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Metadata for text 8
No. words in textN/A
Title Hiort, Far na Laigh a’ Ghrian
Author MacFhearghuis, Calum
Editor N/A
Date Of Edition 1995
Date Of Language Various
Publisher Acair
Place Published Stornoway
Volume N/A
Location National, academic and local libraries
Geographical Origins Lewis
Register Literature, Prose and Verse
Alternative Author Name Calum Ferguson
Manuscript Or Edition Ed.
Size And Condition 19.7cm x 21cm
Short Title Hiort
Reference Details EUL, Celtic Library: HS MacF
Number Of Pages 172
Gaelic Text By N/A
Illustrator N/A
Social Context Calum MacFhearghuis was brought up in the Point district of Lewis. He was educated at Aberdeen University, and has worked as a teacher, broadcaster, and writer. He now lives in Stornoway. In 1983 he published Suileabhan, on the life and stories of John MacLeod of Port Mholair, in his home district of Point. Children of the Blackhouse, which detailed the life of his mother, Mairead, growing up in rural Lewis in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was published in 2003. In 2004 an English language version of Suileabhan, entitled Soolivan, was published by Birlinn.

Although MacFhearghuis has no familial connection with St. Kilda, he had childhood friends whose parents, Fionnlagh Beag MacCuithinn and Bessie NicCuithinn, had left St. Kilda in 1930. Between 1979 and 1984, MacFhearghuis spent time gathering information from the last two St. Kildans who were alive and well, Lachaidh Dòmhnallach in Glen Nevis, and Niall MacGillIosa in Garthamlock.
Contents This volume begins with a Ro-Radh (p. v) by the author, explaining that although many books have been published on St. Kilda, none of them was in Gaelic, and that he wanted to redress the balance. MacFhearghuis then talks of his own involvement with the island, through childhood friends who had connections with St. Kilda, and mentions two manuscript sources in the possession of Calum MacCuithinn and Ailis, Bean MhicLachlainn, both of which are now overseas. There follows a list of acknowledgements.

The remainder of the book contains 71 short chapters grouped in three sections (listed below), each of which examines a period in the history of the island drawing on published sources and oral tradition. Each section includes stories about local events and characters, and songs, some of which survive as text without the tune and some of which survive as tunes without the lyrics. In some cases either the tune or the lyrics have been added by modern writers, including the author himself. Editors therefore need to take care when determining the author and date of the song lyrics in this volume. The volume contains sketches and black and white photographs throughout, and pp. 76-87 contain colour photographs of the island and the surrounding area. The three main sections in this volume are as follows:

An Aois Og (ro 1730) (pp. 9-46): This section contains 21 chapters, which look at the history of St. Kilda before 1730, when most of the islanders were killed by smallpox. The smallpox outbreak is covered in chapter 20 (pp. 42-43). Other subjects covered in this section include early reports of the island (e.g. pp. 11-15), archaeology (e.g. p. 17), animal husbandry (p. 24), and wedding traditions (pp. 40-41), as well as songs, music and stories from the island.

An t-Seann Aimsir (1730-1852) (pp. 47-90): This section contains 15 chapters, which look at the history of St. Kilda from 1730 to 1852. It includes the story of the imprisonment of Lady Grange on the island in 1734 (pp. 48-49), and has chapters on the rock-climbing skills of the St. Kildans (pp. 52-55), on birds and bird-catching (pp. 55-59), and on housing on the island (pp. 71-73). The section also includes songs and stories from the island.

Linn nan Creach (1852-an-diugh) (pp. 91-172): The largest of the three sections contains 35 chapters and looks at St. Kilda from 1851 to the present day. It includes chapters on New Year traditions (p. 92), religion (p. 96), health (pp. 98-99), the Gaelic language and education (p. 102), emigration (pp. 108-09, 123), tourism (p. 133), lives lost at sea or rock-climbing (pp. 134-35), and World War I (pp. 146-48). There are also sections on the Rev. Neil MacKenzie, who was the minister on St. Kilda from 1829 to 1843 (pp. 104-05), and on Alexander Carmichael’s visit to the island in 1865 (p. 127). The author makes extensive use of the writings of John Sands, who wrote about the island in the late 1870s (e.g. pp. 130, 131-32), and of the writings of Alice MacLachlann, who came to the island with her minister husband in 1906 (e.g. pp. 134-35). Chapter 65 (pp. 149-52) looks at the evacuation of the island in August 1930. Topics covered in the remaining chapters include World War II and the three planes that fell on St. Kilda during the course of the war (pp. 154-56), the weather (p. 160), and the recent investigations by divers which provide us with detailed information about the cliffs and stacks around the island (pp. 157-59). The final chapters look at the people of St. Kilda themselves, from around 1841 to 1930, and include information gathered from the census returns detailing who the people were, where they lived, and what age they were (pp. 161-71). This section also includes stories and songs from the island.

