Reference Number88
TitleClàrsach nam Beann
AuthorMacColl, Evan
EditorMacDhughaill, Eachann
Date Of Edition1937
Date Of Language19c
Date Of Language Ed1850-1899
Date Of Language Notes
PublisherEvan MacColl Memorial Committee
Place PublishedGlasgow
LocationNational, academic, and local libraries
Geographical OriginsKenmore, Loch Fyne
Geographical Origins EdArgyll
GeoMacroArgyll mainland
Geographical Origins Notes
RegisterLiterature, Verse
Register EdLiterature, Verse
89 poems in Gaelic, mostly on the theme of love and/or nature.
The nature poetry is richly descriptive.
There are some eulogies and elegies, some poems about war and politics, and some humorous poems.
This volume also contains a few translations of MacColl’s English poems (presumably translated by the author himself).
Alternative Author NameEoghan Mac Colla, Bàrd Loch Fìne (See further under Social Context.)
Manuscript Or EditionEd.
Size And Condition22cm x 14.5cm
Short TitleClàrsach nam Beann
Reference DetailsNLS: T.89.d
Number Of Pagesviii, 171
Gaelic Text ByN/A
Social ContextEvan MacColl (also known as Bàrd Loch Fìne) was born in Kenmore, on Lochfyneside in Argyllshire, on 21st September 1808. His father, Dugald, was one of several tenants on a joint-farm and was a fisherman and ’na fhear-gleidhidh nan rathaidean-móra (p. 10), as well as a farmer. Evan was the second youngest of eight children, having five brothers and two sisters. His father was well known in the area for his Gaelic singing, and his mother was ‘noted for her store of traditional tales, legendary and fairy lore, and was withal thoroughly familiar with her Bible’ (1886 edition, p. 2). As one might expect, their house was one of the favourites for local ceilidhs. Evan grew up with a keen interest in nature, his father having shown him, while he was a child, local vantage-points offering exceptionally beautiful views of the surrounding landscape. He was a gentle child, and hated to see any creature being hurt or killed. He would take himself away from the farm on days when animals were to be killed, and his views on protecting local bird species earned him some taunting from the other boys in the area.

Evan received his early schooling, such as it was, at a local school, where speaking Gaelic was expressly forbidden. After leaving the local school, Evan’s father hired a tutor for his children and it was from him, Alexander Mackenzie-MacLeod, that MacColl developed a real interest in English literature. Mackenzie-MacLeod had been a teacher with the SSPCK in the Highlands. After leaving MacColl’s family he went to Jamaica, where he died less than two years later. MacColl’s interest in English literature was fuelled when his father brought home a number of old books, which he had bought from a Paisley weaver. MacColl’s first song, composed when he was still a boy, was about a young girl in the neighbourhood to whom MacColl had become attracted. While he did not wish to own up to having written the song, he wished to know how others would regard it, and so he taught it to a friend of his, without telling him who had written it, and the friend sang it that night at a local ceilidh. Everyone loved the song, and from then on MacColl knew that he was indeed a poet.

MacColl grew up learning farm-work and fishing, and during the winter months he and his brothers worked, alongside other labourers, on the road repairs that his father was contracted to oversee. MacColl worked on the roads for a number of years and composed many songs during this time.

When Evan’s father decided to emigrate, taking all of his unmarried children with him, Evan was unsure if he should go. He eventually decided to publish some of his compositions before emigrating, so that he might leave his fellow countrymen something to remember him by. The first edition of The Mountain Minstrel; or, Clàrsach nam Beann, consisting of Gaelic and English poems and songs, was published in 1836, completely at the expense of the author. His work was well received and he earned a little over the cost of publication from its sales. After the publication of his book, MacColl took a trip round the Highlands and met a number of people, including Dr. Robert Carruthers, who was at the time the editor of the Inverness Chronicle in which MacColl published a number of his poems. By 1838, MacColl had written a few new pieces and these were included in an all-Gaelic edition, Clàrsach nam Beann. An all-English edition, The Mountain Minstrel, was published at the same time, to high acclaim. Second editions of The Mountain Minstrel were published in 1846 and 1849, to little financial benefit. A large edition, entitled The English poetical works of Evan MacColl and edited by A. MacKenzie, was published in Toronto and Edinburgh in 1883. This edition seems to have been fairly successful, and a third edition was published in 1887. Some of MacColl’s work was published in Sàr-obair nam bàrd Gàelach, first published in 1841, and indeed the editor, John MacKenzie, was a friend of Evan MacColl.

