mo bhàn-chuilean òg.”

A Bhana-phrionns’ a’ chuain shiar,
A bheil sgeul agad ri luaidh?
Nach inns thu dhuinn mar a bha
Mun do ghabh sibh tàmh sa chuan?

“Chaidh na geasan a chur oirnn
Rè ar beò bhith le luchd-fuath,
‘S ged a tha sinn snàmh nan caol
‘S e nàdar daonnd’ tha dhuinn dual.

“Aig tràth-marbh air oidhche fèill
Tilgidh sinn ar bèin air tràigh,
‘S cluichidh sinn nar n-òighean suairc’
A’ crathadh ar cuaillean bàn.

“Ach a-nochd tha mi nam ròn
Air an lic an còrs’ a’ chuain:
‘S e mo nàdar bhith toirt gaol,
‘S do chlann-daoine thug mi luaidh.”

“I am daughter of the King-under-Sea,  Royal blood flows in my veins – Though you see me as a seal I am noble in my own land.

“Land-below-waves my prison home, Hereditary domain of the seal; I will sleep on a salt sea slab, Myself and my white-furred pup.”

O Princess of the western ocean Do you have a tale to weave? Will you tell us how it was Before you came to live at sea?

“Spells were laid upon us During our human lives by foes – Though we now swim the straits Human nature is our heritage.

“At the dead of feast-day night We cast our sealskins on the sand, Playing there as gentle maids Shaking our blonde tresses.

“But tonight I am a seal On a rock beside the sea; It is my nature to give love, And mankind I hold dear.”

“bàn-chuilean òg/ white-furred pups” Credit: Annie Hurn, Pembs. 2021

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Òran an Ròin

Hò i hò i hì o hò I, Hò i hì o hò i ì
Hò i hò i hì o hò i
Cha robh mi ‘m ònar a-raoir.

‘S mairg san tìr seo, ‘s mairg san tìr
‘G ithe dhaoine ‘n riochd a bhìdh;
Nach fhaic sibh ceannard an t-sluaigh
Goil air teine gu cruaidh cruinn.

‘S mise nighean Aoidh mhic Eòghainn,
Gum b’ eòlach mi mu na sgeirean;
Gur mairg a dhèanadh mo bhualadh
Bean uasal mi o thìr eile.

Thig an smeòrach, thig an druid
Thig gach eun a dh’ionnsaigh nid;
Thig am bradan thar a’ chuain
Gu Là Luain cha ghluaisear mis’.

Hò i hò i hì o hò I, I was not alone last night.

Pity to be in this place where people are eaten as food
See the chief of the people Boiling hard on a fire.

I am the daughter of Aoidh son of Ewen
I was knowledgeable about the reefs
Pity the person who would hit me
I am a noble woman from another land.

The thrush comes, the starling comes
Every bird returns to its nest
The salmon comes from the sea
Until Doom’s Day I will not be moved.

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Julie Fowlis , An Ròn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pmeyFOZSfQ

Julie Fowlis, Òran an Ròin: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7DbEDIKh0hI

Emma NicLeòid,  Òran an Ròin:  https://www.feisean.org/fuaran/gd/oran-an-roin/

Steòrnabhagh / Stornoway

This month we’re having a look at how directions and points of the compass were traditionally used in the Gaelic Highlands, and therefore in Gaelic-influenced Seaboard English, which also carried over into behaviour patterns still familiar to some people today.

If you look at the map, it’s clear that the Seaboard coast runs roughly north-east to south-west, but I’ve never heard anyone refer to the ends of the Villages except as east and west. In Hilton you went, and still go, east to the burn or the chapel, not north-east. So-and-so’s house, on the same NE-SW street, might be “a bit west” of someone else’s. This might seem just shorthand for the more exact orientation, but there’s more to it than that.

Nowadays we’re used to seeing, and giving, directions in terms of the usual map view – north is up, south is down. For distant places this was to a large extent also true traditionally, in Gaelic or English – you’d sail up to Orkney, or people went down to Glasgow or London to work. At a more local level, however, this was very different. Maps were not what people used, or even possessed, until relatively recently, so a map’s view of up and down was irrelevant. What mattered, and what people who lived from it were intimately familiar with, was the lie of the land. The main point of reference was direction of water flow. Up (Gaelic suas, pronounced /soo-as/) was upstream, and down (sìos, pron. /shee-as/) was downstream. So up could be north, south, east or west, depending on geography. This meant that there was nothing odd in a north-facing community in telling someone to go suas gu deas – up south (southwards upstream) to a place. Roughly south or south-east-facing communities, like Easter Ross, had coincidentally upstream to their north or north-east, so they could say suas gu tuath – up north, for local directions, coinciding more or less with the map view. There are examples all over the Highlands and Islands of place-names echoing the changing geography.

