Thursday, 18 August 2016
The windswept town of Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, hosted an international conference on Celtic Folklore in October 1953, attracting delegates from seventeen different institutions and from twelve countries. As would be expected, Scotland’s universities were well represented with a strong contingent from the University of Edinburgh’s School of Scottish Studies, including Calum Maclean along with his colleagues Francis Collinson, Stewart Sanderson and James Ross. It was obviously a big deal for the island as The Stornoway Gazette devoted editorials and articles before, during and after the conference. The editorial for 6 October 1953 relates the following:
International Conference At Stornoway
DELEGATES FROM THIRTEEN NATIONS
An International Conference on Celtic Folklore opened at Stornoway on Monday. The Conference is not only the first of its kind to be held in the Hebrides, it is probably the most important conference on Celtic subjects ever convened.
The delegates come from Scotland, England, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Wales, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Spain and Italy.
They include General sir Ronald Adam, the Chairman and Director General of the British Council, Professor C. J. Fordyce, and Professor J. D. Mackie of Glasgow University, Dr. Arthur Geddes of Edinburgh University, Mr John Macdonald, of Aberdeen University, and many other representatives of the Scottish Universities.
Among the delegates from other British Universities are Professor I. I. Foster of Jesus College, Oxford, and Professor Thomas Jones of University College, Aberystwyth.
From outside the Universities come, among others, Mr R. B. K. Stevenson, Keeper of the National Museum of Antiquities, Edinburgh, Mr J. R. C. Hamilton, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for Scotland and Dr I. F. Grant of Am Fasgadh.
Delegates From Abroad
Ireland is represented by Professor David Greene of Dublin and Professor Breatnach of Cork, while overseas delegates include Professor Nils Holmer of Lund, Professor Otto Andersson of Abo, Professor Ake Campbell of Uppsala, Professor Somerfelt and Professor Christiansen of Oslo and Professor Bolelli of Pisa.
The conference had been arranged under the joint auspices of Glasgow University and the British Council, and it is a matter for pride that both bodies will be presented, among others, by Lewismen, or people with close Lewis ties ― Dr. Neil A. R. Mackay, Representative for Scotland of the British Council and Mr Angus Matheson and Mr Derick Thomson of the Celtic Department of Glasgow University.
A Civic Dinner
The week’s programme includes a civic dinner given by Stornoway Town Council, a ceilidh organised by the Nicolson Institute, and excursions around the West Side, to Ness, to Ui Church, and to the Lochs district.
At Ness on Tuesday afternoon the delegates hope to meet some of the local people, and on Wednesday at Shawbost, Mr Stevenson is to give a talk in the School on the Collection of Charms in the National Museum of Antiquities. This talk ― at 5.30 p.m. ― is open to the public free of charge.
The main business of the conference consists in the discussions arranged for the Public Reading Room in Stornoway. These, too, are open to the public free of charge.
The programme of the conference is as follows:―
Monday, 4.30 p.m. Official opening by Sir Ronald Adam, Bt., G.C.G., D.S.O., O.B.E., who was Adjutant General during the war.
5 p.m. Paper by Professor J. D. Mackie, of the Chair of Scottish History and Literature at Glasgow, on the Islands, their history and pre-history, including the influence of the Celtic Church. This paper is a general introduction to the work of the conference.
Tuesday, 10 a.m. Paper on Folk-tales by Mr Matheson and Mr Thomson of Glasgow University.
9 p.m. Paper on Folk Music by Mr F. Collinson, and Mr Maclean of the School of Scottish Studies, Edinburgh University.
Wednesday, 10 a.m. Paper on “Prehistoric Cultures of the Western Isles” by Mr Hamilton, Inspector of Ancient Monuments.
9 p.m. Paper on “The Impact of Norse on Gaelic Tradition” by Professor Christiansen of Oslo.
Thursday, 7.30 p.m. Paper “The Age of Gaelic in Scotland” by Professor Nils Holmer of Lund.
Friday, 10 a.m. Paper on Material Culture by Professor Ake Campbell, Uppsala.
5 p.m. Paper on “The Highland Township” by Dr. I. F. Grant.
As part of the conference an exhibition was also arranged which was also reported in the same edition:
Exhibition In The Town Hall
ISLAND RELICS “COME HOME”
ALTHOUGH the discussions at the conference are open the public, more popular interest is likely to be aroused by the exhibition in the main hall which is also open free to the public.
The exhibition includes facsimiles of documents of importance in the history of Lewis which few people in the island have ever seen ― such as some of the early Seaforth rent rolls, and the celebrated broadside of James VI against the “barbarous inhabitants” of Lewis for their treatment of the Fife Adventurers. By abusing the islesfolks from mercenary motives, James VI started a habit which continues in certain quarters to the present day.
The famous Uig chessmen were too fragile and valuable to send to the exhibition, but exact copies have been made, through the courtesy Mr Stevenson of the National Museum of Antiquities.
First editions of some important books relating to the Island are included, and also some of the more interesting pre-historic relics which have been found here from time to time.
Another section of the exhibition includes household articles from the old black house, some them Lewis, others borrowed from mainland museums. There is also a section dealing with vegetable dyes, loaned by Highland Home Industries.
In an island community perhaps the highlights of the exhibition will prove to be the models of Noose and a Hebridean galley which come on loan from Glasgow.
For four days, from the official opening for the exhibition by Mr Stevenson, at 12.15 p.m., on Tuesday, until Friday night, the people of Lewis have a unique opportunity of seeing articles, documents, and books closely associated with the island most of which are otherwise almost inaccessible to us.
An editorial the following week continued reporting the conference:
International Folklore Conference
SEVENTEEN UNIVERSITIES AND TWELVE COUNTIES REPRESENTED
More than forty delegates from 12 countries and 17 famous universities gathered in the Public Reading Room at Stornoway for the formal opening of the International Conference on Celtic Folklore by General Sir Ronald Adam, Bt., Chairman and Director General of the British Council.
“Stornoway is very proud to have been chosen as the meeting place for scholars of such distinction from so many different countries, and I am sure that the whole population will be happy to help in every way possible to make the conference successful and fruitful,” said Provost A. J. Mackenzie, welcoming the delegates.
Although the islands might seem isolated, on the rim of the world, they had been a kind of international highway from remote times, said the Provost, referring humorously to some of the early settlers who had left their “visiting cards” in the shape of the standing stones of Callanish.
The traffic, he added, has not been entirely in one direction ― the people of Lewis had gone to the ends of the earth. And because of these things it gave all the greater pleasure to welcome the international delegates to Stornoway.
“A great deal of research has already been carried out into the folklore of the Western Isles, but a great still remains to be done. I am confident that the conference will not only make an important and valuable contribution to the study of our folklore, but will also stimulate further widespread interest in this fascinating subject,” said the Provost, congratulating the University of Glasgow and the British Council for their enterprise and imagination in organising it.
More Than Conference
Sir Ronald Adam, welcoming the distinguished delegates from overseas, said the conference was the third of the kind with which the British Council had been associated. The first was the Viking Congress held in Shetland. The second was the Danish-Orcadian Conference held in Orkney.
“We know there was a good deal of feeling in the Islands that the next conference should be Stornoway,” he said. “I am quite certain this conference will be as successful as the other two. It is a great thing to have a conference in a place like Stornoway where the people can participate. A conference in Glasgow or Edinburgh is just one more conference, but we do want something more because the object of these three conferences was to on the spot where one could see the living subject matter of the conference in action.”
Another essential of a successful conference, he said, was that it should have associated with it one of the great universities, so that they could have the academic contributors which were necessary if the work was to be properly and scientifically carried out.