In the spring of 1839, MacColl was offered a position as a clerk in the Liverpool Custom House, through his acquaintance with Mr Campbell of Islay, who was the MP for Argyllshire at the time. In 1850, suffering from ill health, MacColl was awarded 6 months leave to visit his family in Canada and recuperate. While in Canada, through another acquaintance, he was offered a slightly better position in the Provincial Customs of Upper Canada in Kingston, Ontario, close to Seymour where his father’s family had settled. He remained in that position until his retirement in 1880. Unfortunately, MacColl was unable to better his position in Kingston, as advancements were ‘almost entirely dependant [sic] on political influence’ (1886 edition, p. 12), and for various reasons such patronage did not come MacColl’s way during his period of employment there. One of the reasons may have been that a number of political lyrics sent to the Reform press could have been thought to have been written by MacColl.

MacColl took an active part in Gaelic activities while in Canada, and was a member of the Comunn Oiseanach, Comunn Gàidhlig Thoronto, Comunn Ceilteach Mhontreal, Comunn Albannach Chicago, Comunn Albannach Dhubusque in Iowa, and Comunn Rioghail Chanada. MacColl was also known for his hospitality. He was very knowledgeable about English literature and ‘Na chòmhradh air cuspairean de’n t-seorsa so, bhiodh faobhar geur air a chainnt; agus cha bhiodh sgàth air dol an caramh diùlanaich sam bith le claidheamh rùisgte a theangaidh’ (1886, p. 15). MacColl was also very knowledgeable about Gaelic poetry and song, and was very familiar with the people and places mentioned in the literature. After retirement, MacColl spent a short spell in New York (Eabharc Nodha, id., p. 16), where his son and daughter were staying. MacColl disliked the hurried and noisy atmosphere of New York, however, and soon returned to Canada. He lived the rest of his life in Toronto, near his family and friends. He died on 24th July 1898 and is buried in Kingston, Ontario.

By 1836, MacColl was engaged to be married to Sine Chaimbeul, to whom he addressed a number of his love poems. They never married. After moving to Liverpool, MacColl realised that he could not afford to marry Sine on his current salary, and he decided that she should be free to marry elsewhere. Thus their engagement was eventually broken and Sine married someone else. They met again years later, shortly before MacColl left to work in Canada. As it became apparent that they still had feelings for each other, ‘ghabh iad cead an t-saoghail so d’ a chéile’ (1886, p. 13). Sine had four children by this time, and MacColl himself was married. MacColl married twice. In 1845 he married Fransaidh Jemima NicIain, or Frances Lewthwaite from Cumberland (id., pp. 14-15), with whom he had three children (one son and two daughters). His eldest son, Evan, became a minister in Quebec (ann am Mor-roinn Chuibeic, ibid.), his daughter Mary married in Newark and became a poet, and Fanny became a teacher in Ontario. MacColl later married Iseabail NicArtair, a Canadian-born woman, whose family were from Mull. They had two sons and four daughters. Two of the daughters died young; the rest of the family were alive and well in 1937.

The editor of the present volume makes an interesting point about the poet’s name: while he was always called Evan, his baptismal name was Hugh – ‘a réir nòis Earra-Ghàidheal, mar an t-aon ainm ri “Eóghan”’ (p. 24).
ContentsThis volume begins with An Clar-Innsidh (pp. v-vii), and a Foreword (p. 1) by the Evan MacColl Memorial Committee, thanking all those who helped to erect a Memorial Cairn to MacColl at Kenmore. The Cairn was unveiled in 1930 by the Duke of Argyll. There follows a short account of the formation and work of The Evan MacColl Memorial Committee (pp. 2-4), including the erection of the Memorial Cairn, designed by Dr. Colin Sinclair, and the decision to publish a new volume of MacColl’s poetry. It mentions the editor of this volume, Hector MacDougall, and also notes the help of Col. Alexander Fraser of Ontario, who was a close friend of MacColl in Canada, in the publication of this work.

