Total Pageviews

Friday, 18 July 2014

Four Famous Fiddlers from Lochaber


Fiddles and bagpipes have long been the instruments of choice for musicians from the Highlands and Lochaber is no exception. Doubtless every single district or township would have had famous musicians and here is an anecdote as recorded and later transcribed by Calum Maclean on the 29th of January 1951 from John MacDonald of Highbridge, Brae Lochaber, concerning four famous fiddlers all of whom belonged to Brae Lochaber:

Fìdhleirean Ainmeil

Bha ceithir fìdhleirean ainmeil anns an dùthaich seo. ’S e Iain Stiùbhart a bh’ air fear dhiubh. Bha e a’ fuireach ann am Bun Ruaidh, Gilleasbui’ Dòmhnallach a bha air fear eile is a bha e a’ fuireach ann an Inbhir Ruaidh. Agus Alasdair MacCuaraig a bh’ air an fhear eile agus bha e a’ fuireach an Lianachan. Agus bha iad uilidh ag ionnsachadh dannsa agus iad a’ cumail sgoiltean dannsa. Ach chan eil cuimhne agam c’ ainm a bh’ air a’ cheathramh fear. Ach dh’fhalbh iad le crodh a’ cheathrar dhiubh agus stad iad ann am Peairt air an oidhche. Is dè thachair a bhith aig an taigh ’s bha sin ach Deire Bhuana, cridhealas glè mhòr ann. Agus ’s ann an sin a chuir iad an sprèidh gu taobh agus fhuair iad fuireach ann an taigh an tuathanaich. Bha iad nan suidhe leotha fhèi’ ann an seòmbar agus luchd na Deire Bhuana a’ dannsa is a’ fìdhleireachd an ceann eile an taighe:
“Ma-tà,” thuirt fear dhiubh, “tha e a’ coimhead glè mhosach dhuinn a bhith a’ fàgail nan coigreach air chùl. Nach fheàrra dhuinn an toirt a-nuas nur cuideachda.”
Seo a chaidh a dhèanadh. Bha iad nan suidhe ann an sin a’ gabhail beachd air a h-uile rud a bha a’ dol. Ach thuirt am fìdhlear a bha a’ cluich:
“Nam biodh duine ann a chuideachda an fhìdheall, bhithinn fhìn air an ùrlar agus bheirinn car air an dannsa.”
“Ghabhaidh mise i,” thuirt fear dhiubh seo.
Is nuair a ghabh am fìdhlear i ’s ann a sin a chuala iad an fhìdhlearachd ceart. Bha cho math dhaibh a bhith ag èisdeachd ris an fhear a bha an toiseach ann ri duine a’ slaodadh bata air fence. Agus chaidh na dannsairean eile a dhannsa an uair seo. ’S ann a sin a chunnaic iad an dannsa. Nuair a bha am fear sin, thug e tacan oirre, shìn e don fhear eile i gus an deach i seachad air a’ cheathrar aca. Bha e an uair seo a’ tighinn teann air a’ mhadainn. ’S ann a thuirt muinntir Pheairt an uair sin:
“Feumaidh gur h-e dannsairean agus fìdhleirean a tha an Loch Abar uile gu lèir.”
Tha fear dhiubh air a thìodhlacadh am Blàr Odhar agus tha e sgrìobhte air an leac-cinn aige Maighstir Dannsair. Agus chaochail e anns na h-ochd ceud deug agus a cheithir fichead.

And the translation goes something like the following:

Famous Fiddlers

There were four famous fiddlers in this locality: John Stewart was one of the them and he stayed in Bunroy, Archibald MacDonald was another one and he stayed in Inverroy. And Alexander Kennedy was another one who stayed in Lianachan. And they all taught dancing and kept dance schools. But I don’t recollect the name of the fourth man. But the set off with cattle the four of them and they stopped in Perth for the night. And what happened to be on in the house but a Harvest Feast and they was a great big celebration. And they put the cattle to one side and they got accommodation at the farmer’s house. They were sitting apart by themselves in a room and the folk celebrating the Harvest Feast were dancing and playing the fiddle at the other end of the house.
“Well,” said one of them, “it looks really mean of us leaving the strangers there at the back. Wouldn’t it be better if we invited them into our company.”
This was done. They all sat and took note of what was going on. And the fiddler who was playing said:
“If someone know who to play the filled, then I would go the floor so that I could spend a while dancing.”
“I’ll have a go,” said this man.
When he took hold of the fiddle it was only then that they heard proper fiddle music. They may have just as well have been listening to a man who played at first as if scraping a stick on a fence. Then all the dancers began dancing. It was only then that the saw real dancing. Once the man had been playing a while, he handed it over to another man until all four of them had played. By now it was getting near to the morning. That is when the Perth folk exclaimed:
“You must all be dancers and fiddlers from Lochaber.”
One of them is buried in Blarour and it is written on his gravestone that he was a Dance Master. And he died in 1880.

Further research could yet reveal which one of these famous fiddlers was buried in Blarour and perhaps even some more background details to the fiddlers named by John MacDonald could also be unveiled. Calum Maclean was also fortunate to have recorded fiddling and piping in Brae Lochaber when he and his colleague visited Brae Lochaber in 1954. They recorded quite a bit of material from James Alexander MacDonald (1881–1962), known as Jimmie Bohenie, who was born and brought up in Bohenie, Glenroy, Brae Lochaber; and also from Donald MacDonald (1919–1975), known as Dòmhnall Mòr (‘Big Donald’) who was born and raised in Keppoch, Brae Lochaber, and was reckoned to be the findest player of the fiddle in the district. He also played the pipes very well. Collinson would later recollect their fieldwork trip together in the following terms:

Our first expedition was to Lochaber and Fort William. At Glenroy we found and recorded a fine traditional fiddler, James MacDonald. At Keppoch, we called on Donald MacDonald who played a fine rendering on the pipes of the slow march Lord Lovat’s Lament.

Some of these recordings are available to listen to on the Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches website such as the lament above mentioned (http://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/54202/1).


An entry kept by Calum Maclean in his diary notes that he visited Jimmie Bohenie on the 13th of June 1954:

In the evening Mrs MacDonell, John  [[the late Ann MacDonell and her husband] and I went up to Bohenie to record some tunes on the fiddle from James MacDonald. He was given no warning that we were on our way, but he welcomed us kindly. I played some records and then Jimmie got his fiddle and played a selection of tunes. He played well, but was not in top form. His sons each sung a ballad. One sang the ballad of MacCallum, the poacher, the other a song called “The Miles and the Road to the Town of Dundee.” I had heard the latter sung in Irish in Connemara many years ago. It was strange hearing it there again.

Reference:
SSS NB 9, pp. 872–73

Images:
Fiddle scroll
Jimmie Bohenie, c. 1950

1 comment:

  1. Enjoying the blog immensely. Wee note though, the Mrs Macdonell refered to was John's first wife Millie. He married Ann much later after being widowed.

    ReplyDelete