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Metadata for text 80001
No. words in text70827
Title Dain Iain Ghobha (The Poems of John Morison, the Songsmith of Harris)
Author Morison, John
Editor Henderson, George
Date Of Edition 1893
Date Of Language 1800-1849
Publisher Archibald Sinclair (Glasgow) and Norman MacLeod (Edinburgh)
Place Published Glasgow and Edinburgh
Volume 2 volumes
Location National, academic, and local libraries (Highland, reference)
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Harris
Register Literature, Verse
Alternative Author Name Gobha, Iain
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 19.6 cm x 13.5 cm
Short Title Dain Iain Ghobha Vol 1
Reference Details EUL: .891631Mor
Number Of Pages lxxv, 315
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context John Morison was born in Harris around 1796. Two of his sisters, Mary and Eibhric, were also esteemed poets. Morison was self-educated, having spent only a month at the school in Rodel, but eventually becoming literate in Gaelic and English. He had a wonderful memory and was very knowledgeable about Scottish history and a number of the sciences. He studied veterinary surgery in Edinburgh for a time, although he learned so quickly that his teacher was soon at a loss to teach him anything. He was also extremely gifted at mechanics, making spinning-wheels and locks, and he spent 23 years working as a smith. At the age of 30, Morison married Sarah Maclean. They had two daughters and two sons before Sarah died, nine years after their marriage. Morison remarried, and had one son and one daughter by Catherine Macleod. Upon her death, he married Mary Macaulay. They had seven children, including one daughter, and one son who died as an infant. Mary also died before him, and Morison married again. After Morison’s death in 1852, his fourth wife emigrated to Canada.

The Memoir in Vol. I suggests that in the early 1820s ‘the predominating note [with Morison] is a feeling of seeking’ (p. xxx), as exemplified by his first religious poem, An Ionndrainn, composed in 1821. In 1822, Dr. John Macdonald of Ferintosh stayed in Rodel on his way to St. Kilda to preach on behalf of the SSPCK. At an evening meeting, Morison was asked to precent, and is described as having had ‘a voice of singular resonance and melody’ (p. xxxiv). After Macdonald left Rodel, Morison continued in his religious endeavours. He was friendly with Donald Munro of Snizort, who also engaged him in ‘spiritual instruction’ (p. xxxv). A description from 1830 reads: ‘John Morison in Harris by trade a blacksmith was brought under the power of the truth eight or nine years ago. He is a man of uncommon powers of mind and of great prudence. After he came to a comfortable hope through grace the state of those around him fell heavily on his soul and his first attempt to spread the light of truth was by conversation’ (p. xxxv). He preached from his home, and it appears as though people thought Morison somewhat strange at first. However, people did listen to him, often simply to engage him in debate about the Scriptures. Thus, we are told, ‘conviction was forced upon many. Opponents lost their strength, open sins began to hide their head, the voice of secret prayer might be heard here and there and Bible rule became more regarded’ (p. xxxvi). Morison then began to venture into neighbouring villages and gradually grew ‘in the esteem and affection of the people’ (p. xxxvii).

