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Thursday 31 January 2013

Old Houses in Rannoch

In conversation with a retired nurse called Maclaren, then aged eighty-eight, in Newtonmore on 27th July 1952, Maclean recorded some information about the types of old thatched houses that used to seen in Rannoch. Such houses would be typical for a great swathe of the Highlands and Islands during the nineteenth century and also into the early twentieth century. 

In my day a lot of the old houses in Rannoch were thatched. The fire was on a stone on the floor up against the gable end. Before my day the fire was in the middle of the floor. Behind the fire against the wall there was a sort of shelf – teinntean. We had an aunt who lived up in one of those houses. We were in a quite good house, a slated house, but she was in a thatched house and had a croft. And they made their own peats and took them home. The thatched houses were very clean inside, everything scrubbed white, the dresser and the “sgeilp” for the plates. The fire was on a flat stone and there was the teinntean behind that. Then they had crusies for the candles. They made their own candles. I have seen them making them. That was before the days of paraffin oil. In my aunt’s house up the lochside there was nothing but candles and the teinntean. The cows were next door, but over in Killin they told me that the cow and the people went in the same door. There was a partition wall between them, but they went in on the same door. I remember that there were bars of wood on the lower rim of the thatch to keep it down. There was something keeping them flat. Sometimes iron barns were used.

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
SSS NB 14, pp. 1221–22

Inside a Croft House

Monday 28 January 2013

Mary Cameron and the Haggis

 Since a lot of haggis has recently been consumed celebrating Burns Night in Scotland and beyond, it may not seem that inappropriate to offer a humorous anecdote recorded by Calum Maclean from the recitation of John MacDonald on 8 January 1951 about the Scottish national dish:
Bha cailleach a’ fuireach ann a Sròn na Bà, ris an abradh iad Màiri Chamaran. Agas bha a bràthair agas bean a bràthar a’ tighinn a choimhead oirre aig a’ Nollaig. A féisd a b' fhearr a bha i a’ smaoineach’ gum beireadh i dhaibh, gur h-e taigeis a dhèanadh i. Bha i uamhasach fhéin goirid ’s an t-sealladh. Agas bha i a’ cur air dòigh is a’ gréidheadh na taigeis ’n uair a bha gillean a staigh. Bha a bràthair a’ dol a chur tuthag air a’ bhriogais agas putain. Agas dh’fhàg e air a’ bhòrd iad agas dh’fhalabh e a dh’ iarraidh na briogais. ’N uair a chaidh e a dh’ iarraidh na briogais as an t-sealladh, chan fhac(hc)a na gillean dad a b’ fhearr na na clùdan a bha seo agas na putain a chur anns an stuth anns am bitheadh an taigeis. Sgròb Màiri a chuile rud a bh’ ann a staigh do’n taigeis agas chaidh siod a chur air an teine. ’N uair a thainig bean a bràthar an àirde aig a’ Nollaig, an ath-oidhche, bha an taigeis aig Màiri deas dhaibh agas i a’ smaoineach’ gun robh ròic(hc) ghasda aic(hc)e. A’ chiad rud a thainig a mach as an taigeis ’n uair a dh’ fhosgail Màiri i, ’s e na clùdan a bha seo agas na putain. Agas chuir i air an truinnsear aig bean a bràthar e. Cha do dh’ich bean a bràthar dad dheth.  
“O,” thuirst ise, “nach i bha tàireil ’n uair nach do dh’ich i an taigeas mhath a bha sin. Cha ruigeadh i a leas a bhith cho s(t)raoineiseach. Tha mi cinnteach gur h-iomadh taigeis agas rud eile a chunnaic i, ach chan fhac(hc)a i riamh taigeis móran na b’ fhearr na sin.”
And the translation goes something like this but it has to be admitted that the humour – gentle though it is – probably doesn’t come across too well: 
There was an old woman in Stronaba called Mary Cameron. Her brother and sister-in-law were coming to see her at Christmas time. The best meal she could think of giving them was haggis. She was terribly short-sighted. She was arranging it and dressing the victuals of the haggis when some lads came in. Her brother was going to put a patch and buttons on his trousers. He left them on the table and went to fetch the trousers. When he was out of sight fetching the trousers, these lads saw nothing better than to put the patch and the buttons in the mixture which was to make the haggis. Mary scraped together everything and put it all into the haggis and it was then put on the fire. When her sister-in-law arrived at Christmas, the next night, Mary had the haggis ready and she thought she had prepared a great feast. The first thing that came out of the haggis was the patch and the buttons. She then placed this on her sister-in-law’s plate. Her sister-in-law didn’t even touch it.
“Oh,” she said, “isn’t it insulting that she never ate that tasty haggis. She needn’t be so peevish as I’m sure that she has seen many haggises and other things besides but she’s never seen a haggis much better than that.”

