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Metadata for text 201
No. words in text59275
Title Luach na Saorsa
Author Moireach, Murchadh
Editor MacAsgaill, Alasdair I.
Date Of Edition 1970
Date Of Language 1900-1949
Publisher Gairm
Place Published Glasgow
Volume N/A
Location National, academic, and local libraries (Highland and Mitchell Reference)
Geographical Origins Lewis
Register Literature, Prose
Alternative Author Name Murdo Murray
Manuscript Or Edition Edition
Size And Condition 22cm x 14cm
Short Title Luach na Saorsa
Reference Details National, academic and local libraries
Number Of Pages 41 pages
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Murchadh Moireach (Murdo Murray) was born in Back, in Lewis, in 1890. He attended the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, where he was named as Prìomh-sgoilear (‘Dux’) in 1909. He went from there to Aberdeen University, graduating with a MA Degree in 1913. He began teaching immediately, and before war broke out he had taught in Tolsta and Bayble in Lewis, in Uist, and in Lairg in Sutherland. At the outbreak of war, he joined the 4th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders. They entered France in February 1915 and fought in the battle of Neuve Chapelle the following month. Moireach was promoted Lieutenant in December 1915. He spent much of the war in the trenches, where he recorded his experiences in a diary. Shortly before the war ended, Moireach was wounded badly in the arm. He recovered fully, but not until the war was over.

After the war, Moireach returned to teaching. He was Headmaster in Foyers until 1925, and then in Beauly until 1928. Shortly after that he was appointed HM Inspector of Schools for Ross and Cromarty. He married Jean MacInnes, from Sleat in Skye, in 1921, and they made their home in Strathpeffer. Moireach died, at the age of 74, on 30th May, 1964.

In addition to keeping a war-diary, Moireach composed poetry while he was in the trenches. He had begun writing poetry before the war. After the war he only wrote prose; some essays of his were published in Gairm and elsewhere. These are re-printed in the present volume (see Sources and Edition).

The other war poet whose work appears in this volume is Iain Rothach (John Munro). Rothach was born in Swordale, in Point, in Lewis on 10th December 1889. He grew up in Aignish and went to school at Knock and at the Nicolson Institute, where he befriended Murchadh Moireach. He too was Dux of the Nicolson and went on to Aberdeen University, graduating in 1914. He began studying for the ministry, but joined the 4th Battalion of the Seaforth Highlanders when war broke out. He spent most of the war in the trenches, and was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in June 1916. He returned to Britain in 1916, and went back to France in 1917 with another battalion of the Seaforths. He was awarded the Military Cross for his heroism at Wytschaete on 13th April 1918, when his battalion successfully fought their way out of a German trap. He was killed in action just a few days later, on 16th April.

Only a few of Rothach’s poems survive, although Moray Watson, lecturer in Celtic and Gaelic at Aberdeen University, is currently working on ‘editions of newly-discovered poems by Iain Rothach’. Murchadh Moireach believed that some of Rothach’s poems were lost in France, and that others were given to some unknown person. Family tradition states that Rothach gave a selection of poems to a local minister to be prepared for publication, but that the minister subsequently lost them.
Contents This volume opens with a Clar-Innsidh (p. 5) and the Editor’s Roimh-Radh (pp. 7-10). The main body of the work is divided into six parts as follows:

Guthan Beaga o Latha gu Latha (pp. 13-53): The diary Moireach kept during 1915 and 1917. Most of the entries published here are from 1915, with a handful of entries from 1917. There are no entries for 1916 or 1918. While writing mostly in Gaelic, Moireach occasionally used English words, or wrote in English. The English words and passages are printed unchanged in the present volume.

Na h-Orain (pp. 57-77): 25 songs that Moireach composed as a boy and in the trenches. Some of the songs are dated. Only two of these relate to the war: Luach na Saorsa (pp. 73-74), composed in 1915, and Na Mairbh ’san Raoin (Gearr-Luinneag) (p. 76), composed in 1917. The other poems include a Gaelic translation of Charles Murray’s Auld Scotland Counts for Something Still (pp. 74-75).

Iain Rothach (pp. 81-88): This essay on Moireach’s friend and comrade in arms includes the text of the three of Rothach’s poems known to be extant. These are are known today as Ar Tìr (p. 85), Ar Gaisgich a Thuit sna Blàir (pp. 85-87), and Air Sgàth nan Sonn (pp. 87-88). The verse is interspersed with Moireach’s text, and it appears that Moireach believed the first two poems to be part of the same poem, entitled Ar Tìr, ’s Ar Gaisgich a Thuit ’sna Blàir.

Turus do’n Spàinnt (pp. 89-104): This description of a trip to mainland Europe contains in three parts: Na Tairbh, Troimh’n Fhraing, and Anns an Spainnt.

Geographaidh na h-Albann (pp. 105-26): The first part of this essay on Scottish history and geography touches on astronomy, geology, the Romans in Scotland and the Norse settlements. The second half of the essay looks at the geography, weather, and demographics of Skye, and briefly discusses crofting, fishing, and tourism on the island.

