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Sunday 23 December 2012

Slàinte a’ Choigrich – The Stranger’s Toast

The following story was collected from John MacLeod from Glenfinnan by Calum Maclean around the 15 of January 1951. The moral–if indeed it can be described as such–of the story is that niggardliness was  always best avoided and that generosity to a stranger was customary in the Highlands.

Seo agaibh naidheachd a dh’ airich mise aig na seann-daoine. ’S ann ma dhéidhinn fear agas té a bha a’ fuireach ann am bothan àirigh. Agas bho’n is e am na Nollaig’ a bh’ ann, bha corra-dhram a’ dol. Agas bha bean an taighe a’ fàs car sgìth dhe na dramaichean. Thachair a’ latha a bha seo gun dàinig coigreach an rathad.
“O dram mosach!” thuirst a’ bhean. “Is mise a tha sgìth dheth agas gun sònrui’ aig an am seo dhe’n bhliadhna.”
“Och, och,” thuirst an coigreach, “an ann mar seo a tha?”
Agas seo agaibh mar a labhair e:

’S iomadh gloine a dh’ òl mi,
Agas stòp a lìon mi,
Agas tasdan a chur air bòrst,
Bu chòir an diugh a bhith a’ cur riadh dheth.
A nall a’ chuach is lìon gu bàrr.
Is tràighidh sinn i gu h-iochdar,
Air tìr nam beann 's nan gleann 's an fireach,
Far an do chleachd na fir is na mrathan a bhith bàidheil.

And the translation of the above anecdote goes something like this: 

Here’s an anecdote that I heard from the old folk. It’s about a man and a woman who stayed in a sheiling bothy. And because it was Christmas time there were a few drams going around. And the goodwife of the house was getting pretty fed-up with the drams. It so happened that on this particular day a stranger came by the way.
“O vile dram!” said the wife. “I’m getting fed-up with this and especially at this time of year.
“Och, och,” said the stranger, “is that how it is?”
And here’s is what he spoke:
Many a glass I’ve drunk
And many a stoup I’ve filled
With a coin on the table,
This day it shall be paid with interest
Over with the quaich and fill it to the brim
And we’ll drain it to the bottom,
In the land of the hills, the glens and moors,
Where men and women used to be kindly.

In his book The Highlands, Calum Maclean affectionately recalls the narrator of the above anecdote: 

I shall always associate Kinlocheil with someone whom I have never seen, someone I shall never see. During my months in Lochaber I paid many visits to the late John MacLeod, a Fort William newsagent. John was a fine storyteller as well as being one of the very finest of Highland gentlemen. He was passionately devoted to the Gaelic language and Gaelic traditions. We spent many pleasant hours together. John always told me that his brother, Joseph, who was station-master at Kinlocheil, had scores and scores of old songs and other lore as well. The MacLeod brothers were natives of Glenfinnan and knew the whole history of that lovely, fateful glen. Joseph had songs that no living person knows now, songs that had been sung in Glenfinnan long before it ever saw Charles Edward Stuart, the last rightful prince of the Gael. Joseph was a comparatively young man. I left Lochaber in June 1951 and did not succeed in visiting him. I was away for over a year. When I returned Joseph MacLeod was dead. The recording of folk-songs has become quite fashionable in Scotland during the last few years. Certain singers have had their songs recorded by as many as a dozen collectors. All Joseph MacLeod’s songs went with him to the grave. His brother, John, died shortly afterwards. Two authentic Highland voices are now silenced for ever.

Such a scenario was not that uncommon as many of the folk from whom Maclean recorded so much material during the late 1940s and 1950s had passed away by the time his book was published. Perhaps this becomes even more relevant when one remembers that Maclean knew that he was dying of cancer when he was writing his book and it is at moments like these that makes his writing all the more poignant.

SSS NB 8, pp. 763–64
Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhirnis: Club Leabhar, 1975), 30–31

Glass of whisky /  Gloinne uisge-bheatha

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