Reference Number205
TitleAn Dubh is an Gorm
AuthorMac a’ Ghobhainn, Iain
Date Of Edition1963
Date Of Languagemid 20c
Date Of Language Ed1950-1999
DateMacroMid 20th c.
Date Of Language Notes
PublisherAberdeen University (Oilthigh Obair-Dheadhain)
Place Published[Aberdeen]
LocationNational and academic libraries
Geographical OriginsLewis (Upper Bayble, Point)
Geographical Origins EdLewis
Geographical Origins Notes
RegisterLiterature, Prose
Register EdLiterature, Prose
A collection of 20 short stories by Iain Mac a’ Ghobhainn.
The prose in this volume contains excellent examples of the short story genre.
The author deploys metaphors and similes, and makes good use of Gaelic idioms.
The vocabulary mirrors the varied nature of the subject matter.
Alternative Author NameIain Crichton Smith
Manuscript Or EditionEd.
Size And Condition18cm x 13cm
Short TitleAn Dubh is an Gorm
Reference DetailsNLS: 5.2558
Number Of Pages[8], 106
Gaelic Text ByN/A
Social ContextIain Mac a’ Ghobhainn (known in English as Iain Crichton Smith) was born in Glasgow in 1928. His parents were both from Lewis, but had left the island in order to find work. They returned to Lewis in 1930 and the three boys (of whom Iain was the second) were brought up in Upper Bayble on the Point peninsula, about seven miles east of Stornoway. Their father died from tuberculosis when Iain was just three years old, leaving his mother to bring up the children alone.

Smith spoke Gaelic at home, learning English when he went to primary school in Bayble. He studied at the Nicolson Institute in Stornoway, where he became interested in English poetry. He graduated with a degree in English from the University of Aberdeen in 1949, and then gained a teaching qualification at Jordanhill College in Glasgow. He began his teaching career in Clydebank, in 1952, and taught for many years at Oban High School. He retired from teaching in 1977 in order to concentrate on writing. In that same year, he married Donalda Gillies Logan, and became stepfather to her two sons. After suffering a breakdown in 1982, he continued writing both in Gaelic and in English. He died of cancer at his home in Taynuilt in October 1998.

Smith was a prolific writer of both poetry and prose in English and in Gaelic. Smith’s first book of poetry, The Long River, was published in 1955. His best known work in English is his novel Consider the Lilies, which tells of an old woman’s struggle during the Highland Clearances. His first collection of Gaelic poems and short stories, Bùrn is Aran (Text 204), was published in 1960. He went on to publish a number of volumes of short stories, including An t-Adhar Ameireaganach (1973) and Na Guthan (1991). He also published a number of short novels, including Text 198, An t-Aonaran (1976) and Na Speuclairean Dubha (1989), and a number of poetry collections, including Eadar Fealla-Dhà is Glaschu (1974) and Na h-Eilthirich (1983). Smith also wrote plays and translated Gaelic poetry (e.g. Sorley MacLean’s Dain do Eimhir) into English. Recurring themes in Smith’s writing include religion, exile, alienation, island life and identity, and language.
ContentsThis volume contains twenty short stories preceded by the author’s Facal Taing and a list of the Sgeulachdan. The stories are as follows: An Solus Ur (pp. 1-7), Is agus Esan (p. 8), Am Maor (pp. 9-16), An Cuan ’s na Faoileagan (pp. 17-20), A’ Ghloine (pp. 21-24), An Carbad (pp. 25-27), E Fhein ’s a Bhrathair (pp. 28-30), Abraham is Isaac (pp. 31-33), Jenkins is Marlowe (pp. 34-39), A’ Bhan-Shoisgeulaiche (pp. 40-48), Aig a’ Chloich-Chuimhne (pp. 48-50), An Taghadh (pp. 51-55), An Comhradh (pp. 56-58), An Leine (pp. 59-62), Anns a’ Bhurn (pp. 63-65), Anns an Uaimh (pp. 66-71), Na h-Iudhaich (pp. 72-75), Am Priosanach (pp. 76-80), Na Facail air a’ Bhalla (pp. 81-82), An Dubh is an Gorm (pp. 83-106).

