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Metadata for text 87
No. words in text8426
Title Clarsach Shioin (The Highland Hymnal)
Author MacNeill, Nigel (in part)
Editor MacNeill, Nigel (in part)
Date Of Edition 1886
Date Of Language 1850-1899
Publisher Archibald Sinclair (Glasgow), Duncan Cameron (Oban)
Place Published Glasgow and Oban
Volume N/A
Location National Library of Scotland
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Various
Register Religion, Verse
Alternative Author Name
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 16.5cm x 10.5cm
Short Title Clarsach Shioin
Reference Details NLS: Blair.409
Number Of Pages 32
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Nigel MacNeill was born in Islay in 1853 and it was there that he spent his childhood. At that time, Islay was well known for its poets, scholars, and folklorists, such as John F. Campbell, Hector MacLean, William Livingston, and Thomas Pattison, and MacNeill grew up with an interest in Gaelic and in Highland life and literature.

MacNeill began his studies at Glasgow University in 1871, and proved himself to be an extremely capable student, particularly in literature and philosophy. He attended Dr. Cameron of Brodick’s class in Gaelic, where he won a class prize. MacNeill then spent three years in the Free Church College before deciding to become a minister in the Congregational Church. He travelled to London to complete his studies. On becoming a minister, he worked firstly in Caledonian Road in London, and later in Camden Town, Ilford, and in Westcliffe-on-Sea. In 1886 he stood (unsuccessfully) as Parliamentary Candidate for Bute and Arran, as he had become heavily involved in the movement to improve conditions in the Highlands and Islands. He did not win.

MacNeill wrote in English and Gaelic, both prose (on Highland and Gaelic affairs) and poetry, and was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws as a result of his prose writings. He published a volume of his own poetry, in Gaelic and English, in Cian-Dhain: Le Danaibh Eile – Nenia, with other poems, in 1872. As a student, he wrote Guide to Islay and edited Bratach na Firinn, a religious magazine which was published monthly between 1872 and 1874. In 1892, he published The Literature of the Highlanders, which was compiled from a series of articles originally published in the Glasgow Herald. It proved so popular that it was re-published in 1898 and again in 1929. In addition, MacNeill served as the Oban Times London Correspondent for almost thirty years, and he contributed a number of articles to the paper on Highland history and on Gaelic language and literature. He states in the Preface to this volume that he had always been interested in Highland Hymnology, and that he had written a number of articles about it. MacNeill died in 1910, at the age of 57.
Contents This volume opens with a Preface (p. 3) by the editor, in which he explains that this volume contains ‘(1) a selection from the English hymns in general use; (2) a few of the hymns used by the ancient Celtic Church; and (3) selections of verses from four of the native Gaelic hymn writers’. He states that most of the hymns presented here have not been published before, but that one or two of them appeared in Bratach na Firinn. He also claims that ‘the Highlanders are a music-loving people; but various causes, especially in recent years, have conspired to prevent the circulation of hymns among them.’ However, ‘It is pleasant to mark that these causes are now vanishing.’ As a consequence, ‘nothing could be more helpful towards the cultivation of a devotional spirit in the Highlands than the circulation of Gospel hymns’. The table of Contents (p. 5) lists the thirty-two hymns under their Gaelic titles, with the English titles or (in the case of existing Gaelic hymns) the names of the authors in brackets.

The main body of the text, Clarsach Shioin (pp. 7-32), contains thirty-two hymns in Gaelic. Four of the hymns are the work of recent Gaelic composers. The ‘hymns used by the ancient Celtic Church’, which are translated from Latin, are three in number: see nos. 12-14.
Sources As noted above, a few of the hymns were originally published in Bratach na Firinn. Most of the hymns had not been published before.
Language MacNeill states in the Preface that he hopes the translations will be found to be ‘idiomatic, natural, and fresh; and that the attempt to overcome the “fatal facility” of mere vowel rhymes has been fairly successful’, claiming that ‘these are almost the first Gaelic compositions in which accurate consonantal rhymes are observed throughout’ (p. 3). This can be seen in the following extract from Stiuradh Iosa (p. 25), where we find ‘’S E-féin a bheir dhomh neart is iùil; \ Tha solas dealrach dhomh ’na shùìl; \ ’S gach àite anns am faigh mi tàmh \ Tha mi an glacadh caomh a làmh, \ ’S E-féin bheir gràs, ’s E-féin bheir treòir, \ ’S E-féin a shiabas uam mo dheòir’ (p. 25).

The language of the hymns is thoroughly conventional. They are frequently exclamatory in tone. For example, A Pharrais Gaoil (pp. 12-13) begins ‘A Pharrais gaoil! A Pharrais gaoil! \ Nach aobhach leinn do ghlòir? \ Nach beannaicht’ iad a dh’ fhàg an saogh’l, \ Gach aon bha ortsa ’n tòir? \ Far bheil gach cridhe fìor \ An soillse Dhé fo bhlàth; \ Aig fois an sòlas sìor \ Fo ghnùis an Rìgh gu bràth’ (p. 12), and A Mhàin Tre Ghras (pp. 14-15) begins ‘Saoirte o’n lagh, O ’n suidheachadh sona!, \ Dhòirt Crìosda fhuil, ’s tha math’nas innt’ dhuinne! \ Malluicht’ o’n lagh, aig peacadh an sàs, \ Saorar le Crìosd a mhàin tre ghràs’ (p. 14).

We find a number of synonyms for Jesus scattered thoughout the poems. For example, in A’ Bhunait (pp. 17-18) we find ‘An iarmad Iesse fhuair Thu freumh; \ Is tu an Leòghan is an t-Uan; \ Deas-Làmh an Athar tha air nèamh; \ Is theirear riut a’ Bheinn tha buan’ (p. 17) and ‘Is Tu Chlach-oisin anns an stéidh; \ Cèile is Calman caomh do shluaigh; \ Am Buachaill air am bheil ar déigh, \ Ar Rathad soills’ troimh bhàs is uaigh’ (p. 17). Also of interest is the term An Lighiche Mòr (pp. 20-21).

Of interest is the fact that on at least two occasions the author uses the conservative literary form (a)ta for spoken Gaelic a tha, e.g. Ach ’s bochd an sgeul a ta nis ri leughadh (p. 29). Also of interest is the author’s use of the word còrd, meaning ‘cord’, in ‘Còrdan an aoibhnis a bhris anns a’ bhàs’ (p. 21).
Orthography The orthography appears to be largely in keeping with late 19th century orthographic conventions. Both acute and grave accents are used throughout the text and are not used sparingly.
Edition First edition. The hymns had not been published previously, except for those which had appeared in Bratach na Firinn.
Other Sources
Further Reading Thomson, Derick S. (ed.), The Companion to Gaelic Scotland, 1994.
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