Much Has Happened Here
Glasgow University, he said, was playing the major part in the present conference and the British Council was glad to be associated with it.
“Geologically, Lewis is one of the oldest lands in the world. We have also come to a part of the world where two great cultures met, fought, and had great effects on each other―the Celtic and the Scandinavian―and much must have happened here ever before these times.
“It is for that reason that this is such a valuable conference. There is so much to be studied in ever field of possible study. A lot has been done, but a great deal remains to be done.”
Sir Ronald spoke of the value of a meeting between experts from different countries. Ideas were exchanged, new ideas were brought forward, and the conference might be the beginning of extended study, and extended knowledge of this part of Great Britain in future.
“It is the getting together of many minds from many parts of the world which makes our civilisation move more rapidly forward,” he added.
Glasgow University’s Welcome
Speaking for Glasgow University, Professor C. J. Fordyce, Clerk to the University Senate, said they were very pleased to be associated with the British Council in the enterprise.
In the Scottish Universities they knew the meaning of “honest poverty” but fortunately from their saving the could support a good cause and there could hardly be a better cause than a gathering of international scholarship, even on a modest scale, on a subject which was very much their own concern.
“We all hope that the visitors to this conference from overseas both in the ordinary and in the local sense of that word, will have a pleasant and profitable time,” he concluded.
From Pharoah’s Daughter
Immediately following the opening, the conference got to grips with its subject―or rather subjects―and Professor J. D. Mackie of the Chair of Scottish History in Glasgow University set the frame-work and context of the week in an interesting, though highly concentrated, survey of the history and pre-history of the area, beginning with the ancient legend of “Hiber,” “the land-hungry son of Gaythelus of Greece and his wife Scota, daughter of Pharoah” from whom, according to legend, the name Hebrides was derived, and carrying the story right to the present day, with a reference to the pressing economic problems of the area.
“It is appropriate that a convention assembled for the study of folk-lore should meet in the Hebrides, for these islands, throughout their history have been far removed from the march of human progress, or what is called progress,” he said.
“Little affected by the outside world, they have been driven in on themselves, as it were and compelled to live much upon their own resources, physical, intellectual and spiritual. They were therefore likely to have preserved more of the past than some other countries, and in them we may expect to find traces of the civilisation and the thought from which our modern world arose.”
One of the presumably many highlights of the conference was when the delegates were held enthralled by a rendition of a long romantic tale recited by Duncan MacDonald of South Uist which was also reported in The Stornoway Gazette:
Uist Seanchaidh At International Conference
DELEGATES’ OVATION FOR DUNCAN MACDONALD
DUNCAN MACDONALD, a crofter of Peninerine, South Uist, provided one of the memorable experiences of the International Conference at Stornoway.
He travelled from Uist to recite for the delegates the well-known folk tale, “Fear Na H-Eabaid” (“The Man With The Habit”). Sitting in the Conference Room surrounded by Celtic scholars from most of the European countries, he hold his story, simply but dramatically, just as he has told scores of times in his own home in Uist.
When the recital was over, the delegates acclaimed him with enthusiasm. He is only a simple Hebridean crofter but the Celtic scholars of Europe accepted him as a master in his own art of story-telling just as they are masters of their own particular subjects.
The value of the live recital of his tale, which occupied nearly an hour, was greatly enhanced by the fact that the delegates had before them for reference a Gaelic transcript and an English translation, by Messrs Angus Matheson, and Derick Thomson of Glasgow University, of a recording of the same tale taken from Mr Macdonald in 1950 by Mr J. L. Campbell of Canna.
There is also available an earlier version of the same tale recorded from Mr Macdonald in 194r, which, as Mr Matheson pointed out, gave an opportunity to the delegates to assess the faithfulness of the recitation over a period of years.
“I don’t think that had been done before―two recordings of the same tale from the same reciter at an interval of several years―and today Mr Macdonald is going to recite it for us again,” said Mr Matheson.
Mr Matheson gave Mr Macdonald’s genealogy as “Donnchadh mac Dhomhnaill mhic Dhonnchaidh mhic Iain mhic Dhomhnaill mhic Thormoid.”
“This Norman was probably the son (or possibly grandson) of Donnchadh mac Ruaraidh of Achadh nam Bard in Trotternish, the last of the professional bards of his family to hold the office of bard to the Macdonalds of Sleat when they held court in Duntulm Castle.”
An ancestor of the last bard was Donnchadh mac Ruairaidh who died about 1630, and four of who poems have been preserved in the Fernaig manuscript.
“The tale that we are to hear from Mr Macdonald today not doubt delighted and entertained aristocratic audiences in the halls of Duntulm more than three centuries ago when recited by the professional bard of the powerful Macdonald Chiefs of Sleat,” said Mr Matheson.
After the recital which was listened to with concentrated attention by the delegates. Mr Matheson traced the various versions of the tale recorded from Scottish and Irish sources.
Dr R. Th. Christiansen, Curator of the Norse Collections in the University of Oslo told how, as he listened to the recitation, it had gradually come to him that it was a strange mixture of folklore and unconscious literary art. At first the story appeared to be just a series of incidents strung together, but after a time one noticed several special tricks.
No new character was introduced except under some strange puzzling name. He could not say whether they were the names of gods or other important mythical beings, but he thought it was just a clever artifice of the story teller to make the listener feel that he was entering another world altogether.
There was also the literary artifice of the constantly recurring incident or motif. That would not be of much interest if the pattern were only a couple of centuries old, but that special pattern could be followed almost to the very first examples of Celtic, Gaelic, Irish, literature.
“It is a special Gaelic, Irish, thing. These standard passages are not in the fairy tales of other countries. I have never met anything exactly corresponding to it, and as far as I known that is the oldest literary tradition surviving in Western Europe. That is the reason why I speak of the uniqueness of Irish folklore, and that is why I am interested to hear that the collecting work is going on with such splendid results.”
Dr. Arthur Geddes, of Edinburgh University asked whether the stressed passages in the tale were chanted.
Mr. A. Urquhart, Gaelic Master in the Nicolson Institute, who was chairman at the session, replied that Mr Macdonald said the passages were not sung, but when the story was being recited by an experienced story-teller he became moved by it himself; he was elevated in spirit and might be carried away by the emotion.
Six Seanachaidhean Remain
“I come from Wales where the oral tradition has disappeared, and I would like to know how far Mr Macdonald is representative of a class, and how far he is the exception,” asked Professor Thomas Jones of Aberystwyth.
“Duncan Macdonald is not quite exceptional,” replied Mr C. I. Maclean, of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh. “I would say this much, that there is probably no one in Scotland who can recite the old heroic tales―the longer tales―in the way that Mr Macdonald can. He is the finest example we have, but there are about half-a-dozen or so others. In Barra there are four, in Benbecula one, in North Uist one, and there is another away in the Rhinns of Islay.
“There are of course others who have some of these heroic tales but they are much shorter versions and they have lost a great deal of the decoration and especially the ‘runs.’
The Irish Folklore Commission had recorded about 112 tales from Mr Macdonald, and about twenty of these were long tales which required about an hour in narration, said Mr Maclean. At present, he added, Mr Macdonald’s son (Mr D. J. Macdonald) was recording all his father’s material so tat they could be sure that all the folklore there was in the Peninerine household would be preserved.
“I can assure you,” he added, “that that is certainly an exceptional house. Not only is Mr Macdonald himself a first-class teller of tales, but his younger brother Neil is equally good.”