In 1828, Morison was given a commission by the SSPCK and became a catechist. He continued to travel and to catechise and he eventually began to organise prayer meetings, assisted by some of the Gaelic teachers on the island. The first meeting in Tarbert in 1830 was held outside and seems to have been attended by over 2000 people. Morison also continued to hold meetings at his house in the evenings which were always well attended. After a few weeks of this, ‘awakening began’ (p. xxxvii). The meetings continued every evening, except on Saturday, with three meetings on a Sunday. Dr. Macdonald returned to Rodel in 1830. He later reported to a public assembly that Morison ‘had as much realised the meaning of the Good News as all the ministers he knew put together’ (p. xliii). The Memoir states that from 1823, it was as if the Disruption had already taken place in Harris as many people had forsaken the parish church. However, despite siding with the evangelicals in the approach to the Disruption in 1843, Morison was not in favour of splitting from the Established Church. Instead, he urged the people to ‘wait for better times and to trust to the Church’s Divine Head for the time and way of its deliverance’ (p. xliv). It appears that he and his family struggled and were made homeless after asserting ‘their spiritual privileges at the induction of a new incumbent’ (p. xliv). Still, he would not speak out against his persecutors. However, while he was disapproving of ‘promiscuous assemblies as well as of profane songs which serve to nurture the merely natural affections’ (pp. xliii), he was not adverse to slighting others in verse, as his two poems to Rev. Francis Macbain, a Free Church minister, over the Strond Session dispute clearly show: Seisean Shrannda and its sequel An Sgiobaireachd. He and Rev. Macbain made up, however, and after An Sgiobaireachd, Morison began writing Am Mellenium, ‘and absorbed himself more and more in contemplation of the Divine Nature and in meditating on the state of man’ (p. xlviii). Morison kept the Sabbath free of work and conducted catechism every night in his home. He also held monthly meetings at Scarista, Leacli, Finnsbay, and Strond, ‘which involved much hard walking and mental exertion’ (p. xlix) and distributed medicines to the sick and to those in need. It was known for him to fall asleep exhausted at prayer. He was so well esteemed that he entertained many visitors to his house, and indeed had seven or eight beds for overnight visitors. Not everybody visited for the right reasons, however, and on one occasion Morison served the party cabbage for a number of successive meals. As he suspected, they did not bother him again. He is reputed to have commented: Se càl a dhearbhas an creidimh on this occasion, a phrase now well known in Harris and Lewis.

In 1843, Morison became a Catechist to the Free Church. In 1849, Cliu an Ollaimh Dhomhnullaich was composed, after the death of John Macdonald of Ferintosh. Morison began to feel ill in 1850, while watching over his son who was suffering from a fever. Morison was also suffering from rheumatism by this time. In that year he was busy overseeing the building of the Church of Manish and also distributing meal and salt to the poor on behalf of the Relief Board. That winter he set out for the mainland to collect funds for the Church. This is when he wrote An Cuart Cuan, ‘a composition full of grateful memories, breathing in its lines the atmosphere and the ozone of the sea’ (p. lxii). In Glasgow, he was urged by Campbell of Tullichewen to compose an impromptu verse in English to the Duke of Argyle, and he duly complied. In Edinburgh, he stayed with Alexander Maclean, who published an edition of some of his poems in Toronto in 1861. He had returned to Stornoway by the summer of 1851. By that autumn he was suffering badly with rheumatic pain in his feet. His poem Am Fear Pòsd, was written around this time, which ‘represents the Divine Spirit comforting the good through the mystic love of the Divine Spouse’ (p. lxix).

Morison died in 1852. Other poems of note include An Airc, which the editor describes as ‘a symphony of heavenly love in which fulness of rhythm and charm of diction are magically and inevitably blended’ (p. li). It was written ‘on the occasion of the awakening which gave rise to the Free Church’ (p. li). John Morison’s son Donald Munro Morison collected, transcribed, and arranged many of his father's songs. Unfortunately he died before being able to publish the works although some of the poems were published in An Gàidheal.

The editor of this volume, Dr. George Henderson, was born in 1866 in Kiltarlity in Inverness-shire. He attended Raining’s School in Inverness while Alexander MacBain was headmaster there, and later studied at Edinburgh, Oxford, Berlin, and Vienna. He was lecturer in Celtic at Glasgow University between 1906 and 1912. Henderson was a friend of Fr. Allan McDonald and was very interested in the oral tradition; so much so that he visited the Outer Hebrides, an unusual venture for an academic at that time. He published a number of scholarly works, including Leabhar nan Gleann (1898, Text 78) and The Norse Influence on Celtic Scotland (1910), some of which contain contributions by Fr. Allan. Henderson died in 1912. Glasgow University Library holds the Henderson Manuscripts – a collection of several hundred Gaelic manuscripts and transcriptions collected by Dr. George Henderson.
Contents Vol. I
Vol. I begins with An Clar-Innsidh, followed by a Preface, in which the editor details the sources of the poems and of the following memoir (see Sources below). The Memoir of John Morison (pp. i-lxxv) looks at the life of the poet and also presents some of his English language poems. Vol. I then contains 14 Gaelic poems by John Morison, a number of which have short introductions. Volume I is dedicated to Alexander Carmichael.

