Tuesday, 30 July 2013
As resident GP in South Uist for thirty-two years, Dr Alasdair Maclean (1918–1999) became a kenspeckled figure on the island and like his elder brother Calum was a prolific collector in his own right.
Like the rest of his family, Dr Alasdair received his early education in the local primary school in Raasay, and later at Portree High School. For there he proceeded to St Andrews University where he studied medicine and graduated in 1941 MB ChB. His brother Norman also graduated in medicine and the both saw active military service in India and Burma with the Royal Army Medical Core.
After an engagement lasting a year, Dr Alasdair married Rena MacAskill of Drynoch in 1947 and had a family of five sons. After demobilisation he took up his chosen career, and worked for a time in Dingwall, Dundee, Laggan, Broadford, and Perth, before taking up medical practice in South Uist in 1950. He remained a GP there for the next thirty-two years and was also a medical superintendent of the Sacred Heart Hospital in Daliburgh.
Calum had been collecting in the Southern Hebrides some three years before Dr Alasdair came out to South Uist. Here, for example, is a dairy entry from the summer of 1950:
Dimàirt, 15 Lùnasdal 1950
Dh’fhuirich mi a-raoir ann an taigh Alasdair an Dalabrog. Bha seann-duine a-muigh air taobh a deas Loch Baghasdail agus bha Alasdair ag ràdha gun robh naidheachdan aige. Bha e airson gu rachainn a-mach ga choimhead. Bha Alasdair fhèin a’ dol a-mach ann agus chaidh mi a-mach còmhla ris. ’S ann air taobh a deas Loch Baghasdail a tha an duine seo. ’S e Iain MacDhòmhnaill a chanar ris, no Iagan Theàrlaich. Tha an duine bochd dall a-niste. Chaill e aon t-sùil le sgiorrag e chionn fhada agus as t-samhradh seo a chaidh, chaill e fradharc na sùla eile. Tha an duine bochd gu math truagh dheth an-diugh agus chan iongnadh ged a dh’fhairicheadh e an ùine fada. Chan eil e ach mu thrì fichead bliadhna a dh’ aois agus tha e gu math làidir fhathast. Bha taigh-tughaidh beag laghach aige agus tha e glè ghlan eireachdail na bhroinn. Tha a bhean beò còmhla ris agus nighean leis agus i pòsda a-staigh. Tha aon leanbh aca. Bha naidheachdan beaga laghacha aig Iain MacDhòmhnaill, ach chan e sgeulaiche mòr a th’ ann idir. Bha stòiridhean beaga èibhinn aige agus an-diugh agus mi gun an Eidifión agam, ghabh mi beachd air grunn dhiubh. Bha mi còmhla ris mu uair an uaireadair agus sgrìobh mi sìos ainmean nan naidheachd a bh’ aige. Gheall mi dhà gun tiginn air ais a-rithist leis an Eidifión agus gun toirinn sìos iad. Mu chòig uairean as t-oidhche thill sinn air ais gu Dalabrog. Bha dùil againn a dhol suas gu Beinne na Faoghla a-nochd ach dh’fhuirich mi a-bhos còmhla ri Alasdair.
Tuesday, 15 August 1950
I stayed last night at Alasdair’s house in Daliburgh. There was on old man out in South Lochboisdale and Alasdair said he had stories. He wanted me to go out to see him. Alasdair was going out and I went with him. This man stays out in South Lochboisdale. He’s called John MacDonald, or John Charles. The poor man is blind now. He lost one eye by accident a long time ago and last summer he lost the sight in his other eye. The poor man isn’t well off today and it’s little wonder that he should feel the time slowly going by. He’s only sixty years of age and he’s still quite strong. He had a neat little thatched house and it’s very clean and tidy inside. His wife is still with him and a married daughter who stays with them. They’ve one child. John MacDonald has nice little anecdotes, but he’s not a great storyteller at all. He had funny, little stories today but I didn’t have the Ediphone so I took a note of a number of them. I was in his company for an hour and I wrote down the titles of his anecdotes. I promised him that I’d be back again with the Ediphone and that I’d take them down. Around five o’clock at night we returned to Daliburgh. We had expected that I’d go up to Benbecula tonight but I stayed here with Alasdair.
With so many exponents of history, folklore, Gaelic song, culture, genealogy surrounding him, and no doubt with the encouragement of Calum, Dr Alasdair was inspired to research and write on many of these subjects. In 1982 he wrote his first book, A MacDonald for a Prince, the fascinating story of Neil MacEachen of Howbeg, who shielded Bonnie Prince Charlie and whose son was later to become Napoleon’s Marshall MacDonald and Duke of Tarentum. Jacobite history fascinated him and after his retirement, in 1992, his second book appeared under the title Summer Hunting A Prince.
Another book followed in 1994 when Dr Alasdair, edited meticulously, prepared a new edition of History of Skye, the extremely detailed study of the social history of that island written by his uncle, Alexander Nicolson. In addition to these works, he edited and consolidated William MacKenzie’s books Iochdar Trotternish and Old Skye Tales. He also made a contribution to a book about the Nicolsons of Scorrybreac. Genealogy, particularly that of South Uist families, held a particular fascination for him and he contributed a very interesting paper on this very subject to the Gaelic Society of Inverness.
He made many other contributions to journals and periodicals, and often contributed to radio and TV programmes. He was also in much demand as a guest speaker.
Many of his recordings made by him, mainly Gaelic songs for which he had a great love, are available on the Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches website. Like his brother Norman, Dr Alasdair also had a great love of bagpipe music, and was a regular attender at the Silver Chanter, the Northern Meeting and Blair Castle competitions.
Dr Alasdair Maclean made a great contribution to collecting Gaelic folklore, especially songs, and if it had not been for his dedication in doing so then we would have a far poorer picture of the strength of Gaelic oral tradition in South Uist at that time.
NFC 1301: 524–26
William MacKenzie; Alasdair Maclean (ed.), Old Skye Tales: Traditions, Reflections and Memories: With A Selection from Skye: Iochdar–Trotternish and District (Aird Bhearnasdail, Maclean Press, 1995)
Alasdair Maclean, A MacDonald for a Prince: The Story of Neil MacEachen (Stornoway: Acair, 1982)
–––––, ‘Notes on South Uist Families’, Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. LIII (1984), pp. 491ff.
Alasdair Maclean; John S. Gibson, Summer Hunting A Prince: The Escape of Charles Edward Stuart (Stornoway: Acair, 1992)
W. David H. Sellar & Alasdair Maclean; C. B. Harman Nicholson (ed.), The Highland Clan MacNeacail (MacNicol): A History of the Nicolsons of Scorrybreac (Waternish: Maclean Press, 1999)
Mrs Kate MacDonald, styled Bean Eairdsidh Raghnaill, with Dr Alasdair Maclean. December 1975. The photograph belongs to Ishbel MacDonald. Courtesy of the School of Scottish Studies Archives.