Mrs F. Marian MacNeill of the Saltire Society, referring to the fact that in some versions of the tale a well appeared as the entrance of the other world, suggested an association with Halloe’en when the game of trying to catch apples in a tub seemed to be a relic of the same idea. The catching of an apple was supposed to confer second sight for the evening. The kitchen tub, she thought, might represent the well and the stick with which it was stirred the druid’s wand.
Mrs Ettlinger of the Folklore Society said the idea was world wide, and Professor Jung, she thought, had got to the bottom of it.
Death Bed Of A Tradition
“It was really worth while coming all the way from Amsterdam to the Hebrides to hear Mr Duncan Macdonald,” said Dr A. M. E. Draak, lecturer in Celtic in the University of Utrecht.
Professor Richard Breatnach complimented Mr Macdonald on the success with which he told the story although out of his natural setting.
“I cannot parallel anything with the experience I had today, such a long tale and so well told,” said Professor Breatnach, but he added, “I felt as if I was at the death bed of a tradition.”
What steps, he asked, were being taken to ensure that such outstanding stories were transmitted to the next generation.
Now that the collection of tales had started, young people were taking an interest, said Mr Maclean. Then years ago they would not have been interested. Mr Macdonald’s grand-daughter, who lived with him, was also interested and not a word that came out of his mouth escaped her. She was aged eleven, and had begun to take an interest in the tales four or five years ago.
Mr Derick Thomson asked the Scandinavian delegates whether any steps were being taken in their countries to encourage the oral tradition or whether it was being stored in the archives only.
Dr Christiansen said no attempt was made in Norway to encourage the oral tradition because immediately that was done it introduced a new and artificial element, but he suggested that a new oral tradition was always being created, instancing in Norway the tales of the German occupation which were being circulated, and he suggested that 100 years hence there would still be plenty of oral tradition for the collector.
Much the same view was expressed by Dr Ake Campbell of Uppsala, who spoke of the difficulties which arose when using newspapers or broadcasting fro the collection of folk tales.
Dr Andersson of Abo, however, spoke of attempts to revive folk music and dancing in Finland.
At the close of the session, Mr Urquhart once more thanked Mr Macdonald for a memorable experience.
As the programme given above indicated, Calum Maclean duly delivered his paper. Some remarks concerning his talk was also published in The Stornoway Gazette:
This conference will have achieved something if all of us who represent Scottish Universities and cultural and educational bodies, leave Stornoway with the realisation that the people who really matter are the hitherto despised story tellers and songsters ― the humble. Generous and disinterested spirits who have saved for this nation and for Europe a heritage of immense importance and value,” said Mr Maclean.
In Scotland today, there ought to be no excuse for allowing beautiful songs and tunes to pass into oblivion. In many parts of the Highland beautiful songs and tunes were simply rooted out by hide-bound evangelists.
“In this very island of Lewis bagpipes had to kept hidden for the prying eyes of the so-called ‘men’”, he declared, adding that he was proud that, despite that, tow of the greats exponents of ceol mor today were natives of Lewis ― “little Donald and big Donald, Pipe-Major Donald Macleod, and Donald Maclean.”
The literary value of the folksongs composed by unknown and unlettered songsters of the Gael has been completely underestimated, he said. In fact it was decidedly greater than that of the noted Gaelic bards whose compositions evoked much uncritical enthusiasm.
“For the next number of years the work of collection must be of paramount importance. The analysis can wait will we are all dead,” said Maclean.
His talk, hitherto unpublished, thankfully survives as a manuscript copy:
Introductory Paper on Folk-Music Collection
Patrick MacDonald, in his preface to Highland Vocal Airs (published in 1781), made an interesting statement and one which would seem most appropriate today. “In less than twenty years, it would be vain to attempt a collection of Highland music. Perhaps it is rather late at present, but enough may be got to point out its genius and spirit.” Similar statements have, no doubt, been made by collectors for the last hundred and seventy years. Each and every collector imagines that he (or she) has the final word and that the book is now closed.
The Gaelic tradition is, however, much more resilient than is generally recognised. When we consider the vicissitudes the Highland Gaelic people have experienced during that period which saw the collapse of the old Gaelic system, the horror and barbarity of the Clearances, the constant drain of population by emigration forced on by economic necessity and other reasons, the destruction of the cream of manhood as a result of recurrent wars, the adoption of religious attitude alien to the character and spirit of people passionately devoted to music, song and dance, by a large and important section of the community, and the imposition of an alien anti-Gaelic educational system on the Highlands, it is not so surprising that so little folksong and music survives today. The truth is that it is quite amazing that anything has survived at all.
Today the Gaelic community in Scotland is small and rapidly diminishing one, but its importance from a cultural standpoint is far, far in excess of its numerical strength. There is no longer any need to castigate academic, cultural and educational institutions in this country for their failure to realise that. It is simply because they are doing penance for grievous sins of omission over a long period of years that this conference has been convened. Moreover, this conference will have achieved something if all of us who represent Scottish Universities, cultural and educational bodies leave Stornoway with the realisation that the people who really matter are the hitherto despised storytellers and songsters—the humble, generous and disinterested spirits who have saved for this nation and for Europe a heritage of immense importance and value.
In the first place we must be clear as to what we mean by folksong. Professor Knut Liestøl, in his introduction to the series of important papers on Scandinavian folksongs in the publication Nordisk Kultur IX, states that by folksong (visa) is meant the epic-lyric ballad of the Middle Ages—the type of ballad which has wide distribution in European countries.
Our definition of folksong must of necessity be wider. The Medieval European ballad has made little or no impact on Gaelic tradition. In important collections such as the Tolmie collection there is one fragment which is claimed to bear a close resemblance to the Lord Randal Ballad. Stray ballads were imported from the Lowlands, such as the Goodman Ballad, which now appears in macaronic – half-English and half-Gaelic, and this indicates that it is a late importation. In Carmina Gadelica there is a Gaelic version of the Cherry Tree Carol. That I have heard in Benbecula from much the same source as that tapped by Carmichael. It is obviously a late translation from the English and is chanted in the style of Ossianic ballads. By folksongs we must then mean the songs, hymns and verses chanted or sung in the natural style of untrained singers who learned from oral tradition i.e. by listening to and imitating people who learned their songs from an earlier generation of singers. Songs from purely literary sources enter the stream of oral tradition and through time become hardly distinguishable from pure folksongs. Songs of recent composition are also distributed in purely local oral tradition. Many of them are of great importance as they are sung to tunes of songs now forgotten. Any study of Gaelic folksongs must, however, embrace all types of songs from the heroic lays of the Fionn cycle—the literature of an aristocracy, which is now in vogue purely among unsophisticated rural communities: love songs, historical songs, occupational songs and hymns, right down to the songs sung by children at play.
That the collection and study of folksongs and tunes cannot fail to enrich a people’s musical tradition is so obvious that it need hardly be stated. The more varied and numerous the folksongs and tunes of any nation are, the richer is its cultural life. In Scotland today there ought to be no excuse for allowing beautiful songs and tunes to pass into oblivion. Thousands of songs must have gone beyond recall during the last century and a half. That is painfully evident in places like Jura, where there were a number of excellent folk-singers twenty years ago, singers who unfortunately brought all they had stored in their fertile minds with them into the darkness of the grave. Jura, however, is no exception. In many parts of the Highlands beautiful songs and tunes were Simply rooted out by hide-bound evangelists. The Island of Eigg was not the only place where lay-preachers broke fiddles across their knees. In this very island of Lewis bagpipes had to be kept hidden from the prying eyes of so-called “Men.”
