Reference Number183
TitleBàrdachd Shìlis na Ceapaich, c. 1660-1729
AuthorMacDonald, Sìleas or Giles
EditorÓ Baoill, Colm
Date Of Edition1972
Date Of Languageearly 18c
Date Of Language Ed18th c.
DateMacroEarly 18th c.
Date Of Language Notes
PublisherScottish Gaelic Texts Society
Place PublishedEdinburgh
LocationNational, academic, and local libraries
Geographical OriginsKeppoch
Geographical Origins EdLochaber
GeoMacroW Inverness-shire
Geographical Origins Notes
RegisterLiterature, Verse
Register EdLiterature, Verse
23 poems by Sìleas na Ceapaich on a variety of themes.
Contains several songs on the Jacobite rising of 1715, including three on the Battle of Sheriffmuir.
Contains several laments and a number of poems on religious subjects.
Sìleas offers advice to young girls in two of her poems; the harp and its music are the subject of in two of the poems.
The orthography has been modernised for this edition. Textual variants are given in a section entitled ‘Sources and Readings’.
Alternative Author NameSìleas na Ceapaich
Manuscript Or EditionEd.
Size And Condition22cm x 14cm
Short TitleBàrdachd Shìlis na Ceapaich
Reference DetailsEUL, Celtic Library: LI G Ó BAO
Number Of Pageslxvii, 271
Gaelic Text ByN/A
Social ContextProfessor Ó Baoill concluded that Sìleas na Ceapaich (or Sìleas Nighean Mhic Raghnaill) was born in Bohuntin c. 1660. Her father, who was also a poet, was Gilleasbuig Mac Mhic Raghnaill, the 15th chief of the MacDonalds of Keppoch. Ó Baoill’s Introduction also gives information on Sìleas’s brothers and sisters (pp. xxxviii-xl). Little is known of Sìleas’s life. Evidence suggests that she was married to Alexander Gordon of Camdell by 1685. It is unclear how many children they had, although it seems likely that they had five sons and possibly three daughters.

From her poetry, we know that Sìleas was an ardent Jacobite and a staunch Catholic. A number of her poems are of a religious nature, and there is a suggestion that she did not lead a strictly moral life in her youth, but that she later experienced some sort of conversion. None of Sìleas’s poems can be dated with certainty to before 1700, which is consonant with with the hypothesis that she began composing poetry later in life. None of Sìleas’s poems were published, or, it seems, put in writing, during her lifetime, and the poems that have been attributed to her were taken down from oral recitation. The earliest source of her poetry seems to date from around 1750. Ó Baoill’s discussion of Sìleas’s poetry (pp. lviii-lxv) and his Table of Contents and Index of First Lines (p. xxxiii-xxxv) contain remarks on individual poems and details of the MS and printed sources for Sìleas’s poetry. The date of her death is unclear, but has been put at c. 1729 (see p. lxvi for further information).
ContentsThis volume contains 23 poems by Sìleas na Ceapaich, and Appendices I-III contain a further two poems that have been attributed to her.

The edition of Sìleas’s poems is preceded by a Preface (pp. vii-ix), a table of Contents (p. xi), a Bibliography (pp. xiii-xxiii), Abbreviations and Sources (pp. xxv-xxxii), and a Table of Sources and Index of First Lines (p. xxxiii-xxxv). These are followed by the Introduction (pp. xxxvii-lxvi), which assembles what is known about Sìleas’s life and includes sections entitled ‘Her Name’ (pp. xli-xliv), ‘Her Marriage’ (pp. xliv-xlv), ‘Her Family’ (pp. l-lviii), and ‘Her Poetry’ (pp. lviii-lxv). The last section, which includes information on the sources of Sìleas’s surviving poems, is followed by an Index of Poems by Gaelic title (p. lxvii).