The Songs

Of the 38 songs and tunes published in this volume, 30 contain original lyrics from St. Kilda. Of the remaining titles, some are original tunes from St. Kilda to which the words have been lost, while others comprise either lyrics or melodies that have been composed more recently, a number by the author himself. One, Laoidh na Tobrach (p. 51), was written by Rev. Neil MacKenzie, originally from Sannox in Arran, probably between 1829 and 1843. The songs from St. Kilda include elegies, e.g. Dha Mo Chuileana Gaolach (p. 60), Goirt mo Thuireadh (pp. 61-6) and two in the form of rowing song, Iorram air Niall Dòmhnallach (p. 137) and Iorram na Truaighe (p. 145); laments, e.g. Cha b’ e Sgiobadh na Faiche (p. 33) and Cumha na Bantraich Hiortaich (p. 95); songs about love, e.g. Òigear a Chùil Duinn (p. 68) and Iorram Suirghe (p. 128); religious songs, e.g. Laoidh Fhionnlaigh Òig (p. 106) and Saidhbhreas Gràis (p. 122); and songs covering various other topics, e.g. Cas na Caora Hiortaich, ò! (p. 25). There are also some waulking songs (e.g. p. 23). MacFhearghuis also gives an example of the Nuallan (p. 92), which was said at New Year as the boys went visiting from house to house.

A number of the songs were recorded or composed in the early or mid-nineteenth century. For example, both versions of Gur Ann Thall ann an Sòdhaigh (pp. 44-45) were found in the collection of Rev. Neil MacKenzie. The first was taken down in 1815, and the second may have been collected slightly later, during his stay on the island from 1829 to 1843. Many of the songs in this volume were taken from Rev. Neil MacKenzie’s collection (e.g. Laoidh Fhionnlaigh Òig, p. 106); for some he gives the author and the year in which it was written (e.g. Laoidh Fhionnlaigh Òig was written by Fionnlagh Òg MacCuithinn in 1842). The ten elegies, pp. 60-63, were also found in the collection of Rev. Neil MacKenzie.
Sources General Information

MacFhearghuis makes use of material published by other authors including Martin Martin, John Sands and Alice MacLachlan. Where extracts or information have been taken from these sources, bibliographical references are lacking. Also, while the author has quoted some authors in English, in some cases he has translated their words into Gaelic, without giving any clear indication as to where or on what basis he has done so. For example, he quotes George Seton on p. 69 in English, while quoting him on p. 102 in Gaelic. It appears that all Gaelic quotations are translations of the original English. In some cases, however, apparent quotations in Gaelic lack any indication as to author, original language or date.

The Songs: Sources and Versions

In the ‘Ro-radh’, MacFhearghuis states that he found most of the music in libraries in the Lowlands, namely the National Library, the Central Library, and the University Library in Edinburgh, and the Mitchell Library and the University Library in Glasgow. He also thanks the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh.

As mentioned above, many of the songs were taken from the collection of Rev. Neil MacKenzie. A number of, if not all of, the songs from MacKenzie’s collection, including the Nuallan, were published in the Celtic Review, Vol. 2 (1905-06) by his son Rev. J. B. MacKenzie. 16 of these appear in MacFhearghuis’s volume; however there are slight differences between the two versions. The differences are mostly orthographic, e.g. Na aobhar broin domh tras in Celtic Review, becomes Na adhbhar-bròin domh ’n tràth seo in MacFhearghuis, and A reir sna bha d’ bhoca becomes A rèir ’s na bha d’ phoc. Other differences include moille in Celtic Review becoming maill in MacFhearghuis, sud becoming siud, stà becoming stàth, eigin becoming èiginn, and d ’ur n-ionnsaidh becoming gur h-ionnsaidh. However, MacFhearghuis coincides with MacKenzie in having turraban rather than turaman, and caol-druim rather than comhla. MacFhearghuis does not say whether he took the songs from the original MSS or from the published versions in the Celtic Review. In one instance, MacFhearghuis has Cha … fhada is tha mi where the Celtic Review version reads Cha dh’fheithe fhada is tha mi but it is not clear whether he omitted a word which was obscure to him in the Celtic Review, or whether he was working from a MS source which was gapped or illegible at this point. It has so far proved impossible to locate the present whereabouts of the original MSS. The songs published in the Celtic Review have no titles and it must be assumed that the titles of songs published in this volume were added by MacFhearghuis.