The literary value of folksongs composed by the unknown and unlettered songsters of the Gael has been completely underestimated. In fact, it is decidedly greater than that of the noted Gaelic bards whose compositions even today evoke much uncritical enthusiasm. Since 1872 thousands of children in Highland schools have had the third-rate poetry of Tennyson, Thomas Campbell and others as well as rubbishy English songs rammed down their throats, while there never was any mention of “Iomair thusa, a Choinnich chridhe”, “A Mhic Iain ’Ic Sheumais,” “Cairistiona,” or the Lay of Fraoch. For freshness, spontaneity, vigour, intensity and stark sincerity some of the anonymous Gaelic songs are unsurpassed. Frances Tolmie noted the prevailing attitude to the old songs in 1911. “The songs of Effie Ross were already forgotten by the people in 1860, and amongst my contemporaries my pleasure in the old wives’ songs were considered very odd, for they were not deemed ‘poetry’ or worthy of notice by song-collectors of that period.”
The important fact is that numberless songs, sometimes even from the 16th century, survived simply because of their own intrinsic worth, for they were selected by the keen critical sense of a people endowed with sound literary judgement. The difference between the literary standards of the older and younger generations of Highlanders today is unfortunately very marked. Civilisation has come and in its train the baneful influences of formal education, the BBC Light Programme, Kemsley House and Hollywood.
The light that the content of folksongs throws on traditional ways of life, traditional intuitions, beliefs, customs and practices is of great importance. Many songs are full of allusions to customs, practices and pastimes of which there is now not even the slightest memory in other oral tradition. Often the songs afford the only evidence. There are frequent references to reiving, clan-fights, old games and pastimes such as cock-fighting, smuggling, abductions, festival customs, archery, dress and hair styles, sheiling practices, match-making and so forth. In fact the study of folksongs would seem a necessary corollary to the study of any aspect of folklife.
Further, much historical information can be garnered as the result of examining song texts. For instance the words of Pìobaireachd Dhòmhnaill Duibh throw clear light on the alignment of forces at the first battle of Inverlochy.
Equally important is the valuable linguistic date thrown up by song-texts. Words and expressions which have long disappeared from everyday speech survive in songs even though only imperfectly understood by singers.
The aim of folksong and music study should not merely be to acquire knowledge about the modes, scales used by songsters and styles of singing, or the technique of players and instrumentalists. Folk music must be studied in relation to the wider background of folklife. The part folksong and music plays in the life of the people is important. Where, when and why are songs sung or music played? The problem of how songs are handed down from generation to generation awaits solution, as does the question why and when the process of handing down ceases. It is important also to study the economic background and social status of the bearers of songs and their relation to the rest of the community, as well as the types of songs sung by men, women and children. The occupational songs are of great interest. How far can occupational songs have an existence independent of the occupations with which they are associated? In all parts of the Highlands people still milk cows, but the tendency to sing milking-songs is much less general. The waulking of cloth ceased in 1890 in the Ross of Mull. This summer I recorded two waulking songs which were sung at the last waulking in Mull over sixty years ago. They were known only one single person. Many problems confront the student of Gaelic folksong.
In conclusion, something must be said about the methods and scope of collection. The first commandment of all folklore collectors is “Record exactly what the tradition bearer says or sings.” No changes are to be made under any circumstances. Collection should be as extensive as possible. There is little point in collecting songs in Barra and disregarding Lewis and Colonsay. It is wrong to disregard certain areas because earlier collectors regarded them as poor or lacking in material. It is equally wrong to assume that collection has been completed in any area. Even the most assiduous and energetic collector misses something.
Every variant of a tune or a text should be recorded. This is most essential for any cartographic study of the distribution of songs and tunes. The more variant texts there are, the easier it becomes to establish the nature and location of the original song or tune. For the next number of years the work of collection must be of paramount importance. The analysis of material can wait till we are all dead. Admittedly, collection is the least interesting part of the work. It is also the most difficult and tedious. It can in cases be a thankless task. But if the work is to continue, and there is a general desire that it be continued, the best, and in fact the only, precept as far as collection is concerned is example.
My esteemed colleague, Mr Francis Collinson, has been busily engaged in the transcription of tunes for the past two years. He will now say something about the Edinburgh collection and will discuss the songs, singers, modes and styles of singing.
Many conferences end with a celebration and this was no exception with a ceilidh hosted by the Nicolson Institute:
Nicolson Ceilidh “Crowns” The Conference
Songs Recorded For University Archives
A CEILIDH in the Nicolson Institute was the concluding, and in the words of Professor Richard Breatnach of Cork, the “crowning” event of the International Conference on Celtic Folklore held at Stornoway
The delegate were received by the Rector, Mr C. J. S. Addison, and Mrs Addison.
“The essence of a ceilidh is its informality,” said Mr Addison, after a brief but cordial word of welcome to the distinguished visitors, and to preserve the appropriate atmosphere he called on one of the senior girls, Christina Macaskill, to present the programme, which she did most efficiently, speaking entirely in Gaelic.
The delegates seemed delighted with the programme which included solos, and choruses, a luadh, action songs, and Highland dancing to puirt a beul.
Professor Otto Andersson, of the Chair of Music in Abo University, noted several of the tunes sung by the girls. He had already published an interesting monograph on Lewis folk songs. The entire programme was recorded on tape by Mr Francis Collinson and Mr C. I. Maclean, of the School of Scottish Studies in Edinburgh University, as many of the tunes have not hitherto been included in the school’s collection.
Recording Played Back
The recording of the luadh was played back during the evening, much to the surprise of some of the girls who took part. They were out of the room when the play back was announced, but soon came peeping in to discover what ghostly choir was singing their songs.
A delightful tea was served by the ladies of the school staff.
Thanking the Rector for the opportunity of witnessing “this splendid performance” Professor Breatnach recalled that he had spoken during the conference of the death of tradition. “This ceilidh was like the change from death to life,” he said. “We have had the very memorable experience of seeing a living tradition at work. At all costs it must be preserved.”
Remarking that the conference had been fruitful in many ways, Professor Breatnach conveyed the thanks of the delegates to Dr. Neil A. R. Mackay, and Mr Paul of the British Council who had been responsible for arrangements.
“We wish to express our deep appreciation to the British Council and the University of Glasgow for their enlightened co-operation in bringing together this splendid conference.”
“We have made contacts which will bear fruit in the years to come. Our deliberations during the week were stimulating to all of us, and I for one am a firm believer henceforth in the value of a general as opposed to a specialist conference.”
One of the happiest features of the conference was the close co-operation given to the delegates by the local people, and the hospitality extended to them. Many of the delegates commented on the pleasure it gave them to feel that they were welcomed by the local people.
At Ness and Shawbost arrangements had been made in advance for tea in the school canteens, and the delegates at each place sat down to a really excellent meal, beautifully served. The prize for hospitality, however, must go to Leurbost. There the visit was scheduled to be short, and early in the afternoon, so no arrangement was made for tea, and little warning given of the coming invasion. But the Canteen staff on their own initiative sent out an S.O.S. for crockery and food to the houses round about, and tea was served to nearly forty guests.
At Shawbost, following a visit to the Callanish stones and the Carloway Dun, an address was given by Mr. R. B. K. Stevenson, Keeper of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. His subject was the collection of “charms” in the museum, and there was not only a good attendance of local folk, but several of them contributed to the discussion. One felt that this meeting could profitably have been extended, but the time-table required an early return to town for the evening session of the conference.
The weather was unkind for the Ui, but Councillor Donald Macleod was on the spot to show them round, and one group was so interested that, despite the weather, they lingered on, and missed the bus!
Vote of Thanks
At the last formal session of the conference, Dr. Neil A. R. Mackay thanked a number of local people and groups for their co-operation with the organisers.
