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Metadata for text 201
No. words in text62148
Title Luach na Saorsa
Author Moireach, Murchadh
Editor MacAsgaill, Alasdair I.
Date Of Edition 1970
Date Of Language 1900-1949
Publisher Gairm
Place Published Glasgow
Volume N/A
Location National, academic, and local libraries (Highland and Mitchell Reference)
Geographical Origins Lewis
Register Literature, Prose
Alternative Author Name Murray, Murdo
Manuscript Or Edition Ed. of MS
Size And Condition 22cm x 14cm
Short Title Diary
Reference Details CM personal copy
Number Of Pages 41 pages
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Murchadh Moireach (Murdo Murray) was born in Back, in Lewis, in 1890. He went to the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, where he became prìomh-sgoilear (Dux) in 1909 (p. 7). He went from there to Aberdeen University, graduating with an MA in 1913. He began teaching immediately, and before war broke out he had taught in Tolsta and Bayble in Lewis, in Uist, and in Lairg in Sutherland. At the outbreak of war, he joined the 4th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. They entered France in February 1915 and fought in the battle of Neuve Chapelle the following month. Moireach was promoted to Lieutenant in December 1915. He spent much of the war in the trenches, where he recorded his experiences in a diary. Shortly before the war ended, Moireach was wounded badly in the arm. He recovered fully, but not until the war was over.

After the war, Moireach returned to teaching. He was Headmaster in Foyers until 1925, and then in Beauly until 1928. He was then promoted to School Inspector for Ross and Cromarty. He married Jean MacInnes, from Sleat in Skye, in 1921, and they made their home in Strathpeffer. Moireach died, at the age of 74, on 30th May, 1964.

In addition to the war diary, Moireach wrote poetry while he was in the trenches (he had begun writing poetry before the war). After the war, he only wrote prose, and a few articles of his appeared in Gairm. These are re-published here (see Sources and Edition).

The other war poet whose work appears in this volume is Iain Rothach (John Munro). Rothach was born in Swordale, in Point, in Lewis on 10th December 1889. He grew up in Aignish and went to school at Knock and at the Nicolson Institute, where he befriended Murchadh Moireach. He also became Dux and graduated from Aberdeen University in 1914. He began studying for the ministry, but joined the 4th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders when war broke out. He spent most of the war in the trenches, and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in June 1916. He returned to Britain in 1916, and went back to France in 1917 with another battalion of the Seaforths. He was awarded the Military Cross for his heroism at Wytschaete on 13th April 1918, when his battalion successfully fought their way out of a German trap. He was killed in action just a few days later, on 16th April.

Only a few of Rothach’s poems survive, although Moray Watson, lecturer in Celtic and Gaelic at Aberdeen University, is currently working on ‘editions of newly-discovered poems by Iain Rothach’. Murchadh Moireach believed that some of Rothach’s poems were lost in France, and that others were given to some unknown person. Family tradition states that Rothach gave a selection of poems to a local minister to be prepared for publication, but that the minister subsequently lost them.
Contents This volume begins with a Clar-Innsidh (p. 5), followed by a Roimh-Radh (pp. 7-10). The main body of the text is presented in six parts as follows:

Guthan Beaga o Latha gu Latha (pp. 13-53): The diary Moireach kept during 1915 and 1917. Most of the entries published here are from 1915, with a handful of entries from 1917. There are no entries for 1916 or 1918. While written mostly in Gaelic, MacAsgaill notes that Moireach occasionally used English words, or wrote in English (p. 8). Where English has been used, this has been retained for this edition.

Na h-Orain (pp. 57-77): 25 songs that Moireach wrote as a boy and in the trenches. Some of the songs are dated. Only two of these relate to the war: Luach na Saorsa (pp. 73-74), written in 1915, and Na Mairbh ’San Raoin (Gearr-Luinneag) (p. 76), written in 1917. The other poems include a Gaelic translation of Charles Murray’s Auld Scotland Counts for Something Still (pp. 74-75).

Iain Rothach (pp. 81-88): An essay on Moireach’s friend and comrade during the war. It includes the text of the three of Rothach’s poems known to be extant. These are are known today as Ar Tìr (p. 85), Ar Gaisgich a Thuit sna Blàir (pp. 85-87), and Air Sgàth nan Sonn (pp. 87-88). The verse is interspersed with Moireach’s text, and it appears that Moireach believed the first two poems to be part of the same poem, entitled Ar Tìr, ’s Ar Gaisgich a Thuit ’sna Blàir.

Turus do’n Spàinnt (pp. 89-104): An essay about a trip to mainland Europe. This is presented in three parts: Na Tairbh, Troimh’n Fhraing, and Anns an Spainnt.

Geographaidh na h-Albann (pp. 105-26): An essay on Scottish history and geography, which begins with a brief look at astronomy, and touches on the Romans, the Norse, and Scotland’s geology. The second half of the essay looks at the geography, weather, and demographics of Skye, and briefly discusses crofting, fishing, and tourism on the island.