Màiri Nighean Iain Bhàin (pp. 127-47) is a critique of the life and work of Màiri Mhòr nan Òran. It was first published in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness.
Sources Moireach’s war-diary was prepared for publication by the editor, Alasdair I. MacAsgaill, from two hand-written volumes left to him by the author. It is unclear where these two volumes are now. Of the diaries themselves, MacAsgaill has this to say: ‘Is ann ann an Gàidhlig a bha e a’ cumail an leabhar-latha, an sgrìobhadh beag, mìn, am pionsal, a tha nis gu math duilich a dèanamh a-mach. Cha robh e a’ cur dorrain sam bith air facal Beurla a chleachdadh far am b’e sin a b’fhaisge air inntinn agus bha amannan ann—mar aig blàr fuilteach Ypres—an uair a b’e a’ Bheurla gu h-iomlan a bha ag aiseag a smuaintean’ (p. 8). MacAsgaill seems to have reproduced English words and passages as he found them in the MSS.

MacAsgaill indicates in the Roimh-Radh that he is indebted to the Gaelic Society of Inverness for permission to publish Màiri Nighean Iain Bhàin, and to Derick Thomson for permission to publish Moireach’s other writings (Iain Rothach, Turus do’n Spàinnt, and Geographaidh na h-Albann), which had previously appeared in Gairm.
Language Moireach’s war diary gives a vivid insight into what war was like for those who were there. He writes on 24th February 1915, at Bailleul: na gunnaichean móra dol gun tàmh (p. 13). Three days later, thuit dà shell air an rathad ri ar taobh (p. 13). On 17th March, 1915, he writes: Latha briagha. Chaidh L. Cpl. a mharbhadh tràth air a’ mhaduinn. Tha dha-na-tri shells a’ tuiteam timcheall. Fhuair sinn chun an t-sabhail ’san anmoch. Chaidil sinn an toll beag—14—ar glùinean ’nar bus—casan fuar (p. 15). On 5th May 1915 he writes: Latha bruicheil. Na Gearmailtich ’gar seiligeadh gu h-anabarrach. Cha deach duine leòn fhathast (p. 20).

The diary entries vary in length, and are frequently written in note-form rather than in complete sentences. For 12th-17th August 1915, he writes: Bedford House. A’ dèanamh dugouts. An dara latha mu dheireadh a’ dèanamh redoubt. Chòrd an turas ruinn anabarrach math. Gunnachan móra gu leòr timcheall. Golf—’s an talla mhóir. Sinn ’n ar suidhe air an làr (p. 37).

Of particular interest are Moireach’s accounts of specific happenings, as when his troop went to rescue a group of their own that had been captured (p. 38). At Ypres, on 13th May, 1915, Moireach writes: Latha fliuch—anns na dug-outs fo rathad na trainns. Oidhche fhliuch air fatigue—dol air chall sìos an loinne gu Hill 60. Cuirp ri taobh an rathaid. Gunnachan caola gu leòr air gach taobh. Abair sliobach dol suas an cnoc. Thill sinn aig càileanachadh an latha (p. 21). On 16th September, 1915, he writes: Chaidh Sgt. Forbes le Sniper agus bomar a mach mu chóig uairean. Bha iad anns a’ bhad éisdeachd roimh na Gearmailtich. Chunnaic iad an nàmhaid a’ tighinn. Dh’fhiach orra le bombs. Ruaig orra. Thug sinn uapa bocsa bombs. Tha mi sgrìobhadh so anns a’ chomm. trainss—’s iad a’ seiligeadh. Chaidh leòn fear faisg orm (p. 39).

Moireach also describes some of the men in his Battalion, e.g.: Sgt. Finlay Greum—duine duineal, mòr-inntinneach ach beagan ro-mhiannach air an dram—fìor Ghàidheal air a chaochladh (p. 44), and S.M. … Tha’n aois gu mór air laighe air—tha 60 bliadhna ’gan innse fhéin … Chaill e, bròinean, mac, anns a’ chogadh-sa, ’s chan fheàirrd e sin (p. 44).

This text is a good source of terms for fighting and warfare, as can be seen from the above quotations. English words appear throughout the text, and these are usually lenited where Gaelic words would be lenited, e.g.: bho’n chommunication trench (p. 20) and aig a’ bharbed wire (p. 20).

Moireach’s two war poems are particularly poignant. Luach na Saorsa (pp. 73-74), written on Moireach’s first day in the trenches, is an address to a bullet, written in the Burns stanza. The second stanza reads: An làmh a stiùir thu air do chùrs’ \ An robh i ’n dàn do chur air iùil \ A dh’fhàgadh dìleachdain gun chùl \ An tigh a’ bhròin, \ Is cridhe goirt le osann bhrùit \ Aig mnaoi gun treòir? (p. 73). Na Mairbh ’San Raoin (Gearr-Luinneag) (p. 76) is written as a sonnet, and is effectively a group elegy for all those who died in action: Le ùmhlachd dhaibh a thuit an teas a’ bhlàir, \ Gu socair, sàmhach, cladhaich uaigh ri’n taobh, \ ’S ’nan éideadh-cogaidh adhlaic iad ’san àit \ An d’thuit ri làr le bàs do’n nàmh ’nan glaodh (p. 76).