Saturday, 27 July 2013
One of the most interesting supernatural beings (or entities) connected with the Highlands and Islands is undoubtedly Cailleach na Beinne Brice, a hag who has had a long association with Beinn Bhric in Nether Lochaber. J. G. MacKay, an authority on Gaelic oral traditions has described her as “the most tremendous figure in Gaelic myth today.” Here, for example, is a short anecdote taken down by Calum Maclean from the recitation of Allan MacDonell, a native of Brae Lochaber, and transcribed by him on the 17th of January 1951:
Thàine i an sin is cha robh fhios cò às a thàine i. Tha iad ag ràitinn gur h-ann dèidh stoirm mhòr a thàine i. Bhiodh i aig Ceann Loch Trèig a’ beireachd air an iasg le làimh is iad ga faicinn. Chaidh a faicinn uair neo dhà aig Bràigh Eas Bhàin, Bràigh Ghlinn Nibheis. Chaidh a faicinn a’ bleoghan nan agh uair neo dhà. Nam faiceadh poitsear i, bha e tilleachd dhachaigh. Chan fhaigheadh e beothach nam faiceadh ise e. Bha fiaclan innte is cha robh mac-samhail ann dhaibh ach fiaclan cliath-chliait, an fheadhainn a chunna i. Bha òran air a dhèanamh dhith cuideachd:
Cailleach Beinne Bric ho rò,
Bric ho rò, Bric ho rò,
Cailleach Beinne Bric ho rò,
Cailleach Mhòr an fhuarain àird.
Cailleach Mhòr nam mogan liath,
Na mogain liath, na mogain liath,
Cailleach Mhòr nam mogan liath,
Chan fhacas do leithid riamh.
’S ann an siud bha a’ ghroighean fhiadh,
A’ ghroighean fhiadh, a’ ghroighean fhiadh,
’S ann an siud bha a’ ghroighean fhiadh,
Seachad sìos an cathair ud thall.
Cailleach Mhòr nam mogan fhada
Nam mogan fhada, nam mogan fhada,
Cailleach Mhòr nam mogan fhada,
B’ astarach i san talamh dhearg.
And the translation goes something like the following:
She came here but no one knows where she came from. They say that she came after a great storm. She would be at the head of Loch Treig catching fish by hand when they used to see her. She was seen once or twice at Bràigh Eas Bhàin, at the Brae of Glen Nevis. She was seen milking hinds once or twice. If a poacher saw her, he would go return home. He would not get a beast if she saw him. She had teeth and there is no other way describe them than harrow-like to those few who saw her. There was a song about her as well:
The carlin of Ben Breck, ho ro,
Breck ho ro, Breck ho ro;
The carlin of Ben Breck ho ro,
The great carlin of the mountain spring.
The great carlin of the grey hose,
The grey hose, the grey hose,
The great carlin of the grey hose,
The like of which has never been seen.
Yonder was the herd of deer,
The herd of deer, the herd of deer,
Yonder was the herd of deer,
That passed beyond the seat over yonder.
The great carlin of the long hose,
The long hose, the long hose,
The great carlin of the long hose,
She sped over the red earth.
According to John MacDonald of Highbridge, another local tradition bearer, she was a common talking point during a ceilidh. She was well-known figure throughout the Highlands and Islands. Another of her manifestations occurs in other localities such as Cailleach a’ Bheinn Mhòir, the witch of Jura, and Cailleach Chlì-Bhric, in Sutherland and as far east in the Highlands as Braemar. The Sutherland tradition is briefly mentioned in Popular Tales of the West Highlands, as indeed is Cailleach Beinne na Brice herself. A longer version of the above song entitled Cailleach Beinn a’ Bhric was contributed by Donald C. MacPherson (1838–1880), a native of Brae Lochaber, to the periodical An Gàidheal in 1874.
Abrach [Donald C. MacPherson], ‘Cailleach Beinn a’ Bhric’, An Gàidheal, vol. II, no. 26 (April, 1874), pp. 369–71
Gearóid Ó Crualaoich, ‘Continuity and Adaptions in Legends of Cailleach Bhéarra’, Béaloideas, vol. 56 (1988), pp. 153–78
─────, The Book of the Cailleach: Stories of the Wise Woman Healer (Cork: Cork University Press, 2003)
J. G. MacKay, ‘Comh-Abartachd Eadar Cas-Shiubhal-an-t-Sléibhe agus A’ Chailleach Bheurr’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol. 3 (1930), pp. 10–51
─────, ‘The Deer-Cult and the Deer-Goddess of the Ancient Caledonians’, Folklore, vol. XLIII (1932), pp. 144–74
SSS NB 1, p. 17
A’ Chailleach Bheurr
Monday, 22 July 2013
Born in Glen, near Castlebay, Barra, in 1886, Annie Johnston, styled Annag Aonghais Chaluim, came of a family (Clann Aonghais Chaluim) of four other sisters and three brothers, one of whom, Calum Johnston, was also a renowned tradition bearer.
John Lorne Campbell paid a fitting tribute to Annie and Calum Johnston with these words:
Unlike some of her contemporaries, Annie remained in Barra and became a schoolteacher at her local primary school in Castlebay. She followed this profession throughout her working life and was, by all accounts, an extremely well-respected and loved individual. Sir Compton Mackenzie wrote of her:
Annie Johnston … whom no better teacher of small children every lived. She was renowned throughout the Gaelic world on both sides of the Atlantic, for her ability to teach children was just as much for teaching the grown-ups who attended each year the Gaelic Summer School. She was a perennial spring of Gaelic folk-lore; her tales were inexhaustible. A truly lovable woman, she was utterly unspoilt by the esteem in which she was held.
Annie excelled in songs and she knew a great deal about òrain luaidh, or waulking songs, used in order to lighten the burden of work when fulling cloth. She also had reams of anecdotal stories and knew many òrain bheaga, or little songs, which was especially useful when it came to entertaining children. A great deal of her repertoire was recorded for the School of Scottish Studies Archives as well as many other visitors who came knocking at her door. In addition to these many recordings, Annie greatly contributed to Gaelic folklore research and was an active member of the Barra Folklore Committee set up through the initiative of John Lorne Campbell and others. With her excellent local knowledge and contacts she willingly facilitated all manner of folklorists and scholars who came to collect songs and much else from the best women folksinger then available in Barra, who, if it were not for Annie’s efforts to cajole them and make them comfortable, would have been far too reticent to have a microphone placed anywhere near them.
