BEING a pastoral people, the Highlanders possess much pastoral poetry. The greater part of this is secular with fragments of sacred poetry interspersed. The herding runes are examples of these purely pastoral poems. They are sung by the people as they send their flocks to the pastures, or tend them on the hills, glens, or plains. The customs vary in details in different districts, but everywhere is the simple belief that the King of shepherds watches over men and flocks now as of old - 'the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever.'
When a man has taken his herd to the pasture in the morning, and has got a knoll between himself and them, he bids them a tender adieu, waving his hand, perhaps both hands, towards them, saying:-
'Buachailleachd Bride dh' an tan,
Buan is slan dh'an till sibh.
(The herding of Bride to the kine.
Whole and well may you return.)
'Munachas Mhuire Mhathar dhuibh.
Luth is lan gun till sibh.
(The prosperity of Mary Mother be yours,
Active and full may you return.)
'Cumraig Chalum-chille ma'r casaibh,
Gu mu slan gun till sibh dachaidh.
(The safeguard of Columba round your feet.
Whole be your return home.)
'Micheal min-gheal righ nan aigheal
D'ur dion, 's d'ur gleidheadh's d'ur comhnadh.
(Be the bright Michael king of the angels
Protecting, and keeping, and saving you.)
'Comraig Dhe is Dhomhnach dhuibh
Gum faic mise no mo chroilean sibh.
(The guarding of God and the Lord be
Till I or mine shall see you again.)
'Cobhair Choibhi dhuibh.
(The help of Coivi to you.)
Siubhal coire, siubhal coille,
Siubhal comhnaird fada sola,
Buachailleachd mhin na Moire
Bhith mu'r cinn's mu'r com's mu'r cobhair.'
(Travelling coire, travelling copse,
Travelling meads long and grassy,
The herding of the fair Mary
Be about your head, your body, and aiding you.)
When these patriarchal benedictions are intoned or chanted and the music floats over moor and loch, the effect is charming to the ear of the listener.