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Title An Clarsair Dall. Orain Ruaidhri Mhic Mhuirich agus a chuid Ciuil (The Blind Harper. The Songs of Roderick Morison and his Music)
Author Morison, Roderick
Editor Matheson, William
Date Of Edition 1970
Date Of Language 18th c.
Publisher Printed by R. & R. Clark, Ltd., for the Scottish Gaelic Texts Society
Place Published Edinburgh
Volume 12 (Scottish Gaelic Texts Society)
Location National, academic, and local libraries
Geographical Origins Lewis
Register Literature, Verse
Alternative Author Name Mac Mhuirich, Ruaidhri
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 22cm x 14cm
Short Title Blind Harper
Reference Details EUL, Celtic Library: LI G MOR
Number Of Pages lxxxvi, 265
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context It seems that Roderick Morison (or Morrison) was the eldest son of John Morison, who was tacksman of Bragar in Lewis during the late seventeenth century. The family was descended from the hereditary breves in Lewis. John Morison himself was a well-educated man, who played the violin and composed a number of verses. John Morison had six children – five sons (two of whom became clergymen) and a daughter.

It seems that Roderick Morison was probably born around 1656. He, along with one or two of his brothers, went to school in Inverness, possibly to train for the clergy. While there, it appears that Morison caught smallpox, and although he survived the illness, it cost him his sight. From this point on, Morison appears to have taken up music in earnest, and he may have spent some time in Ireland learning his trade. It is possible, and perhaps likely, that Morison later spent some time travelling with a group of musicians, before he became acquainted with Iain Breac, chief of the MacLeods of Dunvegan, in Edinburgh. By 1683, Morison was firmly established at Dunvegan, where he held a tack of land from MacLeod. It is unclear whether Morison was employed as a professional poet and/or musician, or whether he simply enjoyed MacLeod’s patronage as a fellow-gentleman. The latter is possibly more likely.

After a while, this relationship broke down and Morison was sent from Dunvegan to Glenelg, where he was given the tenancy of Totamor, possibly rent-free. Morison was not particularly happy there, feeling somewhat neglected and estranged from Dunvegan and from MacLeod. It is possible that Morison’s Jacobite sympathies contributed to his exile in Glenelg, as MacLeod himself was very careful not to outwardly align himself with either side. Morison’s name last appears in the Dunvegan records in 1688, the year of James VII’s exile. It is also possible that by this time Morison had already fallen out with MacLeod’s son Roderick, to whom Morison composed a distinctly non-complimentary song, Oran do Mhac Leòid Dhùn Bheagain (pp. 58-73). Iain Breac died in 1693, and it was Roderick who succeeded him.

During his time in Glenelg, Morison became friendly with John MacLeod of Talisker, who seems to have been involved in the management of the MacLeod estates from the time of Iain Breac until his own death around 1700. After his death, it appears that Morison had to leave Glenelg, although the reasons for this are unclear. According to some sources, Morison went to reside in Lochaber with his father-in-law, although he appears to have made a number of tours around the noble families of the Highlands and Islands. Whether these sojourns were by invitation or otherwise is also unclear. At some point, Morison had married Catherine Stewart from Lochaber, and it is known that they had at least one son, James. It is unclear where Morison spent his latter years. Tradition holds that on his death he was buried at Dunvegan, and it does appear that there was renewed contact between Morison and Dunvegan before this time. The year of his death has been estimated to have been either 1713 or 1714. Only seven songs survive that can be attributed to Morison.
Contents This volume begins with the editor’s Preface (pp. vii-ix) followed by a table of Contents (p. xi) and a bibliography of Works Referred to and Abbreviations (pp. xiii-xxv). We then find a section on Sources of the Text (pp. xxvii-xxviii), which comprises a list of sources with abbreviations. The sources range from the Fernaig MS of the late seventeenth century to Watson’s Bardachd Ghaidhlig, which was first published in 1918. A Table of Sources (p. xxix) lists the seven songs and their sources.