SSS NB 7, pp. 590–91

Haggis / Taigeis

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Playing Shinty on a Frozen Loch

So keen were the Gaels of yesteryear with regard to playing shinty that they didn’t let severe weather conditions or religious observance get in their way. According to an anecdote recorded on 22nd of August 1952, by Calum Maclean from James MacDonald, then aged seventy, and who originally belonged to Balnain, Glen Urquhart, but at the time of recording was in Millton, Drumnadrochit, a local minister by the name of Grant had rather a hard time of stopping young lads from playing shinty on a frozen loch and who then made them attend the sermon in the local meeting house:

’S ann ma dhéidhinn na ministearan a tha an rud a bha seo. Tha e air aithris ma dhéidhinn na ministerean a bh’ ann ri latha “patronage” gun robh iad ’nar nàmhaid, mar a theireadh na bodaich. Ach co dhiubh a’ chiad fhear air an cuala mise sgiala dhiubh: bha seanair mo sheanmhar ag aithris gun robh cuimhne aice-se air. Tha mi a’ creidsinn gur h-e Granndach a bh’ ann anns a’ Chill Mhóir. Ach co dhiubh thigeadh e an airsd. Bha e a’ cumail seiribhis anns an taigh-choinni’ an Crasgag. Agas bha a’ chuile balach òg a bha ’sa Bhraighe a seo feasgar na Sàbaid a’ toir leis a’ chamag fo achlais. Thigeadh e dhe muin an eich. Bha e glé reòta aig an am agas bha a’ chluie bhall air Loch Muichdlaidh. Bhiodh e a’ falabh as an déidh agas a Bhioball fo achlais agas casag air – ’s e a bhiodh a’ dul air na ministerean an tràth sin. Bha e a rithist ’gan toir dha’n taigh-choinni’. Chan ’eil fhios agam-’s dé bha e a’ ràdha riutha – an robh iad a’ faighinn cronachdainn na nach robh. Ach bha a’ chlui(ch) bhall ann mus robh an t-searamaid ann.

And the translation goes something like this:

This anecdote is about ministers. It is said ministers in the days of patronage were our enemy, as the old men would say. But at any rate the first story that I heard about it was recalled by my grandmother about her own grandfather. I believe that he [the minister] was a Grant from Kilmore. But anyway he used to come up. They held a service in a meeting house in Crasgag [Kilmartin] and every young lad in the Braes on a Sabbath afternoon would carry their shinty stick under their oxters. He would dismount from the horse. It was very frosty at the time and they played shinty on Loch Muichdlaidh [Loch Meikle]. He would go after them wearing a cassock and he’d carry a Bible under his oxter and try and put a stop to it – that was how minsters behaved back then. He would then make them go to the meeting house. I’ve no idea what he said to them – whether they got a severe telling off or not. But they used to play shinty before the sermon was given.

In his book The Highlands, Maclean gives a brief summary of the above anecdote as follows:

There is little doubt that shinty was played on Sundays in Glen Urquhart over a century ago. James MacDonald of Balnain remembers that an older generation in the glen often spoke of a goodly minister who used to hold services in a church up the glen on Sunday afternoons. Whenever he arrived he found the young men and boys playing shinty in a field near the church. He caught hold of a club, rounded up the players and drove them into church. The young men whiled away the time playing shinty until the minister arrived. They had all come there to attend the service.

One wonders whether the young lads in the congregation whilst listening to the sermon didn’t let their imaginations let slip and wander to more entertaining pursuits. Given that this allegedly happened five generations previously then it would make the historical setting at some point in the early decades of the eighteenth century.

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
SSS NB 17, pp. 1512–13

Loch Meikle / Loch Muichdlaidh

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Shinty at New Year

It was common practice in the Highlands and Islands and wherever the Gaels happened to find themselves or meet to play a game of shinty in order to celebrate the New Year. On the 27th of July, 1952, Maclean recorded a short anecdote in English from Donald MacDonald, then aged seventy-five years of age, who stayed in Laggan, Badenoch about the ancient sport of shinty:

I remember the old ball play. There might be fifty playing at one time, playing all together perhaps. They would probably draw out a big team both sides. They played shinty something like what they do today, but it was a “ball gaoisid” that they had made of hair, not leather. Oh! I remember it well. It wouldn’t go very far when you hit it. It would be heavy. When I remember shinty first there was always sixteen men a side. It was cut down after that to twelve. They always played shinty on New Year’s day. You see there was various people that were well-to-do and they would give them a day at shinty. They would give them the whiskey anyway. They used to give them the whiskey. Perhaps one man would have Christmas day, another man would have New Year's day. Sometimes they played parish against parish. I believe they played here, Laggan and Newtonmore at one time, I remember one old story about a man. They were playing on the Eilean and he took the ball of the Eilean up over Calder Bridge, a Laggan man. He took the ball with him. This man took it home with him. He took it off the field all together and left them all there. He took the ball up over the bridge. Probably he was on his own territory by that time. He won the game. There would probably be twenty on a side. There were not so many rules and regulations. The fastest and strongest man was the best, one that would throw every other man about. There was no nets or anything on the goals in those days, just two posts. There was no fouls. That all stopped over sixty years ago. I was very, very young, when it stopped. They called it “cluich iomain” in Gaelic. The clubs were mostly birch. They were home-made. If they were seasoned, they wouldn’t be so bad. I had one myself made of willow. It was light. I had it for a long time. It was home-made, of course. It was my father that made it. I wasn’t very old, when the leather ball started. I would be something in my teens, when they started with the leather ball. Before that they had one of horse-hair and wool, of course. Perhaps it was drawn out of an old stocking for all I know. It was very heavy.
Being a shinty fan himself, Maclean mentions the popularity of the sport in his book The Highlands:

The villages of Newtonmore and Kingussie have long been nurseries of shinty teams and noted players. The Newtonmore club has won the Scottish shinty trophy more often than any other club. The last time I was in Newtonmore the Scottish Cup and several other trophies were displayed in a shop window on the main street. In many homes there pictures of noted teams of the past were proudly shown, in many cases teams dating back to the years 1905 and 1906 and the years immediately preceding the First World War, when the late Dr John Cattanach, subsequently killed on active service, was a member of the team. Over forty years have gone since Dr John Cattanach played for Newtonmore, but he is still remembered and will be as long as shinty is played in Badenoch. Shinty will be played in Badenoch for a long while yet, as I observed during my stay at Newtonmore. Although it is principally a winter game, I noticed youngsters who had hardly reached school age going about with their camain (clubs) during the long summer evenings. Matches between the rival adjacent villages of Kingussie and Newtonmore are attended with great enthusiasm.

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
SSS NB 14, pp. 1217–19

Highlanders playing shinty

Monday 21 January 2013

Making Shinty Sticks

Whilst visiting Badenoch in the summer of 1952, Calum Maclean gathered in a few details about what domestic life would have been like for previous generations. On the 25th of July, 1952, Maclean recorded a short anecdote in English from a Mrs Ferguson from Laggan (Lagan Choinnich) about how her father used to manufacture shinty sticks known in Gaelic as a caman.

My father used to make clubs. He would cut down a tree with the shape of a club, that had a bend in it, you know. He took it home. He would cut it again the size that the club ought to be the length, you know. The part that was to be in it had a sort of bend in it. And he would put that at the back of the fire for two or three days, not burning but on the fire in a way, but not letting it burn out but with the heat of the fire it made the wood bend. They could bend it with their hands, you know, with the heat of the fire. So they made their own clubs always. And very good clubs they were as far as strength was concerned, but I don't know if they were as good for playing as the bought ones, you know, but they could do it all right.
Maclean wrote of his visit to Mrs Ferguson on the 27th of July as follows:

After lunchtime, I went over to visit Mrs Ferguson, an old woman. I went over to see her about three o’clock in the afternoon. She’s a handsome old woman and is aged about ninety. She was brought up in Laggan and speaks Gaelic. I took down a short anecdote from her but I didn’t wish to do more than that on the first day at all. After I returned home I spent a while transcribing. After that I went over to visit Donald Finlayson. I was there until around midnight.

No mention is made by the informant about the type of wood that was used but traditionally the caman was made from ash, and, these days, hickory is also used. Maclean was an enthusiastic fan of shinty and its Irish equivalent hurley. Recalling Maclean’s last trip to Dublin, Seán Ó Súilleabháin (1903–1996), a colleague and close friend, wrote of how they spent their last week together:

In 1957 Calum lost his left arm in an operation. By that time too, his hearing had become still more impaired, but he bore these afflictions with stoic courage, and even his sense of humour survived. He wrote to me in the summer of 1958 to say that he wished to come to Dublin to see the All-Ireland Hurling Final at Croke Park. We went to the game together, and he spent a week with me, renewing old acquaintances, still gay and laughing as had been his wont.

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
SSS NB 14, pp. 1225–26

Shinty sticks / Camain

Sunday 20 January 2013

Old Style Sticking Plaster

The Highlanders of old had to be inventive and they would make use of anything that they had to hand. Here, for example, is the way in which they used to make sticking plaster from a calf’s membrane. Allan MacDonald, or MacDonell, from Inverroy but latterly staying in the village of Inverlochy, related this anecdote to Calum Maclean on 16th of January, 1951:
Gearradh – Nan gearradh duine a làmh bha leigheas uamhasach math ac(ha)a. ’N uair a bheireadh bò laogh, bha sgrath mu’n cuairst dha’n laogh agas bha e tana. Bhiodh iad a’ toirt a’ sgrath dhe’n laogh agas ’ga sgaoileadh ri dorus na bàthcha, mar a sgaoileas duine bian féidh. Bha e uamhraidh math air son gearradh. Bha e mar a tha ‘sticking plaster’ an diugh. Bha luibh aca ris an canadh iad a’ slann-lus. Bhiodh iad ’ga bhristeadh le fiaclan is ’ga chur air a ghearradh. Bha e uamhraidh math.
And the translation goes something like this:
Cut – if anyone cut their hand they had a very good way of healing it. When a calf was born, a thin membrane covered the calf. They used to take this membrane and stretch it over a byre door, like folk would do with deerskin. It was very good for cuts – like sticking plaster today. They had a plant or herb called slann-lus [lit. healing grass; ribwort or sage] which they broke with their teeth and they would put it on cuts. It was very good.
References to the use of ribwort plantain as a way of staunching wounds go right back to the ancient Greeks. This herb is remarkably versatile for not only can its leaves help to stop wounds bleeding when applied directly to the surface but also its leaves can be heated and applied to inflammation of the skin, ulcers, cuts, stings and swellings.