The main body of the work, Text and Translations (pp. 1-121), contains 23 poems by Sìleas. In this edition, the Gaelic text and an English translation appear on facing pages. Notes on the poems take up pp. 123-82. They give both historical and linguistic information. A section entitled Sources and Readings (pp. 183-221) supplies the readings of the editor’s source-text where the edited version diverges significantly, and significantly varying readings from sources other than the source text. A section entitled Metres and Tunes follows this (pp. 223-47).

This volume also contains five Appendices. The first two contain additional works that may have been composed by Sìleas: Laoidh nan Ceudfathan (pp. 249-50) and Dh’fhalbh mo Rùn-sa air an Aiseag (pp. 251-52). Appendix III contains An Obair-Nogha (pp. 253-54), the poem by George MacKenzie which prompted Sìleas to compose her poem An Aghaidh na h-Obair Nodha (pp. 76-83). The poems in Appendices I-III are given without translations.  Appendix IV contains an excerpt from the ‘Particular Register of Sasines for Banffshire, relating to lands held by Sìleas’ (pp. 255-58), and Appendix V contains ‘Memorandum as to Invercauld and Camdels interest in Stradown 1712’ (pp. 259-61).

The volume contains an Index of Names (pp. 263-64), and a Glossary (pp. 265-71) which includes ‘the less common words, and those borrowed from English’ (p. 265). English translations and line references are provided for each word listed.
SourcesThe Table of Sources and Index of First Lines (pp. xxxiii-xxxv) gives the location of all sources, arranged chronologically, for each poem. Editors should in general use the earliest version of a given poem for excerpting purposes.
LanguageÓ Baoill classifies Sìleas’s poems thematically as follows (p. lix): Sìleas’s own family (poems I, X-XIII); Politics, i.e. the 1715 Jacobite rising (poems IV-IX, regarding which Ó Baoill warns that ‘the ascription of two of these is questionable’); Laments (poems XI-XIV, XXI); Religion (III, XII, XVI-XX, XXIII); Advice to girls on courtship (poems II, XV); and the Harp and its music (poems XXI, XXII). Metrically speaking, nine of the poems have irregular stress, while the rest were composed in regularly stressed accentual metres. Ó Baoill regards poem V as being of particular metrical interest, as ‘an early example of Gaelic Limerick metre’ (p. lx).

Sìleas composed at least six poems on the Jacobite rising of 1715: Do Rìgh Seumas (pp. 16-19), Do dh’Fheachd Mhorair Mhàr (pp. 20-25), three poems on Latha Sliabh an t-Siorraim (pp. 26-31, 32-37, 38-43), and Do dh’Arm Rìgh Sheumais (pp. 44-49). In these poems Sìleas openly incites the clans to rise up and fight for the Jacobite cause. In Do dh’Fheachd Mhorair Mhàr, the following lines are typical: ‘Crath do chìrean, do choileir ’s do chluas, \ Cuir sgairt ort gu feachd an taobh tuath, \ Cuir spuir ort ’s bi gleusta \ Gu d’ nàimhdean a reubadh, \ ’S cuir Mac Cailein fo ghéill mar bu dual’ (p. 22).

In the three songs on the Battle of Sheriffmuir, Sìleas tells what happened during the battle, and castigates those who did not fight as they should have done, e.g. ‘Mhic Choinnich bho ’n tràigh, \ ’S e ’n gnìomh nàr mar theich thu; \ ’Nuair a chunnaic thu ’m blàr \ ’S ann a thàir thu ’n t-eagal; \ Rinn thu cóig mìle deug \ Gun t’ each sréin a chasadh; \ Bha claidheamh rùisgt ann ad dhòrn \ Gun fhear cleòc’ a leagail’ (p. 32). On the other hand, Sìleas praises those who fought bravely in the battle: ‘Mhic ’Ic Alasdair na féileachd, \ Bu làmh fhéim thu anns gach càs: \ Leat bu taitneach bhith ’s an t-seàrsa, \ Leat bu deònach bhith dol ’n an dàil; \ Chaill thu iteag chùl na sgéithe, \ An t-seobhag threun nach d’eur adbhans, \ Mac Mhic Ailein, oighre Mhùideart, \ Marcaich sunndach nan each seang’ (p. 40).