Calum Maclean in his very first trip to the Western Isles recollected in a typical diary entry a meeting he had with Annie Johnston on the 3rd of September 1946. Maclean at this period kept his diary in Irish Gaelic and here the translation is given:
I got up at ten o’clock as I was feeling a bit tired from the night before. I went out in the morning to take the place in. I had to collect my luggage from the pier. I waited until eleven o’clock for the chauffeur to turn up but he didn’t make an appearance. He turned up at three o’clock. I then began writing letters. Afterwards, I began transcribing material recorded on cylinder. I met Annie Johnston at seven o’clock. I went up to talk to her for a while after that. There were a crowd of women present in the house. Annie Johnston’s a lovely woman. She talked about Ealasaid Eachainn [Elizabeth MacKinnon] who died a short time ago. Her traditions went with her to the grave.
Some decades previously, one of the very first collectors to whom Annie gave a helping hand was none other than Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser (1857–1930), styled Marsaili Mhòr nan Òran, who, in conjunction with the Rev. Kenneth MacLeod (1871–1955) subsequently published Songs of the Hebrides (1909–21) in three volumes. Annie and her brother Calum’s contribution to this work was recognised by Kennedy-Fraser herself when she referred to Annie as her ‘indefatigable collaborator’ and where she paid a tribute to the Johstons for ‘the many fine tunes.’ Kennedy-Fraser would later recollect that:
Annie would invite a group of older women to a cèilidh at her parents’ home and encouraged them to sing while Kennedy-Fraser recorded them. Annie wrote down the words of more than 20 songs sung that evening.
Calum Maclean’s brother, Dr Alasdair Maclean, who was a resident GP in South Uist for more than thirty years, wrote of Annie Johnston in the following terms:
An interesting survival in Barra was a Gaelic version of another international folk tale known in English as Cinderella. The Barra version is a more attractive and perhaps more credible one and curiously although differing in detail it has much more in common with the one published by the Grimm brothers entitled "Ashputel" than with the Cinderella story. It was recorded from the late and much talented Annie Johnston.
John Lorne Campbell paid a fitting tribute to Annie and Calum Johnston with these words:
Those who had the privilege of knowing Annie and Calum will treasure the recollection of highland hospitality, warmth of personality, generosity of spirit, and love for and knowledge of the oral Gaelic tradition, all at their very best and all expressed with completely natural spontaneity.
Her obituary notice is hereby reproduced in full and is an eloquent testimony by John Lorne Campbell to a well-loved and highly-respected personality:
Loss to Highland
THE LATE MISS ANNIE
The Highlands and Islands, and Barra in particular, have suffered a grievous loss through the passing last week of Annie Johnston, the witty, charming and talented lady whose name is well-known among folklorists far beyond the bounds of Scotland.
Annie Johnston possessed the rare combination of a modern educational training–she was a highly successful school teacher–with the completely natural recollection and grasp of the rich oral tradition of Gaelic folksong and folktale that has made Barra so famous.
In this respect she resembled her Nova Scotian cousin, Rt Rev. Mgr. P. J. Nicholson, president-emeritus of St Francis Xavier University at Antigonish, who in his spare time had made substantial contributions to the preservation of Gaelic folktales in Cape Breton.
In her profession of school teacher Annie Johnston was invaluable in a Gaelic-speaking island where many of the children came to school with little or no English, and many of her former pupils must remain very vivid memories of her, and her help was invaluable, indeed indispensable, to the many folklorists and students of Gaelic who used to visit the island of Barra or, whom she taught at An Comunn Gaidhealach Gaelic summer school.
Mrs Kennedy Fraser, who first met her in 1908, refers to her as a “valued friend and invaluable collaborator. Others, including the writer and many of his friends, will echo these words with heart-felt agreement. Not only did Annie Johnston gladly impart here own store of tradition, including many unusual and beautiful songs she had learnt herself from her mother and from neighbours who came originally from the isolated island of Mingulay, she was also indefatigable in brining forwards others to be recorded, coaxing them over their shyness and getting them in the right humour, interpreting and explaining when this had to be done. She was the kind of collaborator whose goodwill and help are absolutely indispensable to a visiting folklorist. In addition she was herself most hospitable and entertaining hostess and inimitable raconteur, and her house was an immediate objective for any visitor who came to Barra with the slightest pretension to an interest in the culture and tradition of the island.
Annie Johnston and her brother, Calum, were of great assistance to Mrs Kennedy Fraser and contributed substantially to “Songs of the Hebrides”.
Annie Johnston and her brother, Calum, were of great assistance to Mrs Kennedy Fraser and contributed substantially to “Songs of the Hebrides”.
When the broadcasting of Gaelic became organised Annie Johnston came into her own, and a wide and appreciative audience was able to hear her singing the natural traditional versions of the folksongs of her native island. At various times between 1937 and 1962 she recorded over 40 such songs for the writer.
When the School of Scottish Studies was founded at Edinburgh University in 1951 she and her talented brother, Calum, were among the first to record such material for its archives. Acknowledgement of her help can also be found in the foreword of several books by collectors of Hebridean folklore. She visited Nova Scotia and Boston a few years ago at the invitation of transatlantic friends and got a tremendous welcome from the Highland people there.
Her many friends hoped she would be spared for many years to continue her work in retirement and perhaps to write, in Gaelic or English, the memories of her early years. It was not to be. There must by many in Barra and outside it who feel her passing as a deep personal loss; their heartfelt sympathy will go out to her brother and sister-in-law and her sisters, nephews and nieces in their bereavement.
“A cuid de pharas di”
John Lorne Campbell, ‘Loss to Highland Folklore THE LATE MISS ANNIE JOHNSTON, BARRA’, The Oban Times (14 March 1963)
Scottish Tradition Series, vol. 13, Songs, Stories and Piping from Barra, Calum and Annie Johnston (Greentrax Recordings, CDTRAX9013, 2010)
Tocher, vol. 13 (1974) (a volume dedicated to Calum and Annie Johnston)
Annie Johnston photographed in May 1947 by George Scott-Moncrieff in her classroom, Castlebay, Barra. Courtesy of Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann, Coláiste Ollscoile Baile Átha Cliath / National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin. Courtesy of Cnuasach Bhéaloideas Éireann, Coláiste Ollscoile Baile Átha Cliath / National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin
Wednesday, 17 July 2013
With possibly one of the best and most recognised voices in the world of Gaelic song, Donald Joseph MacKinnon (1907–1962), styled Dòmhnall Iòsaph mac Ruairidh Iain Bhàin, and commonly known as An Eòsag [Little Joseph], has rightly earned himself an enviable reputation. MacKinnon was born in Bruernish, isle of Barra, and was the son of Roderick MacKinnon, styled Ruairidh Iain Bhàin (whose sister was Mòr, bean Shomhairle Bhig).
One of Donald Joseph MacKinnon’s older sisters was none other than Mrs Katie Buchanan, styled Ceit Ruairaidh Iain Bhàin, another remarkably talented singer. MacKinnon’s mother tragically died when he was only two years of age and so thenceforth was brought up by his two sisters, Ceit and Sìne. For bravery shown at Dunkirk whilst aboard the RMS King George V, MacKinnon was commended and awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. His later career in the Merchant Navy stood him in good stead and saw him rise to the rank of Captain on MacBrayne’s steamer, the Lochmor.
