OT: 19 June 1915 Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness

The Oban Times, 19 June, 1915

Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness.
Volume XXVII. 1908-1911

It is almost certain that everyone interested in Celtic matters will hail with warm welcome another of these long familiar green-covered, red-edged volumes. It must be a matter of gratification to the Society, to know that this latest volume is equal in strength and interest with its predecessors. Since the formation of the present book, the Society have to deplore the loss of various of their numbers. The names are of wide significance. The greatest of them probably is Dr. Alexander Carmichael, a searcher and remembrancer of Celtic vestiges, of whom in all likelihood there will never be an equal. His son-in-law is the distinguished Celtic scholar, Professor Watson, of the Edinburgh University.

Mr. Malcolm MacPharlane, the veteran on Gaelic derivation, gives a fine specimen of his powers in Studies in Gaelic Music. He reasons at one section of his “Study” that the same tune does duty for several songs. He instances a tune of the two-strain form, “Polly Oliver,” which is a variant of “Guma alàn a chì mi,” and gives the suggestion that it was originally Irish. “I wonder,” he goes on to say,

How many tunes there are in England which have been imported from the Continent without any importation of the language to which they belong. Many tunes, I should think, have traveled into strange countries without words as vehicles, their merit being sufficient to give them vogue among the people to whom they were carried. I do not suppose the tune which you will know best as “John Anderson, my jo,” depended on any language for its wide vogue. You get it in Wales in Welsh words; in Ireland and Scotland to Gaelic and English words; and it is said to be in Norway. In the Gaelic of Scotland it has two well disguised variants known by me–one in a recitative style, sung to “Blàr na h-Eiphit,” by Corporal MacKinnon; the other in a chorus style, sung to “Ach ma ni thu bargan,” by Robb Denn. It must have been imported early, and independent of language.

Of the song, “Chailin og a’ stiuir thu mi,” Mr. MacPharlane gives an interesting little history.

A few months ago I had sent me from an old man, since deceased, named Donald Beaton, residing in Australia, where he had been for fifty-four years, words which help to correct apparently defective lines in both of the already recorded versions. Mr. Beaton assumes both versions to be one whole: but that appears to me to be a mistaken notion. I append amended version of this interesting work song, as it appears in “An t-Oranaiche,” and Beaton’s version of the other part. To one of them I have given the Irish tune, and to the other a tune taken down by myself from a Ballachulish man. Evidently there is another tune in Lochaber not yet recorded.

Our author is not inclined to give much credit to the bagpipe in its influence on Gaelic song. “Piobaireachd,” he says:–

Is the only bagpipe music which, I think, derives in style from genuine Gaelic music. The special themes of the harp were the Fàilte, or Salute, and the Cumha, or Lament. These are the special themes of piobaireachd likewise, and the terms used for the variations of piobaireachd are, most of them, harp terms also. These two facts go far to justify my opinion that the style of piobaireachd was derived from harp music.

As for dancing, he slaps out that

Dancing, as we understand it, was not a Gaelic custom originally. There is no Gaelic word in Gaelic literature for dancing. The two words, “dannsadh” and “rinceadh” are borrowed. That being so, the dance style of music in the Gaelic area can hardly be of Gaelic origin.

Dance music, although it has long been in the Scottish Gaelic area, and although it has reached a high pitch of excellence there, has had comparatively little influence on Gaelic song music in Scotland; but fiddle music has had more influence on it than the music of the bagpipe. But the Gaelic language, through its port-a-beul words, has had a strong influence in moulding the specially Scottish characteristics of dance music particularly the much-written-about “Snap,” and the frequency of the accent on the penultimate and anti-penultimate notes of cadences.

Mr. MacFarlane’s Study is crowded with excellent matter, and though he disclaims erudition in his subject, the fact remains that there are few men now living so capable as he to deal with topics so reminiscent of the traditions and lore of Highland arts and graces.

Rev. D. J. MacDonald, Muasdale, Kintyre, writes interestingly on “West Kintyre Field Names.” Dr. Sinton, of Dores, continues his pleasantly composed notes on the “Place, People, and Poetry of Dores.” Mr. D. MacRitchie, of Edinburgh, gives a scholarly paper on “Gaelic Speech and the Gaelic Race.” Rev. Archibald Scott, of Helmsdale, works upon ancient tradition in relation to St. Moluag and his work. Mr. Andrew MacIntosh, Inverness, has a fine subject to do with in the “History of Strathspeys and Reels.” A work connected with the name of Mr. William Mackay, solicitor, Inverness, is bound to be good, valuable and reliable. He gives us here “Saints Associated with the Valley of the Ness,” and “Education in the Highlands in the Olden Times;” both are masterly expositions of their titles. “Clan nan Gaidheal an Guaillean a’ Cheile.”

There is a great deal to interest, to instruct, to entertain, and to stimulate research contained in the volume, and we heartily congratulate the Society upon the success of their latest publication.

It is a sorrowful coincidence that the volume appears just as the gallant secretary of the Society, Capt. D. F. Mackenzie, has laid down his life for his country on the battlefield of Flanders.