Ortha nan Gaidheal


THE reciter of this poem, Donald Maclean, was a native of the parish of Small Isles. He emigrated with many others to Canada. After an absence of many years he returned, as he said, 'Feuch am faighinn larach mo dha bhonn a bhothan, agus leathad mo dha shlinnein a dh' uaigh ann am fearann mo dhuthchais agus ann an uir m' aithriche ' - 'To see if I could get the site of my two soles of a bothy and the breadth of my two shoulders of a grave in the land of my heredity and in the lair of my fathers.' Not having obtained these in the land of his birth, Donald Maclean returned to the land of his adoption.

Maclean heard this poem, and many other poems and tales, in Canada from a woman called 'Sorcha Chlann Radhail,' Clara Clanranald, beside whom he lived for sixteen years. When so many of the small crofts of Uist were converted into large farms, the people removed and not absorbed among the remaining croftors, emigrated to Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Cape Breton. Clara Clanranald's people had been evicted from Ormacleit, South Uist. She spoke so much of Uist and of the Clanranalds that she came to be known by the name of her loved chief.

When Donald Maclean left Canada, ten or twelve years ago, Clara was 102 years of age. She was still active and industrious, and in the possession of all her faculties, and of all her love for 'the old land.' When Maclean went to bid her good-bye she took his hand in her two hands, and looking him full in the face with her large lustrous blue eyes moist with tears, said :-

'Tha thu falbh a ghaoil a Dhomhnuill, agus Dia mor bhi eadar do dha shlinnein. Bu tu fein an deagh nabaidh agus an caraide caomh. Ma's a h-e agus gun ruig thu null fearann do dhuthchais agus duthaich do bhreith, agus gum feumair thu tilleadh a nall dh'an fhonn-sa rithist, tha mise cur mar bhoid agus mar bhriathar ort, agus mar naoi riaraiche nam bana-sith, thu dhol gu ruig Cladh Mhicheil ann an Ormacleit, an Uibhist, agus thu thoir as a sin thugam-sa deannan beag urach a churar air clar mo chridhe-sa la mo bhais.

'Agus Micheal caomh-gheal, cro-gheal, cra-gheal,
Ga do dhiona, ga do chaomhna, ga do charamh,
Le treuin a laimhe, le nimh a ghaise,
Fo sgaile drilleanach a sgeith.'

('Thou art going away, beloved Donald, and may the great God be between thy two shoulders. Thou thyself wert the good neighbour and the kind friend. If it be that thou reach the land of thy heredity and the country of thy birth, and that thou shouldst have to come back again to the land of thine adoption, I place it upon thee as a vow and as a charge, and as the nine fulfilments of the fairy women, that thou go to the burial-place of Michael at OrmacIeit in Uist, and bring to me from there a little earth that shall be placed upon the tablet of my heart the day that I die.

'And may Michael kind-white, strong-white, red-white,
Preserve thee, protect thee, provide for thee,
With the might of his hand, with the point of his spear,
Under the shade of his shimmering shield.')

Niall MacFhionnlaigh, A' Chiste Ghàidhlig, a chuir na teacsaichean seo gu léir bho Carmina Gadelica air an làrach-lìn aig Sabhal Mór Ostaig ann an 1995
2001-04-09 CPD