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Title Leabhar na Feinne, Vol. I, Gaelic Texts, Heroic Gaelic Ballads, collected in Scotland, chiefly from 1512 to 1871, Copied from old manuscripts preserved at Edinburgh and elsewhere, and from rare books; and orally collected since 1859; with lists of collections, and of their contents; and with a short account of the documents quoted
Author N/A (Edited work)
Editor Campbell, J. F.
Date Of Edition 1872
Date Of Language Various
Publisher Spottiswoode & Co. for the author
Place Published London
Volume Vol. I (all published)
Location National, academic, and local (reference) libraries
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Various
Register Literature, Prose and Verse
Alternative Author Name Iain Òg Ìle
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 33.5cm x 21.5cm
Short Title Leabhar na Feinne
Reference Details NLS: Lit.S.42
Number Of Pages xxxvi, 224
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context John Francis Campbell was born in Edinburgh in 1821 or 1822, the eldest son of Walter Frederick Campbell of Islay, who was MP for Argyll, and Lady Eleanor Charteris, daughter of the seventh earl of Wemyss. He was educated at Eton and in Edinburgh, and is described as an ‘Aristocrat, courtier, lawyer, public servant, world traveller and man of many talents’ (Thomson 1994, p. 32). Campbell held a number of government posts during his life (including Secretary to the Lighthouse Commission). He was also interested in geology and meteorology, and is known for having invented the sunshine recorder, which is still known as the ‘Campbell-Stokes recorder’.

Campbell travelled in Scandinavia between 1849 and 1873. In 1859, inspired by scholars in Scandinavia and also by the Grimm brothers in Germany, Campbell began collecting in earnest for a collection of West Highland tales. His aim was ‘to capture, as nearly as possible, the exact words of the storytellers and to translate them literally’ (Thomson 1994, p. 32). The first fruits of his labours were published in four volumes as Popular Tales of the West Highlands in 1860-62. In addition to his folklore collections, Campbell also published the two-volume Frost and Fire, Natural Engines, Toolmarks and Chips, with Sketches taken at Home and Abroad by a Traveller (1865) and Thermography (1883). He died in 1885.
Contents The work opens with a list of Authorities Quoted in this Volume (p. iii-iv), being a ‘List of Texts copied or got together’. Each individual ballad has been allocated a letter of the alphabet (from A to Z) in chronological order. This section includes Other Collections Known to Exist, or to Have Existed in Scotland and Later Collections (p. iv). Campbell names his own informants in the last section. There follows Contents of the Collections Named (pp. v-x), in which Campbell lists the contents of each of the sources mentioned in the previous section, noting that ‘These 70 Collections do not exhaust the store of Gaelic Poetry which has been orally gathered in Scotland alone, but this list of their contents gives some idea of Scotch collections of Folk-lore, from which the contents of this Volume have been selected and arranged’ (p. x).

Campbell includes in this prefatory material a section entitled the Gaelic Texts (pp. xi-xxxv), this being ‘A Short Account of Documents mentioned in the preceding Lists, and quoted in this Volume, showing their bearing on the Ossianic Controversy’ (p. xi). On pages xxxiv-v, Campbell discusses the failings of the human memory, and touches on the types of mistakes and alterations that are often made to a text as it is remembered over many generations. For example, when words change it is usually to ‘other words of like length and signification’, and when incidents and names change they are usually changed into ‘something of the same kind’ (p. xxxiv). While lines and sections of the poem may be forgotten, the incidents are usually remembered in the correct order. Over time, ‘forms of words which made verses at first are incorporated with the reciter’s own words, so that no one could ever suspect them to be fragments of poetry unless he had older or better versions. In the last state of destruction incidents from many different stories are joined together, but even then the general order of sequence is preserved’ (p. xxxiv).