The Introduction (pp. xxi-lxxvi) discusses Morison’s life, his music and poetry. There follows an Index of Songs (p. lxxvii) and the Text and Translation (pp. 1-79). This section contains seven songs by Morison, with Gaelic and English on facing pages. The songs are as follows: Oran do Iain Breac Mac Leòid (pp. 4-11), Féill nan Crann (pp. 12-19), Oran mu Oifigich Araid (pp. 20-31), A’ Cheud Di-luain de’n Ràithe (pp. 32-45), Creach na Ciadaoin (pp. 46-57), Oran do Mhac Leòid Dhùn Bheagain (pp. 58-73), Cumha do Fhear Thalasgair (pp. 74-79).

There follows a section of Variant Readings (pp. 80-94); a section containing extensive Notes (pp. 95-148) on the background and subject matter of the poems and on the meaning of the text; a section on Airs and Metres (pp. 149-63), which begins with a general introduction to the Scottish Gaelic metres of the time, and includes musical notation for many of the poems; and a section on Instrumental Music (pp. 164-74), which begins with an introduction to the subject, and ends with the musical notation for four instrumental pieces, taken from Dow’s Collection of Ancient Scots Music.

There are seven Appendices (pp. 175-254), including Appendix B, Traditions about the Blind Harper (pp. 183-85) and Appendix C, The Blind Harper’s Family and Kindred (pp. 186-203). Appendices E and F contain information relating to Morison’s father, John Morison of Bragar. There are three indices at the end of the volume: an Index of Persons (pp. 255-56), an Index of Places (p. 257), and a Glossarial Index (pp. 258-65).
Sources See Table of Sources (p. xxix). The earliest sources for each of the seven poems is listed as follows: The Fernaig MS – Oran mu Oifigich; the Turner MS – Oran do Mhac Leòid; the McLagan MSS – Féill nan Crann and Creach na Ciadaoin; the MacNicol MSS – A’ Cheud Di-luain; the Eigg Collection – Cumha do Fhear Thalasgair, and John MacLean’s MS Collection – Oran do Iain Breac. It should be noted that longer versions of some of these songs (e.g. Oran do Mhac Leòid Dhùn Bheagain) appear in certain later sources.
Language Two of Morison’s songs were composed to Iain Breac, the chief of the MacLeods. One is a eulogy, Oran do Iain Breac Mac Leòid (pp. 4-11), which dates from between 1681 and 1689. The other is an elegy, Creach na Ciadaoin (pp. 46-57), written on the death of Iain Breac in 1693. In the first of these, Iain Breac is praised in the traditional style, e.g. ‘Beul macanta ciùin ràbhartach \ ’n uair tharladh tu ’s taigh-òsd, \ a dh’fhàs gu seirceil suairce, \ gaol nam ban ’s nan gruagach òg; \ ’s iomadh maighdeann cheutach \ a bha déidheil air do phòig \ le’m b’ait bhith cunntadh spréidhe dhuit, \ ’s a deaslàmh féin le deòin’ (p. 6). In the second, Morison tells of his own sorrow at Iain Breac’s passing: ‘Is tearc a chaoidh mo ghàir’ éibhinn— \ cha bheus dhomh bhith subhach, \ ghabh mi tlachd am bith tùrsach, \ chuir mi ùidh am bith dubhach, \ mu’n tì-s’ tha mi ’g iomradh \ chuir an cuimhne mo phudhar; \ nois on fhuair an uaigh esan \ chaidh e ’n caisead mo bhruthach’ (p. 48). Morison also addresses Iain Breac’s son, Roderick, in this song, warning him to uphold the values of his ancestors: ‘Cha chùis dìon do Mhac Leòid \ a bhith dòlum ’s rud aige; \ lean an dùthchas bu chòir dhuit, \ is biodh mórchuis ’nad aignibh: \ ach ma leigeas tu dhìot e, \ bidh na ciadan ’gad agairt, \ ’g ràdh gur crannshlatag chrìon thu \ an àit a’ ghnìomharraich bheachdail’ (p. 56). In Oran do Mhac Leòid Dhùn Bheagain (pp. 58-73) Morison complains about Roderick’s non-traditional attitude, and repeatedly reminds him (putting his words in the mouth of Mac-alla or ‘Echo’) of the good example set by his father, which Roderick was allegedly not disposed to follow. For example, we find ‘Thig e mach as a’ bhùth, \ leis an fhasan as ùr bho’n Fhraing, \ ’s an t-aodach gasda bha ’n dé \ m’a phearsa le spéis nach gann \ théid a shadadh an cùil— \ “Is dona ’m fasan, chan fhiù e plang. \ Air màl baile no dhà \ glac am peana ’s cuir làmh ri bann”’ (p. 68). Morison composed at least one other elegy, Cumha do Fhear Thalasgair (pp. 74-79), a lament for John MacLeod of Talisker.

