Ortha nan Gaidheal


PROVERBS anent law and justice abound in Gaelic, as :- 'Is cam agus is direach an lagh ':- Crooked and straight is the law. 'Bheir buidire breith ach co bheir ceartas ? ' - A witling may give judgment, but who will give justice ? 'Colach ri ceart a mhadaidh-ruaidh, lugach, liugach, lamalach' - Like the justice of the fox, crooked, cunning, corrupt.

The administration of law and justice throughout the Highlands and Islands before the abolition of heritable jurisdictions was inadequate - men being too often appointed to administer justice not from their fitness but from their influence. Probably the feeling of distrust engendered by this absence of even-handed justice evoked these poems from the consciousness of the people and led them to appeal their cause to a Higher Court.

The litigant went at morning dawn to a place where three streams met. And as the rising sun gilded the mountain crests, the man placed his two palms edgeways together and filled them with water from the junction of the streams. Dipping his face into this improvised basin, he fervently repeated the prayer, after which he made his way to the court, feeling strong in the justice of his cause. On entering the court and on looking round the room, the applicant for justice mentally, sometimes in an undertone, said--

'Dhe, seun an teach
Bho steidh gu fraigh;
M' fheart os cinn gach neach,
Feart gach neach fo m' thraigh.'

God sain the house
From site to summit;
My word above every person,
The word of every person below my foot.

The ceremonies observed in saying these prayers for justice, like those observed on many similar occasions, are symbolic. The bathing represents purification; the junction of three streams, the union of the Three Persons of the Godhead; and the spreading rays of the morning sun, divine grace. The deer is symbolic of wariness, the horse of strength, the serpent of wisdom, and the king of dignity.

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