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Metadata for text 161
No. words in text14794
Title Laoidhean Spioradail
Author Mathanach, Domhnull
Editor Matheson, Samuel
Date Of Edition 1825
Date Of Language 18th c.
Publisher Kenneth Douglas and Co. (Coinnach Dughlas agus a Chuideachd)
Place Published Tain
Volume N/A
Location National and academic libraries
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Sutherland
Register Religion, Verse
Alternative Author Name Donald Matheson
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 17.5cm x 10.5cm
Short Title Laoidhean Spioradail
Reference Details NLS: H.M.184
Number Of Pages 51
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Donald Matheson was born in Sutherland in 1719. He spent his childhood in Kinbrace, before his family moved to Badanloch, in Kildonan. Matheson’s family were lucky enough to escape the Kildonan clearances of 1819, and his descendants could still be found in the area in the early twentieth century. Matheson was a devout Christian, and was catechist for the upper part of the parish of Kildonan. He was a cattle dealer by trade. He married ‘the daughter of a pious widow who resided at Rhumisdale in Kildonan, and afterwards at Ceann-na-coille in Strathnaver’ (Campbell, pp. 137-38). They had two sons: Samuel, who was a poet and a ‘self-taught mediciner and surgeon’, and Hugh, who was a ‘deeply exercised Christian’ (ibid.).

Hugh Campbell says of Matheson that ‘His productive period as a poet dates from about the time of Prince Charlie’s Rising, and continued for nearly 40 years’ (p. 138). He also observes that Matheson had nothing to say about the Rising; rather, ‘His poems consisted chiefly of meditations upon his spiritual condition or upon the great dogmas of Calvinistic theology, interspersed with several satirical strictures upon the men of this world who neglected the means of grace. … If earthly things did not prosper with him he looked for compensation in the world to come’ (ibid.). In the Advertisement included at the beginning of this volume, Rev. Dr. John MacDonald of Ferintosh and Rev. John Kennedy of Killearnan have this to say about Matheson: ‘Though destitute of the advantages of education, he was one of the most celebrated Christians in that, or perhaps any other country. He possessed a clear and comprehensive view of divine truths; and discovered (what alas! is more rarely to be met with) a deep and practical experience of its power on the heart and life’. Donald Matheson died in 1782.
Contents The text is preceded by an Advertisement by John MacDonald and John Kennedy. This also appears in the 1816 edition, although later editions seem to suggest that it first appeared in the 1825 edition. This is followed by An Clar-Innsidh.

This volume contains 21 poems and hymns (pp. 6-51). There are 15 hymns by Matheson, three elegies by other named authors, and three elegies by un-named authors. The text is followed by a short item in English, advertising translations of two of Bunyan’s books which had been published recently.

Most of the poems are not dated. Some poems can be dated by references the poet makes to specific events. For example, in Oran a rinn e aig àm an deach mor shluagh s an Duthaich do America, air lorg Foireigin na’n Daoine Mora (pp. 25-28), Matheson mentions oighreachan na’n clann. Since Lord Reay and the Earl of Sutherland both died in 1766, each leaving a young heir, it is most likely that this poem was composed in or shortly after that year (Campbell, p. 139). Again, since we know that Hugh Ross died in 1761, this provides a terminus post quem for Matheson’s Marbh-rann a rinn e do Mhaighstir Huistean Ross, Ministeir a bha ann an Cildonan (pp. 36-38).
Sources Campbell suggests that Donald Matheson’s son Samuel, may have edited the first edition of his father’s poems. He writes that the poems ‘appear to have been issued if not edited by his son Samuel Matheson’ (p. 136).
Language All of the poems in this volume are spiritual in nature, even when the poet’s inspiration has been a mundane event. For example, although Matheson frequently speaks of famine and scarcity, both of which were commonplace during his lifetime, as Campbell notes, this gave Matheson the opportunity to ‘contrast the earthly “gainne” with the heavenly “pailteas” available to all who sought for it’ (p. 138). For example, Oran a rin e air Coimhearsnaich mu ’n cuairt dh’a (pp. 28-30) begins ‘Bho dh’ith sinn an Ubhal, \ Thanaig dubhaich is bròn, \ ’S iads’ tha dh’ easbhuidh na h-ath-bhreith \ Gheibhear toibheum ’nan ceòl; \ ’S leòir mheud dhoibh mar pheanas, \ Na leanas ri ’n dòigh, \ ’S ma bheir iad creideas do ’n fhìrinn \ Tha i ’g innseadh na ’s leòir’ (p. 28). Matheson goes on to admit his own previous failings: ‘Bha mi ceithir bliadhna fichead \ Air aon inntinn riu-fein; \ Ach airson sùsana de shaoghail \ Cha d’ theidhinn rì’sd as an deigh, \ Gu leantainn ri ’n àbhais, \ Mar àbhais dhomh fein, \ ’S ma gheibh mis dhe fhabhar, \ Theid an còrr as a dheigh’ (ibid.). Matheson mentions man’s fall from grace in the garden of Eden in a number of his poems.

