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Metadata for text 49
No. words in text29721
Title Folksongs and Folklore of South Uist
Author Shaw, Margaret Fay
Editor N/A
Date Of Edition 1955
Date Of Language 1950-1999
Publisher Routledge and Kegan Paul
Place Published London
Volume N/A
Location National, academic, and local libraries
Geographical Origins South Uist
Register Literature, Prose and Verse
Alternative Author Name N/A
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 25cm x 19cm
Short Title Folksongs and Folklore
Reference Details EUL, Scottish Studies Library: G2(G)Sha
Number Of Pages xiv, 290
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context The stories, songs, proverbs, sayings, and customs presented in this volume all relate to South Uist. Most were collected by Margaret Fay Shaw during her time in South Uist. From 1929 to 1935 she lived with two sisters, Màiri and Peigi MacRae, in their thatched house in Glendale, in the south of the island, and she remained in the area for a number of years afterwards. Most of the information presented here was collected in South Uist, especially around Loch Boisdale, and was transcribed by Shaw at the time.

Margaret Fay Shaw was born in Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, in 1903, the youngest of five sisters. She was orphaned by the age of 11, and at the age of 16 made her first trip to Scotland to visit a family friend. She spent a year in school in Helensburgh, and it was during this time that she first heard Gaelic song. Shaw studied music in Paris and in New York, and in 1924 returned to Britain. On her arrival, she undertook an epic journey by bicycle, from Oxford to the Isle of Skye, where she stayed for a month. During this journey, Shaw earned a living by selling her own photographs to newspapers and magazines. Shaw also travelled to South Uist, and was introduced to Màiri and Peigi MacRae at the ‘big house’ in Lochboisdale, where she had been invited for dinner. The two sisters sang to the guests in Gaelic, and Shaw was so taken with them that she stayed with them, at their house in North Glendale, for six years. During these six years, Shaw learnt Gaelic, and transcribed the folklore and songs that she heard on the island. Much of the material she collected was published in this volume. Brian Wilson said of this volume in 2004: ‘Not only was it a scholarly presentation of the songs and lore which she had written down during her sojourn on the island, but also an invaluable description of life in a small crofting community during the 1930s.’

In 1934, Shaw met John Lorne Campbell (see Text 46), who was living in Barra at the time. They married in Glasgow in 1935, and lived in Barra for three years, before moving to Canna. They lived at Canna House for the rest of their lives, devoting their time to the preservation of Highland culture, and to the collection of material relating to Gaelic and to Highland life. This volume, first published in 1955, was prepared for the press in Canna with Campbell’s encouragement and help. Both Shaw and Campbell frequently travelled abroad, and it was during a trip to Italy in 1996 that her husband died. Margaret Fay Shaw lived on in Canna, and died in December 2004, at the age of 101. In 1993, she published her autobiography, From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides.
Contents In the Introduction (pp. 1-18), Shaw introduces the island of South Uist and some of the people from whom she collected material. The songs, proverbs and sayings presented in this volume are given both in Gaelic and in English and Shaw acknowledges in this section the help of various islanders, in particular Màiri MacRae, in transcribing the Gaelic in accordance with the way it was pronounced: ‘She made certain that I had the sound of the words down right, no matter in what spelling, for they were of the utmost importance in noting down the tune’ (p. 16).

The main body of the text is presented in 8 chapters, as follows:

Prayers and Saints’ Days (pp. 19-22): This chapter contains various prayers, including a prayer for smooring the fire, a blessing for the cattle, and prayers for St. Michael’s day, St. Peter’s day, St. Columba’s Day, and St. Bride’s Day, all in Gaelic and English.

Ballads (pp. 24-32): This chapter contains two versions of the Hogmanay Duan (Duan Callaig and Duan Calluinn), an Easter Duan (Duan na Càisg), and a version of one of the Ossianic ballads, Duan na Ceàrdaidh. All are given in Gaelic and English.

Proverbs and Sayings (pp. 33-46): This section includes triads, proverbs and sayings under a number of headings (e.g. Am Muir, Na h-Eòin, and Comhairle), and a number of riddles. All are presented in Gaelic and English.

Old Cures (pp. 47-51): This chapter contains cures for humans and animals. The cures are given in English, although a number of Gaelic terms are included, e.g. plant names and the names of certain diseases.

Recipes for Dyeing Wool (pp. 53-55): The recipes are given in English, however, the names of plants are also given in Gaelic

Recipes for Special Dishes (pp. 57-58): Five recipes are given in English, although the names of the dishes are given in Gaelic. The last recipe, for Michaelmas Cake (Struthan na h-’Éill Mìcheil) is also given in Gaelic.

Stories (pp. 59-69): The stories are given in English.

Songs (pp. 71-268): This chapter contains a wide range of songs, with their melodies, most of which were collected by Shaw in Glendale, in South Uist. An introduction to the songs is given on pp. 71-78, which includes a brief history of the publication of collected songs from various islands. The songs include sailing songs, love songs, and, particularly, waulking songs, lullabies, and puirt a beul. After each song Shaw indicates from whom she collected verses and where other versions of the song can be found. An explanation of the song A’ Bhean Iadach is given in Gaelic and English (pp. 254-57).

