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Metadata for text 189
No. words in text108725
Title Lamh-Sgriobhainn Mhic Rath. “Dorlach Laoidhean do sgrìobhadh le Donnchadh Mac Rath, 1688”
Author Mac Rath, Donnchadh
Editor Mac Phàrlain, Calum
Date Of Edition 1923
Date Of Language 17th c.
Publisher Calum S. Mac Leoid
Place Published Dundee (Dun-De)
Volume N/A
Location Edition: National and Academic Libraries
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Lochaber
Register Literature, Verse
Alternative Author Name Duncan MacRae, Donnchadh nam Pìos; Malcolm MacFarlane (editor)
Manuscript Or Edition Edition of MS
Size And Condition 25cm x 16cm. The editors of Reliquiae Celticae describe the MS as follows (vol. 2, p. 1): ‘This MS … consists of two small volumes … seven inches long by three broad. The first volume contains 36 leaves, the first two and the last one of which are blank. There are thus 33 leaves written upon, but the side of one leaf is blank, which makes in all 65 pages. The second volume contains 28 leaves, the first three and last five of which are blank. The other 20 are fully written upon save the last, which contains only one verse. One of these leaves is double, and folded in, and there are two loose pieces – half-leaves, written upon. Six leaves were cut out of the second volume, amounting probably to some six hundred lines of poetry. At present the collection contains about 4200 lines of poetry. The handwriting, which is that characteristic of the period for writing English, is neat and clear, though small, obscurities being caused mostly by the fading of the ink or by frayed edges.’
Short Title Làmh-sgrìobhainn Mhic Rath
Reference Details Edition: EUL, Celtic Library: LIG MACR. (The Fernaig MS: GUL MS Gen 85/1 and MS Gen 85/2)
Number Of Pages xiv, 346. (The Fernaig MS contains 105 leaves of writing.)
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context The Fernaig MS is a late seventeenth century MS comprising two notebooks (approximately 7" x 3"), written in a neat hand, by Duncan MacRae. The first notebook is headed ‘Doirligh Loijn Di\Skrijwig Lea Donochig/Mackrah 1688’. The latest date to appear in the MS is 1693. The MS is so called because it was discovered, in the early nineteenth century, in the possession of Mr Matheson of Fernaig in Wester Ross. The MS changed hands a number of times (from Dr. Mackintosh MacKay to Dr W. F. Skene, and finally to Rev. John Kennedy of Arran) before it was gifted to the University of Glasgow. In an article published in TGSI in 1885, Donald MacKinnon identified the compiler of this MS as Duncan MacRae of Inverinate, also known as Donnchadh nam Pìos. MacRae’s grandfather was Rev. Farquhar MacRae, minister of Gairloch and Kintail, and his great-grandfather, Christopher MacRae, was constable of Eilean Donan. Duncan MacRae was the eldest son of Rev. Farquhar’s son Alexander, and was chief of the MacRaes in his time. He studied at Edinburgh University (tradition holds that he studied cabinetmaking and engineering while in Edinburgh), and became well-known in Kintail and Glenshiel. See MacKinnon (1885) for further information on MacRae. We do not know when Duncan MacRae was born, or when he died, but we do know that he flourished from 1640 to 1693 or later. It is said that he died by drowning in the Connag River at Dorisduan.

Several writers have claimed that the Fernaig MS contains 59 poems (D. C. Fraser 1993, p. 75; J. Fraser 1924, p. 252; and MacDonald in Thomson 1994, p. 72). However, the contents page of the present volume lists only 57 poems. Moreover, J. Fraser (1918, p. 435) states that ‘Dr Henderson transliterated 28 out of the 57 pieces in the MS’. This discrepancy is presumably accounted for by the inclusion or not of the two ‘alleged’ Gaelic translations of English poems (see pp. 232-53, 334 and 345). Of the original Gaelic poems in the MS, twelve are attributed to the compiler, ten are anonymous, and the rest are attributed to seventeen different authors, including MacRae’s maternal great-grandfather, MacCulloch of Park (six poems), Alasdair Mac Mhurchaidh (four poems), Murchach Mor mac Mhic Mhurchaidh (six poems), and Donnchadh Mac Raoiridh (four poems). Kenneth MacDonald has suggested (in Thomson 1994, p. 72) that the poems in the Fernaig MS have ‘both a thematic and a territorial emphasis’ (p. 72), with many of the poets being ‘drawn into the collection by their northern ambience’ (ibid.). Indeed, some of the poets represented in this volume were related to the compiler. However, there are also a number of poems from outwith this area. Two poems are attributed to Carswell (although he most likely composed only one of them), and there are also works by the late sixteenth century poet Sir John Stewart of Appin, and by the early seventeenth century Irish poet, Gille-Brighde Ó hEoghusa. For information on the poets whose works appear in the MS see Thomson (1994) and MacKinnon (1885).
Contents An Roimh-Ràdh (pp. vii-x) describes the MS, its author and the circumstances of its compilation, and discusses previous scholarship, including MacFarlane’s own editions of individual poems in The Celtic Monthly.