In Oran a rinn e aig àm an deach mor shluagh as an Duthaich do America (pp. 25-28), which was inspired by the emigrations to South Carolina ('do Char'lina', p. 26) in the second half of the eighteenth century, we find references to the physical plight of the people, as well as to their spiritual needs. These include: ‘Tha mi ’faicinn deuchainnean \ An tràthsa air gach làimh, \ Teaghlaichean bha urramach \ Air leagadh mhàn an ceann, \ Seirbhisich nan uachdarain, \ Is oighreachan na’n clann, \ An talamh làn de éigin, \ A Dhè co sheasas ann’ (p. 26). Compare also: ‘Tha uachdarain na ’n daorsainn \ Do dhaoine anns an àm, \ ’G am fuadachadh ’s ’gan teannachadh \ Gu tìr ni maith do ’n clann; \ Ach moladh bhi gu bràch \ Do ’n Ti is airde glòir, \ Fhuair amach am fosgladh ud, \ ’Sa dheasaich dhoibh an lōn’ (p. 27).

Matheson often praises God in his poems. For example, Oran a rinn e ann an tìmean trioblaideach (pp. 33-35) contains the following outburst of praise: ‘Gu ’m bu naomh, ’s gu ’m bu naomh \ Do t-ainm-s’ a ta glòrmhor, \ Gu ’m bheil fuighleach ’san talamh \ Do ’n d'rinn thu aithnicht’ do thròcair; \ Tha thu cinnt’ ann do dheilig, \ ’S tha thu-fein dhoibh mar phòrsan, \ ’S tu ’mhaireas gu sìorruidh, \ ’S cha chaith bliadhn’ do stòras’ (p. 34). Matheson also occasionally offers advice to his readers. For example, Oran air Glòir agus buaidh na h-Eiric a phaigh Criosd airson nan daoine taghte (pp. 18-21), contains the following recommendation: ‘Bheirinn mo chomhairle \ Do gach neach tha ’san t-saoghal, \ Iad do shireadh le ùrnuigh, \ ’San sùil ri Fear-saoraidh, \ Ag iarruidh an Lighiche, \ Fhad ’sa tha e ri fhaotauinn, \ ’S mairg tha gun fhìor-ghràs, \ Dheanamh sta dheth Fear-saoraidh’ (p. 20).

Matheson frequently uses apt similes to reinforce his point. See, for example, in Oran a rinn e aig àm an d’robh e gun làthraich (pp. 23-25): ‘Tha luchd faicinn is eòlais \ Faicinn leòn anns mo chrann-chur, \ Ach tha mis’ mar Eithear a’ seòladh, \ ’S mhuir fuidh ’ga h-iomchain; \ Oir is maith do ghrasan \ Gu àrach an anamain, \ Se bann is cinntich’ a aran \ Na ’n talamh ri leanmhuinn’ (p. 23). In Oran a rinn e aig àm an deach mor shluagh as an Duthaich do America (pp. 25-28), Matheson relates the enforced emigrations in Kildonan to events in the Bible: ‘Ach tha mi ’faicinn faileas \ De na nithe bh’ann bho chèinn, \ Dar bha pobull Israel, \ ’San Eiphit ann am pèin: \ Thug e le laimh làidir iad \ A mach bho Pharaoh féin, \ ’S dh’ fhosgail e an cuan dhoibh \ Dar ’luathaich e an deigh’ (p. 26).

Despite Campbell’s assertion that ‘Matheson also delighted in the composition of elegies upon the men of noted piety in his own part of the country’ (p. 138), only one of the seven elegies in this volume, that on Huistean Ross (pp. 36-38), appears to have been composed by Matheson. It is possible that the elegy Oran do Mhistress Gordon, bean urramach bh[a]’n Achadh-na-moine, ann an Sgìre Chill-donnain (pp. 43-45) was also the work of Matheson. The other two elegies by un-named authors were composed after Matheson’s death.