This Gaelic-influenced feature has even been continued over in Nova Scotia. Cape Breton natives are famous for saying “Down North” – there possibly related to wind and therefore sailing direction (upwind and downwind in relation to their prevailing winds). They also say they’re going up and down to places which are east and west. In Easter Ross we can do the same.

While it’s logical for us to say “I’m going up to Fearn” (up the hill) we also still say things like “I’m going up to Dingwall / Inverness”, even though they’re not to the north or uphill – but they’re “up the firth”, i.e. upstream from here.  Travel was largely by water until relatively recently in our history, as roads were poor and people didn’t have vehicles, so sea and rivers were dominant in people’s lives. It was also common in the East Highlands to refer to a westerly / easterly wind as gaoth à shuas / à shìos – a wind from upstream / downstream, as the mountains were west of the coast.

So far, so good. That meant in our area that if you had your back to the hill (where upstream was, roughly north), and were facing the sea (roughly south), the natural orientation of fishing villages, then on your left you had east, and on your right you had west. Thus east and west came to be used for left and right when speaking English.  And that’s why older folk like my granny always talked about going east to the kitchen, or west to the (good) room. East – west was the most important orientation for communication and daily movement in the Villages, so these terms, rooted in the landscape-based Gaelic language, were absolutely normal. It was also, significantly, the path of the sun, visible in its arc over the sea every day.

The sun itself was another natural element that was reflected in Gaelic words for directions. As in probably all cultures, the sun was seen as life-giving, its light eagerly awaited and its progress determining daily and seasonal activities. The most propitious way to face in the morning was eastwards, and you’d turn to follow the sun southwards and westwards throughout the day. West to north to east again was the night, the dark and dangerous time and therefore direction.  South came to mean good luck and prosperity, north bad luck. This is what has led to all the folklore and superstition that calls for doing things “sunwise”, or clockwise. The opposite, called “widdershins” in Scots (which literally means “against the sun”), was really unlucky. Seaboard fishing boats (despite being full of good Presbyterian seamen) always turned sunwise – taking no chances! Superstition was rife among the fishermen despite their sincere religious beliefs – I think of it as a belt and braces approach. They also always said “12 plus one” when counting, instead of 13, hence the numbering of this article!

The word for south in Gaelic is deas (pron. /jess/), and this is also the word for right, as in right-handed. South would be on your right-hand side when facing the rising sun in the east, the starting point for the “good” hours of the daytime. Again, many cultures consider right good, left bad. On the Seaboard it was considered bad luck to have the spouts of jugs and teapots facing left on the shelf. From deas Gaelic has the word deiseil (/jesh-al/), which means sunwise, moving in the same direction as the sun. It also means ready, prepared, based on the idea that you’re set on the right course. Katy Ross told me that to was customary for the fisherman who lived furthest from the boat to go round in the morning making sure the others en route were up and about by calling at their window “Am beil thu deiseil?” – a much more loaded and promising word than the English “ready”.  She heard it called to her father every morning.

So when you next hear what seems to be an odd use of up and down, or east and west, or left and right, just remember there will have been a perfectly logical reason for it in the Gaelic it came from. Enjoy them, and treasure them!

And as usual, let me have any more examples you hear or remember yourselves!

This month we’ll be looking at how some Gaelic language forms, such as diminutive endings, were simply carried over naturally to English or Scots words in local speech, particularly in people’s names.

If you have the newest edition of Down to the Sea (2018), you’ll have seen the wonderful long list of by-names at the back. It’s much more than a list – it’s a mini social history of each of the Villages, so well worth a read or a re-read! Among them are many of my relatives and family friends, or neighbours of my grannie’s, or unknown figures who featured in local stories, and it brought back a lot of childhood memories to read that list when it was first published. So many thanks to all who contributed – an invaluable resource of local knowledge that otherwise would have disappeared.

