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Friday, 7 March 2014

The Bard of Glenorchy: Duncan Bàn Macintyre

Part and parcel of Gaelic oral traditions are those that concern poets and their backgrounds, especially anecdotes about their verbal procosity. Perhaps no other Gaelic poet from eighteenth-century Gaeldom than Duncan Macintyre claim so many traditions to have been kept alive about him. The following biographical anecdote, complete with quotations from Macintyre’s verse, was collected by Calum Maclean on the 21st of January, 1951, from John MacDonald of Highbridge, Brae Lochaber. Traditions from various sources, those from print  as well as oral materials, remember Duncan Bàn Macintyre as a congenial and very affable fellow and the following does nothing to detract from that image:

Rugadh Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir ann an Druim Liaghart, Dail Mhàillidh, anns a’ bhliadhna seachd ceud deug agus a ceithir thar an fhichead. Agus cha robh e ach na bhalach bliadhna air fhichead a dh’aois nuair a bha e aig Blàr na h-Ealgaise Brice a’ cogadh an aghaidh a’ Phrionnsa. Agus ’s e Liosdar a bha aig Taigh an Droma, ’s e a chuir ann e agus a gheall ochd notacha deug dhà. Is thug e dhà claidheamh mòr meirgeach a bh’ aig a shinnsridh. Agus dh’fhalbh Donnchadh. Chaidh an ratreut a chur orra is dh’iomair Donnchadh teicheadh. Chaill e an claidheamh. Dar a thàinig e dhachaigh cha robh Liosdar toileach an t-airgead a thoirt dà, bhon a chaill e an claidheamh. Agus rinn Donnchadh Bàn òran air Blàr na h-Eaglaise Brice. Agus chuir e aon cheathramh ann mu dhèidhinn a’ chlaidheimh agus thuirt e mar seo:

Mòran iarainn is beagan faobhair
B’ e siud aogais a’ chlaidheimh
Bha e lùbach, leòbach, beànach,
Bha car cam anns an amhaich.
Dh’fhàg e mo chràimhean-sa brùighte
Bhith ga ghiulain fad an rathaid,
Is e cho trom ri cabar feàrna,
Is mairg a dheònaicheadh rath mhath air.

Ach bha Donnchadh [...] co dhà a thigeadh an gnothach ach Diùc Earra-Ghàidheal. Agus an uair seo thug e bagairt glè throm air Liosdar gu feumadh e na h-ochd notacha deug a thoirt dà bhon a gheall e e. Agus dh’iomair e sin a dhèanadh. Dh’fhuirich e an sin aig Braghaid Albainn treis air ais ’s air adhart feadh siud agus e gu h-àrd sa mhonadh is e na pheithear seilg feadh sin. Ach mu dheireadh chaidh e rathad Dhun Èideann. Thill e air ais à Dùn Èideann agus ghabh e a’ chuairt mu dheireadh feadh seo mar a thuirt e fhèin: Cead Deireannach nam Beann:

Mo shoraidh leis na frìthean,
Is mòr miarbhailteach na beannan iad
Le ’m biolar uaine, fìor-uisg’
Deoch uasal rìomhach, ceanalta
Na blàran a bha prìseil,
Na fàsaichean a bha lìonmhor,
Is fhad bhon leig mi dhìom iad,
Gu latha bhràth mo mhìle beannachd leotha.

Ach mun d’fhàg e an dùthaich chaidh e a choimhead air tuathanach air an robh e glè eòlach dar a bha e òg. Cha do thachair gun robh an duine a-staigh dar a ràinig e. Thuirt e ris a’ bhean:
“Càite eil an tuathanach?”
“Tha e gu h-àrd sa mhonadh,” thuirt ise. “Cha bhi e fada gus an tig e dhachaigh.”
Thàinig an tuathanach dhachaigh:
“Seadh,” thuirt e.
“Bha thu sa mhonadh,” thuirt Donnchadh. “Am faca tu dad annasach an sin?”
“Chunnaic mi boc-gaibhre cho brèagha agus a chunnaic mi riamh.”
“Càite eil e?” thuirt Donnchadh.
“Tha e gu h-àrd an Coire a’ Chuarain.”
“Mura h-eil mòran agad ri dhèanadh, thèid sinn an àird sa mhadainn,” thuirt e, “agus bheir sinn às an sin e.”
“Chan eil,” thuirt e. “Thèid sinn an àirde.”
Is chaidh iad an àirde. Mharbh iad am boc. Agus bha ceann air cho brèagha is a chunna tu riamh. Thuirt Donnchadh:
“Seo agad m’ iarrtas,” thuirt Donnchadh, “nam faighinn an adhrac aig a’ bhoc.”
“Dè tha thu a’ dol a dhèanadh dhith?” thuirt an tuathanach.
“Tha mi a’ dol a chur sgian innte.”
“Cò chuireas sgian innte?”
“Cuiridh an Gobhainn Mac an Aba thall ann an seo,” thuirt e , “cuiridh e sgian innte.”
Chaidh iad a-nunn far an robh an gobhainn.
Chuir an gobhainn an sgian innte:
“Agus bidh seo agam fad ’s a bhios mi beò.”
“Dè th’ agam ri thoirt dut,” thuirt Donnchadh.
“Chan eil ach ceathramh òrain.”
Rug e air an sgian agus choimhead e oirre agus thuirt e mar seo:

Fhuair mi an-diugh mo raghainn sgeine
Ùr bhon teine air a deagh-bhualadh:
Gum bu slàn do làimh tha trèitheach
A rinn gu tana, geur, cruaidh i,
Tha i dìreach, làidir, daingeann
Is rinn e le cabhag a suas i.
Tha i an-diugh an adhrac na gaibhre,
A laigh a-raoir an Coire a’ Chuarain.