Vol. II
Vol. II begins with An Clàr, followed by an Introduction (pp. i-xlvi), which introduces Morison’s two sisters, and contains much information about his son Donald Munro Morison. The body of Vol. II contains 16 poems by John Morison, one by his sister Mary Morison, five by his other sister Eibhric, and two elegies to Morison – one by Neil Moireaston, and the other by an unnamed author. The editor reveals that he was taught some of these pieces by Mary’s daugher, also called Mary. After the poems, we find three further sections: Loan Words, from Latin, English, Norse, and Scots (pp. 323-27); a Glossary (pp. 328-47); and a few pages on the ‘northern’ Dialect (pp. 348-50), which considers vowel sounds, eclipsis, verb shortenings, etc. (see Language below).
Sources The poems in this volume come from a variety of sources, including transcripts, MSS, and the oral tradition. Many of Morison’s early poems were taken from a MS written by Hector Macdonald, a Gaelic scholar at Edinburgh University, in the 1830s. See the Preface in Vol. I for further information on sources.
Language These two volumes contain 38 poems by John Morison. These are all basically religious poems, though they may differ considerably in approach. Many of the poems are quite long, such as Foghainteachd Gras Dhe (Vol. I, pp. 22-50), which is in two parts (Mosgladh agus Iompachadh), comprising 34 and 50 stanzas of 8 lines each, and Cliu an Ollaimh Dhomhnullaich (Vol. I, pp. 244-300) which contains 165 stanzas of 8 lines each. Morison’s poetry is much more inventive, descriptive, and full of realism than the religious poetry of some later writers, such as Eachann MacFhionghain (Text 50). In Morison’s first poem, An Ionndruinn, he bears his anguish as he appeals to God to show him the way and to thus end his suffering: ‘Mo chridhe trom gun fhonn s mi sgith, \ Us mi fo mhì-ghean mor; \ Gu bruit a’m’ chom gun fhois gun sith \ Mi sìor dhol cli fo neoil; \ Ged fhiosraich mi mu Fhear Mo Ghaoil \ Cha ’n eil a h-aon a’m’ chòir \ Bheir sgeul no seoladh dhomh san raon \ Gu faotuinn saor o m’ bhron’ (Vol. I, p. 1).

A number of the poems are in praise of God, such as Buadhannan an t-Slanuighear (Vol. I, pp. 7-16) and Maise Chriosd (Vol. I, pp. 17-21). This results in such verses as ‘S e ’n Tì ro mhor, Iehobhah ’n àigh, \ S mòr inbh’ ro ard r ’a luaidh; \ Tha aingl’ A ghloir’ le ’n ceol na ’làtha’r, \ Ri seinn nan dan ’s binn fuaim;’ (Vol. I, p. 19). Other poems ask for trust in God, e.g. Foghainteachd Gras Dhe, where the poet exclaims ‘Na fannaich an àm gàbhaidh, \ Do d’ namhaid na striochd, \ Na biodh geilt na sgàth ort, \ Bi laidir an Criosd; \ Bi earbsach ás a ghairdean, \ Nach failnich gu sior, \ S biodh ’bhratach-san mar sgail dhuit, \ Gach là chum do dhion’ (Vol. I, p. 23). A number of names for God appear throughout the poems, e.g. an Leigh (Vol. I, p. 110), san Fhear-shaoraidh (Vol. I, p. 111), an Comhfhurtair (Vol. I, p. 154), gras an Ard-Riogh (Vol. I, p. 135), and Sruthaidh ’n t-Ard-Righ a nios orr’ (Vol. I, p. 147).

