PS 093 – Lament for the MacDonalds’ Tutor

      Cumha Taoitear Chlann Dòmhnaill

      Tarraing a-mach bàta Mhic Leòid

Primary Sources

C2 Tharrin Mach bhat Mhic Cload C2.9: 21
K2 Cumha Tuitear Chlann Domhnuill / Lament for the Macdonald’s Tutor K2.3: 5
SC Failte Teter McDon[al]d SC.14
Angus MacKay, ‘Specimens of Canntareachd’ (c. 1854), no. 14

Notes on Gaelic Titles

Cumha Taoitear Chlann Dòmhnaill Cumha Tuitear Chlann Domhnuill / Lament for the Macdonald’s Tutor K2; Failte Teter McDon[al]d SC. Lament for the Tutor of Clan Donald. In this context taoitear implies not teacher or tutor but a senior relative administering affairs when the titular head of the clan is unable to do so because he too young or incapacitated. The individual commemorated here is William MacDonald of Aird in Trotternish, Skye (d. 1730). He was a veteran of Killiecrankie (1689) and led the clan in the 1720s during the minority of his nephew, Sir Alexander MacDonald (J. G. Gibson, Old and New World Highland Bagpiping (2002) pp. 136–8). James Boswell recorded the following memory while sailing with Sir Alexander MacDonald’s factor, Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh, on 13 September 1773: “The old tutor of Macdonald always eat [= ate] fish with his fingers, alleging that a knife and fork gave it a bad taste” (The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, 1785, p. 246).

Tarraing a-mach bàta Mhic Leòid Tharrin Mach bhat Mhic Cload C2. Haul out MacLeod’s boat – out to sea or out of the water? Both toir a-mach and tarraing a-mach are ambiguous without further context. It is conceivable that a distinction can be made between tarraing/thoir a-mach and tarraing/thoir ás, where the first would refer to launching, the second to beaching. Assuming that Tarraing a-mach bàta Mhic Leòid is or was the first line of a song, and that the song must therefore be about a voyage, it probably means ‘launch’ in this case. For beaching, one might expect Thoir/Slaod gu tìr or Thoir/Slaod/Tarraing air tìr. Tarraing gu tìr would mean ‘pull for land’ i.e. row towards land.

Colin Campbell frequently uses ‘h’ with an orthographic meaning precisely the opposite of what we might expect. His spellings Tharrin, bhat, Fhailte and Chumh in contexts where a Gaelic speaker would not lenite the initial consonant are possibly an attempt to represent aspiration, prompted by the English usage of ‘h’ to distinguish words like Wales and whales, or witch and which. If this is so, then his spelling Tharrin indicates an aspirated ‘t’ (with a puff of air), as in the word ‘till’ but not ‘still’ in most dialects of English. The fact is that there have always been two ways to spell Gaelic, an Irish-based system and an English-based system. The English-based system is what appears on maps: Cumbernauld, for example, or Aberdeen, or Glasgow, as opposed to Comar nan Allt, Obar Dheathain or Glascho. ‘Cumbernauld’ is not the ‘English’ for Comar nan Allt: it is the same Gaelic name exactly, spelt according to English orthographic principles as opposed to Irish ones, and perhaps also telling us something interesting about how ‘Comar’ was pronounced in the Gaelic of East Dunbartonshire. The Book of the Dean of Lismore and the Manx language are other examples of Gaelic being spelt according to English orthographic principles rather than Irish ones. See D. E. Meek, ‘Gaylick, Gaidhlig or Gaelic? Non-Gaelic spelling systems of the Gaelic world’ (2013) and A. MacCoinnich, ‘Where and how was Gaelic written in late medieval and early modern Scotland’ (2008).

Archive Recordings

1959 Malcolm R MacPherson: Highland bagpipe
1964 Calum Johnston: Highland bagpipe

Other Material

2008 William Donaldson: Set Tunes Notes

2009 William Donaldson: Set Tunes Notes

2 thoughts on “PS 093 – Lament for the MacDonalds’ Tutor

  1. Today I revised Roderick Cannon’s 2009 notes with the indispensable assistance of Ronald Black. He agrees with Ronald Smith’s point (below) about Campbell’s title meaning “launch” rather than “beach” the boat:

    Tarraing is pull, draw, pulling, drawing.
    Taking out MacLeod’s Boat = Toirt a-mach bàta Mhic Leòid.
    Take out MacLeod’s Boat = Thoir a-mach bàta Mhic Leòid.
    Drawing/pulling out isn’t beaching but the opposite, surely – hawling it out to sea. Not an easy thing to do when the waves are crashing on the shore.
    I also think it’s important to remember that the “title” is always likely to be the first few words of the song, which may not adequately describe the piece as a whole. A song that begins “On the first day of May” is probably not going to be about the month of May but about some event that happened to take place on that date.

  2. Since the oldest source, the Campbell Canntaireachd, does not call this tune a lament, its status as such must be a later, arbitrary labelling.

    An alternative translation to the one above might be ‘Taking Out MacLeod’s Boat’, in the sense of going for a boat-trip. I think this is more appropriate than the passive activity of beaching a boat, a relatively unremarkable event, hardly worthy of a musical commemoration.

    Looked at from this angle, the music (Campbell’s setting) takes on an extraordinary rolling rhythm, which increases as the deep swell of the open sea is felt, and the vessel picks up speed and momentum from the pulling oarsmen. One becomes convinced it is indeed a rowing tune, or at least, one intended to convey a sensation of being at sea, like the famous poem by Alasdair MacMhaistair Alasdair (Alexander MacDonald), ‘Clanranald’s Galley’, which has varying rhythms, to match the ragiing seas it fights its way through, and the dramatic imagery of the poetry (bardach).

    A most hypnotic and transporting piece of music.

    The actual boat itself may be depicted on the tomb of Alasdair Crottach in St. Clement’s Church, Rodel, where a birlinn with 16 oar-holes is carved in bas-relief. This dates from mid 16th century. Since Alasdair Crottach was the Chief responsible for the Massacre of Eigg, this may be the very boat which conveyed his men to that atrocity.

    The name given by Campbell also places the tune firmly in the MacLeod camp, at a time when they were involved in a murderous war with the Clan Donald, of which Clanranald was in the forefront of the action, being responsible for the disaster which befell the MacLeods at Carinish, and also for the massacre at Trumpan Church in Vaternish, which culminated in the raiders being killed at The Battle of the Spoilt Dike. This implies a MacCrimmon origin, although such is never mentioned.

    It is also ironic that the tune has a more modern label attaching it to the much later Tutor of Clanranald, who lived in North Uist – an example of the way in which tunes were re-labelled with apparent disregard for their earlier provenance. Instances like this should call into question the entire project of trying to identify ‘genre’ tunes based on their names.

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