PS 075 – MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart

      Blàr na Maoile Ruaidhe

      Maol Donn

Primary Sources

C1 Nuail Doan / Index: Voal Doan C1.74: 162
Peobaireachd / Index: The Battle of Milduin the Red hill A.8: 23
Mhaol Donn / Morars March R.27: 21v
K1 Blàr na Maol a’ Ruaidhe / The Battle of the Red Hill / Index: The Battle of Millroy or Caperoy K1.4: 11
K1 Cumha Mhuil Duin / Lament for Muil Duin Son of Conal King of Cantyre K1.60: 134
JK Maol Duin JK.52: 138
SC Milduin SC.35
Angus MacKay, ‘Specimens of Canntareachd’ (c. 1854), no. 35

Notes on Gaelic Titles

Blàr na Maoile Ruaidhe The Battle of Milduin the Red hill A index; Blàr na Maol a’ Ruaidhe / The Battle of the Red Hill K1; The Battle of Millroy or Caperoy K1 index. The Battle of Mulroy. Angus MacKay’s expansion of the placename, and his alternative renderings, suggest that he knew it in Gaelic better than in English. The battle is noted in historical writings as the last actually fought between two clans, in 1688. See e.g. D. Gregory, History of the Western Highlands and Isles of Scotland (2nd edition 1881), p. 415.

Maol Donn Nuail Doan C1; Voal Doan C1 index; Mhaol Donn R; Cumha Mhuil Duin / Lament for Muil Duin Son of Conal King of Cantyre K1; Maol Duin JK; Muil Duin JKA; Milduin SC. Maol Donn. The meaning of this name was obscure to pibroch’s earliest transcribers. Traditional song texts concern the loss of a cow, mo ghaol am Maol Donn (my dear Hornless Brown) – see P. Cooke, ‘Problems of Notating Pibroch: A study of ‘Maol Donn’, Scottish Studies 16 (1972), pp. 41–59. A cow was for many people the most valuable thing they owned – more expensive than a house – and the loss of one was a serious matter. The modern name of the tune ‘MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart’ does not connect with this song, though the expression ‘sweetheart’ could come from the line just quoted. A Gaelic equivalent Leannan Mhic Cruimein is sometimes mentioned, but has not been found in any early source. The writer William Sharp (1855–1905) used Maol-Dunn (Bare Hill) as a place name in ‘Morag of the Glen’, a fictional story contributed to The Savoy Magazine (November, 1896) under the psuedonym Fiona Macleod (1910 edition, pp. 45–7). But the most intriguing of the diverse nineteenth-century rationalisations is surely Angus MacKay’s: his title refers to Máel Dúin mac Conaill (d. 688), a ruler in Kintyre mentioned in the Annals of Ulster. Could a thread of oral transmission here stretch back eleven centuries?

Roderick Cannon (2009), rev. Barnaby Brown 2016

Archive Recordings

1953 Pipe Major William MacLean
1955 Calum Johnston
1959 Calum MacPherson
1966 Calum Johnston
1967 Pipe Major/Captain John A MacLellan
1970 Angus MacPherson

Other Material

2001 William Donaldson: Set Tunes Notes

2 thoughts on “PS 075 – MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart

  1. Simon Chadwick’s suggestion (below) has prompted a useful exercise. This morning I went through all the examples we have of Colin Campbell’s handwriting – C0, his 1798 petition, C1 and C2. I looked both above the tunes and in the surviving index pages, gathering all forms of capital ‘V’ and capital ‘N’. What I found was that he used not two but three distinct graphs:

    Graph 1. Six examples: ‘Voal Doan’ (C1.74 index), ‘Varon Na Glin in’s Mich gun Erie’ (C2.4 music), ‘Vuirlin Corrich Chaoil’ (C2.10 music), ‘Vuile Vrionich’ (C2.55 music) and ‘Blar Vuster’ (C2.79 music and index). The index pages for C2.1–C2.60 are lost.

    Graph 2. Eight examples: ‘piper to his Lordship at Neither Lorn Argyle Shire’ (C0:1), ‘helpless Children consisting of five in Numb[er]’ (1798 petition), ‘Paigh bodaich Nail ach ruaigh’ (C2.67 music), ‘Paigh Bodaich Nail ach Ruarie’ (C2.67 music), ‘Donaich dall Mhac Donail Nuras’ (C2.73 music), ‘Donach dall Mhac Donail Nuras’ (C2.73 index) and ‘Mairsall Na Grantich’ (C2.75 music and index).

    Graph 3. Four examples: ‘Piper to the Earl of Bredalbin at Neither Lorn Argyle Shire’ (C0:4), ‘Nuail Doan’ (C1.74 music), ‘Mac Neil’s March’ (C2.84 index) and ‘Mac Neils March’ (C2.84 music).

    Graph 1 is clearly a ‘V’. Graph 2 is clearly an ‘N’. Graph 3, however, presents a problem. We could justify reading it as a ‘V’ primarily because Campbell uses graph 1 in his index spelling ‘Voal’, and secondarily because ‘V’ harmonises with numerous later source spellings for the pibroch and for the song (which may all follow a single leader, oral or written). A ‘V’ would represent a lenited ‘M’, which in the prevailing Gaelic spelling system (generally eschewed by Campbell) is spelled ‘Mh’.

    Alternatively, we could justify reading graph 3 as an ‘N’ because Campbell uses it in ‘Neither Lorn’ (once) and ‘Mac Neil’ (twice). It would be ridiculous to read these names as ‘Neither Vorn’ and ‘Mac Veil’ because they must have been familiar to him and ‘N’ does not lenite in Gaelic phonology; the letters that do (followed by ‘h’ to indicate a different sound) are B, C, D, F, G, M, P, S and T.

    The scenario that appears to fit the evidence best is that when Campbell wrote a capital ‘N’, he alternated freely between two graphs – as he did for ‘F’ – and that the spelling ‘Nuail’ is an anomaly: either a clerical error (he meant to write a V), or a mishearing of something obscure (he intentionally wrote an N). There is probably a fifteen-year gap between his two spellings: he could have written ‘Nuail’ above the music as early as 1797, whereas his spelling ‘Voal’ in the index must be after 1810 (the date of the watermark) and probably before 1815, when his son signed this volume ‘John Campbells Book in the year of our Lord 1815’.

    In conclusion, the evidence weighs in favour of a clerical error: he meant to write ‘Vuail’. There is a remote possibility, however, that he intended to write ‘Nuail’ and that the later spellings ‘Voal’, ‘Mhaol’ and ‘Mhuil’ are corruptions of something that Campbell heard correctly before changing his mind.

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