He and his wife Neilina ‘Nellie’ MacPherson (1907–1992), from Griminish, Benbecula, settled at Kenneth Drive, Lochboisdale, South Uist, with their family of a son and three daughters: Chrissie, Margaret, Donalda and Roddy. He and his wife were buried in Hallin cemetery, South Uist. An elegy, entitled Marbhrann do Dhòmhnall Eosaibh MacFhionghuin, Sgiobair na Lochmoir, was composed by Donald MacDonald from Ard-Chuig, Benbecula:
Gur duilich, duilich, duilich leam,
Gur muladach ri inns’,
Gun tugadh ás ar cuideachd
Neach cho urramach ’s a bh’ innt’,
Nuair sgaoil an naidheachd dhuilich
Gun deach dubhar air an tìr,
Co-dhiùbh air feadh nan Eileanan;
Sud deireadh do gach aon.
Nuair thàinig ugainn sgeul a’ bhròin
Gu brònach bha gach aon;
’S beag bha dhùil aig aon bha beò,
De eòlaich bha ri thaobh,
Gu robh a bheatha tighinn gu ceann
’S an t-àm air teannadh dlùth
Ri dealachadh ri caraid còir
A bhios ri ’r beò ’nar cuimhn’.
A Dhòmhnaill Eòsaibh, ’s duilich leam
Do ghuth a bhith ’gar dìth;
Bu tric a-measg na cuideachd thu
Toirt luinneag dhuinn ás ùr;
A nis cha chluinnear tuilleach thu
’S chan fhaicear thu sa’ chùirt
Far ’m bitheadh do ghàire cridhealach
Toirt spionnaidh dha’n bhiodh cruinn.
Maraiche nan tonnan gorm’
Ri sneachd is stoirm no ciùin;
Toirt misneachd do gach sean is òg
A bhiodh air bòrd san luing;
Bhiodh tèarainteachd fo do làimh,
’S command agad air stiùir;
’S ruigeadh tu leo sàbhailt’
Do’n chala san robh dùil.
Dhearbh thu euchdan sònraichte
Measg leòntach an Caol na Fraing’,
’Gan dìon ’s ’gan aiseag sàbhailte
O’n tràigh air an robh ’n call;
Cha deachaidh mail chur annad
Ach ’gan cruinneachadh gut rang,
’S toirt air bòrd na b’ urrainn dhut
’S ruigheachd leotha nall.
Neach bha riamh a’ còmhradh riut
No seòladh leat air chuan
’S a chuala gun do chàireadh thu
A Hàlann anns an uaigh,
Gun tuig mi fhìn an càradh;
Gum bi mànran-san ’nam chluais,
Bhith cuimhneachadh gun chàireadh thu
Gu bràth san dachaidh bhuain.
His obituary from The Oban Times is here reproduced in full:
POPULAR MACBRAYNE SKIPPER
The Late Captain D. J. Mackinnon
The death of Captain Donald Joseph Mackinnon (’n Iosag) the master of Lochmor has removed at an early age one of the best-known figures in the Outer Hebrides.
There are a few people in Harris, Benbecula, Barra and the two Uists who will not remember him on the deck of one or other of MacBrayne’s ships. The large number who knelt at his graveside in Hallin, South Uist, on that cold January day represented only a small proportion of those who heard the news of his passing with a deep sense of personal loss.
His powerful, handsome frame and his radiant warmth of heart made him a singularly attractive person. His birth in Barra 54 years ago predetermined his way of life. He was the son of Roderick Mackinnon (Rua[i]ridh Iain Bhain) who will long be remembered as an unsurpassed singer of Gaelic folk songs. The young Donald John inherited his father’s melodious voice and at an early age absorbed a worthy portion of his wonderful repertoire.
Like so many of his compatriots he went to sea as soon as he left school and continued to grace his chosen career until his untimely death.
His dedication to his fellow men received national recognition when he was rewarded the D.S.M. for service aboard the R.M.S. King George V on the Dunkirk beaches and in other ports of war-torn France. His other acts of service will never be fully enumerated as they are known only in the hearts of those who benefited by them. The infirm and young, to whose comfort the captain so often sacrificed his own bed on a stormy Minch crossing, will never forget him.
Nor will those of many nationalities and walks of life who had the unique privilege of standing with him on Lochmor’s bridge while he poured from his great heart songs of his heritage. A Minch crossing in those circumstances was far too short.
To his widow and family the heartfelt sympathy of his many friends goes out with the hope that their association with such a man will support them in their grief.
An Eòsag was recorded extensively by Calum Maclean, Dr Alasdair Maclean, Alan Lomax, John Lorne Campbell, James Ross as well as others. A highly recommended selection of recordings, entitled Mo Làmh air an Stiùir: An Eòsag, Capt. D. J. MacKinnon, from various archives was recently produced by Ceòlas and gives a representative taste of not only his extensive repertoire but also his sheer ability to sing in traditional fashion some of the best Gaelic songs. Well over one hundred separate items recorded from his recitation are available to listen to on the Tobar an Dualchais / Kist o Riches website.