There follows a section entitled Am Bard Mac Colla (pp. 5-22), written by ‘Col. Alasdair Fraser, LL. D., of Toronto’ in 1897 which was taken from the introduction to his book Leabhar nan Sonn. This chapter looks at MacColl’s boyhood and his life in Kenmore, Liverpool, and Canada. Pp. 13-14 list some of MacColl’s ‘literary friends and acquaintances’ in Scotland and England, such as Hugh Miller and Rev. Dr. Norman MacLeod, while pp. 17-22 deal with A Bheatha Agus Obair, with emphasis on MacColl’s poetry.

In Facal Bho’n Fhear-Deasachaidh (pp. 23-25), the editor reviews MacColl’s work, and discusses some of the changes that MacColl made to his poetry over the years.

The main body of this text is presented in Clàrsach nam Beann (pp. 27-133), which contains 89 poems by MacColl on a variety of subjects (see Language below). Where a poem has already been published in a journal, e.g. An Gaidheal, this information is given in a footnote.

At the end of this volume is an Appendix (pp. 135-71) containing all of the poems in MacColl’s MSS. Where the MS poem does not differ from the poem published in this volume, this is noted; where the MS version of a poem does differ, the MS version is given in full. The fifteen poems listed in the Clar-Innsidh represent fifteen poems that are not included in the main body of the text, and were not published in any previous editions of MacColl’s poetry.

This volume also contains four plates containing pictures of MacColl, his Memorial Cairn at Kenmore, and his home at Kenmore.
SourcesAccording to the editor, the poems presented in this volume were taken from ‘duilleagan dà leabhair (clo-bhualadh 1886) a chuireadh am laimh air cheann a’ ghnothaich so leis a’ Chòirneal, Alasdair Friseal’ (p. 24). MacDougall points out that, where the text given in these books differs from that printed in the 1886 edition of Clàrsach nam Beann, the reading of the 1886 edition is recorded in footnotes in the present edition. It is not made clear precisely which books Col. Fraser had given to MacDougall. MacDougall was also given some of MacColl’s manuscripts by Col. Fraser, and these are published in the Appendix (‘anns an Déidh-ràdh’, p. 24).

MacDougall warns the reader that the texts of some poems published in 1886 differed considerably from the versions published in 1839, although financial and spatial constraints precluded the recording of these earlier variants in the present volume. FnaG editors should be prepared to consult both the 1886 edition and those of the 1830s when preparing to excerpt from MacColl’s poems.
LanguageThe majority of MacColl’s poetry falls into two main categories: nature and love. As mentioned above, MacColl had a great love of nature and this is shown in many of his poems in praise of specific places such as Loch Dùbhthaich (pp. 27-29), Moladh Abhainn Ruaile (pp. 34-35), and Loch Aic (pp. 43-45). In Beannachd Dheireannach An Eilthirich Ghaidhealaich (pp. 30-32), MacColl describes his sadness at leaving his homeland, which he describes as ‘Thìr steallaireach, alltach, \ Ard-choillteach, thiugh-spréidheach— \ Thìr àirigheach, fhraoch-shliosach, \ Ghorm-lochach, àrd; \ Thìr bhreacanach, cheòlraidheach, \ Oranach, aoigheach, \ Bu tu tìr nan sgeul— \ Dachaidh ghreadhnach nam bàrd!’ (p. 31).

Some of MacColl’s poems describe the beauty of specific things, e.g. An Ròs, two versions of which are given on p. 58, and another two versions of which are given in the Appendix, and An Uiseag (pp. 41-42), where we find ‘Ged is glé bhinn, \ Tìm a’ Chéitein, \ Còisir aobhach \ Na coill gheugaich, \ ’S beag an éisdeachd \ Bheirinn féin doibh, \ ’S tusa gleusadh \ Ribheid réidh as bòidhche leam’ (p. 41). In An Lon-Dubh (pp. 52-53), MacColl mourns the death of someone to whom he felt very close. He wrote the poem after visiting a place where the two of them used to meet, and hearing the singing of a blackbird. He writes, ‘A lòn-duibh, a lòn-duibh, nis an coille nam blàth, \ Leig leam a bhi làimh riut ag caoidh: \ Chan ann do na h-uile eun dh’ ìnnsinn-sa fàth \ Trom osnaidhean cràiteach mo chrìdh’!’ (p. 53).

