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Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir

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The cultural mix that makes up the British Isles extends beyond TV soap operas in English and music groups that a friend of mine described as “Destiny’s Clone”, alluding to the girl band “Destiny’s Child”. There is a rich heritage to be found outside the limited confines of the present-day English language in Scots and Irish Gaelic and Welsh, and which increasing numbers of UK Muslims are experiencing. One of the leaders of the “Save Gaelic” movement until his death in 2004 was Ali Abbasi (yarhamahu-Llah) who came to Glasgow from Pakistan and learnt Gaelic.

A couple of weeks ago it was the birthday of Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir (Duncan Ban Macintyre), one of the great Gaelic poets – and I managed to miss making a posting to commemorate this event. He was born in Glenorchy in 1724 and died in Edinburgh in 1812; he’s buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard.

Among the poems he is famous for is the Ode to the Battle of Falkirk Muir (Òran Do Bhlàr Na h-Eaglaise Brice) in which he managed to lose the sword that belonged to his patron and in whose stead he was present at the battle. The Ode is well-known for its bitter wit.

Its metre reads remarkably like that long poem by Longfellow alluding to the Iroquois leader Hiawatha (“The Song of Hiawatha”). It would be interesting to speculate that the one borrowed from the other, but there’s no evidence that Longfellow had the Gaelic; although Gaelic was a common language in areas of British North America until relatively recently – the part of North Carolina near Grandfather Mountain was, for example, Gaelic-speaking at the eve of World War 1 – and had a dramatic effect on areas of American life.

Commenting on a discovery by Yale professor Willie Ruff an essay on The Kepler Label states,

“Several years ago, following up on a claim by his friend Dizzy Gillespe that some remote African American congregations in the Deep South sang hymns in Gaelic, Ruff made the startling discovery that an ancient call-and-response service still intoned in Gaelic in the highlands of Scotland was chanted by descendants of African slaves in the American South and by white congregations in remote churches of Appalachia.

“The Massachusetts Bay Colony Psalm Book from 1640, which Ruff found in Yale’s Beinecke Library, indicated that the unusual form, with one church member calling out the first line of a Psalm and the rest of the congregation continuing to chant the text in unison, had been a common worship service in Colonial America. While the advent of hymnals, musical instrumentation and organized choirs in 19th century Protestant churches for the most part superannuated the a cappella service, the dirge-like chanting of Psalms continued to be practiced in some remote churches. These included, among others, congregations of descendants of African slaves whose Scots owners had introduced them to the service, white descendants of Scots settlers in the Kentucky hills and Scottish Highlanders, who continue the tradition original to their forebears.”

Òran Do Bhlàr Na h-Eaglaise Brice

Latha dhuinn air Machair Alba
Na bha dh’armailt aig a’ Chuigse,
Thachair iad oirnne na reubail,
‘S bu neo-éibhinn leinn a’ chuideachd,
‘N uair a chuir iad an “ratreud” oirnn,
‘S iad ‘nar déidh a los ar murtadh,
Mur dèanamaid feum le’r casan:
Cha tug sinne srad le’r musgan.

A’ dol an coinneamh a’ Phrionnsa
Gum bu shunndach a bha sinne;
Shaoil sinn gum faigheamaid cùis deth,
‘S nach robh dhùinn ach dol g’a sireadh;
‘N uair a bhuail iad air a chéile
‘S àrd a leumamaid a’ tilleadh,
‘S ghabh sinn a mach air an abhainn,
A’ dol g’ar n-amhaich anns an linne.

‘N am do dhaoinibh dol ‘nan éideadh
Los na reubalaich a thilleadh,
Cha do shaoil sinn gus ‘n a ghéill sinn,
Gur sinn fhéin a bhite ‘g iomain;
Mar gun rachadh cù ri caoraibh,
‘S iad ‘nan ruith air aodainn glinne,
‘S ann mar sin a ghabh iad sgaoileadh
Air an taobh air an robh sinne.

Sin an uair thàinig càch ‘s a dhearbh iad
Gum bu shearbh dhuinn dol ‘nan cuideachd,
‘S e ‘n trùp Gallda ‘g an robh chall sin,
Bha colainn gun cheann air cuid diubh;
‘N uair a thachair riù Clann Dòmhnaill
Chum iad còmhdhail air an uchdan;
Dh’fhàg iad creuchdan air an reubadh,
‘S cha leighiseadh léigh an cuislean.