References:A. M., ‘POPULAR MACBRAYNE SKIPPER: The Late Captain D. J. Mackinnon’, The Oban Times (3 February 1962)
Dòmhnall Dòmhnallach (Àird-Chuig, Benbecula), ‘Marbhrann do Dhòmhnall Eòsaibh MacFhionghuin, Sgiobair na Lochmóir’, Gairm, air. 40 (An Samhradh, 1962), pp. 308–09
Interview with Donald Joseph MacKinnon and Alan Lomax:
The CD Mo Làmh air an Stiùir: An Eòsag, Capt. D. J. MacKinnon is available at the Ceòlas online shop: http://www.ceolas.co.uk/shop/
An Eòsag: Captain Donald Joseph MacKinnon, 1930s
Tuesday, 16 July 2013
It could have only come as a shock when Calum Maclean heard the news that within three weeks of one another two of the greatest storytellers that he had meet had died. Angus MacMillan, styled Aonghas Barrach, from Griminish, Benbecula, and Duncan MacDonald, styled Donnchadh mac Dhòmhnaill ’ic Dhonnchaidh, from Snishival, South Uist, were considered by Maclean to have been superb exponents of the fine art of storytelling. Maclean wrote the following moving tribute to both men in an article that he wrote for the Gaelic periodical Gairm:
Aonghas agus Donnchadh
An samhradh seo chaidh thriall an dà sgeulaiche a b’ainmeile a bh’ againn an Albainn agus, math dh’fhaodte cuideachd, an taobh an iar na Roinn Eòrpa. Anns an àm chaidh facal no dhà a ràdh mun deidhinn anns na pàipeirean naidheachd. Dh’fhaodte sa Ghàidhealtachd gun cualas iomradh orra, ach cha d’rinneadh dhaibh an tuaiream a dhèante do chinn-cinnidhean mòra Gallda na Gàidhealtachd, no fiù is do sheinneadairean air bheagan Gàidhlig a bhuadhaich bonn òir a’ Chomuinn Ghàidhealaich. Chaidh Aonghas agus Donnchadh a chur fon ùir gun san làthaireachd ach dòrnan beag d’ an coimhearsnaich is an dlùth-chàirdean fhèin, a dh’iarr sìth d’ an anam agus a thill an uair sin dachaigh a bhuain na mòna, a chur an cliabh ghiomach, air neo a shaodachadh chruidh. Ach an dithis a thriall air slighe nam marbh, chuir iad barrachd ri litreachas nan Gàidheal Albannach na chuir aon dithis eile bho chionn còrr is ceud bliadhna. Cha robh ach trì seachdainean dìreach eatorra. Tha an cuirp nan tàmh sìorraidh an cladh Bhaile nan Cailleach am Beinn na Faoghla agus an Àird Mhìcheil an Uibhist a Deas. Bu mhòr an call an dithis sin a bhith a dhìth oirnn an-diugh. Dh’eug Aonghas MacGilleMhaoil air an t-seachdamh latha deug den Bhealltainn seo seachad agus Donnchadh MacDhòmhnaill air an t-seachdamh latha den Òg-mhìos. Bha Aonghas air leabaidh a bhàis còrr is ochd mìosan. Thàinig an t-àm gu h-allamh air Donnchadh: cha do mhair a thinneas deireannach ach trì latha. A-nis, tha e mar fhiachaibh orm clach a chur air an càrn. Bha iad coltach ri chèile air aon dòigh, ach air a h-uile dòigh eile bha iad eadar-dhealaichte gu tur. Ach nach iomchaidh gun cuimhnicheadh Clann nan Gàidheal orra a chionn is nach bi leithidean eile ann a-rithist.
’S ann an Snaoiseabhal an Uibhist a Deas a rugadh Donnchadh mac Dhòmhnaill ’ic Dhonnchadh. B’ e duine de chòignear teaghlaich. Na dhuine òg chaidh e ris a’ chlachaireachd mar chèird, agus thug e bliadhna na dhà a’ dol don mhailisidh as t-samhradh. Bha athair, Dòmhnall mac Dhonnchaidh na sgeulaiche ainmeil agus na dhuine làidir, foghainteach. Fhuair Donnchadh a chuid sgoile an t-Hogh Mòr, agus an dèidh bàs athar, b’ ann air a thuit am fearann am Peighinn nan Aoireann, fearann a dh’obraich e fad a bheatha còmhla ris a’ chlachaireachd. Phòs e Mairead, nighean Aonghais Ruaidh Mhic an t-Saoir. B’ ann bho dhaoine a bha sònraichte math air seann-eachdraidh, òrain is ceòl a thàinig ise, agus cha b’ iongnadh idir ged a chuirte ùidh air leth anns na nithean sin an taigh Dhonnchaidh am Peighinn nan Aoireann. B’ ann bho shliochd sgeulaiche is bhàrd a thàinig Donnchadh e fhèin. A shinn-seanair, Iain MacDhòmhnaill ’ic Thormaid, thàinig e a-nall as Uibhist a Tuath na thàillear agus phòs e nighean Fir a’ Ghearraidh Fhlich an Gèirinnis. B’ ann às an Eilean Sgitheanach a bha an dream bho thùs, oir b’ iad-san Clann ’ic Rùiridh a bha nam bàird aig Dòmhnallaich Dhùin Tuilm.
Dithis ghillean agus dithis nighean a bh’ aig Donnchadh is aig a mhnaoi. Chaill iad am mac bu shine anns a’ bhliadhna 1934, agus dh’eug cèile Dhonnchaidh i fhèin bho chionn dà bhliadhna. Chaidh Donnchadh a-mach gu ruige Glaschu air cuairt anns a’ bhliadhna 1909. Dà fhichead bliadhna an dèidh sin chaidh e a-mach a-rithist a chur cuid de na sgeulachdan aige air clàr don Third Programme. B’ esan an sgeulaiche a thagh David Thomson agus mi fhèin airson a’ chlàir Black House into White. B’ e cuideachd a’ chiad sgeulaiche ceart as Albainn a chualas riamh air an Third. Thug Oilthigh Ghlaschu e don Chòmhdhail Beul-aithris ann an Steòrnabhagh an uiridh, agus as a dhèidh sin don Mhòd san Òban agus cuireadh aige cho math bhon Chomann Ghàidhealach. B’ e a’ chiad Mhòd agus am Mòd mu dheireadh dhà-san e. An sealladh mu dheireadh a fhuair mi air, bha Alasdair, mo bhràthair, agus mise a’ dealachadh ris air machaire Pheighinn an Aoireann mu cheithir uairean sa mhadainn goirid an dèidh na Nollaig agus e air oidhche mhòr a thoirt air sgeulachdan. Thachair mi air a a-rithist agus mi air aonan den t-sianar fon chistidh ga ghiùlain air a’ mhachaire bho Hogh Beag gu Àird Mhìcheil air an deicheamh latha den Òg-mhìos seo chaidh.