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
SSS NB 1, pp. 13–14

Ribwort Plantain/Slàn-lus. Other folk-names for this plant are Way Bread, Lord of the Ways and Wodan’s Herb.

Friday 18 January 2013

Collecting With Alan Lomax and Calum Maclean

Following on from a recently published blog, Maclean noted down in his diary entry for the 18th of July, 1951, the details of a fieldwork trip to the Isle of Skye along with Alan Lomax:

This morning, Alan Lomax and I left Speanbridge and made our way to the Kyle of Lochalsh. We were on our way to the Isle of Skye. Allan MacDonald’s name was suggested to Alan Lomax and we’re going over to Uig where he stays. I intended to go home for a day or two to see my mother. When we were near Cluny we gave a lift to a traveller. We thought that he might have a song or something but he only had a few ditties that he had made up himself or had heard from Harry Lauder. Alan Lomax was not best pleased with him at all. At any rate, when we reached Eilean Donan Castle Alan wanted to go up and see the castle itself. The traveller did not wish to do this at all and so we got rid of him. We went up to visit the castle. It was empty apart from someone who offered a tour throughout the castle. Nobody stays here now. We then went on to the Kyle of Lochalsh. We were there until about three o’clock in the afternoon. Then we travelled through the Isle of Skye until we reached Portree where we met Dr Allan MacDonald. We spent a while drinking the Royal Hotel. We then went over to Uig. It turned out to be a beautiful night by the time we got there. We were made welcome at the house. Allan’s wife and children were present. Allan has a nice, young daughter who is going to sing at the local Mod in Portree tomorrow. At any rate, we began recording the songs and we worked until about one o’clock in the morning. Allan sang two psalms before the night was over. Lomax gave his opinion of Allan that he was as good as any man he had so far met. We left Uig around two o’clock this morning. Without a shadow of a doubt it was a beautiful morning. We only have one intention now and that was to get some sleep.

Despite such a long night recording it proved to be a profitable visit for a number of songs were put down on reel-to-reel tape including a very good version of the still popular Òran an t-Saighdeir (‘The Soldier’s Song’, an early nineteenth-century composition):

’S hill ò, thug òroinn ò,
Hì rì hò rò, mo fhèildeadh,
Hì rì hill ò, thug òroinn ò.

Air madainn dhomh ’s mi sràidearachd
A-mach air bràigh Dhùn Èideann,
Cò thachair orm ach saighdear
Is gun d’fhoighneachd e mo sgeul dhìom.

’S cò thachair orm ach saighdear
Is gun d’fhoighneachd e mo sgeul dhìom,
’S thuirt e, “Gabh san t-saighdearachd,
’S bidh aoibhneas ort na dèidh seo.”

’S thuirt e, “Gabh san t-saighdearachd,
’S bidh aoibhneas ort na dèidh seo.
’S bidh airgead na do phòcaidean,
Is òr nach cuir thu feum air.”

“’S bidh airgead na do phòcaidean,
Is òr nach cuir thu feum air.”
’S gun tug e don taigh-òsda mi
’S gun do dh’òl sinn slàint’ a chèile.

’S gun tug e don taigh-òsda mi
’S gun do dh’òl sinn slàint’ a chèile.
’S gun tug e bho mo mhàthar mi
Leis an àrdan nach do rinn feum dhomh.

One morning as I strolled
Out over the braes of Edinburgh,
Who did I meet but a soldier
Who asked me about myself.

Who did I meet but a soldier
Who asked me about myself,
He said: “Take to soldiering
And you’ll be forever joyful.”

He said: “Take to soldiering
And you’ll be forever joyful.”
And you’ll have money in your pocket
And gold that you’ll not spend.

And you’ll have money in your pocket
And gold that you’ll not spend,
And he took me to the tavern
And we drank to one another.

And he took me to the tavern
And we drank to one another,
He took me away to my mother
With pride that was of no use to me.

