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Metadata for text 199
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Title Am Fear-Ciuil. Dain, Orain, Oraidean, is Sgeulachdan.
Author MacEacharn, Domhnull
Editor Mac Fhionghain, Domhnall
Date Of Edition 1910
Date Of Language 1900-1949
Publisher John Grant
Place Published Edinburgh
Volume N/A
Location National and academic libraries
Link Digital version created by National Library of Scotland
Download File PDF / plain text 
Geographical Origins Jura
Register Literature, Prose and Verse
Alternative Author Name Donald MacKechnie
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 20cm x 14cm
Short Title Am Fear-Ciuil
Reference Details EUL, Scottish Studies Library: G4(G)MacK
Number Of Pages xvi, 336
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Donald MacKechnie was born in Glengarisdale, on the shore opposite Corryvreckan in the north of Jura on 25th December 1838. There was no school nearby, but Donald was taught to read and write at a school near where his maternal grandfather lived. He had an active life as a boy, spending much time outdoors, shooting and fishing. MacKechnie moved to Glasgow while a young man. He attended evening classes to improve his education, and began to read widely, particularly English literature. He eventually made his home in Edinburgh, marrying Elizabeth Jane Sutherland there on 5th June 1868. They had seven children. Living in Edinburgh, MacKechnie was part of the Gaelic literary circle which, at that time, included Alexander Carmichael, Donald MacKinnon, and Sheriff Nicolson. MacKechnie mentions such gatherings in his song A’ Chéilidh (pp. 93-97). MacKechnie was troubled by illness throughout his adult life. He died in Edinburgh in May, 1908.

MacKechnie wrote both poetry and prose, and he contributed a number of works to An Gàidheal, and other journals, under the name ‘Am Bard Luideagach’. MacKechnie won a number of prizes at the National Mòd, including first prize for his poem Am Fear-Ciùil at the Oban Mòd (in 1892?). He also translated a number of poems and songs into Gaelic, including verse from Omar Khayyám’s Rubaiyat. However, MacKechnie is best known for his prose writings, and particularly for those essays in which he discusses man’s relationship with animals. In his obituary in The Celtic Review, Donald MacKinnon noted that while MacKechnie’s poetry was perhaps not quite as good as that of some of his contemporaries, ‘I do not know that any Gaelic writer, of modern times at any rate, excels him in prose. … Here the highly trained intellect of a very capable man gives his own views of men and things, with a probing and questioning almost Socratic in its patience and persistence, and with a terseness and crispness of phrase more akin to French than to Gaelic prose’ (MacKinnon, p. 94).
Contents This volume begins with a Clar-Innsidh (pp. ix-xi), followed by an address Do’n Leughadair by the author (pp. xii-xiv), followed by An Roimh-radh (pp. xv-xvi) in verse form. There is a photograph of the author opposite the Gaelic title page. This (second) edition contains 13 poems, 18 songs, 6 translations and 19 prose items.


The poems and songs in this volume cover a variety of subjects, and are all fairly light-hearted in nature. None are particularly noteworthy, and few of them are popular today. Subjects covered include nature, e.g. Guth a’ chuain (pp. 9-11) and Seachran Seilg (pp. 26-28), both of which also contain elements of religion; love, e.g. An Ribhinn Òg D’an D’thug Mi Gràdh (p. 74) and Bean a’ Chòtain Ruaidh (pp. 81-82); war, e.g. the four poems that make up An Cogadh an Africa-mu-dheas (pp. 61-66); and sense of place, e.g. in Chunnaic mi na Gruagaichean (pp. 67-68), Cuairt ’san Fhrìdh (pp. 75-76), and Am Bothan Beag (pp. 79-80), which also touch on the changes that have taken place in the Highlands during the author’s lifetime. His knowledge of world history and geography is apparent in Impireachd Bhreatuinn (pp. 54-58) which comprises a conversation between Am Bard and A’ Ghrian.

The translations inlcude an English translation of MacKechnie’s Am Fear-Ciùil; and translations into Gaelic of Thomas Campbell’s The Soldier’s Dream, Robert Burns’s My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose, and verses from Omar Khayyám’s Rubaiyat.


MacKechnie is particularly well-known for his humorous stories about his relationship with various animals. In these stories, MacKechnie ruminates on what it means to be human, and ponders whether the animals he writes about are any different from us in the way they behave.

Many of these stories feature his cat (Tómas) and his dog (Yarrow), each of whom have a story dedicated to them (An Cat, pp. 126-34, and An Cù, pp. 135-41). The best known of these works is probably Am Fiadh (pp. 292-319), which first appeared in print in the second edition of 1910. MacKechnie’s stories are generally written in the first person, as the author relates the tale of something that happened to him. His wife occasionally makes an appearance in the stories, usually in an antagonistic role, e.g. in Ath-leasachadh (pp. 155-63) and at the beginning of An Seangan (p. 149-54). MacKechnie also frequently makes use of the contrast between the ordinary people (such as himself) and the upper classes, e.g. in Am Fiadh (where the new laird’s wife is terrified of the deer which MacKechnie, as a boy, was charged with looking after) and in An Seangan (where an undignified scene on Salisbury Crags, in which the author is assailed by a colony of ants, is witnessed by an upper-class young lady, much to her astonishment).