MacFhearghuis gives two versions of the song Gur Ann Thall ann an Sòdhaigh (pp. 44-45), both of which were found in Rev. Neil MacKenzie’s collection. According to MacFhearghuis, the second version, from 1815, was published in An Gàidheal 5 (1876, p. 54), under the title Cumha Hirteach, and has been published in other places since then. However, on inspection, the version of the song published in An Gàidheal differs quite considerably from that published by MacFhearghuis. For example, the version published in An Gàidheal contains a chorus and two additional stanzas. There are also differences within the shared stanzas. In some cases the orthography has been modernised for this volume, e.g. ga d’fhuasgladh becomes gad fhuasgladh. In other cases, however, words, or even lines, are different. For example, where An Gàidheal has ‘Ged a thuit thu bho ’n chreig ud, \ Cha b’ e ’n t-eagal a léum thu; \ ’S ann a rinn do chas sraonadh, \ ’S cha do dh’fhaod thu riamh éiridh. \ … \ Thàinig thugam do mhàthair, \ Gun i ’chàradh a bréid oirr’, \ ’S ruith do phiuthar ’n uair ’chual’ i, \ Ach b’ fhad’ uainn far an d’ éug thu’ (An Gàidheal 5, 1876, p. 54), MacFhearghuis has ‘’S ged a chaidh thu sa chreig ud, \ Cha b’ e ’n t-eagal a lèir thu — \ ’S ann a rinn do chas sraonadh, \ ’S cha do dh’fhaod thu riamh èirigh. \ … \ Nuair a thàinig do mhàthair, \ Cha do chàirich i ’m brèid oirr’; \ Nuair a thàinig do phiuthar, \ Bha sinn dubhach le chèile’ (pp. 44-45). It seems likely that the version published in An Gàidheal, which was submitted by ‘D. R. M.’, was collected independently in the late nineteenth century, and was not a copy of a version collected by Rev. Neil MacKenzie in the early nineteenth century.

The song Thulgag Bhòidheach (p. 20), of which only the first stanza is original (the other two having been composed by the author), was previously published in Collinson (1966: 89). The only difference between the two versions of the original stanza is towards the end of the last line, where MacFhearghuis has null chon nan eileanan, and Collinson has null air na h-eileanan. Collinson’s version was collected from Miss Nandag MacLeod, Stornoway; MacFhearghuis does not give the source of his version. Indeed, MacFhearghuis gives no sources for a number of the songs in the volume e.g. Cleite Gàdaig (p. 16) and Òigear a Chùil Duinn (p. 69). Cleite Gàdaig (p. 16) was published in Gillies’ Collection of 1786 (pp. 47-48) with one more stanza than is published here. Again, the orthography is modernised in this edition.
Language The language of the main body of the text is Calum MacFhearghuis’s Gaelic from Point in the Isle of Lewis. MacFhearghuis’s Gaelic is a good example of mid-twentieth century Lewis Gaelic but contains no vocabulary of particular significance. Of most interest in this volume is the native St. Kildan Gaelic, shown in the 30 songs from St. Kilda. In the songs, we find vocabulary such as feadh na gòlaibh, with gòlaibh meaning ‘waves’ (p. 62). This might possibly be from gobhal ‘fork’ (information from Prof. D. Meek). However, the version printed in the Celtic Review has fòlaibh, with a footnote glossing the word as tonnan, ‘waves’. Other terminology of interest includes cruaidh ‘anchor’ (p. 74), sguid-fhear ‘the man responsible for the sail’ (p. 74), foinnidh ‘noble’ (p. 74), treubhach ‘strong, brave’ (p. 74), foir ‘save, rescue’ (p. 101), and thàine instead of thàinig (p. 128). MacFhearghuis has highlighted some of the more unusual vocabulary, and he explains (as does the Celtic Review) that those songs from the collection of Rev. Neil MacKenzie also reflect, to some extent, the local pronunciation of some of the words.