He thanked the Lewis and Harris Association of Glasgow, three local firms―Messrs. S. A. Newall & Sons, Messrs. James Macdonald Ltd., and Messrs. Kenneth Mackenzie Ltd.―the local branch of An Comunn and the Lewis Association, for financial support.
Messrs. David Macbrayne and B.E.A. were thanked for assistance with the travel arrangement.
“We have also to acknowledge with gratitude the very real support, moral and active, that we have had from the people of the town of Stornoway and the rural districts. I have been surprised at the tremendous interest shown,” he said.
Dr. Mackay thanked the Provost and Town Councillors, and especially mentioned the Town Clerk, the Burgh Surveyor and the Librarian for the tremendous amount of work they did and the excellent arrangements they made.
The District Councillors and School-masters in the rural areas were also thanked, and all those who loaned exhibits to the museum. Also the museums and libraries in the south which had contributed so generously.
With regard to the local exhibits Dr. Mackay said, “I am sure I am expressing the views of the members of the conference when I say we do hope these exhibits will be used as the nucleus of a local museum.”
In conclusion he thanked the Local Committee set up jointly by An Comunn and the Lewis Association, and especially Mr. A. Urquhart of the Nicolson Institute who was secretary of it.
By the time the conference was finished and once the dust had settled, the editorial offered a retrospective glance:
THE CONFERENCE IN RETROSPECT
THE International Conference on Celtic Folklore at Stornoway seems to have been a great success at several different levels. The learned delegates at the conference agree that they had a profitable time, both through the opportunity of meeting each other to exchange views, and also in the one or two limited opportunities the had to engage in field work.
From the local point of view, the outstanding success of the conference was the “museum” which was thrown in more or less as an after-thought. Throughout the week there was a constant stream of people through the Town Hall studying the various exhibits, and, what is more important, discussing them in an animated way.
It was surprising to discover how many people in Lewis had not only never seen a cas chrom but had never heard of it until last week, and there were many more of the exhibits from the old black house which were completely new to the children who were among the most interested visitors, and even to people in middle life.
The range of tools used by the cooper to make barrels was a surprise even to those who are old enough to remember the coopers at work in Stornoway forty or fifty years ago. The beauty of the horse collar of pleated bent grass from Lochmaddy provided another pleasant surprise. Here was a purely utilitarian object of the pattern in every day use in the islands half a century ago, but it was in its own right a genuine work of art.
The same might be said of the clothes worn at Culloden which were on loan from the West Highland Museum at Fort William, and at a very much greater reach of time, the mace head from Knock in the Nicolson Institute collection, and the Uig chessmen, on loan (in replica) from the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland. The Uig chessmen, of which 78 pieces were found are reckoned to be among the oldest chessmen in Europe. Some of the carving is so lively that it might almost have been made from life.
The range of colour available from vegetable dyes, as shown in the exhibition of Highland Home Industries, presided over by Miss Shand, came also as a surprise to those who are familiar only with the modern methods of tweed making.
The books and manuscripts in the exhibition opened up quite another vista. It was tantalising to see so many interesting books secure behind glass when one wished to handle them, and study them. The prize of the book collection was the Report to the Board of Supervision prepared in 1851 by Sir John McNeill ― a book so rare that there is no copy available even in the National Library of Scotland. The copy on loan to the Stornoway exhibition came from the Secretary of State.
The Photostat copies of documents took us back to the 15th century, the oldest exhibition being the charter granted by James IVth to Torquil Macleod in 1498. Of special interest was the Proclamation in regard to the raising of levies for the subjugation of Lewis in 1602 which accused the Lewis people of “blude, murthour, reif, thift and oppressioun.”
A copy of one of the earliest wills from Lewis ― or rather of a Testament Dative ― from 1712 was also on view. It was the will of John Morrison of Bragar, who died possessed of, among other things, twenty large cows valued at ten pounds Scots each, seven two year old cows, eight stirks, eleven horses, thirty two sheep, and household plenishings and books valued at sixty pounds Scots.
One odd feature of the exhibition was that it went on growing. However often one visited it, there was always something new to see ― not something overlooked on a previous visit, but something that had not been there. The existence of the museum stimulated many people to see the value of old relics lying unregarded about the house. One very fine axe head handed in by John Macarthur, of 15 Achmore, was found as long ago as 1922 during the making of the Ranish road.
One of the delegates to the conference Dr I. C. Peate, the Curator of the Welsh Folk Museum near Cardiff threw out the suggestion that, before the black house completely disappears, a good example should be reconstructed stone by stone at Stornoway to house a local museum where all the interesting things contributed locally to last week’s exhibition could be housed. Dr. I. F. Grant of Am Fasgadh, Kingussie, has offered, if such a scheme goes forward, to assist with advice and in other ways.
It is hoped that some active local group will act on that suggestion. It would be easy to get a local museum under way in Lewis next week, while the interest is still alive. Next month it will be difficult. Next year it will be impossible. Unless some fresh stimulus comes along to jog us out of our lethargy.
Ross County Council has passed sentence of death on the black house. Formerly when a family moved into a new white house, the black house became a byre, or was left to the kindly hand of time. Now the County Council insists that every black house is demolished as soon as it is vacated. That is excellent from the public health point of view, but if, in twenty years time, there are no black houses left in Lewis, Ross County Council will be cursed by future generations for vandalism. But if an effort were set on foot locally to preserve a black house as a museum, we feel sure the County Council would be only too glad to co-operate in the venture.
Even if no permanent museum emerges from the International Folklore Conference, the people of Lewis have reason to be grateful to Glasgow University and the British Council for a very valuable experience.
It is fortunate that Derick Thomson, co-founder and co-editor of the Gaelic periodical Gairm, had the foresight to write about his experience as one of the delegates at the Stornoway conference as follows:
Co-Chruinneachadh Luchd Bial-Aithris an Steornabhagh
LE RUARAIDH MACTHOMAIS
B’ e an là air Leódhas e, mar a chanas iad, nuair a chuir am pleuna sìos a luchd air faithche―sgoileran a seachd oilthighean deug, agus a trì duchchannan deug uile air a thighinn cruinn an Steòrnabhagh gus beachdachadh air eachdraidh agus iar-eachdraidh nan eileanan, air an cànain, am beul-aithris, an ceòl agus an ceitheamh beatha.
Thug e leum air mo chuisle fhìn a bhith faicinn nan daoine ud air feadh sràidhean Steòrnabhaigh. Bha mi eòlach air na h-ainmeanan aig pàirt dhuibh bho chionn bhliadhnachan. Ach có shaoileadh gu facit’ iad a’ sporghail mu thursachan Chalanais, no a’ streap ri Dun Chàrlabhaigh, no cruinn air làrnach na seann eaglais an Cladh na h-Aoidh. Bithidh gu leòir a dhaoine an Leódhas nach di-chuimhnich a’ cheud ghreis ad mhór dhubh an Ollaimh Andersson, a thainig fad na slighe a Finland; no guth seimh ciùin an Ollaimh Christiansen, a thainig a Oslo an Lochlainn; no bodhaig mór foghainteach an Ollaimh Chaimbeulacih a thainig a Uppsala san t-Suain; no feusag ruadh an Ollaimh Greene, á Baile Ath Cliath an Eirinn. Bha cuid de na daoine sin air a bhith an Leódhas no anns an h-eileanan eile roimhe so. Tha cuimhne agam fhéin an t-Ollamh Annderesson fhaicinn nuair a bha e a’ tional òrain Ghàidhlig riomh’n chogadh, agus tha e nis air leabhar beag a chur a mach leis na h-òrain sin. Agus tha an t-Oll. Caimbeulach nas fiosraiche mu dheidhinn tighean dubha Leódhais agus an Eilein Sgiathanaich na tha na daoine a’ gabhail comhnaidh annta. Tha an t-Ollamh Nils Holmer air leabhar a sgrìobhadh air Gàidhlig Earra Ghaidheal. Bha iad cruinn an sin co dhiùbh, a Albainn, a Sasuinn, a Eirinn, as a’ Chuimrigh, agus as an Eilean Mhanainneach, as a’ Bhreatainn Bhig, as an Olaind, as an Fhraing, as an Eadailt, a Denmark, a Lochlainn, as an t-Suain agus a Finland. Dé chuir ann iad is dé rinn iad fhad’s a bha iad ann?