Most, if not all, of the poems between pages 72 and 124 (46 poems in total) are about love. Some of the poems are in praise of a loved one, e.g. O, Co Nach Moladh Mairi! (p. 80), and Ceit Runach Inbhir-Feòrain (p. 112), while others are mournful, such as O Till, A Leannain, O Till, O Till! (p. 87), A Bhean Ud Rinn Mo Leonadh (p. 115), and Gaol Gun Dochas (p. 111). Some speak to us in the voice of the author, while some are put into the mouths of others, e.g. Tuireadh Leannain an Eilthirich Oig (p. 100) and Esan ’Ga Freagairt (p. 101). A number of MacColl’s love poems use nature symbolism, e.g. ‘Mar tha ’n ròs an lios nam blàth \ Bòidheach thar gach flùr ’n a dhàil \ Tha ’n am shùil-sa measg nam mnà \ Ceit bhàn-bhuidh’ Inbhir-feòrain’ (p. 112). It is noted in Am Bard Mac Colla that MacColl’s love poems are ‘stuama, beusach, gun aon fhacal a bheir rudhadh gu gruaidh an aoin as modhaile beachd; ach chan ’eil cion neairt no doimhneachd fhaireachduinn orra. Tha spionnadh agus grinneas cainnte annta nach ’eil tric r’ am faotainn ann an òrain ghaoil an la an diugh’ (p. 21).

While the great majority of MacColl’s poems may be classified as love or nature poems, he also composed a number of poems on other themes, such as praise, elegy and lament, war and politics, and light-hearted subjects. Praise poems include Piobaireachd Mhic-a’-Phearsain (pp. 36-38), Oran Molaidh air Comunn Gaidhealach Bhaile Thoronto (pp. 54-55), and Rann-Misneachaidh do Bhard Og Gaidhealach (pp. 125-26). His elegies include Bas Mairi (p. 29), where Mairi’s death is compared to various natural occurrences. It begins ‘Chaochail i—mar neulta ruiteach \ Bhios ’s an Ear mu bhriste fàire;— \ B’ fharmad leis a’ ghréin am bòidhchead, \ Dh’ éirich i ’n a glòir chuir sgàil oirr’!’, and continues, ‘Chaochail i—mar phlatha gréine, \ ’S am faileas ’n a réis an tòir air; \ Chaochail i—mar bhogh’ nan speura,— \ Shil an fhras is thréig a ghlòir e’ (p. 29). Other examples include Clach ann an Carn Phàdruig – a lament for Patrick MacGregor, who was president of Comunn Gaidhlig Thoronto for many years (pp. 55-57); and Am Measg nam Marbh (p. 64), a poem about death in general, which begins ‘Faodaidh mhuinntir tha làthair, le gràdh do na dh’fhalbh, \ Le flùrain bhi sgèimheachadh còmhnuidh nam marbh, \ Is carraighean-cuimhn’ bhi toirt iomradh glé chiùin \ Air na mìltean tha tàmh an so, ’n sàmhchair na h-ùir’. (p. 64).