In a section entitled Collating (p. xxxv), Campbell calculates that, in total, his sources contained around 54,000 lines in total. He explains that after much consideration, it was decided that ‘The simplest plan, and the best clearly, was to print the whole lot; the next best to print the oldest, and selections from later versions, so that was set about’. Arrangement of this Volume (pp. xxxv-xxxvi) comprises a list of the contents of the main body of text (see below). Campbell adds that ‘versions of Ballads are placed together, but many other versions have to be collated with them. Many other fragments of the story exist in prose tales, which are not placed in this volume of Ballads’ (p. xxxvi).

The main body of the text, entitled Heroic Ballads (pp. 1-224), is divided into nine chapters as follows: I The Story of Cuchullin (pp. 1-19), II The Story of Deirdre (pp. 19-29), III The Story of Fraoch (pp. 29-33), IV The Story of Fionn and the Feinne (pp. 33-200), V Parodies (pp. 200-03), VI Later Heroic Ballads (pp. 203-11), VII Mythical Ballads (pp. 211-12), VIII Poems Like Mac Pherson’s Ossian (pp. 212-18), and IX Pope’s Collection of Ten Ballads (pp. 218-24), which were ‘Got in Caithness before Mac Pherson’s translations began. Like other Heroic Ballads; unlike Mac Pherson’s Ossian’ (p. xxxvi). Rev. Alexander Pope was the minister of Reay in Caithness between 1734 and 1782. His Collection seems to have been compiled around 1739, and was re-discovered only in 1872. This collection, consisting of ten poems, is printed here in its entirety.

Each chapter has an introduction, and most are then divided into a number of parts. For example The Story of Cuchullin (pp. 1-19) is in 6 parts: 1 and Eamhair, his wife; 2 His Sword; 3 His Chariots; 4 and Garbh Mac Stairn; 5 and Conlaoch; and 6 Connal’s revenge. By far the largest chapter is The Story of Fionn and the Feinne (pp. 33-200), which is divided into 81 sections. The section headings given under Arrangement of this Volume (pp. xxxv-xxxvi) are not always easy to find in the body of the chapter, and there are numerous discrepancies between the section headings given in the list of contents and those that appear in the course of the chapter. The lines of verses are numbered within individual texts. The letter associated with the source (A to Z) and title of the piece are given, along with the date of publication or compilation and the number of lines. For example, on page 1 we find ‘Claidhamh Guth-ullin’, M.1. Gillies, p. 211. 131 lines. 1786’. Where a version has been transcribed from a MS source, the scribe’s name and the date of writing are also given.

A number of versions of the same text may be given, along with variant texts of the same ballad. For example, under the heading ‘The History of the Feinne’, we find five widely differing versions of the Dialogue between Oisein and Pàdraig from sources ranging from the Book of the Dean of Lismore, to Dr. Irvine’s MS, written around 1801 (pp. 40-47). Campbell adds that he is aware of the existence of other versions which, however, are not published in this volume. Campbell suggests that the Parodies (pp. 200-03) are of interest as they are ‘founded upon Heroic Ballads and Traditions, but are not of their Age. They prove the antiquity and popularity of the compositions which they caricature or imitate. As they are older than Mac Pherson’s Ossian, they indicate the nature of popular poetry current in Scotland, and ascribed to Oisein before Mac Pherson was born’ (p. 200). Examples include Laoidh an Truisealaich (pp. 202-03), which includes the following lines: ‘Sgèula leat a Thruiseal mhòir, \ Cò na slòigh bh’ ann ri d’ aois; \ Robh thu ann linn nam Fiann, \ Am fac thu Fionn, Fial, no Fraoch? \ Fraoch mac Chumhail nan cuach òir, \ Lèonadh e gun chomhla an airm; \ Le biast a ghlinne bho thuath, \ Thuit mac Chumhail fo chruaidh cheilg’ (p. 202).
Sources A list of sources is given in Authorities Quoted in this Volume (pp. iii-iv). The contents of these sources are given in Contents of the Collections Named (pp. v-x). Campbell used a variety of sources, including published works, such as Gillies’ Collection of Ancient and Modern Gaelic Poems and Songs, published in Perth in 1786 (Text 155), and Sar-Obair nam Bard Gaelach, first published in 1841 (Text 125); partially unpublished works, including the Book of the Dean of Lismore, written around 1512-1526 (Text 193), the ‘Dunstaffnage MS’, dated 1603, and the MS of Rev. Alexander Pope, compiled around 1739; and contemporary oral sources.