Tha corr math is bliadhna bho thòisicheadh a’ bruidhinn air a’ Cho-Chruinneachadh so a bha againn an Leódhas. Bha Oil-thigh Abar-dheadhain agus A’ Chomhairle Bhreatainneach, no am British Council, air dà cho-chruinneachadh a chumail roimhe so, fear dhiubh an Arcaibh is fear eile an Seatlainn, agus an uair a thugadh iomradh an toiseach air co-chruinneachadh a chumail an Innse Gall bha Oil-thigh Ghlaschu deònach agus deiseil gus làmh-chuirich a thoirt dhà. Agus rinn an Oil-thigh sin gu fialadh is phàidh e a’ mhór-chuid de’n chosgais. Fhuaireadh comhnadh cuideachd bho dhaoine is bho bhuidheannan eile, agus thug Baile Steòrnabhaigh agus Comhairle na Sgìreachd an Leódhas, maille ri maighstirean-sgoile agus daoine eile thall ’s a bhos aoigheachd bhlàth agus fhialaidh do’n luchd-tadhail.
B’e bial-aithris Ceilteach a bu chuspair do’n cho-chruinneachadh so, ach bha raon farsuing air a chur a mach roimhe gus a threabhadh. Fhuair sinn bial-aithris bho bheul an fhìor sgeulaiche, ach fhuair sinn cuideachd “searmoinean bho chlachan,” agus caochladh sheòrsachan de dh’ fhiosrachadh nach tig ach mar thoradh air dian-rannsachadh. Anns an leithid so de chuideachd, cha bhi duine ann nach ionnsaich beag no mór bho a nàbaidh agus bha spiorad a’ chàirdis agus na h-umhlachd air a leigeil ma sgaoil an so, air dhòigh is gun robh e furasda a dhol an eisimeil duine eile, is furasda rud rud fhoghlum bho gach taobh. Fhuair mi fhéin de dh’ fhiosrachadh is de chur-thuige inntinn agus meanmna nach d’ fhuair mi a leithid bho ’s cuimhne leam ann an aon seachdain. Dh’ fhaodadh nach teid agam air a chur an céill dhuibh, ach ’se mo chuidh mo dhìcheall a dhèanamh.
B’ ann air Di-luain, an cóigeamh là de October, a thòisich an gnothaich, agus air do Phròbhaist Steòrnabhaigh fàilte a chur air na bha làthair, thug an t-Ollamh Mackie, a Oil-thigh Ghlaschu, seachad òraid ghoirid air eachdraidh nan Eileanan, agus eachdraidh Leódhais gu h-àraidh, a’ tòiseachadh anns na làithean ciana mus tàinig an Soisgeul do ’n tìr, agus lean e air, a’ toirt sgeul air teachd nan Lochlainneach do na h-Eileanan an Iar, air an rìoghachd a chuir iad air bonn an sin le a crìochan aig Rubha Robhanais an ceann a tuath Leódhais agus mu dheas anns an eilan Mhanaineach,agusair na t-strì eadar Albainn agus Lochlainn a thainig gu crìch sa’ bhliadhna 1266, nuair a chaill Rìgh Lochlainn a ughdarras thairis air Innse Gall. Thug e iomradh air teachd nam Fìobhach is nan Sìophortach do Leódhas aig toiseach an t-seachdaimh linn deug, air cor an eilein ri linn nan Stiùbhartach agus a’ Phrionnsa Theàrlaich, agus air eachdraidh an eilein anns na linntean as fhaisge oirnn. Cha robh móran sam bith de dh’ fhiosrachadh as ùr anns an òraid aig an Ollaimh Mackie, oir cha b’ e sin a bha fo aired ha, ach thug e dealbh dhuinn ann am beagan bhriathran air eachdraidh an eilein, mar gum b’ eadh an dlùth ann an deibh clòtha. Bha an cur a nise ri dhol air, agus chìte an uair sin dreach a’ chlò.
Tha iomadach snàilean ann an clò, ach is beag an àireamh taca ris na snàileanan a tha air an suaineadh ann am beatha duine, agus nach mór a thuilleadh air a sin a tha air an suaineadh ann am beatha sluaigh. Ga be thuigeadh cànain nan eileanan mar a tha i an diugh, cha b’ fhuilear dha a bhith ionnsaichte chan ann a mhàin an Gàidhlig na h-Albann is an h-Eireann agus ann am Beurla, ach cuideachd ann an cànain nan Lochlannach, agus an uair sin fhéin is iongantach mura biodh iarmad air chor-eigin air fhàgail nach gabhadh sloinneadh air gin de na cànainean ud. Is ga be thuigeadh am bial-aithris agus an ceòl, cha b’ fhuilear dha fhios a bhith aige air bial-aithris agus ceòl nan duthchannan sin a rithist, agus a dhol eadhon na b’ fhaide o ’n tigh, mus deanadh e craithreadh air na bhuineadh air tùs do na Gaidheil. Air a’ mhodh chianda, chan urrainn do dhuine beachdachadh air caitheamh beatha nan eileanach gun cheistean a churn ach gabh am freagairt as an fhiosrachadh a gheibh sinn air taobh stigh nan crìochan againn fhéin.
Ged a tha ainm Lochlainneach air gach dàrnacha baile is rubha is cnoc ann an Leódhas, bheir an spaid am follais dhuinn fhathast sprùilleach shoithichean agus phristealan a thuit air an talamh mìle bliadhna mus do chuir na Lochlainnich cas air tìr an eilein, is tha clachan ’nan seasamh fhathast a chaidh an cur an àird ceudan de bhliadhnachan (is tha cuid am beachd, dà mhìle bliadhna) mun do rugadh ar Slànuighear.
Chan urrainn do dh’ aon duine an diugh rannsachadh a dhèanamh anns gach cuspair a tha sin, agus ’se so luach leithid a’ cho-chruinnichidh a chumadh an Leódhas―gum faodar nàdur de cho-chur a dhèanamh de gach fiosrachadh àraidh as urrainn do sgoilearan eadar-dhealaichte a chur fa’r comhair. Cha tric an diugh a gheibhear duine a’ saothrachadh tigh gu h-iomlan leis fhéin. Ach chan eil an teagamh as lugha agam nach tug an t-seachdain sin an Steòrnabhagh na b’ fhaisge sinn air tigh nan Eileanan a thogail, oir fhuair sinn clachan bho sgoilear na h-àrsaidheachd, no an archœologist, agus fiodh bho sgoilear na h-eachdraidh, agus sglaitaichena bho sgoilear a’ chaitheamh-beatha, agus fhuair sinn àirneis agus biadh agus deoch bho sgoilearan na cànaine agus a’ chiùil agus a’ bheòil-aithris.