But it’s also a great resource for those interested in language, like myself, as it’s full of examples of the often mutual influence of Gaelic and Scots.

In Gaelic, if you add -ag or –an to a word, it conveys a smaller version of the original (with things), or a more familiar or affectionate version (especially with names). A lochan is just a small loch, a boyan is a small boy, a young lad. You may know them in the Gaelic words sliseag (sleeshack) and tuircan (tourcan), still common locally. When applied to names, David might become Dave-an (=Davie), for example, or Anne or Anna might become Annag (=Annie). Classically, –an was for masculine words and –ag for feminine, but this was not closely adhered to locally, with men’s names sometimes getting the -ag treatment too. –ag is pronounced -ack, so that’s what usually got written down.

Examples of the -ag/ack ending in my own family history include Jimmack Oliver, my uncle, and Davack Ross, my grandfather. Other male names I remember were Buiyack, Johnack, Danack and Willack, and lots of female ones: Bellack, Dollack , Nanack, Curstack (Kirstie), Kateack. The -an ending was definitely used more for males – Jockan, Willican, Toman.

It’s worth pointing out that the pronunciation of these names was usually, and often still is, very Gaelic – the first part is stressed and generally longer, and there’s a wee gap before the –an or –ack.

The lack of stress on that ending also led to it being eroded – sometimes the -ag or -an would become just -a. Examples I recall: Kate-a, Doll-a, Wull-a, Dan-a, John-a, Kenn-a.  Very Gaelic intonation!

Some female names ending in -an are actually Ann/Anne as the second half of a double name (another very Gaelic thing). The most famous example in the Villages is probably Bellan (Isabelle Ann /Bell Ann / Bel Ann etc) MacAngus, mother of Dolly, or Dollack. When this is spelled together as one word, saying it aloud helps to establish what kind of –an it is – the diminutive –an ending (unstressed), or the name Ann (usually stressed equally with the first part). I also had an Auntie Christan, the -an part unstressed, but I am not sure if that was a diminutive Christine, or the remains of Christine Ann.  There were also Johndans on the Seaboard – whether John + an with an extra D, or John + Dan (double name), I don’t know. Anyone? EDIT: as a relative informs me, just a diminutive of John, no double names. And there were several in the family. And Christan was Christine Ann, but her mother used the pet name Christan after hearing it used elsewhere.

It wasn’t just names that got these -an and -ag endings – sometimes they were added to things as well, e.g. shop-an, skirt-an (Gaelic sgiortan), and cutag or guttag for a gutting knife. But with the English names of things, the Gaelic endings were less common than the Scots -ie, as often already attached to the words when they were brought to the area by Lowlands and Moray farming folk at the time of the agricultural “Improvements”. There is a Gaelic word-ending – aidh, pronounced  “ee” (e.g. Ciorstaidh = Kirsty), so it was an easy transition for Gaelic speakers to make.  A baggie and a listie for the shoppie, a boatie, a bairnie are the sort of thing that caught on. People also got the –ie ending, sometimes combined with the Gaelic –ag: Nanackie, Willackie.

Occasionally the ending -ach would be used instead, either as a variant on the pronunciation of -ag, or the Gaelic ending -ach used for turning a noun into an adjective, eg. Sasainn/Sasann (England) > Sasannach (English). So we have Sandach (for Sandy), the Alachs, the Morachs etc.

The prevalence of the same first names as well as surnames throughout the Villages led to plenty of by-names to help distinguish them, and often these by-names would get carried down through the generations, their original reference getting lost en route. Names are more varied nowadays, but traditionally in the Villages, and in fact still in the main Gaelic-speaking areas today, it’s always been hard to break the pattern of calling first sons after fathers and daughters after mothers etc. So adding a distinguishing term was not only a good Gaelic tradition but a necessity. Until, of course, the by-name became attached to each generation, so that grandfather, father, son and grandson might all once again have the same name! The William “Chats” Ross family are a good example of this. (I learned from the list that this came from a Charlotte further back in the family who was known as Chattie.)

