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Metadata for text 183
No. words in text89015
Title Bàrdachd Shìleas na Ceapaich, c. 1660-1729
Author MacDonald, Sileas
Editor Ó Baoill, Colm
Date Of Edition 1972
Date Of Language 18th c.
Publisher The Scottish Academic Press for the Scottish Gaelic Texts Society
Place Published Edinburgh
Volume 13 (Scottish Gaelic Texts Society)
Location National, academic, and local libraries
Geographical Origins Lochaber
Register Literature, Verse
Alternative Author Name Sìleas na Ceapaich
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 22cm x 14cm
Short Title Bàrdachd Shìleas na Ceapaich
Reference Details EUL, Celtic Library: LI G Ó BAO
Number Of Pages lxvii, 271
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Tradition tells us that Sìleas na Ceapaich (or Sìleas Nighean Mhic Raghnaill) was born in Bohuntin, around 1660. Her father, who was also a poet, was Gilleasbuig Mac Mhic Raghnaill, the 15th chief of the MacDonalds of Keppoch. See the Introduction for information on Sìleas’s brothers and sisters (pp. xxxviii-xl). Little is known of Sìleas’s life. Evidence suggests that she was married to Alexander Gordon of Camdell by 1685. It is unclear how many children they had, although it seems likely that they had five sons and possibly three daughters.

From her poetry, we know that Sìleas was an ardent Jacobite and a Catholic. A number of her poems are of a religious nature, and there is a suggestion that she did not lead a strictly moral life in her youth, but that she later experienced some sort of conversion. None of Sìleas’s poems can be dated absolutely to before 1700, and so it is possible that she began writing poetry later in life. None of Sìleas’s poems were published, or, it seems, put in writing, during her lifetime, and the poems that have been attributed to her have been collected from the oral tradition. The earliest source of her poetry seems to date from around 1750. See the section in the Introduction on Her Poetry (pp. lviii-lxv), and the Table of Sources and Index of First Lines (p. xxxiii-xxxv) for detailed information on the sources of Sìleas’s poetry. The date of her death is also unclear, and has been estimated to have been around 1729 (see p. lxvi for further information).
Contents This volume contains 23 poems by Sìleas na Ceapaich, and Appendices I-III contain a further two poems that have been attributed to her.

At the beginning of this volume we find the editor’s Preface (pp. vii-ix), a table of Contents (p. xi), a Bibliography (pp. xiii-xxiii), Abbreviations and Sources (pp. xxv-xxxii), and a Table of Sources and Index of First Lines (p. xxxiii-xxxv). There follows an Introduction (pp. xxxvii-lxvi), which deals with Sìleas’s life and includes sections on Her Name (pp. xli-xliv), Her Marriage (pp. xliv-xlv), Her Family (pp. l-lviii), and Her Poetry (pp. lviii-lxv). This last section includes information on the sources of Sìleas’s surviving poems. This is followed by an Index of Poems by Gaelic title (p. lxvii).

The main body of the work, Text and Translations (pp. 1-121), contains 23 poems by Sìleas. In this edition, the Gaelic text and an English translation appear on facing pages. This is followed by Notes on the poems, which inlcudes notes on subject matter and on terminology (pp. 123-82). There follows a section on Sources and Readings (pp. 183-221), which gives information on the sources of each poem, along with readings from the earliest sources of each poem where the edited text diverges from these. There is also a section on Metres and Tunes (pp. 223-247).

Towards the end of this volume we find five appendices, the first two of which contain additional works that may have been composed by Sìleas. Appendix I contains Laoidh nan Ceudfathan (pp. 249-50) and Appendix II contains Dh’fhalbh mo Rùn-sa air an Aiseag (pp. 251-52). Appendix III contains An Obair-Nogha (pp. 253-54), the poem by George MacKenzie which prompted Sìleas to compose her poem An Aghaidh na h-Obair Nodha (pp. 76-83). These three poems are given in Gaelic only, with no English translation. Appendix IV contains an excerpt from the ‘Particular Register of Sasines for Banffshire, relating to lands held by Sìleas’ (pp. 255-58), and Appendix V contains ‘Memorandum as to Invercauld and Camdels interest in Stradown 1712’ (pp. 259-61).

The five appendices are followed by an Index of Names (pp. 263-64), and a Glossary (pp. 265-71). The glossary includes ‘the less common words, and those borrowed from English’, and gives an English translation of each word, and the numbers of the lines in which they appear in the text (p. 265).
Sources See Table of Sources and Index of First Lines (p. xxxiii-xxxv) for information on the sources used in this volume. Editors should use the earliest source material possible when excerpting for the dictionary.
Language In the Introduction (p. lix), Ó Baoill groups Sìleas’s poems according to the following classification: Sìleas’s own family (poems I, X-XIII); Politics, namely the 1715 Jacobite rising (poems IV-IX, although Ó Baoill notes that ‘the ascription of two of these is questionable’, p. lix); Laments (poems XI-XIV, XXI); Religion (III, XII, XVI-XX, xxiii); Advice to girls on courtship (poems II, XV); and the Harp and its music (poems XXI, XXII). Nine of the poems are termed ‘syllabic’, while the rest were composed in ‘stressed metres’. Ó Baoill points to poem V as being of particular interest, as it is ‘an early example of Gaelic Limerick metre’ (p. lx).