B’ e Di-màirt a’ cheud là slàn de ’n cho-chruinneachadh, agus chuir sinn seachad a’ mhadainn agus am feasgar a’ beachdachadh air beul-aithris na Gàidhlige―air a sgialachdna agus a ceòl. Bha Donnchadh MacDhomhnaill ’ic Dhonnchaidh air a thighinn a Peighinn nan Aoirean ann an Uibhist a deas a dh’ innse “Sgialachd Fera na h-Eabaid” Rinn Aonghas MacMhathain, a Oil-thigh Ghlaschu, iomradh air sinnsearachd Dhonnchaidh, ’ga shloinneadh air ais gu ruig Donnchadh MacRuaraidh a bha an Acha nam Bàrd an Tròndairnis, agus a bha ’na bhàr aig MacDhomhnaill Shléibhte aig toiseach an t-seachdaimh linn deug. Thug Mgr. MacMhathain iomradh coimhlionta cuideachd air mar a tha an sgeul so, no sgeòil a tha coltach rithe, air an cur sìos an làmh-sgrìobhaidhean an Albainn agus an Eirinn. Thug Donnchadh faisg air uair a thìde ag innse an sgeòil―is e ’ga h-innse mar gum biodh e ri taobh an teallaich aige fhéin an Uibhist, agus chan eil mi smaoineachadh gun cuala an luchd-tadhail dad far na seachdanach a thug a leithid de thoileachadh is a chuir a leithid a dh’ iongnadh orra ri so. Bha iad an so ann an làthair duine air an do ràinig oilean agus ealain a’ chinnidh fhéin, ged a bha a cho-aoisean gu léir, cha mhór, air an call.
Bhruidhinn duine bho dhuine de na sgoilearan a bha làthair, is mhol an t-Ollamh Christiansen, a Oslo, an ealain a bha suainte anns an sgeulachd so, is bha e de ’n bheachd gun robh an ealain litreachail so, a bha a’ cur snas air an sgialachd agus iar iomadach sgialachd eile an Gàidhlig na h-Albann is na h-Eireann, cho àrsaidh ri ealain sam bith a gheibhte san Roinn Eòrpa, taobh a muigh litreachas na Gréige agus na Ròimhe.
Air an fheasgar sin, agus a rithis air madainn Di-ar-daoin, chuala sinn òrain Ghàidhlig a bha air an recòrdadh ann an caochladh àiteachan air feadh na Gaidhealtachd, agus thug Calum MacGilleathain, Frannsaidh Collinson agus Seumas Ros seachad òraidean. Thana triùir ag obair fo ughdarras Oil-thigh Dhun-éideann. ’Se Calum MacGilleathain, a mhuinntir Ratharsair, a bhruidhinn an toiseach, agus leig e fhaicinn cho luachmhor is a tha na h-òrain agus na fuinn. B’ e an obair bu deatamaiche an dràsda an cruinneachadh, is dh’fhaoidte am mìneachadh nuair a bha sinn uile marbh. Bha iomadach rud annta, a thuilleadh air ceòl, a dh’ fhaodadh sinn fhoghlum, oir bha iad a’ soilleireachadh iomadach cùil dhorch ann an caitheam-beatha an t-sluaigh anns na linntean a dh’fhalbh. Bha e riatanach gum biodh eadhon an aon òran air a chruinneachadh bho chaochladh dhaoine agus an caochladh àiteachan, agus b’ e am prìomh earal a bheireadh air luchd-cruinneachaidh gun fhacal gun phong atharrachadh, ach a chur sìos dìreach mar a chualas e.
Labhair Frannsaidh Collinson mu dheidhinn fheadhainn de’n luchd-cruinneachaidh, mar a bha a’ Bhean-uasal Kennedy-Fraser agus Frangag Nic an Tolmaich. Chuala sinn recòrdadh a rinneadh de ghuth Nic an Tolmaich agus is math gu bheil a leithid sin air mhaireann. Tha Mgr. Collinson de ’n bheachd gun robh dòigh air leth aig na seinneadairean anns na h-eileanan, agus nach fhaighte buileach na h-aon phongan air a’ phiàno. Bha e de ’n bheachd nach robhas mothachail gu leòir air a seo aig na Mòdan, agus gum b’ e call a bhiodh ann nam biodh na subhailcean a bha fuaighte ris an t-seinn nàdurraich air an leigeil dhìth.
Bhruidhinn Seumas Ros, Sgiathanach a Gleann Dail, air facail nan òran sin a tha air an cruinneachadh, agus labhair e gu pongail, a’ mìneachadh nan seòrsaichean eadar-dhealaichte, agus ag innse beagan de eachdraidh nan òran. Tha còir gum bi móran air a chur ri ar n-eòlas ri linn an obair so, agus dh’ fhaodamaid a ràdh gu bheil tuilleadh dheth a’ dol air adhart ann an Albainn, oir tha daoine mar fear Chanaidh, agus buidheanna mar a tha Comunn Bial-aithris na h-Albann, augs am BBC, ris an obair so cuideachd, agus bu mhath leinn uile, tha mi ’n dùil, taing chàirdeil a thoirt dhaibhsan anns na h-eileanan agus air tìr mór a tha cho fialaidh agus cho deiseil air a bhith a’ seinn ’s ag aithris nan òran is nan sgeulachdan. Chluicheadh grunn math de dh’ òrain air an dà là sin, agus on a bha grunn ann a bha mi fhéin air a chruinneachadh an Leódhas, san Eilean Sgiathanach augs an Uibhist, thug iad ’nam chuimhne iomadach ceilidh aighearach a rinn mi ann an tighean anns na h-eileanan sin. Gum fada mhaireas an ceòl sin, agus na daoine còire aig am bheil e.
Air madainn Di-ciadaoin bhruidhinn Mgr. J. R. C. Hamilton air seann làraichean an eilein, air Tursachan Chalanais, Dun Chàrlabhaigh, làraichean seann tighean a chaidh an dùsgadh san eilean, agus air na seann rudan, mar a tha pristealan agus buinn airgid is seann innealan gearraidh is innealan seilge a chaidh an cladhach as an talamh, no a thug am muir agus na siantan am follais o ám gu ám. Bu mhór an t0soilleireachadh a thug an òraid so dhuinn air fad. Leig e fhaicinn dhuinn gu bheil Leódas fada nas saidhbhire anns an dòigh so na shaoileadh duine, agus leig e fhaicinn dhuinn cuideachd nach robh an eilean buileach air chùl an t-saoghail anns na linntean fad as, gun robh e air rathad mór na mara co-dhiùbh, agus gu robh tadhal ann, is sluagh a’ tuineachadh ann, o chionn mhìltean de bhliadhnachan.
Air an fheasgair ud fhéin, ràinig sinn Tursachan Chalanais agus Dun Chàrlabhaigh, agus ann an sgoil Shiaboist thug Mgr. Stevenson seachad òraid bheag air criostalan, clachan nathrach, cluig, croisean, bràisichean, agus rudan eile de ’n t-seòrsa sin anns an robh éifeachd, a rèir an t-sluaigh roimhe so, gus eucailean agus galairean a shlànachadh. Tha móran diubh so anns a’ Mhuseum a tha fo chùram Mrs. Steveson an Dun-éideann. Bha cothrom air muinntir an àite ceistean a chur, agus cha robh iad fada gabhail cothrom air a’ chothrom.
An so, an Siabost, agus an sgoil Lìonail na là roimhe, agus an sgoil Liuboist an ath là, chuireadh tea―is b’e an tea i―air bialaibh an luchd-turuis. Fiù nach robh aran eòrna aca, is chord e glan riutha. Bha gach duine sa’ chuideachd fo chomain do mhuinntir nan sgìrean. Agus bha sinn cuideachd fo chomain do Mhgr. Niall MacAoidh, a tha air ceann na Comhairle Breatannaich ann an Albainn, air son na thug e dhuinn de a fhiosrachadh fhéin mu’n eilean, is de a thàlantan air fad.