Poems on the theme of war and politics include Gillean glùn-gheal nam Breacan (pp. 62-63), the chorus of which reads, ‘Thogainn cliù nam fear ùr \ A chuir ùigh anns an tarstan! \ B’ e mo rùn bhi ’nan cùirt, \ Gillean glùn-gheal nam breacan!’ (p. 62); the second last stanza reads ‘’S beag mo bharail air an rìgh \ A chuir dìth air car tacan; \ ’S ro mhath thoill am bodach grànnd’ \ Cuimhne thàireil bho ’n bhreacan’ (p. 63). Other examples include Brosnachadh-Catha Bhruis aig Allt-a’-Bhonnaich (pp. 67-68), a translation of Burns’s Scots wha ha’e wi’ Wallace bled which begins ‘A laochraidh thug le Uallas buaidh, \ ’S tric le Brus rinn cogadh cruaidh; \ Bhur beatha ’n diugh gu fois na h-uaigh’ \ No buaidh is onoir shìor!’ (p. 67); Brosnachadh-Catha Fior Ghaidheil Duthaich Mhic Cailein (pp. 128-29), which was written after the people of Argyll had voted MarPharlain back in to Parliament, and which reads ‘Sibh-sa chumadh Sasunn miobhail \ O bhi goid ur còirean rioghail \ Air mhodh ’s cinntiche na’n claidheamh \ Bha ’n làimh Eudaird breun mi-rathail \ Cuimhnichibh gur e ’m Fein-riaghladh. \ A ta Albainn nis ag iarraidh \ ’N t-aon ni bheir bho sud dhuinn fuasgladh, \ ’S gach olc eile tha ris fuaighte’ (p. 129); and Laoich Taobh-na-Griosaidh (pp. 50-51), a poem deriding the young men who avoided joining the armed services in 1832, when the French were threatening to attack, by feigning medical excuses for not going to war. Another derisive poem is An Ceannaiche Eucorach (p. 57), about a dishonest merchant, which begins ‘Fhir mhaoil nam beusan sionnachail, \ ’S na maoin a chinn gun bheannachadh; \ B’ fheàrr leam dol bàs le gainne \ Na bhi ’n cas-bheairt fear do chliù’ (p. 57).

MacColl also wrote a number of poems on light-hearted topics. These include Coilich-dhùnain Loch Ruaile, about a tailor and a shoemaker going herring fishing together although neither of them knew anything about boats or fishing (pp. 40-41); Am Buachaille Slaodach, about a ‘glumair balaich a bha aon uair air mhuinntearas ann am baile àraidh far am bu chliù dha nach robh e aon chuid “sona no saoithreach”’ (p. 33); Mnathan an Tombac, written for two women who became fond of tobacco after suffering from toothache (p. 39); and Mnathan an Tì (p. 65), about the love of tea.

A few poems, e.g. Gleann-Urchadain (p. 45) and Brosnachadh-Catha Bhruis aig Allt-a’-Bhonnaich (pp. 67-68), first appeared in the 1886 edition, as being ‘Eadar-theangaichte bho bhàrdachd Bheurla an ùghdair’. They were presumably translated by MacColl himself, though the English (or rather Scots) of the last mentioned was, of course, by Robert Burns.

Other words and phrases of note include the word oinnseach, which a footnote on p. 36 explains is ‘A familiar name for the bagpipes’ (Dwelly has oinseach), and the Gaelic spelling of Venus in Sgur d’ an glòir mu dhreach Bhénuis (p. 85).
EditionThis volume is the fifth edition of Evan MacColl’s poetry. The first edition was published in 1836 under the title The Mountain Minstrel; or, Clàrsach nam Beann. The first half of the book consisted of MacColl’s English language poems; the second half, his Gaelic poems. In 1838, two new editions were published, one containing his English poems, The Mountain Minstrel (re-published in 1846 and 1849), and one containing his Gaelic poems, Clàrsach nam Beann. A third edition of Clàrsach nam Beann was published in 1839, and a fourth edition in 1886. The 1886 version contains a ‘Biographical Sketch’ of the author (pp. 1-15). In addition, three editions of The English poetical works of Evan MacColl were published, the first in 1883, and the last in 1887.

As noted above, there are considerable differences between the 1839 and 1886 editions of Clàrsach nam Beann. The Appendix contains those poems from MacColl’s MS that show differences from the texts presented here. It also contains 15 poems that had not been published previously. The 1937 edition contains the fullest collection of MacColl’s poetry, but editors should be aware that the earlier editions contain many alternative readings.
Other Sources
Further ReadingMurray, John Y. (ed.), Eoghan Mac Colla, Bard Loch Fìn (Furnace, 1998: Crùisgean for An Comunn Gàidhealach).
Mackenzie, John (ed.), Sàr Obair nam Bàrd Gàidhealach (Glasgow, 1841: MacGregor, Polson, &Co.).
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