The stories in this volume are excellent examples of the short story genre. The stories are generally told in the third person, and frequently reveal the thoughts and feelings of the primary character. Each story takes place over a short period of time, though some contain flashbacks which help to explain the current situation. The stories in this volume cover a variety of subjects, including religion, death, loneliness, and isolation.

A’ Bhan-shoisgeulaiche is about Christian zeal, telling how a young woman goes out to Kenya as a missionary, hoping to convert the natives to Christianity. The story explores the missionary’s relationship with the native population and with her father. She finally conquers her fear of the forest, and of the natives, as she visits a sick young boy one evening. She realises, as she watches him with his mother, that the children are not hers, and that she doesn’t belong there. As she returns home, she sees the prayer-house on fire. As she approaches the fire, she is pushed into it by a group of natives carrying spears.

An Comhradh is about a young boy who is dying, and his relationship with his mother and with the local minister. The minister puts the fear of God into him, and his mother does nothing to comfort him, believing that the minister knows best. The boy becomes more and more introverted as he realises that he is dying, and as he begins to accept the minister’s account of heaven and hell and the bleakness of his situation.

Aig a’ Chloich-Chuimhne opens with a description of a war veteran looking up at the war memorial he visits every year. He had become an artist after the war, but never used red paint, as it reminded him of those who died in action – the image of rósan searbha na Frainge—air na broillichean mar fhuil (p. 49). He relives a particular experience in which he had tried to save one of his friends, and as a result a young German soldier was shot. He had mourned the loss of the German soldier, and had been sent home shortly afterwards. Having revived this memory, he returns home and begins to paint – a bright red flower under a blue sky.

An Dubh is an Gorm takes the form of thirteen letters which a young man (Coinneach) sends to his father as he begins his studies at University. Through the letters we see Coinneach awakening to a new world as he meets new people with new ideas that contrast with his upbringing in the Highlands, and with his father’s strict religiosity.

In other stories, we are introduced to Napoleon as the primary character in An Cuan ’s na Faoileagan, while Is agus Esan re-tells the story of Adam, Eve and the apple.
LanguageMac a’ Ghobhainn frequently resorts to figurative language. He uses colour to great effect, e.g.: Os cionn nan tighean bha an solus uaine, is grian òir anns an adhar (p. 1); Bha an t-adhar air taobh muigh na h-uinneig a’ fàs dearg an déidh a bhith uaine (p. 4). The stories contain many similes, e.g.: mar nathair ann an gàrradh sgòthan (p. 4); dh’fhalbh e mar fhaileas (p. 42).

Mac a’ Ghobhainn’s vocabulary is as varied as his subject matter. The range of English loanwords he uses is noteworthy, e.g.: telefonan (p. 1), muillionan (p. 1), rocaidean (p. 1), and pacaid thoitean (p. 1). Further words and expressions of interest include the following: am fear-riaghlaidh (p. 1), luathas-analach (p. 45), tallan (p. 86), and anns a’ chùlaisd (p. 106). Also of interest are idiomatic phrases such as tha mi coimhead nach robh sibh a-muigh (p. 89) and Eil thu riutha?, meaning ‘Do you smoke?’ (p. 1).
OrthographyWhile these stories contain vocabulary and forms which indicate a Lewis provenance, it was not part of the author’s intention to write in a dialectally marked form of language.

The orthography is that of the mid-twentieth century, i.e. before the advent of the Gaelic Orthographical Conventions in the 1970s. Most obviously, the acute is used as well as the grave accent.
EditionFirst edition. This volume was reprinted in 1969, 1979, and 1985. The orthography appears to be the same in all three editions.
Other Sources
Further ReadingThomson, Derick S., ed., The Companion to Gaelic Scotland (Glasgow, 1994: Gairm).
ODNB article on Smith:
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