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Metadata for text 140
No. words in text7635
Title Laoidhean Bean Torra Dhamh. Gaelic Hymns of Mrs Clark Including Three Never Before Published
Author Clark, Mary
Editor Sinton, Rev. Thomas
Date Of Edition 1902
Date Of Language Various
Publisher “Northern Chronicle” Office
Place Published Inverness
Volume N/A
Location National and academic libraries
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Badenoch
Register Literature, Verse
Alternative Author Name Mary MacPherson
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 18.1cm x 12.3cm
Short Title Laoidhean Bean Torra Dhamh
Reference Details EUL: .8916304/4 (Bound with three other texts)
Number Of Pages 28
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Much of the following information derives from the section entitled ‘How a Dancing Sinner became a Dancing Saint’ in Alexander MacRae’s edition of Mary’s poetry (1935, pp. 7-34).

Mary MacPherson was born in the parish of Laggan in Badenoch. Thomas Sinton believed that she was born ‘about the year 1720’ (1902, p. 5), but a date around 1740 is perhaps more likely. Mary’s father, Ewen MacPherson, was the local schoolmaster, and his children therefore grew up well educated. MacRae states (p. 8) that ‘Mary’s youth seems to have been spent like that of other young women of her time, in such levities and gaieties as her surroundings provided. It was a frivolous and worldly life’. The tide of evangelism had not yet reached Badenoch, and Mary was under little pressure from the moderate ministers of the time to change her ways.

It seems as though Mary was converted at some point between 1765 and 1785, the year in which her hymn, Beath nan Gràs, was published by D. MacIain in Edinburgh. The conversion happened when she broke her leg as a young woman. She herself explained: ‘I have been of a very bad and wicked disposition. Therefore the Lord was obliged to break my leg which was the first means of bringing me to think of my sinful and lost condition’ (MacRae, pp. 15-16). She was left with a limp, and walked with a crutch and stick for the rest of her life. Deeply disturbed by her newly recognised sinful state, MacPherson sought, and found, solace in the Scriptures.

Mary MacPherson married young, becoming Mrs Clark, and moved to her husband’s holding at Torr Dhamh, overlooking Glen Truim. Sinton suggests that, once she was established there, she may have become acquainted with Dugald Buchanan, ‘considering the constant intercourse that took place between Badenoch and Rannoch by Glen Truim’ (p. 6). Her first compositions were in English, but her husband persuaded her to try composing in Gaelic. MacRae notes: ‘None of her English songs have been preserved, but thirty of her Gaelic hymns are known to have been committed to writing, though unfortunately only seven of them are now known’ (p. 18).

Mrs Clark’s life was not without troubles. Her husband died young, and all of her children, with the exception of one daughter, left home as soon as they could. In times of need, she had kind neighbours who provided for her, although she never complained or asked for help. Although slightly eccentric, she was ‘a pleasant companion, being possessed of a genial, happy-hearted disposition, while a sprightly wit and pungency gave zest to her conversation’ (MacRae, p. 25).

With her eyesight failing, Clark eventually moved to Perth to stay with a married daughter. Sinton calculates that this probably took place between 1780 and 1790. In about 1803 or 1804 she travelled to Inverness with the idea of publishing her hymns. Unfortunately this was never accomplished. Mary Clark died around 1815.
Contents This volume begins with a List of first lines (p. 5), followed by a biographical section entitled About the author (pp. 5-8). The main body of the text consists of six poems, as follows:

I A Jehobhah, Ard-Righ na Flathais! (pp. 9-12)
II Ceol cha ’n aill leam (pp. 13-16)
III Och is ochan! Mo threachladh (pp. 17-19)
IV M’ anam, imich thusa samhach (pp. 20-21)
V ’S mile marbhphaisg ort, a shaoghail (pp. 22-25)
VI Tha m’ inntinn-s’ an geall (pp. 26-28)
Sources Editors are advised to use the earliest sources of the hymns where possible. Editions to be used are noted in the sections on Editions and Further Reading below.

It seems as if the first of Mary’s hymns to be published was M’anam, imich thusa sàmhach, which was apparently published in Edinburgh in 1785, though it has not proved possible to locate a copy of this first printing. At all events, it was republished in John Gillies’s Sean Dain, agus Orain Ghaidhealach, in 1786 (pp. 279-81). Two more of Mary’s hymns were published in John Rose’s Metrical Reliques of “The Men” in the Highlands, in 1851. These were Gearan air Truaillidheachd Nàdur, which begins Och is ochan! (pp. 103-06) and Mian an Anma bhi Maille ri Criosd, which begins Tha m’ inntinn-s’an geall (pp. 106-08). It seems that these two hymns were originally published by Alexander Fraser of Inverness, around 1835, the author being styled as Bean uasal a bh’ ann am Baideanach. It has not been possible to locate a copy of this publication. All three hymns were republished by John Kennedy in his 1879 publication Three Gaelic Poems.