Some of the poems touch on events from the Bible, such as An Airc (Vol. I, pp. 166-203), where we find ‘Am broinn na daorsa ged bha thu \ Ann an carraid a’ streup \ Ri do bhrathair Esau \ Ghlac thu ’shail le groim geur, \ Ged a dh’fhogair a ghrain dut \ Thu gu fhagail car ré \ Thig thu dhachaidh s maoin Labain \ Leat s lan àl aig do spréidh’ (Vol. I, p. 182), and Seoba (Vol. I, pp. 171-93), where we find ‘Mar bha Lot air son chaorach \ ’Mhiannaich raontaichean Iordain, \ Rinn a tharruing ’s a shlaodadh \ Gu co-chrìch ri Gomòrrah’ (Vol. I, p. 175). We also find lines such as ’N aghaidh Mhaois agus Aaroin (Vol. I, p. 118) and Bh’aig Abiram, aig Datan s aig Corah (Vol. I, p. 118).

There is frequent mention of sin and wickedness in Morison’s poems, including ‘S mi ’n gaduiche ro dhàna, \ Gun naire gun fhiamh, \ Ri slaid, ri braid s ri meairle’ (Vol. I, p. 36), Mar bhreugaire (Vol. I, p. 36), ‘Air nach d’ rinn mi striopachas \ Dimeas s neo-speis; \ Le buairidhean a mhilltfhear’ (Vol. I, p. 36), Tha mo pheacaidh graineil (Vol. I, p. 36), and ‘Tha sinn na ’r coigrich gun eolas air slaint, \ Fo pheacadh graineil s ar nadur cho truaillt’ (Vol. I, p. 67). This type of confession is present in many of Morison’s poems. The elegy to his wife, Marbhrann D’ A Cheile (Vol. I, pp. 160-65), contains the lines ‘Is peanas peacaidh dhomh-s’ a bh’ ann \ Gu ’n d’ fhuair mi ’n calldach mor seo’ (Vol. I, p. 164).

Morison composed a number of elegies, including one for Alexander Macleod, tacksman of Ung-na-cille, Snizort, Skye, with whom Morison was very friendly, Am Firean No Cliu Alasdair MhicLeoid, Ung-na-Cille (Vol. I, pp. 210-35), and one for John Macdonald of Ferintosh, Cliu an Ollaimh Dhomhnullaich (Vol. I, pp. 243-300). The first letter of each line of the Roimhradh of these poems spells out Alasdair MacLeoid and Cliu An Ollamh Dhomhnulluch respectively.

Both Morison and his sister Eibhric have poems about the evils of alcohol. Morison’s poem, A’ Mhisg (Vol. II, pp. 17-23), rails against alcohol because Is i mhill ord do reusan s troimh’ chéil’ chuir na d’ cheann (Vol. II, p. 19). The chorus of this poem reads ‘O ’chuideachd mo ghaoil, nach pill sibh bho ’n òl, \ Mu ’n sgrios e gu bròn fadheòidh sibh?’ (Vol. II, p. 17). Morison brooks no excuses: ‘Their thu rium nach fear-pòit thu ’chionn stòp nach do phàidh, \ S nach robh thu ’n taigh-òsd’ bho chionn còrr agus ràidh, \ Ach ’s fiosrach e dhomhsa gu ’n òl thu mar ràic, \ An uair ’gheibh thu deoch-sglàib air tòrradh’ (Vol. II, p. 21). Eibhric Morison has two poems on the subject, Rannan Do’n Mhisg (Vol. II, pp. 290-298) and Luinneag Do’n Mhisg (Vol. II, pp. 303-04).