Màiri Nighean Iain Bhàin (pp. 127-47): An essay on Màiri Mhòr nan Òran, that was first published in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness. Moireach includes excerpts from her poems and looks at her life and her poetry.
Sources Moireach’s war-diary was prepared for publication by the editor, Alasdair I. MacAsgaill, from two hand-written volumes left to him by the author. It is unclear where these two volumes are now. Of the diaries themselves, MacAsgaill notes that ‘Is ann ann an Gàidhlig a bha e a’ cumail an leabhar-latha, an sgrìobhadh beag, mìn, am pionsal, a tha nis gu math duilich a dèanamh a-mach. Cha robh e a’ cur dorrain sam bith air facal Beurla a chleachdadh far am b’e sin a b’fhaisge air inntinn agus bha amannan ann—mar aig blàr fuilteach Ypres—an uair a b’e a’ Bheurla gu h-iomlan a bha ag aiseag a smuaintean’ (p. 8). MacAsgaill has left the English as it was in the MS.

MacAsgaill notes in the Roimh-Radh that he is indebted to the Gaelic Society of Inverness for permission to publish Màiri Nighean Iain Bhàin, and to Derick Thomson for permission to publish Moireach’s other writings (Iain Rothach, Turus do’n Spàinnt, and Geographaidh na h-Albann), which had previously appeared in Gairm.
Language War Diary

Moireach’s war diary gives us an insight into what war was like for those who were there. He writes on 24th February 1915, at Bailleul: na gunnaichean móra dol gun tàmh (p. 13). Three days later, thuit dà shell air an rathad ri ar taobh (p. 13). On 17th March, 1915, he writes: Latha briagha. Chaidh L. Cpl. a mharbhadh tràth air a’ mhaduinn. Tha dha-na-tri shells a’ tuiteam timcheall. Fhuair sinn chun an t-sabhail ’san anmoch. Chaidil sinn an toll beag—4—ar glùinean ’nar bus—casan fuar (p. 15). On 5th May: Latha bruicheil. Na Gearmailtich ’gar seiligeadh gu h-anabarrach. Cha deach duine leòn fhathast (p. 20),

The diary entries vary in length, and are frequently written in note-form, with few complete sentences. For 12th-17th August 1915, he writes: Bedford House. A’ dèanamh dugouts. An dara latha mu dheireadh a’ dèanamh redoubt. Chòrd an turas ruinn anabarrach math. Gunnachan móra gu leòr timcheall. Golf—’s an talla mhóir. Sinn ’n ar suidhe air an làr (p. 37).

Of particular interest are Moireach’s accounts of out of the ordinary episodes, such as when his troup went to rescue a group of their own that had been captured (p. 38). At Ypres, on 13th May, 1915, Moireach writes: Latha fliuch—anns na dug-outs fo rathad na trainns. Oidhche fhliuch air fatigue—dol air chall sìos an loinne gu Hill 60. Cuirp ri taobh an rathaid. Gunnachan caola gu leòr air gach taobh. Abair sliobach dol suas an cnoc. Thill sinn aig càileanachadh an latha (p. 21). On 16th September, 1915, he writes: Chaidh Sgt. Forbes le Sniper agus bomar a mach mu chóig uairean. Bha iad anns a’ bhad éisdeachd roimh na Gearmailtich. Chunnaic iad an nàmhaid a’ tighinn. Dh’fhiach orra le bombs. Ruaig orra. Thug sinn uapa bocsa bombs. Tha mi sgrìobhadh so anns a’ chomm. trainss—’s iad a’ seiligeadh. Chaidh leòn fear faisg orm (p. 39).

Moireach also describes some of the men in his Battalion, e.g. Sgt. Finlay Greum—duine duineal, mòr-inntinneach ach beagan ro-mhiannach air an dram—fìor Ghàidheal air a chaochladh (p. 44), and S.M. … Tha’n aois gu mór air laighe air—tha 60 bliadhna ’gan innse fhéin … Chaill e, bròinean, mac, anns a’ chogadh-sa, ’s chan fheàirrd e sin (p. 44).

This text is a good source of terminology relating to fighting and war, as can be seen from the above quotations. English words appear throughout the text, and these are usually lenited where a Gaelic word would be lenited, e.g. bho’n chommunication trench (p. 20) and aig a’ bharbed wire (p. 20).

Moireach's Verse

Moireach’s two war poems are particularly poignant. Luach na Saorsa (pp. 73-74), written on Moireach’s first day in the trenches, is an address to a bullet, written in the Burns stanza. The second stanza reads An làmh a stiùir thu air do chùrs’ \ An robh i ’n dàn do chur air iùil \ A dh’fhàgadh dìleachdain gun chùl \ An tigh a’ bhròin, \ Is cridhe goirt le osann bhrùit \ Aig mnaoi gun treòir? (p. 73). Na Mairbh ’San Raoin (Gearr-Luinneag) (p. 76) is written as a sonnet, and is couched as an elegy to all those who died in action: Le ùmhlachd dhaibh a thuit an teas a’ bhlàir, \ Gu socair, sàmhach, cladhaich uaigh ri’n taobh, \ ’S ’nan éideadh-cogaidh adhlaic iad ’san àit \ An d’thuit ri làr le bàs do’n nàmh ’nan glaodh (p. 76).