Tha mi a’ smaointinn gur h-e Dòmhnall MacDhòmhnaill as Èirisgeidh a’ chiad fhear a sgrìobh sgeulachdan sìos bho Dhonnchadh. Feumar bàrr an urraim a thoirt do Mhgr. K. C. Craig a chionn is gur h-e a chuir am follais don t-saoghal Ghàidhealach cho barraichte, fileanta is a bha Donnchadh na fhear-sgeòil. Cha mhòr guth a bh’ air beul-aithris na a leithid an Albainn an latha earraich ud anns a’ bhliadhna 1947, nuair a thachair mi air Donnchadh an toiseach. Greis roimhe sin bha Mgr. Craig air na seachd sgeulachdan a b’ fheàrr agus a b’ fhaide a bh’ aig Donnchadh a sgrìobhadh sìos. Cha tàinig an leabhar a-mach as a’ chlò gu foghar 1950. Cha bu bheag saothair an duine a’ sgrìobhadh nan sgeulachdan mòr, fada sin facal air an fhacal. Bha e furasda gu leòir do dhaoine eile tighinn dìreach air a shàilean le innealan-deachdaidh agus cuilbheartan eile. Bha gach seòrsa sgeòil is naidheachd aig Donnchadh eadar eachdraidh na Fèinne, duain, naidheachdan mu Chloinn Raghnaill ’ic Ailein, Clann ’ic Mhuirich, mu chreideamh, mu shìthichean agus iomadach rud eile. Cha b’ fhiosrach e am b’ fhiach an aithris. A rèir is mar a bha an ùine a’ ruith bha nithean ùra a’ tighinn air ais thuige, nithean nach robh guth aige orra bho chionn fhada. Cuid dhiubh sin chuimhnich e orra is sinn a’ siubhal air a’ mhachaire Uibhisteach no air sràidean loma Ghlaschu is sinn ann còmhla seachdain. Cha b’ ann tric a chithinn Donnchadh. Bha gu leòir a bharrachd air m’ aire shuas am Beinne na Faoghla. Eadar an t-Samhain 1947 agus an t-Samhain 1949, chaidh agam air còrr is ceud naidheachd a thoirt bhuaithe, nithean nach do sgrìobh Mgr. Craig. An toiseach na bliadhna 1950 thòisich Fear Chanaigh agus Comann Beul-aithris na h-Albann air sgeulachdan agus òrain a thoirt bho Dhonnchadh. Mun àm seo bha an t-Uas. K. C. Craig air sia fichead òran a thoirt sìos bho Mhàiri Nighean Alasdair, piuthar màthar Dhonnchaidh cuideachd. Dh’fhalbh trì bliadhna eile mun do thachair mi air Donnchadh a-rithist. Chomhairlich mi do Dhòmhnall Iain, mac Dhonnachaidh fhèin, gach nì a chluinneadh e aig athair a chur air “tape” agus a sgrìobhadh. Cha d’ fhuair Dòmhnall Iain ach bliadhna ghoirid, ach sgrìobh e còrr is mìle gu leth duilleag de sheanchas bhon t-seann duine uasal. Gun aon teagamh, ’s e Dòmhnall Iain, mac Dhonnchaidh fhèin, am fear is fheàrr air cruinneachadh beul-aithris a thàinig nar measg an Albainn san linn seo. Bu mhòr an call nach do thòisich e air a chuid obrach bho chionn bhliadhnaichean: ach is beag a shaoileadh nach biodh dàil air Donnchadh na b’ fhaide na ’n samhradh seo seachad.
B’ ionnan Donnchadh mar sgeulaiche agus Pàdraig Òg MacCruimein mar phìobaire. Bha snas, dreach agus loinn air gach rud a thigeadh bhuapa. B’ ann aig Donnchadh a bha a’ Ghàidhlig a b’ fheàrr agus a’ b’ fhileanta, siùbhlach d’ an cuala mi fhathast. Chuireadh e dreach air gach rud a theireadh e.
’S ann air an dearbh latha a thachair mi air Donnchadh MacDhòmhnaill ’ic Dhonnchaidh a thachair air Aonghas MacGilleMhaoil. Cha robh sunnd uamhasach math air Aonghas bochd an latha sin. Bha fuachd aige, agus bha e air tuiteam agus asna a bhristeadh trì seachdainean roimhe sin. “Tha a’ Chrìosdachd de sgeulachdan agam-sa,” ors’ esan. Gun teagamh bha sin aige, agus b’ ann agam-sa bha fhios mun d’ fhuair mi an tè mu dheireadh dhiubh a sgrìobhadh. Thug mi còrr is trì bliadhna air sgeulachdan Aonghais leotha fhèin. Cha robh ann dhiubh ach ceud agus trì fichead is a còig, ach b’ fheudar dhomh deich mìle duilleag-sgrìobhaidh a chur tharam mun do ruith sinn ar cùrsa. An sgeulachd a b’ fhaide a bh’ aig Donnchadh, ‘Sgeulachd Mhànuis,’ thug i uair gu leth ga h-aithris. An tè b’ fhaide a bh’ aig Aonghas, an sgeul mu Alasdair mac a’ Chèaird, thug i naoi uairean an uaireadair ga h-innseadh. Bha dà fhichead ’s a trì eile aige a thug còrr is trì uairean an uaireadair.
Bha barrachd ùidh aig Donnchadh ann am fuirm agus cruth an sgeòil, an òirdheirceas agus an doimhne ùr-labhraidh, agus thaomadh e a-mach a chruaidh-Ghàidhlig dhomhainn mar phongan ciùil bho shionnsar airgid. Cha bu mhotha air Aonghas sin uile na builgean air allt-slèibhe. Cuspair an sgeòil an rud a ghreamaich inntinn Aonghais an còmhnaidh. Gun teagamh, dh’fheumte gach facal a bha ri ràdh a chur gu dòigheil na àite fhèin. Bhiodh còmhraidhean fada an siud ‘s an seo anns an sgeulachdan aige. Bhiodh rìghrean is prionnsaidhean a’ còmhradh is a’ cainnt r’a chèile aige air dhòigh is gu saoileadh tu gun robh Aonghas fhèin ag atharrachadh crutha is pearsa a rèir mar bha an còmhradh a’ dol bho bheul gu beul. Mhionnaicheadh duine gum faca Aonghas a h-uile rud a dh’aithris e riamh. Nuair a bhiodh Oisean a’ sealg aige, chitheadh tu na fèidh is na gadhair. Bha e h-uile dealbh a chuireadh e os còir na h-inntinne cho soilleir sin.
B’ e Aonghas an duine a b’ òige de sheachdnar teaghlaich. Bha athair, Calum Barrach mar theirte ris, na sgeulaiche ainmeil na latha. Tha cuimhne aig an t-seann fheadhainn Beinne na Faoghla air fhathast. Bha fearann aig Aonghas am baile Ghrìminis. Bhiodh e cuideachd a’ falbh le each is càrn a’ giùlain luchd-turais gu tric. Thug e fad shia bliadhna deug a’ dol don mhilisidh as t-samhradh. Bha e ann an Sasann agus an Èirinn. Theabas a chur a-mach gu Cogadh Afraga. Thug e fad bhliadhnaichean sa sgoil, ach dhìochuimhnich e gach lide a dh’ionnsaich e riamh. Cha do dhìochuimhnich e aon fhacal de sgeul sam bith a chuala e ged nach b’ ann ach aon uair riamh na bheatha. Duine, mòr, sgoinneil, làidir, calma, a bh’ ann. Bha e sia troighean is dà òirleach gu leth air a bhonnan.
Sgrìobh mi cunntas fada air a bheatha bho bheul Aonghais fhèin. Rinneadh an dearbh-rud do Dhonnchadh. Is tric a chaidh Aonghas seachad an Fhadhail a Tuath ri marbh-dhorchadas oidhche is ri stoirm is gailleann, an t-each aige fon chàrn a’ snàmh, am fear-turais air fras-mhullach a ghuaillean aige, agus sruth fuar na fadhlach suas gu ruige a smigead. Thionndaich tarbh fiadhaich air Aonghas latha. Thug Aonghas sgailc dha am bàrr na h-adhairce le cuaille bata. Thuit an tarbh na ghlag-phaiseanaidh. “Mharbh thu e,” thuirt coimhearsnach ris. “Mura mharbhainn-s’ e,” ors’ Aonghas, “bha mi fhèin marbh.” Bha trì chairteal na h-uarach ann mun tàinig an tarbh thuige fhèin a-rithist. Bha Aonghas latha eile a’ treabhadh le paidhir each. Chualas urchair agus ghabh na h-eich sgian. A-mach leotha air a’ chuthach leis a’ chrann. A-mach mo liadh às an dèidh, agus greim-bàis aige air a’ chrann, thar phollaichean, bhotaichean is ligidhean gus an robh na h-ainmidhean truagha air an sàrachadh. Is tric a thachair gun robh marbh-iarraidh air seann-bhodaich is cailleachan Bheinne Fhaoghla oidhcheannan dorcha geamhraidh gus an d’ fhuaradh iad mu dheireadh slàn, seasgair, sona an taigh-cèilidh air choreigin far an robh Aonghas air tòiseachadh air sgeulachd mhòir.