A number of Sìleas’s poems are laments, some to members of her own family, including Cumha Bàs a Fir agus a h-Ighne (pp. 54-57), Laoidh air Bàs a Fir agus a h-Ighne (pp. 58-63), Marbhrann (pp. 64-69), and Cumha Lachlainn Daill (pp. 108-13). Alasdair a Gleanna Garadh (pp. 70-75) is probably her best known lament, and in it she uses a wide range of panegyric motifs, e.g.: ‘Bu tu curaidh cur a’ chatha, \ Bu tu ’n laoch gun athadh làimhe; \ Bu tu ’m bradan anns an fhìor-uisg, \ Fìreun air an eunlaith ’s àirde, \ … \ Bu tu chreag nach fhaoidte theàrnadh; \ Bu tu clach uachdair a’ chaisteil \ … \ Bu tu ’n t-iubhar thar gach coillidh, \ Bu tu ’n darach daingean làidir’ (p. 72).

A number of the poems in this volume are religious in nature. These include Laoidh an t-Soluis (pp. 88-89), Laoidh na h-Oidhche (pp. 90-93), Laoidh Mhoire Mhaighdean (pp. 94-101), and Am Bàs is Flathanas (pp. 116-21). The poem in Appendix I is also a hymn, Laoidh nan Ceudfathan (p. 249). In these poems Sìleas extols the benefits of leading a good life and following God, and praises God, Jesus, and Mary. For example, in Laoidh na Maidne (84-87), we find ‘Sguabamaid a mach luath a’ pheacaidh, \ ’S na stadadh i air ar n-ùrlar; \ Eagal gun las i ar n-òtrach, \ Bàthamaid le deòir ar sùl i. \ Fuadaicheamaid uainn a mach \ A’ bhéist air am bheil na seachd cinn, \ A shluigeas sinn uile ’n a craos \ Mas urra i dh’fhaotainn oirnn gill’ (p. 84). Sìleas frequently made use of powerful imagery in her poetry. She does this particularly effectively in her poem An Eaglais (pp. 102-07), where we find ‘Chan urrainn geataichean iutharna \ No cumhachdan nan daoine \ Car a thoirt di as a làraich— \ A clachairean cha d’fhàg cho faoin i; \ Rinn iad ballaichean de choluinn, \ Rinn iad uinneagan de chreuchdan; \ ’S ann de bheul a rinn iad dorus, \ ’S tha dhà shùil gu solus glé-gheal’ (p. 102).

The two poems in which Sìleas offers advice to young girls on courtship are Comhairle air na Nigheanan Óga (pp. 6-11) and An Aghaidh na h-Obair Nodha (pp. 76-83). The second of these was composed as a rejoinder George MacKenzie’s song An Obar-Nogha, which is given in Appendix III. In her response, Sìleas states her position: ‘Mo chomhairle ’s an tìm so \ Do nianaig i bhith gu taidheach; \ Bhith gu teisteil diamhair \ Gun mhì-mhodh idir a ghabhail \ O na gillean òga \ Air bhòidhchead ’s am bidh an labhairt, \ Ach gun dèan sibh còrdadh, \ Pòsadh is dol a laighe’ (p. 76).

Sìleas has the clarsach as her subject in two of her poems, Cumha Lachlainn Daill (pp. 108-13) and Ceòl na Clàrsaich (p. 114-15). The first is a lament for the harper Lachlann Dall; the second addresses a clarsach directly: ‘Bu bhinn leam iuchair do theud \ Bhith ’ga gleusadh goirid uam; \ B’ ait leam do chom buidhe binn \ Bhith ’ga seinn làmh ri m’ chluais’ (p. 114).
OrthographyThe orthography in this volume has been modernised to the standards of the mid-to-late twentieth century. Many of the actual readings of earlier sources and editions are reported in Sources and Readings (pp. 183-221).
EditionFirst edition.
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