The rest of Moireach’s poetry is not particularly noteworthy. It is mostly lighthearted, and covers topics such as love, youth, homesickness, and friendly banter.

Moireach’s Prose

Turus do’n Spàinnt (pp. 89-104) tells of Moireach’s trip to mainland Europe, and contains a number of interesting terms, including fear-sleagha (picador) (p. 91), urram a’ mhatador (fear-marbhaidh an tairbh) (p. 92), urras (visa) (p. 93), leacan-sleamhainn (tiles) (p. 99), and ceum-còmhnard (pavement) (p. 101).

Geographaidh na h-Albann (pp. 105-26) contains terminology relating to astronomy, e.g. galacsaidh (p. 105) and leis a’ ghloine-astair (p. 105); world history and geography, e.g. Aisia-a-deas (p. 106), Cnaganaich (p. 108), and Sgiolgadh sin na dithean làthaich is creige an doimhne an amair, beag air bheag, ’nan dromannan àrda os cionn nan uisgeachan. Is ann mar sin a dh’éirich beanntan na h-Albann (p. 110); and the history and geography of the Isle of Skye, e.g. An Clàr Sgìth (p. 114), bàillidhean is luchd-fearainn chìocrach, shanntach (p. 116) and sluaghmhorachd (p. 120). This essay also contains a variety of place-names, particularly from Skye (e.g. p. 123), but also from Europe, e.g. litreachas na Gréige is na Ròimh (p. 106) and abhainn Rhoin (p. 107). There are also names for various peoples, e.g. na h-Ibeirich, na Ceiltich, and Cruithnich (all p. 106).

Màiri Nighean Iain Bhàin (pp. 127-47) contains examples of Màiri Mhòr nan Òran’s poetry. Editors should see Text 83 and quote from the recommended texts.

Rothach’s Verse

Iain Rothach’s verse has an important place in the history of Gaelic literature, as it is the first Gaelic verse of the twentieth century known to have been written in free-verse – a style which did not become popular in Gaelic until some forty years later. His most famous poem (or two poems) is Ar Tìr, ’s Ar Gaisgich a Thuit ’sna Blàir (pp. 85-87), which looks at the heroes who fought and died in the war: Ged a bha cuid dhiubh, nuair bu bheò iad, \ Tric nach b’ mhìn rèidh sinn còmhla, \ A! thuit iad air còmhnard na strì, \ Fhuair sinn sìnt’ iad le’m bàs-leòintean (p. 86). It is in this poem that we find the well-known lines ’S i Tìr nan Gaisgeach a th’ann, \ Tìr nam Beann, nan Gaisgeach, ’s nan Gleann, \ ’S i Tìr nan Gaisgeach a th’ann! (p. 85).
Orthography The Lewis dialect is not particularly apparent in this text. The orthography is generally that of the mid to late 20th century. It is unclear whether the editor updated the orthography of Moireach’s manuscript for publication.
Edition First edition. Three of Moireach’s prose works were first published in GairmTurus do’n Spàinnt in Volumes 14 (1955, pp. 163-167), 15 (1956, pp. 223-228) and 16 (1956, pp. 319-325); Iain Rothach in Volumes 19 (1957, pp. 262-265) and 20 (1957, pp. 339-342); Geographaidh na h-Albann in Volumes 57 (1966, pp. 33-38), 58 (1967, pp. 182-187) and 60 (1967, pp. 326-337). Màiri Nighean Iain Bhàin was first published in TGSI 37, 1934-36, pp. 294-318.

Iain Rothach’s poems were originally published in An Dìleab: Gaelic Verse for Advanced Divisions and Intermediate Classes. The Scottish Gaelic Union Catalogue states that the first edition of An Dìleab was published in 1929. Black states that it was published in 1932. A second edition was published in 1934. All three of his surviving poems are reproduced in An Tuil. In his notes to the poems, Black suggests that ‘Murray appears to have had the poet’s own manuscript before him when he reproduced the poems in Luach na Saorsa’, but that ‘An Dìleab appears nevertheless to have many of the fuller and more reliable readings’ (p. 749). Black also gives some variant readings from Luach na Saorsa (p. 749). The orthography was modernised in An Tuil. When quoting Rothach’s poetry, editors should quote from either Luach na Saorsa or from An Dìleab, having compared both versions of the text. The orthography in Luach na Saorsa is slightly different from that used in An Dìleab.
Other Sources
Further Reading Black, Ronald I. M., An Tuil, 2002.
Crichton, Torquil, ‘The Warrior Poet Who Lived Next Door’, Sunday Herald, Nov. 13, 2005.
Thomson, James (ed.), An Dìleab: Gaelic Verse for Advanced Divisions and Intermediate Classes, 1929 or 1932.
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