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Title Lamh-Sgriobhainn Mhic Rath. “Dorlach Laoidhean do sgrìobhadh le Donnchadh Mac Rath, 1688” anns an dà leabharan a tha aig an am so an leabhar-lann Oilthigh Ghlascho; agus iad an so air an litreachadh an dà chuid a réir gnàths Dhonnchaidh agus gnàths coitcheann an latha ’n diugh, le Calum Mac Phàrlain. (The Fernaig Manuscript. A Handful of Lays written by Duncan Mac Rae, 1688, in two booklets presently lying in the Library of the University of Glasgow; revealed here according to Duncan’s own spelling and the standard spelling of the present day, by Malcolm Mac Farlane)
Author Mac Rath, Donnchadh
Editor Mac Farlane, Malcolm
Date Of Edition 1923
Date Of Language 17th c.
Publisher Calum S. Mac Leoid
Place Published Dundee (Dun-De)
Volume N/A
Location Edition: National and Academic Libraries
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Lochaber
Register Literature, Verse
Alternative Author Name Duncan MacRae
Manuscript Or Edition Edition of MS
Size And Condition 25cm x 16cm. The MS comprises two volumes 7" x 3", written in a neat hand. The editors of Cameron’s Reliquiae Celticae, Vol. II, describe it as follows: ‘The first volume contains 36 leaves, the first two and the last one of which are blank. There are thus 33 leaves written upon, but the side of one leaf is blank, which makes in all 65 pages. The second volume contains 28 leaves, the first three and last five of which are blank. The other 20 are fully written upon save the last, which contains only one verse. One of these leaves is double, and folded in, and there are two loose pieces – half-leaves, written upon. Six leaves were cut out of the second volume, amounting probably to some six hundred lines of poetry. At present the collection contains about 4200 lines of poetry. The handwriting, which is that characteristic of the period for writing English, is neat and clear, though small, obscurities being caused mostly by the fading of the ink or by frayed edges’ (p. 1).
Short Title Fernaig MS
Reference Details Edition: EUL, Celtic Library: LIG MACR. MSS: GUL: MS Gen 85/1 and MS Gen 85/2
Number Of Pages xiv, 346. The MS itself comprises 105 leaves of writing.
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context The Fernaig MS is a late seventeenth century MS comprising two notebooks (approximately 7" x 3"), written in a neat hand, by Duncan MacRae. The first notebook is headed ‘Doirligh Loijn Di\Skrijwig Lea Donochig/Mackrah 1688’. The latest date to appear in the MS is 1693. The MS is so called because it was discovered, in the early nineteenth century, in the possession of Mr Matheson of Fernaig in Wester Ross. The MS changed hands a number of times (from Dr. Mackintosh MacKay to Dr W. F. Skene, and finally to Rev. John Kennedy of Arran) before it was gifted to the University of Glasgow. In an article published in TGSI in 1885, Donald MacKinnon identified the compiler of this MS as Duncan MacRae of Inverinate, also known as Donnchadh nam Pìos. MacRae’s grandfather was Rev. Farquhar MacRae, minister of Gairloch and Kintail, and his great-grandfather, Christopher MacRae, was constable of Eilean Donan. Duncan MacRae was the eldest son of Rev. Farquhar’s son Alexander, and was chief of the MacRaes in his time. He studied at Edinburgh University (tradition holds that he studied cabinetmaking and engineering while in Edinburgh), and became well-known in Kintail and Glenshiel. See MacKinnon (1885) for further information on MacRae. We do not know when Duncan MacRae was born, or when he died, but we do know that he flourished from 1640 to at least 1693. It is said that he died by drowning in the Connag River at Dorisduan.