This text has not been checked against its MS and earlier printed sources. Editors should check original sources rather than relying on the text as printed in this volume. Where a text has been published in a previous edition (e.g. in Gillies’ Collection), the earlier text should always be preferred. In a number of cases, where a ballad has been copied from a manuscript source, the editor warns us that the text as printed is uncertain because of difficulty in deciphering the original, as, for example, with Duan Lermon (pp. 220-21). Again, Professor Meek has cautioned that ‘Kennedy’s collections (especially the second) require careful handling, since they are influenced by Macpherson’ (See Thomson 1994, p. 295). Campbell himself notes that some of the texts he has included, e.g. those classified as ‘Sun Hymns’ (p. 215), possibly derive from English originals, and are hence suspect as authentic Gaelic texts.
Language This text contains the vocabulary of heroic ballads from the early sixteenth to the late nineteenth centuries. The ballads generally tell a story, e.g. How Manus, The King of Denmark, Came to take away Fingal’s Wife by Force (pp. 74-77) and How Diarmaid was Killed by a Wild Boar (pp. 158-61), and the vocabulary reflects the subject-matter of the story-lines, which typically involve feuds, fighting, kings, magic, and enchantments. For example, Osshain agus an Cleirich describes ‘a battle between the Fiands and the Danes’: ‘Thanic an Cabhlach gu Tir \ Greadhin nach bn [sic] bhin hair leinn \ Bu lìonmhor ann Pubul Sroil \ Ga thoigbhail leo os an Cean. \\ Hogiad an Coishri on Choill \ ’S chuir iad orra an Airm ghaidh \ ’S air an Gualin gach Fhir mhoir \ Is thog iad orra on Traibh. \\ Labhair Mac Cumhail ri Fein; \ An fhidir shibh fein co na sloigh, \ Nan nd fisruigh sibh co Bhuidhin bhorb \ Bheir an Deannal cruaidh san Strachd’ (p. 72/2 §§9-11). In How Maighre Borb, the Son of the King of Soracha, was Kilt by Goll (pp. 131-32) we find ‘Goll Mac Mornna nan lámh tréun, \ Bhuail s’e e gu geur le shleagh; \ Mu chothair a chroidhe le threóir, \ ’S thuit e air an lon gu ’n fheith’ (p. 132/1 §28).

In some instances, Campbell points out variations between different versions. In Oisein’s Lament for the Fian, for example, both Caoidh Oisiain (p. 48) and Tuiridh nam Fiann (pp. 48-49) were collected by Kennedy and appear in his first and second collections respectively. Campbell notes that in Kennedy’s second version, he ‘seems to have picked up names and variations. I have marked the most important with *. It is curious to see how verse and assonance govern these changes.’ While the two versions differ slightly or not at all in many stanzas, there are marked differences in the fourth stanza: ‘Seachd mic Chaoilte nan lua’ chas, \ Na tri Ghlais o shráid nan saor; \ Na tri Fiaghain bu ghrinn dóidh, \ ’S na tri Criogheala bu mhor aoidh’ in the first collection corresponds to ‘Seachd mic Chailte nan lua-chas, \ Na tri Glais o Aird an t-saoir; \ Iodhlan is Luthar is Leug \ Is tri cheud do shliochd inghean Taoibh’ in the second (p. 48). Variation of another sort appears in regard to The Story of Fraoch (pp. 29-33), where Campbell comments that in Scotland 'the story is localised at the nearest place which answers to the description’.