The by-name might be the person’s job – Thomas Vass the Post, Jimmy the Van, or where the family originally came from – the Woods from Cellardyke got the by-name “the Dyker” or “the Decker”, and there were also Rosses known as Morach / Morrach – probably from the Gaelic for someone from Moray. There was even a Johnny-up-the-hill Ross, who worked on Hilton farm. Other by-names were less clear, such as Buzz, or the Claws, or the Roggles, or Jockan and Ali “the Bolt” Vass, and usually had a story attached. My Latin teacher was Johnnie “Leekie” Ross from Balintore, himself from a Ross family called the Cuppies. These by-names could also be Gaelic words, like my father’s (Sutherland) family, the Alachs, or the “Raws” and “Roos” (possibly from ruadh – red-haired).

But there was one very Gaelic way of distinguishing between multiple William Rosses etc, and that was by saying who their mother or wife was: that’s how we get “Jock Kate” for John Skinner, or “Billy Nanack” Ross, or “Geordie Minnie” Mackay, or a family of Vasses all given “Ethel” as a kind of surname. And of course the “Chats” Rosses, from Charlotte. Women might also get distinguished by their father’s name, such as Bella Danack, or Bella Davack.

Gaelic also has a common method with “aig” (= at) for saying who you belonged to, and this led to things like “Dolly at Bellan”, “Joan at Curly”, and I got called “Davine at Hughie” more than once. (Which I objected to in my teens as I wanted to be myself, not some else’s appendage!)

So keep collecting the by-names and their stories, and maybe they’ll feed into any future editions of Down to the Sea. Our names, their stories, and our rich local language are as much our heritage as the Pictish stones, and the objects we display in our museums. Let’s keep them alive and kicking!

This month our look at the Gaelic influence on Seaboard English will focus on some particularly Gaelic grammar structures that got carried over in translation, leading to non-standard English expressions that gave and still give our local English its particular flavour.

The first one, and probably for most people the most noticeable one, is the use of the -ing form of verbs that are usually just the simple form in English; for example, instead of “I need”, it was often “I’m needing” that you’d hear. “It’s a good skelp she’s needing”, as we saw before.

English does use the -ing form a lot itself – it kept the form from the Celtic languages that were spoken in Britain before the Germanic, Viking and Norman influxes led to the development of modern English. But in English the -ing form is usually used to emphasise that something is happening now, and the simple form for regular activities or facts. “The sun is setting right now – come and see it! “versus “The sun sets much earlier in the winter.” Certain always-factual verbs are virtually never used in the -ing form in standard English, e.g.  hear, see, think (for opinions), believe, want, need.  Gaelic is not nearly as strictly divided and uses the -ing form much more, and this made its way into Seaboard (and indeed Highland) English.  Here are some examples I’ve collected from my own experience and from my various contributors.

You’ll be needing a good dinner after that!

I’m thinking it’ll rain tomorrow. I’m no thinking she’ll be coming more the night.

I’m no hearing you! Are you no seeing it?

It’s Jessie you’re meaning, is it?

What is it you’re wanting? You’ll no be wanting that any more.

You won’t be breaking that window with your ball, now, will you?

Don’t be waking up the bairn, now!  Don’t you be telling lies!

Another thing I’ve often noticed is the use of “till” where standard English would have a sentence with “so that”: instead of “so that I can see you”, you often hear “till I see you” This is because in Gaelic the little word gus is used for both so that and till/until. English uses “till” for time only, not for purpose.

Come here till I tell you / till I straighten that tie / till get a better look at you!

Take it to the window till you see better.

The word “since” also gets used in the Gaelic way. In English, it’s normal to use “since” with a fixed point in time: “We’ve been doing that since Monday, since 1950, since the bridge was built.” If we want to say how long we’ve been doing it, i.e. a period of time, we use “for”: for ages, for 10 years, for a week etc. The Gaelic word for “since”, o chionn, can be used for both of these, leading to “since” being used for both in Seaboard English.

I’ve been here since 6 o’ clock / since hours!

They’ve been saying they’ll mend that road since years!

I’ve known him since ages / since we were at school.

And one more of these for today.  You’ve probably heard and quite possibly said “No nor me!” when you say that you also wouldn’t do something, e.g.

I can’t stand that so-and-so! No nor me!

I won’t be going back there! No nor me!

Standard English would be “Neither can I / Neither will I”. That handy wee expression “No nor me!” is a direct translation of the Gaelic “Chan eil no mise”.

Do keep an ear open for more examples of any of these, and also anything else that catches your attention, and let me know. I hope you’re all listening out for all the Seaboard specialities we’ve already looked at! And even better, actively using them. Let’s keep our local linguistic colour!