Shadow of Cairngorm
Our Bards, with Specimens
of their Work
"IN old times, every nation had bards
before writing was common. Men naturally relish stories of
their own species, and it enhances greatly the pleasure to
have such stories put into such a measure as to be
accompanied with music; a plain song of that kind was
agreeable, it was enchanting when the voice was
accompanied with the harp or other musical instrument. It
required an ear, a voice, and skill in instrumental music
to excel in such a performance, talents which fall to the
share of few, hence the profession of a bard was in great
request, and an essential member at every festival and in
every meeting for amusement" (Lord Kames, 1772). The bards
were an important class from the days of Ossian downwards.
Every clan had its clan bard, and every parish had its
parish bard. The old order has changed, and only place
names, such as Baile-Bhaird, near Castle Grant,
Cuil-Bhardaidh, in Abernethy, and such like, with some
songs and poems, remain as dim memorials of days that have
passed away. But though the bards as a class have been
long extinct, the spirit of bardhood lived on, and shewed
itself at divers times, as circumstances called it forth.
Colonel JOHN ROY STEWART was the best
known of our parish bards. His life is sketched in chapter
XX. Most of his poems are in Gaelic. His lament for Lady
Mackintosh, not the brave lady of the ‘45, as is commonly
said, but her predecessor, Mary, daughter of Sir John
Menzies of Menzies, is marked by an "intenseness of
feeling which seems to resolve itself into the element
which it contemplates," and his two poems on Culloden. "Catha
Chullodair," glow with love for Prince Charlie. and
indignation and passionate grief for the wrongs and woe
inflicted on his followers. His songs, some of which are
still popular, shew that he had much of the light and
festive humour and broad sympathies of Burns. It may be
said, why not give translations? Captain Macintyre, in the
Antiquary, was pressed by Oldbuck to give a sample of the
songs of Ossian, which he praised so highly. He tried, and
made a "wretched interpreter," as he himself admitted.
Others have done better, but all have been free to confess
with the gallant captain that they have found it
"difficult, if not impossible, to render the exquisite
felicity" of the original.
WILLIAM SMITH was born at Rinuigh, a
croft high up among the hills, far from the busy haunts of
men. He was of a family noted as deerstalkers. Mr Donald
Shaw, in his "Highland Legends," says of him, "He was a
man of bold and resolute disposition, and of active and
powerful frame of body. He was capable of enduring any
amount of exposure and fatigue, and long carried on his
lawless avocation in open defiance, as it were, of the
keepers of the forests, and without any dread of fine or
punishment at the hands of the administrators of the law."
Smith served for a time in the Strathspey Fencibles. Then,
after some years of unsettledness, he joined the army, and
died at Portsmouth. His songs deal chiefly with love and
hunting. They are marked by simplicity, tenderness, happy
descriptions of nature, and a rollicking delight in the
chances and charms of a poacher’s life. His best and best
known poem is that entitled "Allt-an-Lochan Uaine,"
or the Stalker’s Dream. William’s brother Lewis succeeded
to the croft, and lived to a great age. He was also a
famous hunter. It was he that killed the Big Hart of
Glenmore, which graced the baptism feast of the heir of
Rothiemurchus (1799). Another time he was out with
"William the Captain’s Son" (Captain Lewis of the Doune).
They found a hind at the Sithans, near the west end of
Loch Morlich. Grant said to Lewie, "Take you Macalpin (the
gun), as you are the best shot" He said, "No, shoot
yourself." Grant took aim, but at once lowered his gun,
saying, "It’s not a hind, but an old woman with a mutch."
"Nonsense," said Lewie, "try again." He did so,
with the same result. When he aimed it was an old woman he
saw, when he lowered his gun it was a hind. "This is
witchcraft," said Lewie; "put a silver button in your
gun." He did so, and took aim, but before he could pull
the trigger, he fell down, saying "I’m a dead man." The
hind disappeared, but Grant died two days after!
ROBERT GRANT was the fourth son of Mr
Charles Grant, farmer, Rothiemoon. He had excellent
abilities, and early shewed a taste for music and song.
When companion to Lord Seafield (1830-9) he took an active
part in local politics, and wrote some clever pieces, in
prose and verse, in support of his Tory friends. One
squib, "Banff Whigs awa!" was often sung at the convivial
meetings of the period. Mr Grant acted for some years as
factor of Glen-Urquhart, and died at Rothiemoon in 1858.