There are a number of footnotes throughout the text explaining (either in Gaelic or in English) the meaning of certain words. For example, we are told that stracain are ‘stripes’ (p. 8), that grùnd is ‘Ground’ (p. 10), that di-sairse’ is ‘Discharge’ (p. 11), that stōrsach means ‘wealthy’ (p. 14), that sa cheitean refers to ‘A season in the month of May, so called’ (p. 15), that sùsdan means ‘thousand’ (p. 16), and that meildidh means Lòn, biadh (p. 24). Various interesting terms, expressions and forms occur, e.g.: Médail [for M’eudailan t-Oighr’ uasal (p. 15), Légion (p. 22), ri chlàistin (p. 21), and Dar theidheadh tu ’sa Chùbi (p. 36). It is worth noting that some words that are in common usage today are explained in footnotes in this text. Examples include strains’ear, which is equated with coigreach (p. 6); and léine, which is glossed as ‘A Shirt’ (p. 31).

In a number of Matheson’s hymns we encounter repeated lines or couplets. For example, in Oran a rinn e ri am gainne (p. 31), the second two stanzas read ‘Galar claonail air feadh an t-saoghail, \ Is chaidh sgaoilt air feadh an t-sluaigh; \ ’S mur fhaigh mi léine de ’n aodach chéireach, \ Bho Oighre Dhe, tha ’n còmhnuidh shuas; \ ’s mur fhaigh mi léine de ’n aodach chéireach, \ Bho Oighre Dhe, tha ’n comhnuidh shuas, \ An deis is àilte, nach imir tàilleir, \ ’S nach iarr luchd-ceird gu a deanamh suas’ (p. 31). The repetition of lines 2cd as 3ab is not replicated in the printed text of the poem, but it may hint at the way this hymn, and others where the same sporadic repetition occurs, was rendered in performance. There are occasional footnotes to indicate that lines ought to be repeated.

Matheson employs a range of metrical patterns and structures, including the strophic type, which can be seen in Tuiteam an duine bho Dhia (pp. 16-18). This poem, whose rhythm varies considerably in some verses, is presented as 6-line stanzas containing two 7-stress or 8-stress strophes. The first two stanzas read as follows: ‘Ar sinnseara bho thùs, \ Dar chaill iad an lùths, \ Mhill iad an cùis air sùsdan àl. \\ Tha ’n truailleadh so lionmhor, \ Dh’ fhag mis anns an fhìonain \ Mar chraobh th’ air criona’ gun fhig’s gun bhlàth. \\\ Ach moladh do ’n Trionaid, \ Ghlormhoire, sgiamhach, \ A phlanntaig dhuinn fìonain tre lionmhorachd gràis, \\ ’S fearr na lios Edein, \ Gus an d’ thainig a bhèisd ud \ Le meas na geug agus breug ann a beùl’ (pp. 16-17).
Orthography The poems in this volume, being mostly on religious subjects, contain many forms generally regarded as deriving from the Gaelic Bible, such as fuidh ‘under’ (e.g. p. 23) and a ta ‘is’ (p. 34). The language, however, is by no means biblical in all respects. MacDonald and Kennedy state in the Advertisement that ‘the Work necessarily labours under the disadvantages of a posthumous one; and the dialect in which it is written, but which it was not thought proper to alter, may not be quite intelligible to those in the more Southern Districts of the Highlands’. Matheson’s Sutherland Gaelic shows through in such forms as Dar bha (e.g. p. 26) and mur fhaigh (p. 31).

The orthography of this edition differs in various minor ways from that of the 1816 edition. While these mostly involve the correction of mis-spellings and the addition of accents (e.g. an dūsa triall m’fh’agail in the 1816 edition becomes an dus a’ triall m’fhàgail in the 1825 edition), there is also an element of regularisation and modernisation (e.g. aidmhich in 1816 becomes aidich in 1825).
Edition Second edition. The first edition, entitled Laoidhe Spioradail, was published in 1816, and contained the first sixteen poems in this volume. None of Matheson’s poems were published during his lifetime. Further editions were published in 1849, 1868, 1880, and 1899. Editors should check the 1816 edition when excerpting from the first sixteen poems and use it where its text is not obscure or misleading.
Other Sources
Further Reading Campbell, Hugh F., ‘Donald Matheson and Other Gaelic Poets in Kildonan and Reay’, TGSI, 21 (1914-19), 134-43.
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