A number of authors note that the Fernaig MS contains 59 poems (Fraser 1993, p. 75; Fraser 1924, p. 252; and MacDonald in Thomson 1994, p. 72). However, this volume only lists 57 poems in the contents page and Fraser (1918, p. 435) notes that ‘Dr Henderson transliterated 28 out of the 57 pieces in the MS’. The reason for this discrepancy needs to be investigated. 12 of the poems in the MS are attributed to the compiler, 10 of the poems are anonymous, and the rest are attributed to seventeen different authors, including Fear na Páirce (MacRae’s great-grandfather, 6 poems), Alasdair Mac Mhurchaidh (4 poems), Murchach Mor mac Mhic Mhurchaidh (6 poems), and Donnchadh Mac Raoiridh (4 poems). Kenneth Macdonald points out, in Thomson’s Companion, that the poems in this MS have ‘both a thematic and a territorial emphasis’ (p. 72), with many of the poets being ‘drawn into the collection by their northern ambience’ (ibid.). Indeed, some of the poets represented in this volume were related to the compiler. However, there are also a number of poems from outwith this area. 2 poems are attributed to Carswell (although he most likely composed only one of them), and there are also works by the late sixteenth century Sir John Stewart of Appin, and by the early seventeenth century Irish poet, Gille-Brighde Ó hEoghusa. For information on the poets whose works appear in the MS see Thomson (1994) and MacKinnon (1885).
Contents In An Roimh-Radh (pp. vii-x), MacFarlane introduces us to the MS and to MacRae. He also discusses earlier publications which contained transcriptions or transliterations of the text of the MS, and explains to us how this volume came about. This is followed by Clar-Amais nan Dan (pp. xi-xiii), which lists 57 poems by title, numbering them I to LVII. The poems are grouped together by author, and the editor indicates which poems were previously published in which of the following four publications: Reliquiae Celticae, Leabhar nan Gleann, Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig, and An Deo-Gréine. Clar-Amais Cuid an Fhoghluim (p. xiv) details the contents of the Appendix.

Na Dàin (pp. 1-275) contains all 57 poems, with An Litreachadh Annasach (transcription) and An Litreachadh Gnathach (transliteration) on facing pages.

The Appendix (pp. 277-345) contains sections on MacRae’s Alphabet (pp. 277-89), The Dialect of the Text (pp. 290-98), Notes on the Text (pp. 299-323), including Meanings of Unfamiliar Words; and Notes on the Poems (pp. 324-45). Words that are included in Meanings of Unfamiliar Words are marked in the text by asterisks.
Language The great majority of the poems in this volume are religious. Fraser notes that the first 36 are ‘strictly religious’ and that nine of the remaining poems are ‘elegiac with strong religious overtones’ (Fraser 1993, p. 75). 11 other poems are ‘political but with a strong religious basis to the views expressed and studded with most apposite Scripture quotations’ (Fraser 1993, p. 76). Macdonald notes that ‘The dominant thematic note is disillusionment with the changes and vanities of the world, coupled with religious aspiration’ (Thomson 1994, p. 72). The political poems seem to have been composed by MacRae himself, and all relate to the Jabobite cause of 1688-89. Fraser notes that they ‘express in violent language the writer’s detestation of the Revolution and of Presbyterianism, and his hope of the conversion of his fellow countrymen to saner views on both politics and religion’ (Fraser 1924, p. 253). Two of the political poems are translations of English Jacobite poems. Fraser notes that the poems seem to be arranged in a roughly chronological order (Fraser 1918, p. 457), with the political poems appearing towards the end of the MS. More than half of the poems were composed in syllabic metre.

In general, the poems in this volume might be said to have been composed in ‘semi-bardic’ Gaelic. Fraser suggests that most of the religious poems were ‘composed by Scottish writers who were imperfectly acquainted with the literary dialect. Here the influence of the vernacular is very strong’ (Fraser 1926, p. 39). These would include the poems attributed to Fear na Pairce (MacRae’s great-grandfather), which were composed probably in the last quarter of the 16th century. Some of the poems were composed in Classical Gaelic, such as those by O’Heoghusa and Carswell. The political poems are ‘almost entirely free from Irish influence, and may be taken to represent faithfully Scottish Gaelic as spoken in Western Ross-shire in the last quarter of the seventeenth century’ (Fraser 1926, p. 39).

In his review of this edition, Fraser maintains that ‘The language of the poems varies with the subject (as well, of course, as with the date). Macrae’s own political pieces are composed in the conversational language of his own day and dialect; and the phonetic notation shows clearly that the sounds and forms used by Macrae were roughly identical with those of the Northern dialects of the present day. He occasionally retains a form from the literary dialect, and for the plural of [nouns] other than o-stems he often uses the older forms without final -n; but otherwise his language is that of the twentieth century. The poems on the more serious subjects, on the other hand, are in a more archaic form of the language. … [But] we can say that the non-political poems are composed in a mixture of the Scottish vernacular and the literary dialect’ (Fraser 1924, p. 253).