Bha na h-eich gu crùidheach, srianach.
Girtach, iallach fiamhach trupach;
‘S bha na fir gu h-armach fòghlaimt’,
Air an sònrachadh gu murtadh;
‘N uair a dh’aom sinn bhàrr an t-sléibhe
‘S móran feum againn air furtachd,
Na bha beò bha cuid dhiubh leòinte,
‘S bha sinn brònach mu na thuit ann.

Dh’éirich fuathas anns an ruaig dhuinn
‘N uair a ghluais an sluagh le leathad;
Bha Prionns’ Tearlach le ‘chuid Frangach
‘S iad an geall air teachd ‘nar rathad;
Cha d’fhuair sinn focal comannd
A dh’iarraidh ar naimhdean a sgathadh,
Ach comas sgaoilidh feadh an t-saoghail,
‘S cuid againn gun fhaotainn fhathast.

Sin ‘n uair thàinig mise dhachaigh
Dh’ionnsaigh Ghill-easbuig o’n Chrannaich,
‘S ann a bha e ‘n sin cho fiadhta
Ri broc liath a bhiodh an garaidh;
Bha e duilich anns an am sin
Nach robh ball aige r’a tharraing,
‘S mór an dìobhail na bha dhìth air,
Claidheamh sinnsireachd a sheanar.

Móran iarainn air bheag faobhair,
Gum b’e sud aogas a’ chlaidhimh,
‘S e gu lùbach leumnach bearnach,
‘S bha car cam ann anns an amhaich;
Dh’fhàg e mo chruachan-sa brùite
Bhith ‘ga ghiùlan feadh an rathaid,
‘S e cho trom ri cabar feàrna,
‘S mairg a dh’fhàirdeadh an robh rath air.

‘N uair a chruinnich iad ‘nan ciadan
‘N latha sin air Sliabh na h-Eaglais’,
Bha “ratreud” air luchd na Beurla,
‘S ann daibh féin a b’éigin teicheadh;
Ged a chaill mi anns an am sin
Claidheamh ceannard Chloinn’ an Fhleisdeir,
Claidheamh beàrnach a’ mhì-fhortain,
‘S ann bu choslach e ri greidlein.

Am ball-teirmisg a bha meirgeach
Nach d’rinn seirbhis a bha dleasnach,
‘S beag an diùbhail leam r’a chunntadh,
Ged a dh’ionndraich mi mu fheasgar
‘N claidheamh dubh nach d’fhuair a sgùradh,
‘S neul an t-sùithe air a lethtaobh,
‘S beag a b’fhiù e, ‘s e air lùbadh,
Gum b’e diùgha de bhuill-deis’ e.

‘N claidheamh braoisgeach bh’ aig na daoine
Nach d’rinn caonnag ‘s nach tug buillean;
Cha robh aogas air an t-saoghal,
‘S mairg a shaothraich leis an cumasg;
‘N claidheamh dubh air an robh an t-aimhleas,
Gun chrios gun chrambaid gun duille,
Gun rinn gun fhaobhar gun cheannbheart —
Is mairg a tharladh leis an cunnart.

Thug mi leam an claidheamh beàrnach,
‘S b’olc an àsainn e ‘sa’ chabhaig,
Bhith ‘ga ghiùlan air mo shliasaid —
‘S mairg mi riamh a thug on bhail’ e;
Cha toir e stobadh no sàthadh,
‘S cha robh e làidir gu gearradh;
Gum b’e diùgha de bhuill-airm e,
‘S e air meirgeadh air an fharadh.

Chruinnich uaislean Earra-Ghàidheal
Armailt làidir de mhilisi,
‘S chaidh iad mu choinneamh Phrionns’ Tearlach,
‘S dùil aca r’a champ a bhristeadh;
‘S iomadh fear a bh’ anns an àit’ ud
Nach robh sàbhailt mar bha mise,
A mheud ‘s a dh’fhàg sinn anns an àraich
Latha Blar na h-Eaglais’ Brice.

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Written by Daoud Rosser-Owen

April 2, 2009 at 8:48 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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