Dh’fhàg e an dùthaich an uair sin agus e gu muladach. Agus bha e gu math aosmhor agus e ceithir fichead agu a h-ochd dar a chaochail e. Agus ’s ann ceithir bliadhna mun do chaochail e, tha mi an dùil a chaidh ‘Cead Deireannach nam Beann’ a chur ann an clò. Agus chaochail e ann an taigh nighean dhà ann an Dùn Èideann. Agus tha e air a thìodhlacadh an sin. Agus tha sgrìobhte air an leac cinn aig Donnchadh:

Fhir a sheasas aig mo leac,
Bha mise mar tha thusa an-dràst’.
’S e mo leabaidh an-diugh an uaigh:
Chan eil smear na smuais nam chràmhan.
Ged a tha thusa làidir òg,
Cha mhair thu beò ged fhuair thu dàil.
Gabh mo chomhairle is bi glic,
Cuimhnich tric gun tig am bàs.

And the translation goes something like the following:

Duncan Bàn Macintyre was born in Druim Liaghart, Dalmally, in 1714. He was only a lad of twenty-one years of age when he was at the Battle of Falkirk fighting against the Prince. Fletcher from Tyndrum sent him there and he promised to give him £18. He also gave him a big, rusty sword that was once owned by his ancestors. Duncan set off but they were made to retreat and Duncan fled. He lost the sword. When he returned home Fletcher was unwilling to hand over the money as he had lost the sword. Duncan Bàn composed a song about the Battle of Falkirk and there is one verse about the sword and it goes like this:

A iron lump, scare of edge –
That was a picture of the sword;
Bent, spring, and indented,
With a wry twist in the handle.
Carrying it on my travels
Left my hip bruised and sore
As it weighed as much as an alder-beam
Pity to him who asked if it were lucky!

But Duncan was [] and who came into the business but the Duke of Argyll. And then he threatened Fletcher quite vehemntly that he would have to give £18 to him as had been promised. And so he had to do that.
He stayed in Breadalbane for a while going around here and there and he was up in the hills working as a deer forester. Eventually, however, he went by way of Edinburgh. He returned to Edinburgh and he took his last journey around here and this is when he composed Last Leave-taking of the Bens.

My farewell to those deer-forests—
they are hills that are most wonderful,
with green watercress and pure water,
a fine noble drink, so excellent;
those meadows that are precious,
those wilds that are abundant,
since I have now relinquished them,
for ever my thousand blessings there.

But before he left the district, he went see a farmer who he had known well from his youth. It so happened that he wasn’t in when he reached the place. He said to his wife:
“Where’s the farmer?”
“He’s up in the hill,” she said. “He’ll not be long before he’s back home.”
The farmer eventually came home.
“Aye,” he said.
“You were on the hill,” Duncan stated. “Did you see anything unusual there?”
“I saw the most beautiful goat-buck that I’ve ever seen.”
“Where?” Duncan asked.
“Up in Coire a’ Chuarain.”
“If you’ve not got much to do we’ll go up in the morning,” he said, “and we’ll get it.”
“No, I don’t,” he replied. “We’ll go up.”
And so they went up. They killed the buck and it’s head was as handsome as any that had ever been seen. Duncan said;
“Here’s my wish,” Duncan said, “if I would get a horn attached to the buck’s head.”
“How are you going to do with that?” asked the farmer.
“I’m going to put a knife in it.”
“Who’ll put a knife in it?”
“The MacNab smith over there,” he said, “he’ll put a knife in it.”
They went over to the place where the smith was.
The smith put a knife in it.
“And I’ll have this as long as I live.”
“What do I have to give you?” asked Duncan.
“Only a verse of song.”
He took hold of the knife and looked at it and said the following:

I got this day my choice of a knife
Newly-made from the fire and well-struck:
Health to your hands so skilled
That made it thin, sharp and hard,
It is straight, strong and tough
With haste it was made and put up
That it is this day in the goat’s horn
That lay last night in Coire a’ Chuarain.

He left the district then and he was very sorrowful. He was fairly old when he died at the age of eighty-eight. And it was four years before he passed away that I think ‘Last Leave-taking of the Bens’ was published. He died in his daughter’s house in Edinburgh and was buried there. And the following was engraved on Duncan’s gravestone:

O man who stands on my tomb,
I was like you are just now.
My bed today is the grave,
No marrow or pith is in my bones;
Though you’re young and strong
You’ll not live although delayed
Heed my counsel and be wise
Keep in mind that death will come.

References:
William Drummond-Norie, ‘Famous Highland Bards. No. III.–Duncan Ban Macintyre’, The Celtic Monthly, vol. III, no. 2 (Nov., 1894), pp. 22–25
Rev. John Kennedy, ‘Duncan Ban Macintyre’, The Celtic Magazine, vol. XIII, no. CLIII (Jul., 1888), pp. 384–93; vol. XIII, no. CLIV (Aug., 1888), pp. 433–38; vol. XIII, no. CLV (Sep., 1888), pp. 481–86
John MacInnes, ‘Two Poems Ascribed to Duncan Ban McIntyre (1724–1812), Scottish Studies, vol. 6 (1962), pp. 99–105
Angus MacLeod (ed.), Òrain Dhonnchaidh Bhàin: The Songs of Duncan Ban Macintyre (Edinburgh: Oliver & Boyd, 1952)
NB SSS 2, pp. 130–34
Agnes Walker, ‘Duncan Bàn MacIntyre’, The Celtic Monthly, vol. XI, No. I (Oct., 1902), pp. 16–17

Image:
Donnchadh Bàn Macintyre’s monument at Ceann-chaorach, Dalmally, near the Beacon Hill to the east of Loch Awe

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