Seisean Shrannda (Vol. II, pp. 24-32) shows Morison’s satirical side, with lines such as ‘Nuair chunnaic mi mhor fhoghlum ’s ann \ A smaoinich mi gur speuradair, \ No druidh bho thir Chaldea bh’ ann \ S nach b’ aon fhear ’threibh nan Eabhrach’ (Vol. II, p. 29).

An Cuart Cuan no Dan Na Breadalbainn describes Morison’s trip south in 1851. He describes his time on the boat and also some of the places where he stayed: ‘Nuair lion na siuil aic, gach aon diubh s bru air \ S a cruinn mar iubhrain a’ lub ’san uair’ (Vol. I, p. 301) and ‘Ach ghluaiseadh sios leam gu baile Ghrianaig \ Far ’n d’ fhuair mi siochaint le fior ghean graidh’ (Vol. I, p. 311).

There is plenty of figurative language in Morison’s poems, e.g. ‘Tha mi bàit’ an cuan an t-seann duin’, \ Fo gheur fhuar-dhealt s fuachd a’ gheamhraidh \ Thig an t-òg na ghlòir gu ’theampull \ Chuireas mis’ a’ dhanns’ le m’ chasaibh’ (Vol. I, p. 87). In Am Mellenium (Vol. II, pp. 38-60) we find ‘Tha duilleach na craoibh fhige \ Ag innse mar theachdair, \ Gu bheil samhradh siochail \ A’ tighinn am fagus’ (Vol. II, p. 52) and ‘N uair théid an Ceann-armailt \ A mach air toiseach, \ Eidear iad fo ’n armaibh \ Na ’n carbaid chogaidh \ Sgeaduichte le ceann-bheairt, \ Le ’n sgiath s le ’n sleagh s le ’n taraid’ (Vol. II, p. 53).

Comhradh eadar Soisgeulach agus Cuibheasach (Vol. II, pp. 129-70) is an interesting poem as it shows the opposing views of moderates and evangelicals in the mid-nineteenth century on issues such as landlords and the Bible. An Daoi agus an Saoi no Comhradh Eadar Criosduidh agus Aineolach (Vol. II, pp. 194-247) shows the different views of God held by the Christian and by the Aineolach who believes ‘Tha Dia ro iochdmhor gràsmhor \ An tròcairibh ’s am fàbhar \ S nach leig E saoth’r a làmhan \ Gu bràch bhi air chall’ (Vol. II, p. 195).

Of particular interest is Morison’s use of Gaelicised English words. For example, we find the verb planndaich in Gu ’n d’ phlanndaich e iàd na lios-fion (Vol. I, p. 13) and the English word story in S teagasg chealgach do storie a bharr (Vol. I, p. 67). We also find Bhi triall gu furnais an Diabhoil (Vol. I, p. 133), Bha do ghibhtean s do thàlant (Vol. I, p. 251), and Gu ’m b’ fheairrde sibh bhur shavigeadh (Vol. I, p. 24). S tu gun stìpin s a’ Chléir riut an gruaim’ appears in the elegy to Morison by an unknown author (Vol. I, p. 307).
Orthography In the short chapter on Dialect, the editor notes 16 points of interest:

1. The use of ia to represent the ‘long open e’.

2. The use of the prothetic f, e.g. in fanachd, faom, fruighinn, fàir, and feanntagach.

3. The representation of eclipsis, e.g. a n-deo, bheil rather than bh-fuil, gu ma for gu m-ba, and the eclipsing of c and t after n, although this is not reflected in the orthography;

4. The nominative plural ending -ibh, which he classifies as a poetical usage used by many writers.

5. The shortening of such verbal forms as thréigs’ for thréigsinn.

6. The shortening of naturally long vowels, e.g. in clàbar, àrach, and crann-àraidh, although this is not reflected in the orthography. Henderson comments that there ‘thus exists a class of tone-short vowels, and our method of writing would have to do them justice if we were willing to indicate our pronunciation […] Vice-versa, tone-long vowels arise from short ones. And there are necessarily degrees of intermediate length’ (Vol. II, p. 349). Note, however, the spelling rĕădh (Vol. II, p. 299).

