PS 103 – The Timid Piper

      Fear Pìoba Meata

Primary Sources

C2 Fhear pioba Metie C2.19: 50

Notes on Gaelic Title

Fear pìoba meata  Fhear pioba Metie C2. The timid piper. J. MacIver (1966) offered the translations ‘timid, feeble, or faint-hearted piper’ based on the adjective meata. The use of ‘ie’ to represent a mid-central vowel sound is also found in Gesto’s spellings ‘Chiegch’ and ‘Coghiegh’ (for Caogach and Cogadh), a fact brought to our attention by F. Buisman in 2001 and reported by B. Brown (2015, p. 30). In about 1909, before the original first page of the C2 Index became detached and was lost, the manuscript was carefully copied; both in the Index and above the music, the copyist read ‘Metie’. As Colin Campbell’s forms of ‘e’ and ‘c’ can be indistinguishable and the word is obscure, we should not exclude the possibility that he intended ‘Metic’.

It is a feature of some Gaelic dialects that a vowel ending a word of more than one syllable can sometimes add a new consonant, usually the velar (‘guttural’) continuant consonant normally represented by the letters –dh, or sometimes –gh (as in ‘Coghiegh’). So what was innse (the noun meaning ‘narrating, telling’) at an earlier time has sometimes become innseadh in modern speech. If we could be sure of the reading ‘Metic’ then we might argue that the –c represents somebody’s hearing of that –dh added to meata, in which case meatadh (spelled ‘Metic’) would be a variant of the adjective meata.

The word miotag or meatag can be discounted because words ending in –ag are generally nouns; in this case meaning ‘glove’, presumably a borrowing from English mitt(en). One minimally relevant form is Dwelly’s miotag ‘fright, terror’, a term marked obsolete; this is likely to be a noun form based on the same adjective meata. In conclusion, it does not matter whether Campbell wrote ‘Metic’ or ‘Metie’ as both point strongly to meata, meaning ‘timid, soft, feeble’. This refers to the man and not to his pipe.

Roderick Cannon (2009), rev. Barnaby Brown & Colm Ó Baoill 2015

4 thoughts on “PS 103 – The Timid Piper

  1. Mr. O’Baoill has ignored Dwelly’s entry: “Meataich…ADJECTIVE (my emphasis)…Enfeeble, terrify, make spiritless….Daunt, damp the spirits…”. Quite simply, it is misleading to foreground his justification for your changing the name of a tune, while ignoring the evidence which contradicts it.

  2. In the face of so scholarly a barrage, I should retire tactfully; however I feel I must quote Dwelly at length:
    “meataich, pr.pt (present participle) a’ meatachadh, n. a. & v. (noun, ADJECTIVE (my emphasis), and verb Enfeeble, terrify, make feeble. 2 Make spiritless…5 Daunt, damp the spirits…Mheataich siod gu mor e – that daunted him greatly…”
    The gist of this is a) that ‘Metic’ could well be ‘meataich’, and b) it means ‘daunting or intimidating, as I said.
    I feel there is an element of rhetorical downplaying in the observation by Mr. O’Baoill which diminishes Dwelly’s definition, and a key point here may be his comment that the word is “obsolete” – which one might expect in an old collection such as Campbell’s.
    In this light, and the ‘heroic’ flavour of titles generally, and the well-known role of pipers to intimidate, and the spirit of the piece, and its similarity to ‘Brennan on the Moor’ which includes a rhythmic parallel and also a phrase structure (the first line of the urlar follows that of the song, whose theme is a bold and fearless highwayman), I feel my definition ‘The Bold Piper’ is preferable to the peelie-wally one suggested.

  3. My reading of this name is ‘Fear Pioba (ie piobair) metic’ – ending with C and not E. A look at other ‘E’s written by this scribe show a loop (see ‘Fear’, for example).
    The name therefore means something like ‘Bold Piper Man’, rather the opposite of what is suggested above.

    The music itself, if played briskly, which it seems to invite, is slightly reminiscent of an Irish folk song, ‘Brennan on the Moor’. (recorded by The Clancy Brothers which has the interesting refrain: ‘bold fearless and undaunted was young Brennan on the Moor’.
    In an interview, one of the brothers explained that this was originally a slower, even lugubrious, song which they electrified with an up-tempo beat.

    • Thanks Ronald. Intrigued by your suggestion, I consulted Colm Ó Baoill and emerged from the email conversation enlightened. Together, we produced the revision above, published today. However, we’d like to know if fear pìoba is commonly used as an equivalent of pìobaire

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