With regard to the Appendix, Fraser proposes in his review of this volume that ‘The Appendix on Macrae’s dialect is often misleading. Mr. Macfarlane overestimates the influence of Irish on Macrae’s speech. Irish forms there are in plenty but there is little reason to suppose that forms peculiarly Irish had for Macrae any but a paper existence … There is just as little reason to believe that Macrae’s representation of the sounds of his dialect was affected by Irish pronunciation’ (Fraser 1924, p. 259). Instead, Fraser suggests that ‘Throughout this section ‘Irish’ as a description of a phonetic peculiarity can be safely replaced by ‘Northern Scottish’ (ibid., p. 260).
Orthography With regard to the orthography, Fraser concludes that ‘Macrae employs a rough phonetic orthography, apparently invented by himself and based on the values of the letters in the contemporary Scots orthography. It is thus possible to arrive at some conclusions as to his pronunciation of Gaelic’ (Fraser 1926, p. 39). It should be noted that Fraser’s use of the phrase ‘contemporary Scots orthography’ is uncharacteristically casual and needs to be refined. It would appear likeliest that the basis of Macrae’s orthography was Macrae’s Scottish pronunciation of religious and political writings of his day, which were in English rather than Scots. It should also be noted that there are inconsistencies in the orthography, the same word being often spelt differently in different parts of the MS, and sometimes even on the same page (MacBain and Kennedy 1894, p. 3).

To give an example of the spellings used in this volume, Poem XXI (p. 64) begins: Ffouhind lea moillig zhuits zhe \ Ri di chruighe goc ni \ Zailvig leait dhoon vo hois \ Di loyrighe i talvij voon. The transliteration reads (p. 65): Fonn le moladh dhuit-s’, a Dhé, \ Rìgh do chruthaich gach nì; \ Dhealbhadh leat an duin’ bho thòs \ De luaithreach an talmhainn mhìn.
Edition First edition. The MS itself will be reviewed at a later date. Until then, it is impossible to say whether this volume represents an adequate transcription of the MS and whether the MS or this volume should be used as the primary source for the Faclair. The transcription in this volume seems to be better than earlier transcriptions. A transcription of the full MS appeared in Cameron’s Reliquiae Celticae, Vol. II in 1894 – the transcription was begun by Cameron and completed by MacBain and Kennedy. Some of the poems were also transliterated. In addition to this, transcriptions and transliterations of specific poems have appeared in a number of volumes. For example, Dr George Henderson transliterated 28 of the poems, which he published in Leabhar nan Gleann in 1898, along with two transliterations from Reliquiae Celticae, and Professor MacKinnon published a number of transliterations, and one transcription, in his 1885 article. In his review of this edition (i.e. MacFarlane’s), Fraser concedes that this edition of the text contains far fewer errors than the edition published in Reliquiae Celticae, but records a number of instances where the MS text differs from that published in this edition (1924, p. 255). Fraser also dismisses MacFarlane’s attempts at transliteration, noting that ‘much of his transliteration is unintelligible or absurd’.
Other Sources
Further Reading Fraser, Donald C., ‘Gaelic Religious Verse from the Fernaig Manuscript’, TGSI, 57 (1993), 73-99.
Fraser, John, ‘Remarks on the Fernaig Manuscript’, TGSI, 28 (1918), 452-66.
Fraser, John, ‘Malcolm Mac Farlane. The Fernaig Manuscript’ (a review), Revue Celtique, 41 (1924), 252-60.
Fraser, John, ‘The Language of the Fernaig Manuscript’, SGS, 1 (1926), 38-63, 119-33.
MacBain, Alexander and Rev. John Kennedy, eds., Reliquiae Celticae. Texts, Papers, and Studies in Gaelic Literature and Philology left by the late Rev. Alexander Cameron, LL.D, Vol. II (Inverness, 1894: [n. pub.]).
MacKinnon, Donald, ‘The Fernaig Manuscript’, TGSI, 11 (1885), 311-39.
Nì Suaird, Damhnait, ‘Jacobite Rhetoric and Terminology in the Political Poems of the Fernaig MS (1688-1693)’, SGS, 19 (1999), 93-140.
Thomson, Derick S., ed., The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Glasgow, 1994: Gairm).
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