Féill nan Crann (pp. 12-19) is a humorous song, about the loss of the poet’s crann or ‘harp-key’, and the search for a new one in Barra. The second stanza reads, ‘Chan fhasa leam na ’m bàs \ a bhith fo thàir nam ban; \ chan fhaod mi dhol ’nan dàil \ on dh’fhàilnich air mo ghean; \ ’s e their iad, “Ciod am feum \ a dh’fheudas a bhith ann? \ Chaidh ionnstramaid o ghleus \ on chaill e fhéin a chrann.”’ (p. 12). A’ Cheud Di-luain de’n Ràithe (pp. 32-45) was composed while Morison was living at Totamor. Matheson notes that ‘one of his objects in composing the song was to save his herds from the attentions of the Lochaber cattle-reivers by judiciously combining flattery with pathetic references to his own poverty and blindness’ (p. 115). It seems to have worked. Morison looks at his own sorry situation, before praising each of the neighbouring clans in turn: ‘Is iad Clann Mhic Mhaol-onfhaidh \ as oirdheirce gnìomh, \ luchd shiubhal a’ gharbhlaich \ ’s a mharbhadh nam fiadh; \ cha d’fhuair iad adhbhar oilbheim \ mur folbhadh iad sliabh— \ cha dèan iad a bheag ormsa \ ’s nach lorgair mi ’s fiach; \ mo chreach mu’n coinnimh, ’s mi fo’n comairc, \ b’e ’n comunn mo mhiann, \ buachaillean mo threud \ ’n uair nach léir dhaibh a’ ghrian’ (pp. 37-38).

Oran mu Oifigich Araid (pp. 20-31) was written ‘on the account of some officers who, for fear, quitted their commissions in King William’s service’ (p. 103). It is unclear whether it was composed by Morison ‘as if by Gillimichell McDonald’, or whether it was addressed to Gillimichell McDonald. The former is perhaps more likely. The song was composed in 1689. In it we find ‘Ach ’n uair thig Rìgh Seumas \ ’s a dh’éighear e ’na chòir, \ càit am bi na h-eucoraich \ a thréig e d’an ceart deòin, \ ’s a bha gu saidhbhir feudalach \ ag éirigh air an stòr, \ ’n uair thàr iad sàst is éiginn \ air iad fhéin thobhairt a leòn?’ (p. 24). The song elicited a reply from Duncan MacRae of Inverinate (Donnchadh nam Pìos), given in Appendix A, who seems to have assumed that the song was addressed to Gillimicheil.
Orthography The orthography is that of the mid-to-late twentieth century. Of Morison’s dialect, Matheson notes in the Introduction, that ‘There are a few lines that perhaps carry faint intimations of his native Lewis dialect, but only a few and we cannot be sure’ (p. lxxv). Most of Morison’s songs were written down long after he had died, and it is therefore difficult to determine what his own usages would have been and what adaptations were adopted by later reciters. The examples Matheson cites include sionfhacal (p. 24), fa dheireadh (p. 54), chionalta (p. 60), làsdail (p. 66), ’s fheudar faighinn sin dà (p. 70), and lanntair (p. 74).
Edition First edition. Editors should use the earliest text of each poem where possible. See Sources above.
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