The remaining three hymns were discovered by Rev. Thomas Sinton, in letters which he found amongst the papers of the Cluny Charter Chest. These were published in TGSI 23 (1902), pp. 251-61, Sinton’s paper to the Society having been given in April 1899. Sinton then published all six hymns in the present volume, Laoidhean Bean Torra Dhamh, which was also published in 1902; he further included all six in his Poetry of Badenoch, published in 1906.

Around 1935, Rev. Alexander MacRae brought out a fresh edition of her poetry, including a seventh hymn, which he entitles “Eiridh mi, agus théid mi dh’ionnsaidh m’athair” (pp. 71-72). MacRae states in his introduction that this hymn had been published by Kennedy, alongside the two hymns which were also published by John Rose. This was not the case. As stated above, the hymn which Kennedy re-published was the hymn which Gillies had published in 1786. This seventh hymn did, however, appear in 1906, in Sinton’s The Poetry of Badenoch (pp. 350-52). But while it immediately follows the hymns of Bean Torra Dhamh, it bears the initials ‘T.S.’, i.e. ‘Thomas Sinton’, and hence has no place among the hymns of Mary Clark. The present volume can therefore claim to be the first complete collection of her surviving poetry.
Language Although the six surviving poems of Mary Clark are religious in nature, they are firmly rooted in the physical world in which Clark herself lived. In ’S mile marbhphaisg ort, a shaoghail (pp. 22-25), we find an echo of Mac Mhaighstir Alasdair’s Oran eadar Prionnsa Tearlach agus na Gaidheil in the first two lines: ‘’S mile marbhphaisg ort a shaoghail; \ ’S carach, baoghalach do chleachdadh’ (p. 22). In the first half of this poem, Clark describes the world as she sees it now, and in the second half she focuses on the world she would like to see ’n uair ’bhios gràs anns an luchd-riaghlaidh (p. 23). In the first half of the poem, we find allusions to conditions in Badenoch in her day, including cattle-raiding and despotic factors who ruled the tenantry with an iron hand. She declares at one point: ‘’S feàrr am beagan buain le gràs, \ Na oighreachd ’s achanna’ chàich ’thoirt dhachaidh’ (p. 22). As for the factors, ‘Chuir iad cas air reachd na fìrinn, \ ’S ghluais iad dìchiollach ’s an droch-bheart, \ ’Claoidh nam bochd ’s ga ’n lot le mìorun— \ Banntraich ’s dìlleachdain gun choiseachd— \ B’ uamhasach an cleachdadh tìre, \ Croich a’s binn air àird gach cnocain, \ Cùirt nan spleadh gun lagh, gun fhìrinn, \ ’S tric a dhìt’ an tì ’bha neo-chiont’’ (p. 23). It is possible that Clark was speaking from personal experience when she composed the following lines: ‘’S tric tha ’m beairteas ’n a chùis-dhìtidh, \ Dha na mìltean ’tha ga ghlacadh, \ ’Càrnadh suas le cruadh’s droch-innleachd, \ Cuid nan dìlleachdan gun taice: \ Bidh a’ bhanntrach dhoibh fo chìs, \ ’S tric a dhìobair i ’n t-each-toisich’ (p. 23).

In Tha m’ inntinn-s’ an geall (pp. 26-28), Clark sings the praises of God: ‘“’S e an Ròs e o Sharon, \ ’S am Flùr e o Iesse, \ ’S e Gaisgeach Tréibh Iùdah,” \ Cha chlaoidhear a neart-sa; \ ’S e àillteachd thar chàch, \ Thug mo ghràdh-sa cho mòr dha; \ ’S an uair ’bhios e as m’ fhianuis, \ Bi’dh mi cianail ro-bhrònach’ (p. 26). In A Jehobhah, Ard-Righ na Flathais! (pp. 9-12), she ponders God’s love for her and what this means to her: ‘’S e do mhòrachd gun choimeas, \ A chuireas dòchas ’am anam is gràs, \ Bho linn dhomh-s’ bhi am leanabh, \ ’S lionar tròcair’ a shil orm bho d’ laimh; \ ’S tu mo stòras nach teirig, \ ’S dhe do sholas [i.e. shòlas] tha m’ eathraichean làn, \ Gus am beoil ’s a’ cuir thairis, \ ’N uair is deonach leat ’bheannachd chuir annt’’ (p. 9). In Och is ochan! Mo threachladh (pp. 17-19), Clark expands on this, and considers more generally God’s goodness and His willingness to cleanse us of our sins, if we only ask Him for help: ‘Bha Tri Pearsa na Trionaid, \ Co dian as do leth-sa, \ Chaidh ’n cùmhnant o shiorruidheachd, \ A dheanamh cho seasmhach; \ Tha ’n lagh air a riarach’, \ ’S làn-dioladh aig ceartas; \ Tha a thròcair-sa glòiricht’, \ ’S aobhar dòchais aig peacaich’ (p. 19). In M’ anam, imich thusa samhach (pp. 20-21), she urges us to ask God for help and to lay our burdens on His shoulders: ‘Càraich d’ eallach air a ghuaillibh, \ Oir ’s ann uaithe thig do neart-sa; \ ’S ged nach beachdaich thus’ a ghluasad, \ Creid gu luath gu bheil E ’m faisg ort. \ Feith gu foighidneach ri ’thìom-san, \ ’S imich dìreach réir a reachda; \ Ruith do reis le fair’ a’s dìchioll, \ ’S ann le strì a ni thu ’streapadh’ (pp. 20-21).