Bha Aonghas gu bhith ceithir fichead nuair a chaidh e an imrich dheireannach. Thug sinn oidhche gheamhraidh sa bhliadhna 1948 ag obair air sgeulachd fhada gus an do chrìochnaicheadh i mu cheithir uairean sa mhadainn. Bha an oidhche dorcha, fuar, fearthainneach le stoirm bhon iar-dheas. Thàinig Aonghas a-mach a dh’ionnsaigh an dorais mhòir còmhla rium is mi a’ falbh. Chì mi fhathast a sheann bhodhaig mhòir, thoirteil a’ toirt dhìom an t-solais a bha a-staigh.
“Thig tràth an ath-oidhch’, a ghràidhein. Chuimhnich mi air tè ’ile, tè mhòr, mhòr.”
And the translation goes something like this:
Angus MacMillan and Duncan MacDonald
The two most famous storytellers in Scotland and even, perhaps, in Western Europe died this summer gone. At the time a few brief notices appeared about them in the newspapers. Some, perhaps, have heard about them in the Highlands but they were never given the same respect they were due as say either Highland or Lowland chiefs or, indeed, even the singers who have but only a little Gaelic who win a gold medal at the Mod. Both Angus and Duncan were buried in the presence of only a few neighbours and close friends who paid their last respects and who then returned to either cut their peat, to place their lobster pots or to drive their cattle. Nevertheless, these two late storytellers have made a greater contribution to Scottish Gaelic literature than any other pair has done for more than a century.
They passed away within three weeks of one another. Their remains will have eternal rest in Nunton cemetery in Benbecula and Ardmichael in South Uist. We, at this time, suffer a great loss by their passing. Angus MacMillan died on the 17th of May just gone and Duncan MacDonald on the 7th of June. Angus was on his deathbed for more than eight months whereas Duncan died suddenly: his last illness only lasting three days. It is now my duty to say something about their legacy. They were alike in one way but completely different in every other way. It is fitting that Gaels should remember them for their like will never be seen again.
Duncan MacDonald was born in Snishival in South Uist. He was one of a family of five. As young man he took up his vocation as a stonemason and for one to two years during the summer he joined the militia. His father, Donald MacDonald, was a renowned storyteller as well as being a strong and powerfully built man. Duncan received his early education at Howmore. After his father’s death he inherited land at Peninerine that he went on to work for the rest of his life as well as keeping up his job as a stonemason. He married Margaret, daughter of Angus MacIntyre, who belonged to a family that were especially skilled in old lore, songs and music and it comes as no surprise that these were these very subjects that were of the greatest interest in Duncan’s Peninerine homestead. Duncan’s ancestors were able storytellers and poets: his grandfather, Iain MacDonald, a tailor, came from North Uist and married a daughter of the tacksman of Fir a’ Ghearraidh Fhlich in Gerinish. His ancestors, Clann ’ic Rùiridh, originally came from the Isle of Skye and were poets to the MacDonalds of Duntuilm.
Duncan and his wife had a family of two boys and two girls. They lost their eldest son in 1934, and Duncan’s wife passed away two years ago. Duncan first travelled to Glasgow in 1909 and, some forty years later, was to return to the city to record his stories to be aired on the Third Programme. David Thomson and I chose him as a storyteller for recording Black House into White. Duncan was the very first proper storyteller in Scotland to be broadcast on the Third. Last year, the University of Glasgow invited him to a Folklore conference in Stornoway and after that he was invited by An Comunn Gàidhealach (The Highland Society) to attend the Mod in Oban. This was to be his first and last Mod. My very last sight of him was on Peninerine machair when my brother, Alasdair, and myself, shortly after Christmas, were saying farewell to him at four o’ clock in the morning after a long night telling stories. The next time was on the 10th of June just gone by when I was one of six pallbearers that carried his remains along the machair from Howbeg to Ardmichael.
Donald MacDonald from Eriskay was, I had thought, the first person to record stories from Duncan but that honour must go to K[irkland] C[ameron] Craig for he was the first person to draw the Gaelic world’s attention to such an exceptional and fluent storyteller as Duncan. There was hardly a mention of oral tradition or its like made in Scotland in that Spring of 1947 when I first became acquainted with Duncan. Shortly before this, Craig had written down the best and longest stories contained in Duncan’s repertoire. This book did not appear in print until the Autumn of 1950. No small labour did this man undertake to record these big, long stories word by word. It was easy enough for anyone else to come along on his heels with recording machines and other devices. Duncan had a wealth of different stories and anecdotes about such things as the Fianna, ballads, the Clanranald, the MacMhuirichs, religion, fairy lore and many others besides. He knew everything that was worth recording. As time went on new material would come back to him – things that had not been recollected for a long time. Some of this he would remember as we walked along the Uist machair or on the busy streets of Glasgow when we were together there for a week. I did not see Duncan very often for there were other things on my mind that drew my attention away to Benbecula. Between September 1947 and September 1949, I recorded more than one hundred stories from him, items that had not been written down by Craig. At the beginning of 1950, John Lorne Campbell under the aegis of the Scotland’s Oral Tradition Society recorded stories and songs from Duncan. Shortly before this, K. C. Craig had taken down twenty-six songs from Màiri nighean Alasdair, Duncan’s maternal aunt. Three years were to pass before I met with Duncan again. I advised Duncan’s son, Donald John, to record and to transcribe his father’s repertoire. Donald John had only a short period in which to carry out his work but he managed to record over one and a half thousand pages of lore from this gentleman. Without any doubt, Donald John is the best folklore collector that has come amongst us in Scotland this century. More is the pity that he did not begin his work years before: but who would have thought that Duncan would survive no longer than the summer just gone.
Duncan as a storyteller was the equal of Patrick Òg MacCrimmon as a piper. Everything that he recited was polished, shapely and elegant. Duncan’s Gaelic was most eloquent and fluent: the best I have ever heard. Everything he recited was given both weight and due consideration.