This volume ends with a lists of Reciters (pp. 269-71), from whom the information presented in this volume was collected. There follows an index of First Lines of Songs and Ballads (pp. 273-75), a Bibliography (pp. 277-81), and an Index (pp. 283-90), which contains both English and Gaelic words. Four sets of black and white photographs, taken in South Uist, are included in the text.
Sources Most of the items presented here were collected and transcribed by Margaret Fay Shaw. 13 of the songs were published in the Journal of the English Folk Dance and Song Society 5. One song, A Ghaoil lig dhachaidh dha m’ mhàthair mi, was found by John Lorne Campbell amongst the papers of Dr. George Henderson in Glasgow University Library. John Lorne Campbell also collected the stories, in Gaelic, from Seonaidh Caimbeul, a local storyteller, in November 1935. They are presented here in translation only.
Language Shaw comments, in her introduction to the chapter on songs, that she has ‘tried to make the Gaelic in this book true to the speech of the reciters, without departing too far from the conventional spelling’ (pp. 76-77). The text of the songs is therefore a particularly valuable representation of Glendale Gaelic. It is likely that the proverbs and sayings etc. are also representative of South Uist Gaelic.

This volume contains words and expressions covering a wide range of subjects. The chapters Prayers and Saints’ Days (pp. 19-22) and Ballads (pp. 24-32) include much religious terminology as well as terminology relating to customs and traditions. Examples include Muire (p. 19), air aona-chois (p. 29), ciardhubh (p. 29), Ìosa (p. 20), Mo chaisean Callaig (p. 24), Dia nan Dùl (p. 26), and teachdaire Mhic Dé (p. 27). Smàladh an Teine (p. 19) uses the word aingeal for ‘fire’ and for ‘angel’: ‘Mar a smàladh Muire ’n t-aingeal’ (fire) and ’S aingeal geal an dorus an taighe’ (angel). The language found in such prayers and incantations can be seen Fàilt’ An Aingeil’ (p. 20) which begins: ‘Aingeil Dhé fhuair mar chùram \ O Athair na tròcaire \ Buachailleachd naomh a dhèanamh ormsa, \ An diu ’s a nochd’ (p. 20). Also of note are the lines ‘Reothart mór na h-Éill Moire’ (p. 21) and ‘Là Fhéill Peadair, Latha Muire’ (p. 22), which contain two spellings of the word for ‘feast’, and in the second example, two spellings of the word for ‘day’.

The chapter on Proverbs and Sayings (pp. 33-46) contains various items of lexicographical interest, including, runnach ‘mackerel’ (p. 33), boireannach leatromach (p. 33), Gille pilleagach, loth pheallagach, agus nighean bhreac-luirgneach (p. 34), Imprig rather than Imrich (p. 34), Cha mhór as diach (p. 37), dha’n chitsinn (p. 37), Inid ‘Shrovetide’ (p. 38), bigean beag ‘meadow or rock pipit’ (p. 39), frìde (p. 40), and glutaire (p. 44). Sayings include, ‘’S minig a bha rath air leiristeach is math-an-airigh gun nì’ (p. 43) and ‘Diùghaidh sìde, fliodh shneachda, \ Diùghaidh connaidh, fearna fhliuch, \ Diùghaidh digheadh, beòir air dhol aog, \ Agus diùghaidh an t-saoghail, droch-bhean’ (p. 44).

The chapters on Old Cures (pp. 47-51), Recipes for Dyeing Wool (pp. 53-55), and Recipes for Special Dishes (pp. 57-58) include terminology relating to illnesses and cures (both animal and human), plants, and food. For example, we find Cairt Shleamhna ‘Tormentil’ (p. 47), Lus nan Laogh ‘Buckbean’ (p. 47), stopadh ‘constipation’ (p. 48), Lus nan Leac ‘Eye-bright’ (p. 49), Gille Fionndrainn ‘White whelks’ (p. 51), Fiasag nan Creag – ‘a hairy lichen’ (p. 53), Buadhghallan Buidhe ‘Yellow Ragwort’ (p. 54), Cairt-Locha – ‘water lily root (known in Glendale as gucagan-bàite) (p. 54), Fuarag (p. 57), and Deoch-Mhineadh (p. 57).

