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Monday, 1 April 2013

Fool’s Gold – Glengarry’s Jester

To mark April Fool’s Day known in Gaelic as Latha na Gogaireachd, here is a short and amusing anecdote recorded from Archibald MacInnes, then a pensioner aged seventy  who belonged to Achluachrach, Brae Lochaber, by Calum Maclean on the 28th of March 1951:
 
Bha oighreachd aig Mac ’ic Alasdair ann an Cn(r)òidearst. Agus bha an oigreachd cho mór ris an té ’ile. ’S e an aon oighreachd a bh’ ann ann “Oighre Chnòidearst a’ bharraich is Gleann Garadh mu thuath.” Bha amadan aig Mac ’ic Alasdair. Chaidh an t-amadan is fear glic, chaidh iad a dh’ obair air maorach ’s an tràigh. Bha iad a’ faighinn air adharst gasda. A’ fear nach robh ’na amadan, an duine glic, thàinig e air poit òir. Dh’éigh e ris an amadan:
“Trobhad a seo. Seall air a seo. Sin agad òr.”
“O, well,” thuirst an t-amadan ris, “’n uair a bhios sinn a’ maorach bidh sinn a’ maorach. ’N uair a bhios sinn ag òrach bidh sinn ag òrach. Cum orst a’ seo.”
Chum a’ fear eile air còmh’ ris an amadan air a’ mhaorach a bh’ ac(hc)a. Agus thàinig an làn a-staigh. Ach cho luath is a bha an làn a-mach làr-na-mhàireach, bha an t-amadan a-muigh is bha an t-òr aige mun d’fhuair a’ fear eile ’na charaibh. Co-dhiubh is e amadan a bh’ ann an dala dòigh, cha robh e ’na amadan ’n uair a chunnaic e an t-òr.
 
And the translation goes something like this:
 
MacDonell of Glengarry owned the Knoydart estate and it was as large as his other one. It was the same estate as the “brushwood Knoydart’s heir and Glengarry in the north.” Glengarry had a jester. The jester and a wise man both went to pick shellfish on the strand. They both got on well. The man who wasn’t a fool – the wise man – found a pot of gold. He shouted over to the jester:
“Come over there and take a look at this. There you have gold.”
“Oh, well,” said the jester to him, “when we’re picking shellfish we’ll be picking shellfish and when we’re prospecting for gold we’ll be prospecting for gold. Keep going.”
The other man kept going along with the jester picking the shellfish they had. The tide then came in but as soon as the tide was out the next day the jester went out and got the gold before the other man could get near him. Whether he was a fool in one way or another, he certainly wasn’t a fool when he saw the gold.
 
Probably jesters or professional fools were not that an uncommon sight in the households of the Gaelic nobility where many of them maintained fairly large retinues. The most famous type of travelling fools were the Cliar Sheanchain or Senchan’s Company, a wandering band of poet-satirists who since medieval times had exacted hospitality from often unwilling hosts throughout Gaelic Scotland. The above anecdote plays upon the notion of a wise fool, a phenomenon that goes as far back if not further to the medieval world in the Highlands and Islands as well as elsewhere.

References:
SSS NB 7, p. 650
John Shaw, ‘What Alexander Carmichael Did Not Print: The Cliar Sheanchain, ‘Clanranald's Fool’ and Related Traditions’, Béaloideas, vol. 70 (2002), pp. 99126
────, ‘Scottish Gaelic Traditions of the Cliar Sheanchain’, in Cyril J. Byrne, Margaret Harry and Pádraig Ó Siadhail (eds.), Celtic Languages and Celtic Peoples: Proceedings of the Second North American Congress of Celtic Studies (Halfix, N.S., 1992), pp. 141–58 

Image:
Amadan / Jester

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