Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Greater Atlanta, GA, USA
Many names float
around the global world of Robert Burns and when I hear of these
individuals, I look forward to meeting them in person. Many times I
know the name but not the individual. One such name is Murdo
Morrison and although he was unable to write an article for me some
time back, as luck would have it, a few days ago an email showed up
on my laptop from him. It seems we both have wanted to contact each
other for some time to introduce ourselves. We have a lot of things
in common but the overriding connection is our love for Robert
Burns. Murdo is busy doing his thing for Burns in Scotland and I try
to do mine here in the States.
Below is an interesting article written by Murdo explaining some of
what he does for Burns. I thoroughly enjoyed the article and gladly
pass it along to our many readers knowing you will too. A part of
Murdo’s article involves The Twa Dogs, one of my favorite pieces by
Burns. He loved dogs as I have all my life. Ironically this past
week our son Scott, his wife Denise and our two grandchildren, Ian
and Stirling, spent the week at Amelia Island (just across the
Georgia border in Florida) attending our annual Georgia Health Care
convention. Susan and I decided not to go this year as travel does
not appeal to us now as much as it did a few years ago. As a result,
we were happy to take care of their two beautiful Boxer dogs, Zoe
and Dodger - one old, one young; one wise in experience, one a
six-month old pup; one very alert, highly active, and playful, the
other nearly blind in one eye but one of the sweetest
ninety-five-pound dogs on earth. If you like a loving dog, Zoe will
return your love pound for pound. Dodger still has a few things to
learn in that department. We were blessed having Zoe and Dodger for
a week, and Murdo will say a little about Burns’s The Twa Dogs which
will help us understand what Burns was saying. Welcome, Murdo! Enjoy
his article, readers!
Both men pictured below have been guests at our Robert Burns cottage
in Atlanta and left us with good thoughts of Scotland. (FRS:
Robert Burns Was Not A
Gaelic Speaker but…
By Murdo Morrison
Left to right….Dr Peter Hughes,
President Robert Burns World Federation with Murdo Morrison, FSA
Scot. Hon President. President Allanton Jolly Beggars Burns Club.
Robert Burns was not
a Gaelic Speaker although, even in his brief lifetime, he would hear
Gaelic spoken and by the time he was born the ancient language of
most of Scotland, including his native Ayrshire, was in the process
of being eliminated.
Scots, Lallans, Doric continued in daily use but the ruthless
efforts to stamp out Gaelic was most effective in the South West.
The English language became dominant and was perceived to be the
language of education. In parts of the Western Highlands an older
generation conversed in Gaelic, their sons and daughters knew some
Gaelic but the next generation, despite many efforts, will possibly
be the last users.
Aiding and abetting the decline is the decreasing population with a
younger element from small families moving in pursuit of education
Robert Burns dips in to the language in a number of different ways
and one example is the name he gave to his favourite sheep dog. This
is the dog featured in “The Twa Dogs”. There was one dog complete
with fancy braw brass collar- that – according to Burns – proved
that he was a “gentleman and a scholar”
The other dog was, of course, “Luath” - a ploughman’s collie by
description but in reality a much loved dog belonging to the Bard.
This dog in reality was killed on the day before the funeral of
Robert Burn’s father.
Who committed this deed and why is lost in the mists of history but
Burns was determined that his much loved dog would live on – or at
least his name would. “Luath” in Gaelic means “fast” and that was
indeed an appropriate name for an active sheep dog with affection
for his master and energy for tasks in hand.
Robert Burns also used a number of Gaelic tunes and with his
undoubted musical appreciation skills he had the ability to hear and
remember Gaelic tunes which he then used in his song compositions.
One notable song which conveys love and yearning and understanding
and has an eternal quality is “Ae fond kiss” That song and the
depths of meaning can move people to tears as the words and music
blend perfectly together.
The tune for this song is undoubtedly of Gaelic origin and the tune
itself is still in use. The title quoted to the non-Gaelic speaker
is slightly confusing.
“Rory Dall’s Port” is not the description of a particular harbour or
even a wine. The
original title is Port Ruaridh Dhall immediately recognised by
Gaelic Speakers as “Blind Roderick’s tune.” There are two contenders
for the identity of Blind Roderick and one of them was Roderick
Morrison, son of John Morrison, from Bragar on the Island of Lewis.
This talented Harpist was the harpist for the Macleods of Dunvegan.
A Gaelic Scholar – the late Reverend Roderick Macdonald – was
crowned the “Bard of the Mod” the highest award presented annually
to a Gaelic poet. This islander from North Uist was a passionate
follower of Burns and he translated the complete works of Burns in
to Scottish Gaelic.
The translations are excellent and listening to Tam O Shanter in
Gaelic would nearly convince the listener that it had been written
in Gaelic in the first place. This master of translation captures
every twist and nuance in that remarkable tale.
In discussion with BBC Radio Scotland’s Gaelic department I
suggested that a radio broadcast of a Burns supper in Gaelic was
feasible and this was accepted. The broadcast went ahead and I had
the pleasure of presenting the Immortal Memory. Bill Innes proposed
the toast to the Lasses and a reply laced with humour and song
awaited from Anne Lorne Gillies. Other artistes contributed to what
was the first ever Gaelic Burns Supper being broadcast.
The legacy of Robert Burns lives on in many languages and Gaelic
speakers were delighted that this broadcast took place and helped
generate even more interest in our National Bard.