Sìleas composed at least six poems about the Jacobite rising of 1715: Do Rìgh Seumas (pp. 16-19), Do dh’Fheachd Mhorair Mhàr (pp. 20-25), three poems on Latha Sliabh an t-Siorraim (pp. 26-31, 32-37, 38-43), and Do dh’Arm Rìgh Sheumais (pp. 44-49). In these poems Sìleas actively encourages the clans to rise up and fight for the Jacobite cause. In Do dh’Fheachd Mhorair Mhàr, we find ‘Crath do chìrean, do choileir ’s do chluas, \ Cuir sgairt ort gu feachd an taobh tuath, \ Cuir spuir ort ’s bi gleusta \ Gu d’ nàimhdean a reubadh, \ ’S cuir Mac Cailein fo ghéill mar bu dual’ (p. 22).

In the three songs on the Battle of Sheriffmuir, Sìleas tells what happened during the battle, and curses those who did not fight as they should have done, e.g. ‘Mhic Choinnich bho ’n tràigh, \ ’S e ’n gnìomh nàr mar theich thu; \ ’Nuair a chunnaic thu ’m blàr \ ’S ann a thàir thu ’n t-eagal; \ Rinn thu cóig mìle deug \ Gun t’ each sréin a chasadh; \ Bha claidheamh rùisgt ann ad dhòrn \ Gun fhear cleòc’ a leagail’ (p. 32). On the other hand, Sìleas praises those who fought through the battle: ‘Mhic ’Ic Alasdair na féileachd, \ Bu làmh fhéim thu anns gach càs: \ Leat bu taitneach bhith ’s an t-seàrsa, \ Leat bu deònach bhith dol ’n an dàil; \ Chaill thu iteag chùl na sgéithe, \ An t-seobhag threun nach d’eur adbhans, \ Mac Mhic Ailein, oighre Mhùideart, \ Marcaich sunndach nan each seang’ (p. 40).

An number of Sìleas’s poems are laments, some to members of her own family, including Cumha Bàs a Fir agus a h-Ighne (pp. 54-57), Laoidh air Bàs a Fir agus a h-Ighne (pp. 58-63), Marbhrann (pp. 64-69), and Cumha Lachlainn Daill (pp. 108-13). Alasdair a Gleanna Garadh (pp. 70-75) is probably her best known lament, and in it she uses a wide range of panegyric motifs, e.g. ‘Bu tu curaidh cur a’ chatha, \ Bu tu ’n laoch gun athadh làimhe; \ Bu tu ’m bradan anns an fhìor-uisg, \ Fìreun air an eunlaith ’s àirde, \ … \ Bu tu chreag nach fhaoidte theàrnadh; \ Bu tu clach uachdair a’ chaisteil \ … \ Bu tu ’n t-iubhar thar gach coillidh, \ Bu tu ’n darach daingean làidir’ (p. 72).

A number of the poems in this volume were composed on religious themes, such as Laoidh an t-Soluis (pp. 88-89), Laoidh na h-Oidhche (pp. 90-93), Laoidh Mhoire Mhaighdean (pp. 94-101), and Am Bàs is Flathanas (pp. 116-21). The poem in Appendix I is also a hymn, Laoidh nan Ceudfathan (p. 249). In these poems Sìleas extols the benefits of leading a good life and following God, and praises God, Jesus, and Mary. For example, in Laoidh na Maidne (84-87), we find ‘Sguabamaid a mach luath a’ pheacaidh, \ ’S na stadadh i air ar n-ùrlar; \ Eagal gun las i ar n-òtrach, \ Bàthamaid le deòir ar sùl i. \ Fuadaicheamaid uainn a mach \ A’ bhéist air am bheil na seachd cinn, \ A shluigeas sinn uile ’n a craos \ Mas urra i dh’fhaotainn oirnn gill’ (p. 84). Sìleas frequently made use of powerful imagery in her poetry. She does this particularly effectively in her poem An Eaglais (pp. 102-07), where we find ‘Chan urrainn geataichean iutharna \ No cumhachdan nan daoine \ Car a thoirt di as a làraich— \ A clachairean cha d’fhàg cho faoin i; \ Rinn iad ballaichean de choluinn, \ Rinn iad uinneagan de chreuchdan; \ ’S ann de bheul a rinn iad dorus, \ ’S tha dhà shùil gu solus glé-gheal’ (p. 102).

The two poems in which Sìleas offers advice to young girls on courtship are Comhairle air na Nigheanan Óga (pp. 6-11) and An Aghaidh na h-Obair Nodha (pp. 76-83). The second of these was written in response to George MacKenzie’s song An Obar-Nogha, which is given in Appendix III. In her response, Sìleas advices, ‘Mo chomhairle ’s an tìm so \ Do nianaig i bhith gu taidheach; \ Bhith gu teisteil diamhair \ Gun mhì-mhodh idir a ghabhail \ O na gillean òga \ Air bhòidhchead ’s am bith an labhairt, \ Ach gun dèan sibh còrdadh, \ Pòsadh is dol a laighe’ (p. 76).

Sìleas touches on the harp and its music in two of her poems, Cumha Lachlainn Daill (pp. 108-13) and Ceòl na Clàrsaich (p. 114-15). In the second of these, we find ‘Bu bhinn leam iuchair do theud \ Bhith ’ga gleusadh goirid uam; \ B’ ait leam do chom buidhe binn \ Bhith ’ga seinn làmh ri m’ chluais’ (p. 114).
Orthography The orthography is generally that of the mid-to-late twentieth century. However, some non-standard forms have been retained, e.g. nianaig (p. 76). Notes on variant readings are given in Sources and Readings (pp. 183-221).
Edition First edition. Where possible, editors should excerpt from the earliest sources of Sìleas’s poems.
Other Sources
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