7. Henderson says of vowel assonance that it varies greatly between, and often within, districts.

8. The fondness for o, e.g. in ocras rather than acras, and ‘in many cases u stands for o (following orthography of Bible)’ (Vol. II, p. 349).

9. The interchange of g and d, e.g. bosgail = bosdail and da mo chràdh = ga mo chràdh.

10. The ‘corruption’ of gh into bh, e.g. leugh rather than leubh.

11. The use of l for r, e.g. cuilm for cuirm and leig rather than ruig. The editor notes that this is common in Harris.

12. The insertion of r, e.g. in fhuadrach, briosgaid, and brianadh.

13. The treatment of mb, e.g. domblas becomes dumhlas and lom-lan becomes lumha-lan.

14. The use of the nominative siad and se contrasting with the accusative iad and e, though Henderson notes that ‘it is not carried through’ (Vol. II, p. 350).

15. The use of an intrusive s between r and d or t, e.g. òrsd for òrd, càirsdean for càirdean. Henderson also states that there is ‘the usual indistinct vowel between r and the labials, e.g. tarabh’ (p. 350).

16. Henderson further claims that ‘there are other minor points of interest in gender, declension, and syntax, too numerous to be tabulated’ (Vol. II, p. 350).

Other points of interest include the use of pill rather than till (Vol. I, e.g. p. 7); the use of ta in S e sgeul an aoibhneis ta ra inns (Vol. I, p. 7), Ta mi sealltuinn ni nach léir dhomh (Vol. I, p. 104), and Cè co sona s a ta thu (Vol. I, p. 1); and the use of ri radhtinn (Vol. I, p. 122).

In general, the orthography is typical of the mid-nineteenth century.
Edition First edition. Five of Morison’s poems had already appeared in print. An Nuadh Bhreith was published as a pamphlet entitled An Nuadh Bhreith no Gleachd an t-Seann Duine agus an Duin’ Og earlier in the nineteenth century, probably before 1861. In 1850, Cliu an Ollaimh Dhomhnullaich was published as a small booklet entitled Marbhrann air Dr. Dòmhnullach na Tòisidheachd. In 1861, Marbhrainn agus Dàna Spioradail Eile was published in Toronto. This edition contained five of Morison’s poems in Gaelic (including the two poems previously published), plus an English poem, The Christian’s Firm Bank by Rev. Lachlan Mackenzie of Lochcarron. The five poems were Marbh-rann do ’n Dr. Dhomhnullach, Marbh-rann do Dhomhnull Munro, Am Mellenium, Gleachd an t-Seann Duine agus an Duin’ Oig (i.e. An Nuadh Bhreith), and Cùram Dhè Da Phobull.

The orthography of the first edition of An Nuadh Bhreith closely resembles that of the current edition. The orthography of the two other publications differs slightly. In the 1850 edition, for example, we find ’n am dhàn, esan, thoirt and camachdaich nan lùb, while in this edition, these appear as na m’ dhàn, E-san, tho’airt, and camachd nan lùb. In the 1861 edition, we find do cheum, Is nach robh, and am beòil duibh, whereas these appear as d’ cheum, Nach robh, and am beòilibh in the present volume. In addition, ’S has frequently been changed to Is or Us. Editors should use the earliest versions of all poems where possible.
Other Sources
Further Reading Morastan, Iain, Marbhrainn agus Dàna Spioradail Eile, 1861.
Morastan, Iain, Marbhrann air Dr. Dòmhnullach na Tòisidheachd, 1850.
Morison, John, An Nuadh Bhreith no Gleachd an t-Seann Duine agus an Duin’ Og, 1853.
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