We give one of his songs ("The House o’ Grant"), with
Gaelic translation, executed with much taste and fidelity
by another Rothiemoon man, the late
Mr DONALD GORDON. Gordon when a young
man travelled as a pack-merchant. This gave him a large
acquaintance with the Highlands. Afterwards he kept a
small shop at Rothiemoon, and latterly, for several years,
he acted as one of the post-runners between Grantown and
Forres, walking a distance of 22 miles every day. He was a
man of an original and ingenious turn, and an enthusiastic
Highlander. He not only played the violin well, but was a
skilful maker of violins. He not only loved to don the
Highland garb, but deftly manufactured belts and brooches
and other Highland dress ornaments. He not only spoke the
ancient tongue with rare sweetness and mastery, but he had
much of the character of the seanachie and bard, and wrote
papers on local traditions, and original poems, which
found a welcome and fit place in the "Cuairtear," and were
widely popular. It is known that he had been long occupied
with a work on the "Bards of Strathspey," with biographies
and traditions. This was a congenial task, and one for
which he was eminently fitted. Dr Norman Macleod of St
Columba wrote to him in kindly and encouraging terms, and
offered his assistance as to the publication of the book.
At last the work was finished, and sent to Glasgow, but
unfortunately the firm entrusted with it failed, and, in
the confusion. the MSS. were lost. This was a heavy blow
and sore discouragement. The labour of years was gone.
Failing health and lack of leisure made it impossible to
repair the loss. The modest, simple-minded Highlander made
no complaint, but it was easy to see that he never was the
same man again. He died 1852, as he had lived, a humble
THE HOUSE 0’ GRANT.
Of a’ the airts the win’ can blaw,
I dearly lo’e the North;
For there gang lads, sae blithe an’ braw,
The wile o’ sense an’ worth;
An’ lasses fair, wi’ heavenly air,
Wha ilka heart enchant.
Oh! sic a race as this we’ll trace
In a’ the name o’ Grant.
In southern climes let others stray,
By burnie, brae, or grove;
Gi’e me the lang, but mirthsome day,
On Highland hills to rove.
Tho’ tempest lour, a canny hour
At e’en ye ne’er can want;
An’ aye ye’ll find a welcome kind
Beneath the roof o’ Grant.
Nae muckle gowd, nae muckle gear,
Nae titles proud I crave;
I wadna be a gartered peer,
I wadna be a slave.
But be my lot a Hielan’ cot,
Wi’ scrip nor fou nor scant,
Wi’ friends sae free as heart can be,
Just like the Laird o’ Grant.
De na hùile taobh, o’n seid a ghaoth,
chridh s’ gach àm,
Se’n Airde Tuath mo mhiann
N’ sin tha lasgairean thug barr
‘N seadh, ‘n gradh, ‘san sgiamh,
A’s cailleagan, tha aoidhil, tlàth
‘Se leithidibh sin do ghineil alt
Don’ cleachd bhi sloinneadh Grannd.
Biodh cach air iomrad fad mu dheas,
Taobh doire, bruach na alt,
Thoir dhomhsa n’ la tha fad ach ait,
Am measg nan Gaidheil’ s’ nam Beann;
Ged sheideadh stoirmean, falbhidh n’ sion,
S’ bithidh fasgadh measg nan’ Gleann,
Is gheabhar beath, ‘s caidridh shuan,
Fo uachdar Chaisteil Grannd.
Or no earras cha neil uam,
s’ mi nach iarr,
Ni mo tha urram ard,
A bhith m’
S’ cha mhiann leam bhi am thraill.
Ach a bhi chòmhnuidh m’ bothan glan,
Le sporran nach làn
A measg nan cairdean caoimhineil sin,
S’ cho saor ri Tighearn Ghrannd.
The following translations are also by Mr Gordon, the
first being from Sir Walter Scott, and the other from "A
Welcome to the Master of Grant." by the late Rev. James
of Donuil Dubh,
Pibroch of Donuil,
Wake thy wild voice anew,
Summon Clan Conuil.
Come away, come away,
Hark to the summons!
Come in your war array,
Gentles and commons.
Come from deep glen, and
From mountain so rocky,
The war-pipe and pennon
Are at Inverlochy.
Come every hill-plaid and
True heart that wears one,
Come every steel blade and
Strong hand that bears one.
Leave untended the herd,
The flock without shelter,
Leave the corpse uninterr’d,
The bride at the altar.
Leave the deer, leave the steer,
Leave nets and barges;
Come with your fighting gear—
Broadswords and targes.
Come as the winds come, when
Forests are rended;
Come as the waves come, when
Navies are stranded.
Faster come, faster come,
Faster and faster!
Chief, vassal, page and groom,
Tenant and master!
Fast they come, fast they come,
See how they gather;
Wide waves the eagle’s plume,
Blended with heather.
