OT: 1 February 1919 – A.C.W. “Ancient Pibroch Music”

The Oban Times, 1 February 1919

Ancient Pibroch Music

Glenetive, 18 January, 1919

Sir,–I read with much interest the correspondence bearing upon the above subject, and now forward translations of “Macintosh’s Lament” and “Rory Mor’s Lament,” required by a correspondent in your issue of 28th December.

In submitting these translations, especially that of “Macintosh’s Lament,” it might interest your readers to have a short account of the circumstances which occasioned these “Cumhas” to be composed. The tune of “Cumha Mhic-an-Toisich”–Macintosh’s Lament–is very old, dating back at least to the middle of the sixteenth century. Angus Mackay, in his collection of pipe music, now somewhat rare, gives the date as 1526.

Tradition has cast a halo of romance around this ancient lament. It appears there was a prediction (as the Highlanders would say, “Bha e’n dan dha”) that Macintosh of Macintosh of that day was destined to die through the instrumentality of his beautiful black steed. Whatever he felt, the Chief determined to show his people that he treated the prediction lightly, and so he continued to ride his favourite notwithstanding the entreaties of his friends to the contrary. On the day of his marriage to the Chief rode his favourite charger, which became more than usually restive. He became so restive that the Chief, losing control over himself and his horse, drew his pistol and shot him dead.

Another horse was produced for the Chief, and he proceeded to the church. After the ceremony was over, the bridal party set out on their homeward journey. The bride and her maids upon white palfreys preceded, and the bridegroom and his friends followed. In passing, the Chief’s roan horse shied at the body of the black steed, and the rider was thrown to the ground and killed on the spot. A turn in the road hid the accident from those in front, and thus the bride, unconscious of the fatal fall of her husband, continued on her journey, the happiest of brides. Tradition relates that she not only composed the beautiful air of the lament, but chanted it as she moved forward at the head of the bier at her husband’s funeral, and marked the time by tapping with her fingers on the lid of the coffin. This, it is said, she continued to do for several miles, from the family Castle at Daleross to the burying-place at Petty, near Inverness, and ceased not until she was torn away from the coffin when it [w]as about to be lowered into the grave.
Macintosh’s Lament

The translation I take from “The Killin Collection,” compiled by Mr. Charles Stewart, Tigh’n-duin, Killin, in 1884:–

Oh! my love, lowly laid,
Oh! my love, lowly laid,
Oh! my love, lowly laid,
Beside the fatal wall breach.

Wife and my sorrowful,
In my weeds of deep woe.
Since I heard with heart sore pained,
That henceforth I must wear them.

Th’ piebald horse laid thee low,
Th’ piebald horse laid thee low,
Th’ piebald horse laid thee low,
Beside the fatal wall breach.

Maiden waesome sad am I,
Whom scarce know they [sic] since the day
When he fixed the wedding ring
Then on my finger gaily,

Oh! alas I wasn’t there,
Oh! alas I wasn’t there,
Oh! alas I wasn’t there,
By thy right hand to take thee

Oh! I’m filled with grief,
Teardrops streaming down my cheek,
Mourning for my youthful chief
Who newly rode the piebald.

My young Hugh lowly laid,
Lowly laid, lowly laid;
My young Hugh lowly laid,
Alas! and I not near thee.

Thou could’st dance with grace and glee
When they sang sweet melody:
The grass-blade scarce would bent down be
By thy quick tread so lightly.

Lament for Rory Mor

Real pathos and deep sorrow characterise the Lament for Rory Mor MacLeod, XIII of Dunvegan, composed by his piper, Para Mor Mac Criomain, who seems to have been much moved by the death of his master, which occurred in 1626 when Rory Mor was gone, Dunvegan and its halls lost all charm for Mac Crimmon, and he could no longer remain within its walls. He got up, seized his pipes, and marched off to his own home at Boreraig, consoling his grief by playing as he went a lament for his Chief, which is one of the most melodious and plaintive pipe tunes on record. The translation is by my father, the late Henry Whyte, “Fionn”:–

Give me my pipes, I’ll home them carry,
In these sad halls I dare not tarry.
My pipes hand o’er, my heart is sure,
For Rory Mor, my Rory Mor.

Fetch me my pipes, my heart is breaking.
For Rory Mor his rest is taking;
He wakes no more, and to its core
My heart is sore for Rory Mor.

Give me my pipes, I’m sad and weary,
These halls are silent, dark, and eerie;
The pipes no more cheer as of yore–
Thy race is o’er, brave Rory Mor.

–I am, etc.,