MacKechnie also wrote some factual prose, including a talk on Carmina Gadelica (pp. 164-86), which was read before the Jura Association in Glasgow, and an essay on Omar Khayyám (pp. 200-16), which included translations of some of his verses. In Còmhradh, we are given the content of a dialogue between Eoghann Og agus Eachann Ruadh, on the subject of the two men’s command of the English language. Two of the essays are written in the form of letters: Tannaisg nan Laithean a dh’Fhalbh (pp. 252-60) and Litir thun an “Deo-Greine” (pp. 320-27). Tannaisg nan Laithean a dh’Fhalbh (pp. 252-60) and Gaisgeach na Sgeithe Deirge (pp. 261-82) discuss legends and folktales.
Language The strengths of this volume lie in MacKechnie’s prose writings. The author has a wonderful turn of phrase and uses rich idiomatic Gaelic. This can be seen, for example, at the beginning of his essay on An Cat: Theirinn ri caraid no bana-charaid ’s am bith a thig trasd air an duilleig so gun mhor-shuim a ghabhail dhi, nach ’eil dad innte ’s fhiach a leughadh. Cha ’n ’eil mi, mar gu ’m b’ eadh, ach ’g am thoileachadh fhein, ’s an uair a tha duine ’g a thoileachadh fein faodaidh e bhi cinnteach nach ’eil e toileachadh muinntir eile (p. 126). MacKechnie goes on to give us an example of this in relation to his cat.

There is much verbal interest in MacKechnie’s prose writings, particularly with regard to the author’s turn of phrase. Examples include gu robh an tigh r’a theinidh (p. 132), biomaid a’ bogadh nan gad (p. 233), leumadh mo chride-sa as a chochull (p. 238), a’ toirt sràid do ’n chuilein mhadaidh agam (p. 188), Mo ghille geal! (p. 189), ann am chnap-starra (p. 189), maol-cheannach (p. 189), ’san odhar-dhorcha (p. 255), and eadar fheala-dhà ’s da-rìreadh (p. 283).

Tannaisg nan Laithean a dh’Fhalbh (pp. 252-60) and Gaisgeach na Sgeithe Deirge (pp. 261-82) contain some terminology proper to legends and folktales, e.g. Mac an Earraidh Uaine, no Chochaill Uaine (p. 280), Gruagach nan Cumha (p. 280), Ridir a’ Chuirn agus Ridir a’ Chlaidhimh (p 280), Buidseach Endor, ’s air Tàillear na Manachainn (p. 253), Lachlann Mor ’s Dubh-sìth (p. 253), and Aoradh Aithrichean, no Aoradh Thannasg (p. 258).

MacKechnie’s verse contains little vocabulary of note.
Orthography The author’s dialect is evident in the use of terms such as gabhail iolla riù (An Cat, p. 117), air t’ aghairt (An Cat, p. 120), thun (An Cat, p. 120), ruais (p. 221), ciogailteach (Còmhradh, p. 175), and trasd air (An Còmhradh, p. 175). The orthography is that of 1910, and has been modernised from the 1904 edition (see Editions below). Domhnall Mac Fhionghain notes, at the beginning of the volume, Dh’ ullaich an t-Ughdar caomh an dara clo-bhualadh de’n “Fhear-Chiuil” goirid mu ’n d’thainig a’ chrioch air. Tha an leabhar air a chur a mach mar dh’fhag e e, ach a mhain gu bheil, a nis ’s a rithist, beagan atharrachaidh ’s an litreachadh, agus roinn de mhearachdan a’ chlò air an ceartachadh.
Edition The first edition was published in Glasgow by Archibald Sinclair (Celtic Press) in 1904, under the title Am Fear-Ciuil. Dain agus Orain, &c. A second edition was published in Edinburgh in 1910. The second edition (used for this report) contained two more songs, one new translation (from Omar Khayyan’s Rubaiyat), and seven new prose items. A third edition was published in 1940. The orthography (and occasionally the grammar) was modernised for the 1910 edition, e.g. gu’n robh ’n tigh r’a theine (1904, p. 119) becomes gu robh an tigh r’a theinidh (1910, p. 132) and chnapstarra (1904, p. 176) becomes chnap-starra (1910, p. 189). Editors should quote from the 1904 edition where possible.
Other Sources
Further Reading MacKinnon, Donald, ‘The Late Mr. Donald MacKechnie’, The Celtic Review, 5 (1908-09), 92-96.
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