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
Recordings made on this trip are available on the Culture Equity website:

Uig, Isle of Skye

Thursday 17 January 2013

When Alan Lomax Met Calum Maclean

Some three months before the formal foundation of the School of Scottish Studies, at the University of Edinburgh, Alan Lomax (1915–2002) arrived from America in order to gather material for the World Albums of Folk and Primitive Music which Columbia Records were then sponsoring. Lomax is undoubtedly one of the most influential American ethnomusicologists of his generation and much of his work can be heard and seen on the extensive Cultural Equity website. Lomax has also been the subject of a recent biographical study entitled A Biography of Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World (2010). He conducted interviews and made fieldwork recordings with the likes of American folk music luminaries such as Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly and Muddy Waters. Based in London between 1950 and 1958, Lomax turned his attention to the British folk music scene, and after being in Ireland, he then naturally turned his sights on Scotland. His first thoughts might have been to whom he could turn to in order to open up the riches of Scottish traditions and, in particular, of Gaelic song. By initially contacting Hamish Henderson, Lomax was introduced to Sorley and Calum Maclean, both of whom were more than happy to help the young American in his enterprise to record the Gaelic music of the Highlands and Islands.

On the 16th of July 1951, Maclean wrote in his diary that Lomax had made contact:
I began transcribing this morning and I today worked on the material I recorded from John MacDonald. I kept on transcribing all day today until about ten o’clock at night. I received word on the phone today from Alan Lomax, the American, who had made a great collection of songs. He said that he was in Edinburgh and that he was coming up to see me tomorrow. He’ll be welcome, if he gets here.
The very next day, Lomax arrived and was made more than welcome. Both collectors then went to record songs from a Moidart woman then living in Onich, Nether Lochaber:
It was very wet this morning. Before I left the house, I received word from Alan Lomax that he was down in Inveraray. He was coming up from Glasgow but something went wrong. He told me he would meet me in about four hours’ time. It was raining very heavily when I went to Mass in Roybridge. I saw John MacDonald and I told him that Alan Lomax was coming tonight. John said that he would come next Sunday and that he had six or seven other stories to tell. After I returned home, I began transcribing and I spent an hour or two at this work. About five o’clock in the  afternoon Alan Lomax, a big, heavyset man, arrived. He pleased me exceedingly. He told me that he had recorded songs from Calum Johnston and Flora MacNeil in Barra. I heard that there was a woman, Mrs MacKellaig, down in Onich and I decided that I’d go to visit her and see if she would give us songs. There was heavy rainfall when we got down there. A young, handsome lassie let us in and asked us to stay until her mother appeared. She was quite busy – according to what the lassie said. We didn’t need to wait terribly long before the housewife herself appeared. She was a small, beautiful woman. She belonged to Moidart. She had songs and she sang them well. She sang six or seven songs that she heard from the old folk in Moidart, especially those from her own mother. Alan Lomax was terribly pleased with these songs. At any rate, I was happy with that. It was about eleven o’clock at night when we returned home. We stayed a while in John MacDonell’s house.

On the 18th of July they then made their way from Speanbridge to go and do some further fieldwork collecting on the Isle of Skye and which also afforded Maclean the opportunity to go back home to visit his mother on the Isle of Raasay.

Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhir Nis: Club Leabhar, 1975)
Alan Lomax

Friday 11 January 2013

Curing a Sore Stomach

One of Maclean’s first informants that he met with in Lochaber was Allan MacDonald or MacDonell. From a diary entry of 13 February 1951, Maclean describes a visit to see Allan then staying in Inverlochy, near Fort William. The diary entry, originally written in Scottish Gaelic, is here given in translation:

After dinner time today, I went back again to Inverlochy village and I went to Allan MacDonald’s house. It was Allan himself who came to answer the door. He must have known that I was coming. It had been told that my like was around. Allan is a tall, well-built fellow. He stands around five foot and ten inches tall. He is accordingly stout and he is just about straight standing as he ever was even though he’ll soon be eighty-two. He was a gardener all his working life, or else this was his latter occupation in any case. He was shepherding and droving also when he was young. Allan was born in Inverroy in Brae Lochaber and was raised there. He heard stories and historical legends from the old people when he was young. It was the fashion then to go house visiting just as it was in other places. He told me a story about a man called John Dun Campbell, a once famous hero in Brae Lochaber. I listened to this story. Allan has a good style of telling stories. Although the story he told wasn’t long it was enjoyable. He also told me another story about a battle that was called the Battle of Boloinn. I also listened to this story. I’ll record these two stories on Ediphone this coming week. I wrote down another story about a witch who delayed a woman giving birth. I wrote down a few other things as well but I didn’t wish to trouble him further as this was the first time that I had met him. I promised to come back this Tuesday coming. “And will you bring the music?” Allan said. “Yes,” I said.

Perhaps Maclean’s memory was slightly remiss here for he dated a transcription of a folk cure taken down from Allan MacDonald on 16 January 1951. According to MacDonald, the following cure was said to have worked wonders for those suffering from stomach pains. Perhaps the sugary substance gave relief to acid reflux or ulcers.