St. Kildan pronunciation was such that the letters bh and mh, usually pronounced /v/, was pronounced as /w/, as was the letter l when followed by a broad vowel (a, o, or u). The slender r was pronounced as an l. The letters d and g were also pronounced differently in certain combinations, and the Rev. Neil MacKenzie’s MSS seem to suggest that the final n of the article was frequently omitted when it preceded a c, g, or t, as can be seen by the prevalence of a(n) in the songs published in the Celtic Review. MacKenzie himself, however, does not mention this omission of the final n, and is quoted as saying that the St. Kildan dialect was very similar to that of Harris.

St. Kildan words also appear throughout the text when describing particular aspects of life on St. Kilda such as rock-climbing and bird-catching, for example the word lomhainn or lon was the St. Kildan word for the rope they used while climbing cliffs to catch birds (pp. 52-53). In the section on housing (pp. 71-73), the only vocabulary of note is the St. Kildan word for the partition wall between the byre and the living area, which they called fallan, rather than tallan or hallan (hallan also appears in Scots).

Other St. Kildan terms appearing throughout the text include the St. Kildan term for dying a’ dol leatha (e.g. p. 52), and St. Kildan terms for birds and bird parts, e.g. giban ‘fulmar fat’ (p. 56), and tulmair rather than fulmair, the mid-eighteenth century term for the fulmar (p. 58). MacFhearghuis offers one explanation for tulmair, and also for the term tulaidheag ‘great black-backed gull’, suggesting that these forms may reflect the way in which the St. Kildans pronounced the words, e.g. an t-fhulmair (leading to an tulmair), and an t-fhaoileag (leading to tulaidheag). This explanation may owe something to MacFhearghuis’s Lewis pronunciation of an t- as /nh/. It is hard to accept it in the case of the feminine noun faoileag.
Edition First edition. Although this edition is well laid-out and well-written, it does present some potential problems for the lexicographer. Firstly, as mentioned above, quoted material has often been translated into Gaelic, without any indication of this from the author. Secondly, it can, at times, be difficult to distinguish the quotations from the main body of the text. They are in the same font, and are the same size as the body text, although extended quotations are indented to the left and right, and are justified, whereas the body text is aligned to the left. There is no index, which makes it difficult to find particular terms or subjects, and no bibliography, which presents difficulties when trying to identify original texts. It should be noted that there are no accents on capital letters throughout the text. There also seem to be a small number of typing errors throughout the text, e.g. airsoncinnt and gufaigheadh (p. 150), and possibly gòlaibh (p.62) as mentioned above. This book is a good source of St. Kildan vocabulary and pronunciation, most of which is contained in the songs. It has yet to be seen, however, which is the authoritative version of those songs published both in this volume, and in the Celtic Review. If possible, Rev. Neil MacKenzie’s MSS should be consulted.
Other Sources
Further Reading ‘Bardachd Irteach’, Celtic Review, 2 (1906), 327-42.
Coates, Richard, ‘Notes on the past of the Gaelic dialect of St Kilda’, in Cognitive Science Research Paper 081 (Brighton, 1988: University of Sussex). (Text not yet seen.)
Coates, Richard, The Place-names of St. Kilda (Lampeter,1990: Edwin Mellen, published in conjunction with the Centre for Research and Scholarship).
Collinson, Francis, The Traditional and National Music of Scotland (London, 1966: Routledge & Kegan Paul).
‘Cumha Hirteach’, An Gàidheal 5 (1876), 54.
Dwelly, Edward, Illustrated Gaelic-English Dictionary (Glasgow, 1977: Gairm).
Gillies, John, Sean dain, agus orain Ghaidhealach (Perth, 1786).
Mackenzie, Rev. J. B., ‘Antiquities and Old Customs in St. Kilda, compiled from notes made by Rev. Neil MacKenzie, minister of St. Kilda, 1829-43’, PSAS, 39 (1905), 397-402.
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