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Tuesday 26 November 2013

Alba ag Gul / Scotland’s Wailing

If Calum Maclean were alive today then he would have been very pleased to see the publication of the White Paper on Scotland’s independence. Maclean’s political views were pretty well formed by his early teens and throughout the years did not change one iota. The National Party of Scotland – one of the forerunners of the Scottish National Party – had been formed four years previously in 1928. The following is a poem entitled ‘Alba ag Gul’ that he published in Portree Secondary School Magazine in 1935 when he was in sixth form:

Alba ag Gul
Albainn ionmhuinn, tìr nam beann,
Tìr nan laoch bu deas le lann,
Tìr thug buaidh an iomadh blàr,
Ged leagt’ an diugh a ceann gu làr,
Albainn àrsaidh, tìr nan cliar,
Mo sgeul, mo chreach i bhi cho fior,
Gu bheil gach beann is gleann ’dol fàs
 ’S an sluagh a bh’ ann a’ dol gu bàs.

Fàs tha gach sliabh ’s an cinneadh pòr,
Fàs tha gach àit’ ’s an cluinnte ceòl,
Is sàmhach ealaidh-ghuth nam bard,
Balbh tha ceòlraidh bheanntan àrd.
Chan ’eil a’ fuireach anns na glinn
An sliochd aig an robh ’Ghàidhlig bhinn,
Lom fuar gach eilean siar a nis,
’S tha guth a’ chuain gun éisdeachd ris.

Bha uair a chualas pìob nan dos
’Ga spreigeadh measg nam beanntan cos;
Bha uair ’s am facas mile lann
’Gan rùsgadh am feadh shrath is ghleann.
Is lionmhor fiùran thuit gu bàs
Ri bhi ’gad dhion an ám do chàs;
Thu ’n diugh gun uaill, gun trèoir, gun chlì,
Mo chreadh! Gur dìomhain bha an strì.

Cuimhnich gum facas siol nan sonn
Ri bhi ’gam fògradh thar nan tonn,
Le foil gu ’n d’ thug iad o do chlann
Na criochan dhion iad riamh le lann.
Bhuidhinn Goill Shasuinn oirnn ’s gach ball,
Na balgairean ’s iad rinn ar call,
Ach nan robh sinn dian gach aon,
Chaisgeamaid iad a tha ’gar claon’.

Chan leinn an saoibhreas againn fhìn,
Cha leinn an stiùir ni cùrs’ ar tìr,
Fann tha ‘n fhuil bha craobhach dearg
Gann tha am pòr bha cròdha garg,
Dh’ fhalbh an sliochd gasda gaisgeil cruaidh,
’S an t-strì ’n còmhnuidh bheireadh buaidh;
Thréig sluagh na h Albann, glòir nam bean,
Mo nuar! cainnt Shasuinn bhi ‘n an ceann.

Albainn ionmhuinn, tìr nam beann,
Car son a thréig thu nis do chlann?
Thoirt daibh am misneachd is an cruas
Bha annt’ an ám bhi ‘g éirigh suas;
Biodh cuimhn’ air cliù nan saoi a dh’ fhalbh,
’S na biodh do cheòlraidh ’n còmhnuidh balbh;
Eireadh iad ’n na biodh iad mall
Gu’n caisg iad mi-rùn mór nan Gall.

And the (rather rough) translation goes something like this:

Scotland Wailing

O beloved Scotland, land of mountains,
Land of heroes who skilfully handled swords,
Land who won many a battle,
Although today her head has dropped to the floor,
O ancient Scotland, land of poets,
My tale, my ruination that it still remains true,
That each hill and glen is being emptied
And the folk there are going to die out.

Destitute each hill and all the folk,
Destitute each place where music was once heard,
And the bards’ elegant voices are now silenced,
The muse of the high hills is all but silent.
No one now stays in any of the glens
Where the folk spoke mellifluous Gaelic,
Each of the islands to the west is denuded and cold
With no one there to listen to the ocean’s roar.

At one time the skirl of pipes could be heard,
Resounding in the hollows of hills;
At one time a thousand swords could be seen
Being unsheathed amongst the straths and glens.
Many a hero has been slain in battle
Trying to protect you in the time of need,
That nowadays is bereft of pride, power or strength
Alas and alack! the struggle lacked purpose.

Remember the seed of the heroes was once seen
Who have been sent into exile over the waves,
By treachery they have taken from your children
The borders that always they defended with swords.
The English foreigners came upon us and each one
Of those rogues have ruined us,
But if each one of us had been defending
Then we would have put a stop to the rot.