Bha bràthair seanamhar dhomh fhìn, Domhnall Mac Eoghain a chanadh iad ris. Bhiodh e a deanamh rud ris an canadh iad an Cuman Gorm. Na pigeachan luaidhe a bhiodh ac(hc)a bho shean, b e sin an cuman. Bhiodh e a cur an urad seo de luibhean ann, ìm ùr, siùc(hc)ar canndaidh. An fheadhainn aig a robh droch-stamag, bhiodh iad ga ghabhail sin le spàin, ga thoirst as a chroca a chuile maduinn.

Bha mo sheanamhair dhèanadh i fhéin uamhas dheth. ’N uair a rachadh cearc a mharbhadh bha reamhrad na circe ’ga chur an crocan. Nam bitheadh gàgan air duine na teas air aodann, bha iad a’ ‘rubadh’ seo ris. Bha e sònruite math.

And the translation is the following:
My grandfather’s brother [i.e. grand-uncle] was called Donald MacEwen. He used to do a thing [make a cure] called the Cuman Gorm [the blue cogue]. The lead pitchers they use to have of old, that was the pail. He would put a certain amount of plants or herbs in, freshly-made butter, and sugar candy. Those who were suffering from a sore stomach would take it with a spoon, taking it from the tin every morning.

My own grandmother made lots of it. When a hen was slaughtered the chicken fat was put into a tin. If someone had hacks or hot flushes to the face, they used to rub this in. It was very efficacious.

SSS NB 1, 12–13

Mortar and Pestle

Tuesday 8 January 2013

Am Bodach a bha ann an Hiort – The Old Man from St Kilda

Here’s a rather funny anecdote from John MacDonald of Highbridge about a St Kilda man who had never seen a mirror before. A St. Kilda man saw himself in a mirror in Glasgow, and thought it was a monkey. He took the mirror home to his wife, and she thought the ugly creature in the mirror was his mistress! This anecdote was recorded by Calum Maclean in 1952 when he returned to Lochaber. He had previously recorded another version of the same story a year before. It would appear from the beginning of the recording that his sister, Ellen, was also present during the recording. This anecdote was later transcribed by the late Donald Archie MacDonald. The poor St Kildans often seem to be the butt of jokes in Highland tradition and are seen to be backwards when they were obviously very much the reverse:

Bha bodach ann an Hiort agus chaidh e a Ghlaschu, ach ’s e an aon rud mun Hiort, cha robh sgàthan idir ann ’s chan fhaca e sgàthan riamh gus an deach e a Ghlaschu, dar a chaidh e ’thaigh a charaid. Bha e a’ coimhead a-staigh don sgàthan agus chunnaic e an aghaidh a bha seo ann:
“Trobhad seo,” thuirt e ri charaide, “an e moncaidh a tha sin thall?”
“O, chan e, ’s e thu fhèi’ tha sin.”
“O, chan e idir, ach chuala mis’ aca bho chionn fhada nach robh aon char a chuireadh na do cheann nach dèanadh am moncaidh e agus tha mise a’ dèanadh sin–a cheart rud a tha mise dèanadh, tha an rud a thall sin ris. Agus dar a chuireas mi a-mach mo theanga tha e a’ dèanadh sin cuideachd. Agus chan eil teagamh nach e moncaidh a th’ ann.”
“Dad-aibh, theirg thusa a-nall rudan beag ’s cuiridh mise m’ ìomhaigh fhìn an sin ’s am faic thu.”
Choimhead e air:
“An-dà,” thuirt e, “tha rudeigin ann, gun teagamh,” thuirt esan.
“Ach, co-dhiù, innsidh mi dè nì mi: bheir mi am fear dhiubh seo dachaigh a dh’ionnsaigh a’ bhean.”
’S thug e leis e ’s dh’ innis e dhi dar a ràinig e an rud laghach a thug e dhachaigh.
“Càite a bheil e?”
“Tha e thall ann an sin,” thuirt e.
Choimhead i ’s dè bha i ri comhead air ach air a’ chùl aige.
“Coimhead air an taobh eile dheth, a ghalghad,” thuirt e.
Choimhead i air an taobh eile ’s bha i a’ coimhead air tacan. Chuir i sìos e agus choimhead i a-rithist air.
“An e sin a’ chailleach ghrannda leis a bheil thusa a’ falbh ann an Glaschu. Mas e, “thuirt i, “tha an làn àm agad stad dheth ’s gun a dhol a Ghlaschu, mas e sin an tè ghrannda leis a bheil thu a’ falbh!”