Clàr-Amais nan Dàn (pp. xi-xiii) lists the 59 poems by transliterated MS title and first line. (NB The poems are numbered consecutively from I to LIX in the edition but grouped by author in the Clàr-Amais, which means that some poems are here listed out of numerical sequence.) The Clàr-Amais also gives page-references to previously published versions of individual poems in Reliquiae Celticae, Leabhar nan Gleann, Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig, and An Deo-Gréine.

Clàr-Amais Cuid an Fhoghluim (p. xiv) details the contents of the Appendix.

Na Dàin (pp. 1-275) contains the 59 poems, with transcription (‘An Litreachadh Annasach’) and transliteration (‘An Litreachadh Gnàthach’) on facing pages.

The Appendix (pp. 277-345) contains sections on MacRae’s Alphabet (pp. 277-89), The Dialect of the Text (pp. 290-98), Notes on the Text and Meanings of Unfamiliar Words (pp. 299-323) and  Notes on the Poems (pp. 324-45). Words that are dealt with under Meanings of Unfamiliar Words are marked in the text by asterisks.
Language The great majority of the poems in this volume are religious. D. C. Fraser classifies the first 36 as ‘strictly religious’ and nine of the remaining poems as ‘elegiac with strong religious overtones’ (1993, p. 75). A further eleven poems are ‘political but with a strong religious basis to the views expressed and studded with most apposite Scripture quotations’ (id., p. 76). In MacDonald’s view, ‘The dominant thematic note is disillusionment with the changes and vanities of the world, coupled with religious aspiration’ (see Thomson 1994, p. 72). The political poems seem to have been composed by MacRae himself, and all relate to the political turmoil of 1688-89. According to John Fraser (1924, p. 253), they ‘express in violent language the writer’s detestation of the Revolution and of Presbyterianism, and his hope of the conversion of his fellow countrymen to saner views on both politics and religion’ (Fraser 1924, p. 253). Two of the political poems are, or purport to be, translations of English Jacobite poems. The poems seem to be arranged in a roughly chronological order (Fraser 1918, p. 457), with the political poems appearing towards the end of the MS. More than half of the poems were composed in syllabic metres.

In his study of the language of the Fernaig MS John Fraser reckoned that most of the religious poems were ‘composed by Scottish writers who were imperfectly acquainted with the literary dialect’ (1926, p. 39). These include the poems attributed to MacCulloch of Park, which were probably composed in the last quarter of the 16th century. Some of the poems were composed in Classical Gaelic, e.g. those by Ó hEódhasa and Carswell. The political poems are ‘almost entirely free from Irish influence, and may be taken to represent faithfully Scottish Gaelic as spoken in Western Ross-shire in the last quarter of the seventeenth century’ (id., p. 39).

In his review of the present volume, Fraser had expressed this view more fully: ‘The language of the poems varies with the subject (as well, of course, as with the date). Macrae’s own political pieces are composed in the conversational language of his own day and dialect; and the phonetic notation shows clearly that the sounds and forms used by Macrae were roughly identical with those of the Northern dialects of the present day. He occasionally retains a form from the literary dialect, and for the plural of [nouns] other than o-stems he often uses the older forms without final -n; but otherwise his language is that of the twentieth century. The poems on the more serious subjects, on the other hand, are in a more archaic form of the language. Disregarding O’Heoghusa[’s] Crosanacht and, possibly, the poems attributed to Carswell, we can say that the non-political poems are composed in a mixture of the Scottish vernacular and the literary dialect’ (Fraser 1924, p. 253).