B’ ann aig naoi uairean feasgair a choinnich sinn a rithis a dh’ éisdeachd air an Ollamh Christiansen a Oslo a’ toirt seachad òraid air a’ bhuaidh a bh’ aig bial-aithris nan Lochlainneach air bial-aithris na Gàidhlig. Bha iomadach comharradh air mhaireann againn, arsa esan, a dh’ fhàg na Lochlainnaich as an déidh―ainmeanan àitean, facail a ghabhadh a steach do ’n Ghàidhlig, nòsan de gach seòrsa, gun tighinn idir air nithean a ghabhadh làimhseachadh, mar a tha bràisdean agus fir-fòirne (na fir-tàilisg) is a leithid sin. Ach bha esan a’ lorg a mach buntanas eadar sgeulachdan agus bial-aithris an dà chinnidh. Dh’ fheumadh duine bhith air fhaiceall oir tha gu tric motif ann an sgeulachd eadar-nàisteanta is gheibhera sna h-Innseachan ann nach do dh’ fhàg na cogaidhean eadar an dà chinneadh an lorg air na sgeulachdan is air na dàin Ghàidhlige. Tha na sgeulachdan mu ’n Fheinn làn de dh’ iomradh orra. Dh’ innis e an uair sin mar a thug MacCruimein Leódhais a car a Bànrigh Lochlainn ann am Baile na Beirbhe. Dh’ innis e sgeulachd mu fhear d’am b’ ainm Floki a thuinich an Innis Tile (no Iceland) agus b’ ann mar so a thigh e ’m fearann―leig e fitheach air falbh as an t-soithich is far an do laigh e b’ ann an sin a shuidhich e a dhachaidh. Bha an aon sgeulachd air a h-aithris mu Chlann Dùghaill Latharna. Ach chuir smuaineachadh air―bha duine a Innse Gall air bòrd na soithich aig Floki.
Bha e de ’n bheachd gu robh sìthichean na Gaidhealtachd gu tric air an gluasad le gamhlas mar nach robh, am bitheantas, sìthichean na h-Eireann na sìthichean Lochlainn, ach bha e smuaineachadh gu robh an leithid ri ’m faicinn ann an saga mar an Grettis-saga, a Innis Tile. Cha b’ urrainn da bhith deimhinne, ach shaoil e gu robh càirdeas air chor-eigin aig na h-eich uisge, na glaistigean agus na gruagaichean againne ri creutairean a bha aca ann an Lochlainn cuideachd.
Cha mhór nach robh an ceòl air feadh na fìdhle oidhche Dhi-ar-daoin, an uair a labhair an t-Ollamh Nils Holmer air Gàidhlig na h-Albann, agus a buntanas ri Gàidhlig na h-Eireann. Ma thuig mi ceart e, bha a cumail a mach gu bheil a’ Ghàidhlig Albannach nas fhaisge air Gàidhlig Chaluim Chille na tha a’ Ghàidhlig Eireannach, agus gu robh gu leòir de ’n t-seann Ghàidhlig Eireannaich air a h-eagarachadh le sgrìobhadairean an latha sin, gun a bhith idir ann an seann fhreumaichean na cànain. Bha e cuideachd de ’n bheachd gun tugadh Gàidhlig a steach a dh’ Albainn fada roimh’n t-siathamh linn. Cha do chord na beachdan so ris na h-Eireannaich, is bha iad air am bonnaibh an tiota. Is Daibhidh Greene air an ceann. Chaidh esan calg-dhìreach an aghaidh cha mhór gach nì a thuirt Holmer, is lean an argumaid fad uair a thìde. Ach cha leigeadh Holmer roimhe.
Air Di-haoine, bhathas a’ beachdachadh air caitheamh-beatha an t-sluaigh, is bhruidhinn an t-Ollamh Caimbeulach, as an t-Suain, air seòrsachan arain agus modhan deachachaidh, air tighean is àirighean, is shiubhail e fada is farsuing, a’ seallatainn dhealbh dhuinn a thog e thall ’s a bhos gus mu dheireadh thall na rainig e Leódhas, a dearbhadh oirnn an dlùth-cheagal a th’ againn anns gach dòigh―’nar biadh is ’nar tighean cho math ri ann ar cànain―ri sluagh an na h-Eòrpa agus nan Innsean. Cha tric a gheibhear sealladh cho farsuing ri so. Air an fheasgair sin thug an t-Ollamh Iseabail Ghrannd dhuinn òraid air tuathanachas air a’ Ghàidhealtachd, a’ nochdadh dhuinn mar nach robh a’ bheag de bhuaidh aig na Lochlannaich air bràighe na dùthcha―air na ceàrnaidhean meadhonach de ’n Ghaidhealtachd, timcheall air Cinn a’ Ghiùthsaich, is Bàideanach.
Air an fheasgair sin dh’ fhairich sinn neart na gaoithe air a’ Bhràighe nuair a chaidh sinn a chiomhead seann easglais na h-Aoidhe an sgìre an Rubha, is bha Domhnall MacLeòid a Aignis a’ feitheamh oirnn gus an eaglais a shealltainn dhuinn, is a h-eachdraidh a thoirt dhuinn. Augs mun do sgaoil a’ cho-chruinneachaidh fhuair sinn aoigheachd bhlàth is cuirm de dh’ annlan is dh’ òrain ann an Sgoil MhicNeacail air oidhche h-Aoine.
Chunnaic sinn an t-eilean fo ghaillion ’s fo fheàth, dh’ fhiosraich sinn beagan mu sheann bhunait a eachdraidh is mu nòsan a chaitheamh-beatha ’nar linn fhéin, thainig oirnn ìota ùr airson eòlais, agus umhlachd as ùr comhair ar n-aineolais, agus dh’ fhalbh sinn as le tomhas de riarachadh is de shonas.
Unfortunately the full proceedings of the conference were never published but perhaps some of the above talks made their way into print into journals or elsewhere such as those by the Scandivanian scholars, but, probably the bulk of the papers presented remain in manuscript just like that of Calum Maclean’s. Either way many of the above talks would have made fascinating listening even to those who have only a passing interest in Celtic folklore.
Anon. [Editorial], ‘International Conference At Stornoway’, The Stornoway Gazette (6 October 1953), p. 1
Anon. [Editorial], ‘International Folklore Conference’, The Stornoway Gazette (13 October 1953), p. 1
Anon. [Editorial], ‘The Conference in Retrospect’, The Stornoway Gazetter (13 October), p. 3
Anon, ‘Uist Seanachaidh At International Conference’, The Stornoway Gazette (13 October 1953), p. 6
Anon, ‘Effect Of The Mod On Gaelic Singing’, The Stornoway Gazette (13 October 1953), p. 6
Anon, ‘Nicolson Ceiltidh “Crowns” The Conference’, The Stornoway Gazette (13 October 1953), p. 6
Reidar Th. Christiansen, The Impact of Norse upon Gaelic Tradition, (S.l., 1953)
Ellen Ettlinger, ‘International Conference on Celtic Folklore’, Folklore, vol. 65 (1954), pp. 56–57
Nils Homler, The Age of Gaelic in Scotland (S.l., 1953)
Calum Maclean, ‘Introductory Paper on Folk-Music Collection’, NLS MS.29790, ff. 16f–25r
Ruaraidh MacThomais, ‘Co-Chruinneachadh Luchd Bial-Aithris an Steòrnabhagh’, Gairm, air. 6. (1953), pp. 156–61
‘Three Noted Gales’ from The Stornoway Gazette (20 October 1953), p. 6