And the translation goes something like this although it’s never going to be quite as good as the original version:

There was an old man in St Kilda and he went to Glasgow but there’s one thing about St Kilda: there are no mirrors and he had never seen a mirror before until he went to Glasgow when he visited his friend’s house. He was looking in the mirror and he saw this face that appeared:
“Come here,” he said to his friend,” is that a monkey over there?”
“Oh, no, that’s yourself there.”
“Oh no it can’t be, but I’ve heard a long time ago that there wasn’t some movement in your face that a monkey wouldn’t imitate and I’m doing that – the very same thing that I do that thing over does the same. And when I stick out my tongue it does the very same thing too. There’s no doubt that it’s a monkey.”
“Here, come over a wee bit and I’ll place my reflection there so that you can see.”
He looked.
“Well,” he said, “there’s something there, right enough,” he said.
“But, anyway, I’ll tell you what I’ll do: I take one of these home for my wife.”
He took it with him and he told her when he got home the nice thing that he had brought home.
“Where is it?”
“It’s over there,” he said.
She took a look but she was looking at its back.
“Look on the other side, darling,” he said.
She took a look at the other side and she looked for a while. She put it down and took another look.
“Is that the ugly old carlin what you’re seeing in Glasgow. If it is,” she said, “it’s high time you stopped going to Glasgow if that’s the ugly woman you’re seeing!”
SA 1952/123/9

A monkey looking in a mirror.

Saturday 5 January 2013

Cleachdadh Calluin – New Year Customs II

Continuing with the recent theme about New Year customs, here’s more of the transcription recorded by Calum Maclean from John MacDonald of Highbridge on 13 January 1951, the Old New or or an t-Seann Bhliadhn’ Ùr:
A nise ’n uair a thigeadh a’ Bhliadhna Ùr a staigh bha iad a’ dol a mach a choimhead có as a bha a’ ghaoth. Agas bha an rann ac(hc)a a leanas:

Gaoth a tuath fuachd is feannadh,
Gaoth an iar iasg is bainne,
Gaoth a deas teas is toradh,
Gaoth an ear fear thar chrannaibh.

Bhiodh iad a’ gabhail beachd a rithist mar a thigeadh na Faoilltich a staigh, sìde fhuar. Agas bha:

Mios Faoilltich ann,
Seachdainn Gearrain,
Seachdainn Feadaig,
Agas tri latha Othaisgean;
Tri latha Sguabaig,
Agas seachdainn Caillich.

Bhiodh an t-side a’ tighinn air adharst gu math agas a’ fiar. Bhiodh a’ chailleach a' falabh agas slac(hc)an aic(hc)e a’ bualadh an fhiar thall is a bhos ’ga chumail a sìos air son nach fhaigheadh e fàs. Ach ma dheireadh thuirst i:

Dh’ fhàg e thall mi,
Dh’ fhàg e a bhos mi,
Dh’ fhàg e eadar mo dhá chois mi.

Thilig i a’ slac(hc)an am bun craobh chuilinn agas chan eil fiar a’ fàs ann gus an latha an diugh. Bhiodh iad a' gabhail beachd a rithist mar a bhitheadh na miosan a tighinn air a’ chraobh agas dé a' seòrsa foghmhar a bhitheadh ann. Dh’ aithnigheadh iad air an darach, nam bitheadh e air thoiseach air an uinnsean a’ tighinn fo bhlàth ’s e bhitheadh ann droch-bhliadhna agas droch-gheamhradh. Ach nam bitheadh an t-uinnsean air thoiseach air an darach fo bhlàth, ’s e bhitheadh ann bliadhna mhath. Cha robh calladairean ac(hc)a ach bha iad na speurdairean matha air an aimsir, mar a tha iad an diugh. Agas thàinig iad ro’n t-saoghal cho math ris an fheadhainn a bh’ ann an diugh air an t-seann-dòigh a bh’ ac(hc)a. Is dh’ aithnigheadh iad a rithist ’n uair a bhitheadh Latha nan Coinnlean ann, an darna latha de’n Ghearran. Agas nam bitheadh an latha sin ciùin blàth, theireadh iad: “Tha leth a’ gheamhradh ri tighinn as deadhaidh seo.” Ach nam bitheadh e ’na latha stoirimeil, buaireasach, theireadh iad: “Tha earrach math gu bhith againn.”  Agas cha bu toil leotha a rithist a’ Chàisg a bhith tràth. Earrach fada as deadhaidh tòin Caisg chan eil e math. Bhiodh iad a' gabhail beachd, ’n uair a bhitheadh bliadhna mhath ann, bhitheadh ubh air Inid, Dia Maìrst Inid, agas ian anns a’ Chàisg: agas a’ fitheach aig nach bidh sin, bithidh am bàs. ’S e sin an droch-shìde, bhitheadh e a’ marabhadh nan eòin. Agas cha bhitheadh na fithich na na h-eòin pailt. 

And the translation of the above goes something like this:

Now when the actual New Year came they’d go out to look in which direction the wind was blowing. And they had the follow verse:

North wind, cold and flaying,
West wind, fish and milk,
South wind, heat and produce
East wind, one for the trees.

They’d also take cognisance likewise when the cold weather of January came in. And so:

The Wolftime month,
A week of Cutter,
A week of Whistler,
And three Hog days;
Three days of Sweeper,
And the Carlin’s week.