The chapter on Songs (pp. 71-268) contains range of vocabulary relating to various subjects and includes: Càrnan Iubailidh do'n Bhàn-righ’nn (p. 81), Tha ghaoth an iar a’ gobachadh (p. 82), Bidh tostaichean ’gan éibheach (p. 83), Géidseir (p. 88), air laigh-shiùbhlaidh (p. 91), ‘Boineid ghorm is còta sgàrlaid, \ Is cocàrd a dh’it’ an eòin’ (p. 93), ‘Mharbhainn ràc agus lacha, \ Agus tarmachan creachainn, \ Earba riabhach nam badan \ Bhiodh ’sa mhaduinn fo fhiamh’ (p. 106), An leabaidh bhig na clòsaid (p. 110), air teodhair (p. 122), diallaid, (p. 122), ‘Stiorapan do leathar iall, \ Is strian do shìomain connlaich’ (p. 122), ’s streòdag air (p. 125), ‘sìochair’ agus ‘rògaire’ (p. 125), an Griasaiche (p. 125), Marsanta a’ Chotain (p. 125), Chaidh an t-each fairis ort (p. 134), Air an d’fhàs an cùl clannach (p. 139), ’s iomadh sgial duilich r’a sheinn (p. 144), ’sa cheann-adhairt (p. 146), Siosar is miaran is snàthad (p. 150), Cha deachaidh buarach air boinn (p. 158), Crodh riabhach, breac, ballach air dhath nan cearc fraoich (p. 168), Ged a bheireadh tu eachaibh air thaodaibh dhomh (p. 170), buailidh mi ’sa chlaigionn thu (p. 173), Bidh e air an dallanach a bharrachd air an Daoraich (p. 182), Bhrist thu ’m miodar ’s a’ mhias sàbha (p. 187), ‘Thug e ’m boicionn leis a’ chraicionn, \ Leis an drip a bh’air a’ falbh’ (p. 191), liùghagan glasa (p. 199), Orra bhuinneagan, a ghràidh (p. 200), ‘Cha robh pluc, no meall, no gaog ann, \ No gìog chaol, no sliasaid reamhar’ (p. 204), fo éislein (p. 216), Righ! gur buidhe dhaibh péin siod! (p. 216), ‘Fear ’na dhiùca, fear ’na chaiptin, \ Fear ’na dhròbhair mór air martaibh’ (p. 220), ‘Do shlios mar chailc as àille dreach, \ Mo chreach! mur faigh mi còir ort’ (p. 222), Air an tulaich, ’s mór m’éislein (p. 229), ‘Dhianainn sùgradh ris a’ ghruagaich, \ Ri nighinn duinn a’ chuailein chleachdaich’ (p. 235), Mìle marbhaisg (p. 241), Luchd nam breugan (p. 241), Air na dìsnean geala cnàmha (p. 245), Chunna mi do thaigh ’ga rùsgadh (p. 247), ‘Bha mi ’n Leódhas a’ chruidh chaisfhinn; \ Cha n-fhaca mi sguab no dais ann, \ Na pill chriathraidh na pill fhasgnaidh’ (p. 253), Gura h-òg a thug mi spéis dhut (p. 259), and Cha chroch mi m’iarna ri tallan (p. 264).
Orthography Non-standard forms and spellings, including many which evoke the South Uist dialect, are apparent in many words and phrases. For example, we find a slender n in some instances where a broad n is more common, e.g. Chì mi ’n t-eilein (p. 210); a chreiceadh rather than reiceadh (p. 38); mutha rather than motha (p. 27); caladh, possibly a variant for calpa (p. 27); gheobhainn rather than gheibhinn (p. 88); leanmhainn rather than leantainn or leantail (p. 20); lig rather than leig (p. 24); eutrom rather than aotrom (p. 229); mo raghainn rather than roghainn (p. 231); saithichean rather than soithichean (p. 40); gu faigh rather than gus am faigh (p. 45); fiodhull rather than fidheall (p. 246); and orra rather than air do (p. 200). Ge b’r’ith (p. 38) and Ge bè (p. 25) are both used, and air bhialaibh is lenited (p. 58).

We also find rùis’te (p. 25), air na chrochadh Crìosd (p. 26), a h-uile sian (p. 58), Dhà na trì do chòtaichean (p. 58), ugainn (p. 79), Nach fhaicear tuilleadh gu bràch thu (p. 102), Air neo (p. 103), Slànair (p. 154), urad (p. 174), and ’S cha b’e ’n Aoine rinn ur n-àireamh meaning ‘You were not drowned’ (p. 246). The text also includes many -idh dative endings, e.g. a bh’ air an leacaidh (p. 174) and dha’n linnidh (p. 255), and a number of -adh genitive endings, e.g. dà làn spàineadh (p. 58) and Chuireadh i le séid a stròineadh (p. 174).

The orthographic system used by Shaw represents a deliberate adaptation of mid-twentieth-century spelling. We find the forms liom rather than leam (e.g. liom fhìn, p. 210), and dh’ur n-ionnsaigh (p. 24). Days of the week are written Di-Luain (p. 34) and Diar-daoin (p. 21). Note also the spellings of An diu (p. 20), Cha n-eil (p. 25) and Cha n-fhaiceamaid (p. 30).
Edition First edition.
Other Sources
Further Reading Shaw, Margaret Fay, From the Alleghenies to the Hebrides, an Autobiography (Edinburgh, 1993: Canongate).
Wilson, Brian, ‘Margaret Fay Shaw, American-born folklorist and saviour of Scotland’s Gaelic tradition’, The Guardian, Friday December 17, 2004:,12271,1375784,00.html
BBC Press Release: http://
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