There are a few specimens of non-verse text, e.g. Moladh Claidheimh Chonaill as written down ‘by Mr. Carmichael in the Long Island’ (p. 209). Campbell comments ‘The stories which celebrate the exploits of Conall Gulban and later Heroes are characterised by certain passages which are called “Runs”. They contain curious obsolete words, and they are repeated so fast that it is exceedingly difficult to take them down’ (p. 209). Moladh Claidheimh Chonaill begins ‘’S e mac mnatha sìthe a bha ann an Conall Gulbann. Chuir rìgh Lochlainn fo dhraoidheachd e; agus bha e fad trì ràidhean ’s a’ phrumh (bruth?) agus dìul aige nach robh e ann ach aon oidhche’ (ibid.). With regard to a passage on Murchadh Mac Brian (p. 210), taken from a MS source made around 1755, which describes Murchadh’s ‘riding dress’, Campbell suggests that ‘as these old tales decay and the old language becomes difficult, it becomes a feat to be able to recite a particular passage’ (p. 210). Murchadh Mac Brian begins ‘An sin do ghabhadar Leinteog shithe sheimh shroil do ’n Shioda bhuithe, on Deilg ghreiste ’n teannta ri ghealachneas. Do dh’ iathas mu ’n Leinteog ud an Coitein caomha, cuannta, ceos-bhla, baobha, cros-mhor, cotharaichte, suainmhor sroldearg, sioda, air uachdar na h-or Leinte sin’ (p. 210).
Orthography A note on the last page reads: ‘I think it is due to Scribes and Printers to note here that these 224 pages of Gaelic were printed with extraordinary accuracy in less than two months, by men who did not understand the language. If any errors be left I have failed to discover them. Gaelic and English are printed as written and spelt in copies carefully made by the Scribes named from the manuscripts quoted. The orthography varies exceedingly, but generally it is the orthography of those who collected the poetry orally, in Scotland, between 1512 and 1872’ (p. 224).

One of the strengths of this text is that the orthography of the source material has been retained, and that different versions of texts are given, allowing us to compare how texts have changed over time, both in content and in language. For example, in The History of the Feinne, we are first of all given the version from the Book of the Dean, entitled A Wil Neewa Ag Fane Eyrrin?. It begins ‘Innis downe a phadrik \ Nonor a leyvin \ A wil neewa gi hayre \ Ag mathew fane eyrinn \\ Veyriss zut a zayvin \ A ossinn ni glooyn \ Nac wil neewa ag aythyr \ Ag oskyr na ag goolle’ (pp. 40-41). We are then given Urnigh Ossain (dated 1762-63) from Donald Mac Nicol’s MS, which beings ‘Aillis sgeil, a Phadric, \ An Onnair do Lebhidh, \ A bheil neibh gu harrid, \ Aig Fianibh na Herin. \ Bheirnnsa Briar dhutsa \ Ossain nan Glonn, \ Nach heil Neibh aig Tathir, \ Aig Oscar na aig Goll’ (p. 41), and Urnuigh Oisain from Fletcher’s Collection, c.1750, which begins ‘Innis dhuinne, ’Phàdruic, \ Air onoir do leubhaidh; \ ’Bheil neamh gu h-àraidh, \ Aig Maithibh Fiann na Feinne. \ Dh’ inninse sin dhuitsa, \ Oisain nan glond; \ Cha’ neil neamh aig t-athair, \ Aig Osgar no aig Goull’ (p. 43).

Campbell suggests in regard to Mar A Chaidh Bran A Mharbhadh (pp. 148-49), taken from Fletcher’s Collection of around 1750, that ‘Phonetic spellings in this version are of value for the local dialect’. Note, for instance, in the following verse (p. 149/1, §14) the spellings tathann (cf. tabhann), mheas (cf. mhiosa), amhuin (cf. abhainn), mharbha’ (cf. mharbhadh) and brochd (cf. broc): ‘Bu mhaith e thathann dorain duinn, \ Is cha mheas thoirt eisg a h-amhuin; \ B’fhearr Bran a mharbha’ nam brochd, \ Na coin na talmhin a thainig.’
Edition First edition. A reprint of the first edition was published by Shannon Irish University Press in 1972.
Other Sources
Further Reading Thomson, Derick S., ed., The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Glasgow, 1994: Gairm), 294-95.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:
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