The weather would then improve and the grass grew. The old woman would go with the stick and strike the grass here and there so that it couldn’t grow. At last she said:

I left it there,
I left it here,
I left it under both my feet.

She threw the stick into the roots of a holly tree and grass doesn’t grow there to this day. They used to observe the change over the months on the fruits of the trees to find out what kind of autumn was most likely. They would recognise that if the oak blossomed before the ash then it marked a bad year and also a bad winter. But if the ash blossomed before the oak then this marked a good year. They didn’t use calendars but rather the stars for weather forecasting just as they to do nowadays. And they came through this world just as well and those today using the old methods they had. And they’d likewise recognise Candlemas, the second day of February and if the day was calm and warm then they’d say: “The second half of winter has yet to come after this.” But if it was a stormy, blustery they’d say; “We’re going to have a good Spring.”
And they didn’t like Easter to be early. A long Spring after the end of Easter was not good.
They used to observe, that when there was a good year, there’d be an egg at Shrovetide, on Shrove Tuesday, and a bird at Easter: And if the raven was not present at that time, there’d be death. That meant bad weather that used to wipe out the birds. And so the ravens would not be plentiful and so too with the other birds.

SSS NB 10, pp. 952–54

Blarmacfoldach, Lochaber. Traditionally the last place to have kept up observing the Old New Year in Lochaber.

Friday 4 January 2013

Cleachdadh Calluin – New Year Customs

John MacDonald of Highbridge
The following short anecdotes concerning New Year customs were recorded by Calum Maclean from John MacDonald of Highbridge and transcribed by him on 13 January 1951, the very day that marks New Year’s Day old style. It was probably the case that the Old New Year was still within living memory at this time for it used to be kept in some if not many parts of the Highlands. One of the last places where it was said to have been kept was in nearby Blarmacfoldach (or Blàr Mac Faoilteach), lying in the Mamore Hills just outside Fort William:

Seann-chleachdadh a bha ac(hc)a aig a’ Challainn, aig a’ Bhliadhna Ùr, mar a their iad. Bhiodh iad a’ dol a choimhead air a chéile, na coimhearsnaich, agas chan fhaigheadh duine a staigh do thaigh mur a gabhadh e rann aig an dorust. Bhiodh an duine air cùl an doruis agas theireadh e riutha: “Gabh do rann ma faigh thu a staigh” agas badan de chuileann aige. Is a chuile duine mar a bha a’ gabhail an rann is a’ dol a staigh, bha e ’ga bhualadh air ’s na luirignean. Agas mar a tigeadh fuil as theireadh iad:

“Cha bhidh an duine ad fada beò.”

Agas seo agat pàirst do na rannan a bhitheadh iad a’ gabhail:

“Gobhar mhór a bh’ againn Oidhche Choille
Chan fhàgadh i braighdean air gamhainn,
Chan fhàgadh i coinneal an coinnlear,
Is chan fhàgadh i broin an cailleach.
Chan ’eil gaol agam air ìm,
Is chan ’eil gràdh agam air càis,
Ach an rudan beag a tha ’s’ bhuideal
Tha mo shlugan air a thì.”

Seo fear eile dhiubh:

“Thaine mi a seo gun sireadh
Bho bhun an t-sreachda aig Beinn Nibheis –
Cuideachd òìgridh uallach, aoidheil, suairce
Aig am biodh na cruachan feòir ’s’ gheamhradh
Mar chruachan mòine a’s t-samhradh.
Siuthadaibh, illean, òlaibh uile,
’N uair a theirigeas seo, gheibh sinn tuillidh.
Tarrainn do bhogha fad’, fhìdlear,
Is dannsaidh sinn cho fad is a chì sinn.”

And the translation goes something like this:
An old custom they had at Hogmanay, at the New Year, as they’d say, they would go to visit one another, the neighbours and no one could gain entrance to a house if they didn’t recite a verse at the door. The man would stand behind the door and he’d say to them: “Recite your verse before you get in” and he had a bunch of holly in his hand. And everyone who who recited the verse as they went in would be struck on the calf and if no blood was drawn then they’d say:

“That man hasn’t long to live.”

And here you have part of a verse that they used to recite:

The big goat (i.e. wind?) we had on New Year’s Eve
It wouldn’t leave a stirk tethered
It wouldn’t leave the candle on a stick
It wouldn’t leave the old woman’s belly (perhaps a reference to the harvest maiden?)
I’ve no love for butter
I’ve no love for cheese
But a little bit from the cask
My throttle is in quest of.”

And there is another one of them:

“I came here without seeking
From the snowy base of Ben Nevis –
Young affable, kind, gallant company
Who would make haystacks in wintertime
Just like peat-hags in summer,
Go on lads, have a drink,
When this is finished, we’ll get more.
Draw your bow long, fiddler,
And we’ll dance as far as we can see.”

SSS NB 10, pp. 951–52

John MacDonald of Highbridge, courtesy of the School of Scottish Studies Archives.