Clark touches on her own conversion in Tha m’ inntinn-s’ an geall (pp. 26-28): ‘’N uair ’bha mi a ’m reubal \ ’S e féin a rinn iochd orm; \ ’S rinn mo philleadh le tròcair \ Bho shligh’ dhóruinn ’n léir-sgriosaidh. \ Mar amhailt’ á grìosaich, \ A spìon e mi thairis; \ Bharr chriochan an namhaid \ Gu fàrdach a’ chlanna’ (p. 27).

In Ceol cha ’n aill leam (pp. 13-16), Clark considers death and what awaits us when we die: ‘’S cha chùis-eagail bàs do ’n iarmad \ ’Thig fo rìaghladh gràis, \ A chum a dh’ fheitheadh théid iad sgiamhach, \ ’S bàirleig sgriobht’ na ’n làmh, \ Air beulaobh ’n Rìgh nach diùlt doibh \ Inntreachduin le mìle fàilt’, \ Bho ’n phàidh an Sagart ac’ am fiachan, \ ’S thug E dìoladh làn’ (p. 13). She also gives a stark warning to those who do not live a Christian life: ‘Ach dha na h-òighibh a bha gòrach, \ Bheir E ’n t-òrdugh truagh:— \ “A chlann na mallachd nach d’ iarr m ’eòlas, \ Bidh nur còmhnuidh bhuan \ ’S an lochan loisgeach mar ri deamhnaibh, \ ’Caoidh ’s a’ bròn ’s a’ gruaim,” \ A’ snàmh a’ chuain gun ghrunnd, gun ‘shore’ \ Gun phort, gun ‘shoal’, gun bhruaich’ (p. 15).

Clark touches on Jesus’s sacrifice for us in Ceol cha ’n aill leam (pp. 13-16) and in Tha m’ inntinn-s’ an geall (pp. 26-28). In the former poem we are told: ‘Bho ’nàimhdibh guineach dh’ fhuiling Iosa \ Peanas, pian, a’s cràdh, \ Air tàirngibh chroch iad Corp na Fìrinn \ Ris a’ chraoibh gu h-àrd; \ B’ iad sìol an uilc ’thug mionnan dìtidh \ ’N aghaidh ’n Tì a’s àird’, \ ’S a gheall gu ’n gabh’dh iad ’fhuile phrìseil \ Dìreach air an ceann’ (p. 14). In the latter poem the sacrifice is expressed in the following terms: ‘Tha cùibhleachan ùine \ Gu dlùth a’ dol seachad; \ Dean mo sgeudachadh sgiamhach \ ’An aodach iasaid a’ ghaisgich; \ Anns am faigh mi a bheannachd, \ A cheannaich e daor dhomh; \ Cha b’ ann le ni truaillidh, \ Ach ’fhuil uasal ’ga taomadh’ (p. 27).
Orthography The orthography of the present volume is that of the late nineteenth to early twentieth century. The orthography of poems as printed in earlier editions is, of course, that embraced by the earlier editors. According to Thomas Sinton (1906, p. 330), the poems discovered in the Cluny Charter Chest required ‘much patient labour … to decipher the MSS.’ – not least ‘in order to ascertain what vocables the letters were intended phonetically to express.’
Edition First edition of this volume. Editors should consult and be prepared to use earlier editions of the individual hymns, whose publishing history differs. The first editions are as follows:

I A Jehobhah, Ard-Righ na Flathais (pp. 9-12): Rev. Thomas Sinton, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, 23 (1898-99 [1902]), pp. 252-55.
II Ceol cha ’n aill leam (pp. 13-16): Sinton, TGSI 23, pp. 255-58.
III Och is ochan! Mo threachladh (pp. 17-19): John Rose, Metrical Reliques of ‘The Men’ in the Highlands (Inverness, 1851), pp. 103-06.
IV M’ anam, imich thusa samhach (pp. 20-21): [anonymous in] John Gillies, Sean dain agus orain Ghaidhealach (Perth, 1786), pp. 279-81.
V ’S mile marbhphaisg ort, a shaoghail (pp. 22-25): Sinton, TGSI 23, pp. 258-61.
VI Tha m’ inntinn-s’ an geall (pp. 26-28): Rose, Metrical Reliques, pp. 106-08.
Other Sources
Further Reading Black, Ronald An Lasair (Edinburgh, 2001: Birlinn).
Kennedy, John, transl., Three Gaelic Poems (Edinbrugh, [1879]: [n. pub.]).
Sinton, Thomas, ed., The Poetry of Badenoch (Inverness, 1906: Northern Counties Pub. Co.) (Gaelic: pp. 327-50, English: pp. 541-57).
MacRae, Rev. Alexander, Mary MacPherson (Mrs Clark) Bean Torra Dhamh, The Religious Poetess of Badenoch, Her Poems and Life (Arbroath, [1935?]: The Herald Press).
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