The rest of Moireach’s poetry is pretty conventional. It is mostly light-hearted, and addresses such subjects as love, youth and homesickness. There are also poems of friendly banter.

The first of Moireach’s prose writings, Turus do’n Spàinnt (pp. 89-104), is about a trip to mainland Europe. It contains a number of interesting terms, including fear-sleagha ‘picador’ (p. 91), urram a’ mhatador (fear-marbhaidh an tairbh) (p. 92), urras ‘visa’ (p. 93), leacan-sleamhainn ‘tiles’ (p. 99) and ceum-còmhnard pavement’ (p. 101).

Geographaidh na h-Albann (pp. 105-26) contains interesting astronomical, geological and geographical terms, e.g.: galacsaidh (p. 105), leis a’ ghloine-astair (p. 105), Aisia-a-deas (p. 106), Cnaganaich (p. 108) and Sgiolgadh sin na dithean làthaich is creige an doimhne an amair, beag air bheag, ’nan dromannan àrda os cionn nan uisgeachan. Is ann mar sin a dh’éirich beanntan na h-Albann (p. 110). Terms relating to the history and geography of the Isle of Skye also figure here, e.g.: An Clàr Sgìth (p. 114), bàillidhean is luchd-fearainn chìocrach, shanntach (p. 116) and sluaghmhorachd (p. 120). This essay also contains a number of place-names, particularly from Skye (e.g. p. 123), but also from Europe, e.g.: litreachas na Gréige is na Ròimh (p. 106) and abhainn Rhoin (p. 107). The names of various peoples also occur, e.g.: na h-Ibeirich, na Ceiltich and Cruithnich (all p. 106).

Màiri Nighean Iain Bhàin (pp. 127-47) contains quotations from the poetry of Màiri Mhòr nan Òran. Editors should use Text 83 rather than this to quote from Màiri’s verses.

Iain Rothach’s verse has an important place in the history of Gaelic literature, as it is the first Gaelic verse of the twentieth century known to have been written in free-verse – a style which did not become popular in Gaelic until some forty years later. His most famous poem (assuming that it is really one rather than two poems) is Ar Tìr, ’s Ar Gaisgich a Thuit ’sna Blàir (pp. 85-87), on the heroes who fought and died in the war: Ged a bha cuid dhiubh, nuair bu bheò iad, \ Tric nach b’ mhìn rèidh sinn còmhla, \ A! thuit iad air còmhnard na strì, \ Fhuair sinn sìnt’ iad le’m bàs-leòintean (p. 86). It is in this poem that we find the well-known lines ’S i Tìr nan Gaisgeach a th’ann, \ Tìr nam Beann, nan Gaisgeach, ’s nan Gleann, \ ’S i Tìr nan Gaisgeach a th’ann! (p. 85).
Orthography The poetry in this text is not strongly dialectal. The orthography is compatible with the practices of the 1970s. It is possible that the editor has updated the orthography of Moireach’s manuscript for publication.
Edition First edition. Three of Moireach’s prose works were first published in GairmTurus do’n Spàinnt in Volumes 14 (1955, pp. 163-167), 15 (1956, pp. 223-228) and 16 (1956, pp. 319-325); Iain Rothach in Volumes 19 (1957, pp. 262-265) and 20 (1957, pp. 339-342); Geographaidh na h-Albann in Volumes 57 (1966, pp. 33-38), 58 (1967, pp. 182-187) and 60 (1967, pp. 326-337). Màiri Nighean Iain Bhàin was first published in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, 37 (1934-36), pp. 294-318.

Iain Rothach’s poems were first published in An Dìleab: Gaelic Verse for Advanced Divisions and Intermediate Classes. According to the Scottish Gaelic Union Catalogue, the first edition of An Dìleab appeared in 1929; according to the editor of An Tuil, however, it was first published in 1932. A second edition appeared in 1934. All three of Iain Rothach’s surviving poems are reproduced in An Tuil. In his notes to the poems, Black points out that ‘Murray appears to have had the poet’s own manuscript before him when he reproduced the poems in in Luach na Saorsa’; yet (he continues) ‘An Dìleab appears nevertheless to have many of the fuller and more reliable readings’ (p. 749). Black provides some examples of readings from Luach na Saorsa to support this view (ibid.). Since the orthography of Rothach’s poems has been modernised in An Tuil, Editors should quote from either Luach na Saorsa or from An Dìleab, having compared both versions of the text.
Further Reading Black, Ronald I. M., An Tuil (Edinburgh, 1999: Polygon).
Crichton, Torquil, ‘The Warrior Poet Who Lived Next Door’, Sunday Herald, Nov. 13, 2005.
Thomson, James, ed., An Dìleab: Gaelic Verse for Advanced Divisions and Intermediate Classes, (Glasgow, 1932: An Comunn Gaidhealach).
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