With regard to the Appendix, the same review contains the following warning: ‘The Appendix on Macrae’s dialect is often misleading. Mr. Macfarlane overestimates the influence of Irish on Macrae’s speech. Irish forms there are in plenty but there is little reason to suppose that forms peculiarly Irish had for Macrae any but a paper existence … There is just as little reason to believe that Macrae’s representation of the sounds of his dialect was affected by Irish pronunciation’ (Fraser 1924, p. 259). Rather, in Fraser’s judgement, ‘Throughout this section “Irish” as a description of a phonetic peculiarity can be safely replaced by “Northern Scottish”’ (id., p. 260).
Orthography John Fraser characterised the spelling system of the Fernaig MS as follows: ‘Macrae employs a rough phonetic orthography, apparently invented by himself and based on the values of the letters in the contemporary Scots orthography. It is thus possible to arrive at some conclusions as to his pronunciation of Gaelic’ (Fraser 1926, p. 39). It should be noted that Fraser’s use of the phrase ‘contemporary Scots orthography’ is uncharacteristically casual and needs to be refined. It would appear likeliest that the basis of Macrae’s orthography was Macrae’s Scottish pronunciation of religious and political writings of his day, which were in English rather than Scots. It should also be noted that there are inconsistencies in the orthography, the same word being often spelt differently in different parts of the MS, and sometimes even on the same page (MacBain and Kennedy 1894, p. 3). This is regularly the case with 17th-century English and Scots writings.

As an example of the spelling system of the Fernaig MS as presented in this volume, Poem XXI begins as follows (p. 64): Ffouhind lea moillig zhuits zhe \ Ri di chruighe goc ni \ Zailvig leait dhoon vo hois \ Di loyrighe i talvij voon. MacFarlane’s transliteration of this verse reads as follows (p. 65): Fonn le moladh dhuit-s’, a Dhé, \ Rìgh do chruthaich gach nì; \ Dhealbhadh leat an duin’ bho thòs \ De luaithreach an talmhainn mhìn. It is to be noted that MacFarlane’s rendering of MacRae’s text makes the poems appear thoroughly Scottish Gaelic, though he emphasises the ‘Irish’ element in them. (By contrast, Fraser’s transliterations appear more ‘Irish’ in form, though he plays down the ‘Irish’ element in them.)
Edition Although Professor Fraser is scathing about MacFarlane’s transliteration, claiming that much of it is ‘unintelligible or absurd’, he is more generous in his estimation of MacFarlane’s transcriptions of the MS, which he regards as decidedly superior to those in Reliquiae Celticae (1924, p. 255). Editors may therefore be reasonably confident about the transcribed texts in this volume; they should, however, refer where possible to the edited vesions of Henderson, Watson and others (as helpfully indicated in the Clàr-amais of the present volume) to confirm or correct MacFarlane’s interpretation. It is intended that a fresh edition of the whole of the Fernaig MS will be created as part of the Faclair na Gàidhlig project.
Further Reading Fraser, Donald C., ‘Gaelic Religious Verse from the Fernaig Manuscript’, TGSI, 57 (1993), 73-99.
Fraser, John, ‘Remarks on the Fernaig Manuscript’, TGSI, 28 (1918), 452-66.
Fraser, John, ‘Malcolm Mac Farlane. The Fernaig Manuscript’ (a review), Revue Celtique, 41 (1924), 252-60.
Fraser, John, ‘The Language of the Fernaig Manuscript’, SGS, 1 (1926), 38-63, 119-33.
MacBain, Alexander and Rev. John Kennedy, eds., Reliquiae Celticae. Texts, Papers, and Studies in Gaelic Literature and Philology left by the late Rev. Alexander Cameron, LL.D, Vol. II (Inverness, 1894: [n. pub.]).
MacDonald, Kenneth ‘The Fernaig Manuscript’ in Thomson 1994, pp. 71-72.
MacKinnon, Donald, ‘The Fernaig Manuscript’, TGSI, 11 (1885), 311-39.
Nì Suaird, Damhnait, ‘Jacobite Rhetoric and Terminology in the Political Poems of the Fernaig MS (1688-1693)’, SGS, 19 (1999), 93-140.
Thomson, Derick S., ed., The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Glasgow, 1994: Gairm).
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