On the very same day I first met Duncan MacDonald I also met Angus MacMillan. Poor Angus was not in a very good mood that day for he had a cold and a broken rib sustained from a fall three weeks earlier. He said: “I have a Christendom (i.e. a lot) of stories.” He certainly did and before long I knew this only too well when I had written down the very last of them. I spent over three years on Angus’s stories alone. Although they only amounted to one hundred and sixty-five items, I had to use ten thousand manuscript pages to write them all down before we had run our course. Duncan’s longest story Sgeulachd Mhànuis (The History of Manus) took one and half hours to tell whereas Angus’s longest story concerning Alasdair mac a’ Chèaird (Alasdair son of the Caird) took nine hours to tell. And there were some forty-three other such stories that took over three hours each to tell.
Duncan’s interest lay more in a story’s shape and form, and also in the splendour and depth of rhetorical language as deep, hard Gaelic flowed from him like grace notes played upon a silver chanter. Angus only gave thought to these things as if they were mere bubbles on a mountain burn. The story’s subject matter was always the uppermost aspect that caught Angus’s attention. Nevertheless, every single word had to be said and to be set in its own place. Long dialogues used to pepper his stories where kings and princes would speak and talk to one another in such a way as if to suppose that Angus himself imitated them through his own character as the conversation went on. People would swear that Angus actually saw everything he actually recited. When he had Ossian hunting, you could see the deer and hounds. Every mental picture he conjured up was as clear as that.
Angus was the youngest of a family of seven. Calum Barrach, as they called his father, was a famous storyteller in his own day. The old people of Benbecula still remember him to this day. Angus owned land in the township of Griminish. He also often used to taxi travellers in his horse and cart. He spent every summer for sixteen years in the militia when he travelled to both England and Ireland and he almost went to the Boer War. Although he spent many years in school he forgot everything he learnt there but he never forgot one word of any story that he heard even if it had only been told just once. He was a big, strong, brave, excellent man who was six feet and two and a half inches tall in his stockings.
I wrote a long biography straight from Angus’s mouth, and the same was done for Duncan also. Angus often crossed the North Ford in the dead of midnight in stormy weather with his horse under his cart swimming, a traveller on his shoulders, and with the ford’s cold current reaching up to his chin. One day a wild bull turned on Angus so that he had to hit it on its horn with his walking stick. The bull fell down unconscious. “You’ve killed it,” a neighbour said to him. “If I had not killed it,” Angus said, “then I would have been dead.” Three quarters of an hour passed before the bull regained consciousness. Another day Angus was ploughing with a pair of horses. A report of gunfire was heard which frightened the wits out of the horses so much so that they ran off with the plough still attached. Angus, still gripping the plough for dear life, was pulled through bog and mud until the poor beasts were eventually tired out. Often the old men and women of Benbecula would risk life and limb to journey on a dark winter’s night until they reached the safety of a sheltered, convivial ceilidh house in which Angus had already began to recite a long tale.
When he passed away Angus was nearly eighty years of age. In 1948 we spent one winter’s night recording a long story until completed around four o’ clock in the morning. That night was dark, cold and showery due to stormy weather coming in from the southwest. As I was leaving, Angus saw me to the big door. I can still recollect that large, burly frame of his that blocked the light from inside.
On parting, he said: “Come early tomorrow night, my dear laddie. I have remembered another long, long one.”
Calum Maclean also wrote an obituary for both of them. He wrote the one for Angus MacMillan when he was stationed in Morar and was, much to his regret, unable to make it back to Benbecula in time to make the funeral of not only one of his most important informants but also who became a close friend. Maclean relates in a diary entry for the 20th of May 1954 the following:
Did some writing after breakfast today. I phoned up to Morar Hotel about noon and asked for Calum MacKellaig. He was not in, but I was told that a message had come from Angus McIntosh in Edinburgh saying that Aonghas Barrach, Angus MacMillan, died on Tuesday and that the funeral was today. It was too late to go to the funeral. Poor Aonghas has gone at last – may God rest his soul. He would have been eighty years of age next July. I sent a telegram to Calum saying that I regretted not having had time to go to the funeral. Even if I had heard on Wednesday night it would have been too late to get out to Uist. Angus’s death was a bad blow. He was such a loveable old man. I thought of the years spent with him in Uist, of our long nights of storytelling and of the very long tales. I last saw him on New Year’s Eve last. He was asleep when I left his house last New Year’s morning. He did suffer a lot during the last years and it was probably a blessing that he did go. The heart-attacks became very frequently latterly. Benbecula will be a different place now without Aonghas Barrach and Angus MacLellan. Id est perfectum! Both have left much after them. I spent the greatest part of the afternoon writing appreciations of Angus for the papers. I sent off copies to three papers...
MacMillan’s obituary is here published in full:
The Late Angus MacMillan: An Appreciation
With the passing of Angus MacMillan of Griminish, Benbecula, an important link and long tradition of storytelling is severed. He was about the last of a type that has gone from our midst, the traditional Gaelic storyteller. Only about six of them still survive in the Gaelic-speaking areas. In many ways Angus was the most outstanding.
Formal education and modern ideas had little or no influence upon him. He lived to see the atomic age, but his word was peopled with heroes, giants, fairy princesses, and the sons of the Kings of Lochlann, the Land of Light, and the Green Isle at the World’s End. He was the perfect example of the untaught and unlettered but highly cultured and refined mind. The heroes and heroines of this stories are set for him a high standard of conduct, and he really did live up to that standard.
In him there was nothing petty, nothing mean, nothing ignoble. He knew that the son of the King of Greece acted in such a manner in a certain situation, and in a similar situation Angus himself would do only what befitted a king’s son. All that was added to the virtues and the grace that his Catholic faith had given him. To his neighbours he was always the true and warm-hearted friend, ever ready to lend a helping hand in time of need or trouble. His door was always open alike to friend or total stranger. Nationality, creed and social status made no difference to him.
Eminent scholars in several European countries are today proud to have numbered Angus MacMillan among their friends. To folklorists Angus was much more that a mere source of information. He was a phenomenon. His feats of storytelling are unequalled in the history of folklore recording. His tales took not hours, but sometimes several nights to narrate. In the archives of the Irish Folklore Commission in Dublin there are almost 10,000 MS. pages of tales recorded from the dictation of Angus MacMillan. The Irish Commission has presented a microfilm copy of the entire collection to the University of Edinburgh.
Slàn agus beannachd leibh, Aonghais. Cha bhi bhur leithid ann a-rithist. Requiescat in Pace.
Calum I. MacGilleathain, ‘Aonghus agus Donnchadh’, Gairm, air. 10 (An Geamhradh, 1954), pp: 170–74
Calum I. Maclean. ‘The Late Angus MacMillan: An Appreciation’, The Scotsman, no. 34632 (27/05/1954.), p. 10(7)
NLS MS 29795 (Calum Maclean’s diaries covering 1951 to 1954)
NLS MS 29795 (Calum Maclean’s diaries covering 1951 to 1954)
Angus MacMillan, 1950s and Duncan MacDonald, 1953. Courtesy of the School of Scottish Studies Archives