We have no possession of our own wealth
We have no control of our destiny in our own country,
Weak is the blood that once flowed red
Few are the folk valiant and tough.
The tribe who were fine, heroic and hardy are gone
Who in the struggle would always secure victory;
The people of Scotland are vanquished, glory of the hills,
Woe is me! that they speak the English tongue.

O beloved Scotland, land of mountains
Why forsake your children now?
Give them courage and hardiness
They once had in order to rise again;
Let them remember the fame of past warriors
And do not let your muse be forever silenced;
Let them rise and do not let them tarry
To put an end to the great ill-will of the Lowlander.

It is a rather intriguing to speculate what type of poetry Calum Maclean would have composed if he had kept at it. Certainly this rather youthful piece shows great potential. As an undergraduate at the University of Edinburgh, Maclean was politically active and he took every opportunity, it seems, to vent his feelings about Scottish nationalism. He even had the temerity to publically reproach Sir Thomas Holland (1868–1947), elected Principal of the University in 1929, who, in Maclean’s opinion, personified all that was wrong with Scotland at that time. 

Later, as an exile in Ireland between 1939 and 1946, Maclean even came under the suspicion of the G2, the Irish Secret Police working as part of the Irish Army’s Intelligence Section, which had opened up a file on him. Some, if not all, of the letters received by Sorley from Calum Iain were marked ‘opened by the examiner’ and it is probably inconceivable that word did not reach back to him in Clonmel that his correspondence and, he himself by implication, was under surveillance:

Material was gathered on the potential threats posed by other Scots in Ireland at the time. Colm MacClean [sic] was working at Clonmel Industries when he became of interest to G2. He was known as a Scottish nationalist, although again not a member of the SNP, but of the ‘younger University Scot[tish] Gaelic group’. A native of ‘one of the islands and’ fluent in Gaelic, MacClean appeared in Ireland in 1939 ‘principally to avoid conscription’, according to G2’s informant. Although this informant ‘never heard him discuss any subjects of interest to us’ and he expressed no affiliation as far as Irish politics were concerned, MacClean appears to have been monitored owing simply to his connections and a presumption that he was ‘as “Nationalist” as this country would care [him] to be’.

Despite what is contained in Maclean’s file, it still remains rather inexplicable why G2 had become suspicious of him in the first instance unless, of course, it was due to the ‘suspicious’ connections that he maintained. One wonders who the informant might have been and why Maclean, despite his Scottish nationalist leanings, should have been suspected personally of any political subterfuge. But it must be remembered that G2’s ‘paranoia’ with regard to resident nationalists was not without some justification:

The manager at Clonmel Industries was Seamus Horan, himself suspected of IRA affiliations, somewhat assuaged by his reported conversion to Fianna Fáil. By 1944 MacClean was also known to be friendly with members of the local branch of Ailtirí na hAiséirí (Architects of the Resurrection), but his level of interest in that fascistic, pro-German organisation was unknown. To complete the array of potential threats, MacClean’s brother, a poet, was known to be ‘an avowed Communist.’

Apparently, G2 continued to keep tabs on Maclean when he was still resident in Clonmel but with the war drawing to a close and as the perceived threat lessened of any likelihood of any Scottish nationalists becoming embroiled or interfering in Irish politics, then circumstances would prevail whereby other more likely targets would merit their attention with regard to national security: 

‘Actively in touch with the Scottish Nationalist movement’, G2 further noted that MacClean, born into a Presbyterian family ‘of the extreme conservative type’, had converted to Catholicism since his arrival. This confessional choice would itself have marginalised him from mainstream Scottish nationalism. Even so, MacClean was moved to remark to G2’s informant in March 1943 that ‘things were going well in Scotland’; probably a reference to the reinvigoration of the SNP under Douglas Young.

Daniel Leach, Fugitive Ireland: European Minority Nationalists and Irish Political Asylum, 1937–2008 (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2009)
Calum Maclean, ‘Alba ag Gul’, Portree Secondary School Magazine (1935), p. 10
Report Colm MacClean [sic], G2/4996, I[rish] M[ilitary] A[rchives], Dublin. Military Intelligence (G2)
Andrew Wiseman, ‘‘‘The people never seem to lose their charm’: Calum Iain Maclean in Clonmel’, Tipperary Historical Journal (2012), pp. 112–32

Calum I. Maclean graduating on 30 June 1939, University of Edinburgh. Courtesy of the MacLean family

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