Cast your plaids, draw your blades
Forward each man set,
Pibroch of Donuil Dubh,
Knell for the onset!
Duisg do ghuth borb as ùr,
Gairm Clann nam Mòr-bheann.
Eisdibh an t-òrdugh!
Thigibh ‘n ‘ur cath-uidheam,
Ceathairne 's Mor-dhaoine.
Thall bho gach gleannan,
Gach monadh ‘s sgòr-bheann,
Tha phìob-mhòr ‘s a bhratach
Air faich Inhhir-Lòchaidh,
Thigeadh for bhreacan
Gach cridh’ fior gu sunndach
Gach cruaidh-lann, ‘s lamhan
Bhios làidir gu’n giùlain.
Fàg gun bhuachaill a ghreigh,
Na treudan gun fhasgadh,
Fàg gun adhlac nam mairbh,
Bean-na-bainnse aig an altair.
Fàg am fiadh, ‘s an t-òg dhamh,
Gach liòn agus bàta!
Thigibh le ‘ur cath-airm,
Gach claidh-mòr ‘s targaid.
Thigibh mar gaoithe thig,
‘Nuair reubar na coifftean.
Thigibh mar thuinn ‘nuair bhios
Greasaih, a’s tiugainnibh,
Thigibh na’s luaidh,
Gach uachdaran, iochdharan,
Tighearna ‘s tuathanach.
Nach luath tha iad tional,
Nach faic sibh a chòmhdhail.
‘S mòr luasg ite ‘n fhìr-eun,
‘Si measgt le fraoch cro-dhearg.
Tilgibh gach breacan
Gach lann biodh an òrdugh.
Piobaireachd Dhomhnuill Duibh
Triall thun na còmhraig.
On our rock-crested mountains the
beacons are blazing,
They lighten our vales and they redden the sky;
And the voices of thousands glad shouts are upraising,
And Freuchie’s green banners are waving on high.
The gay gallant sons of the clear Nethy sally
From the glens and the dales of their forests so green
And the Gael of Glenchearnaich, from their verdant sweet
By the banks of the dark winding Dulnan convene.
O’er the broad Haughs of Cromdale the
Slogan comes swelling,
And mingles its notes with the roar of the Spey
Yet it sounds no alarm—no summonses knelling
To the red battlefield from our homes far away.
No—we hear not the accents of sorrow or sadness;
The cheeks of our maidens are not faded or wan;
But their hearts bound with joy, and their eyes beam with
To honour the "Roof Tree" and hope of their clan.
While stands fast Craigellachie, high,
rugged, and hoary,
Unscathed by the tempests that sweep round its head—
As long may that flame-crested rock be our glory—
May we follow wherever its banner be spread.
May our chieftain’s escutcheon bear honour’s bright
‘Mong gentles and nobles-may he stand in the van;
And enshrined, and beloved, and endeared to each bosom,
Be ever the "Roof Tree" and hope of our clan.
Tha tein-eibhinn a’ lasadh an nochd air
‘S e deargadh nan speur agus soilseachadh Ghleann;
‘S tha ard-ghuth nam miltean, r ‘a chluinntinn gu h-eibhinn,
‘S tha uain’-bhratacb Fhraochaidh ‘ga sgaoileadh ri crann.
Thionail laochraidh og ghaisgeil air
bruach Neich nam brais shruth,
Bbo shrathanan dreachail an coilltean dluth gorm;
Agus gaidheil Clann-chearnaich, bho an gleannanan tlachdar,
‘S bha ‘n comh-dhail aig Tuilnean nan lub ‘s nan sruth
Thar dailean Spe’an Crom-dhaile tha i
siod tighinn le nuallan,
‘Si measgadh a fuaim-cheol ‘an toirm uisge Spe—
Ach cha ghairm th’ ann na caismeachd ga ar iarraidh o ar
No dh’ fhagail ‘ar dachaidh gu cath ‘an tir chein.
Cha chluinnear ri mulad, ri tuireadh, no
Tha aghaidh ‘ar n oighean gun seargadh gun chaoil;
‘S ann tha ‘n cridheachana plosgadh le h-aoibhneas is
‘Thoirt onair do’ n Ceannard is cloeltas an Treubh.
Mar sheasas Creig-eallachaidh nan liath
sgorr gu daigheann,
Gun chaireachadh le stoirmean tha ‘g iadh m’a ceann—
Co fad ‘s a ‘se ‘n lasair-chreig ard sin ‘ar cath-ghairm—
Gu ‘n lean sinn a bratach gach taobh sam bi sreann.
Gu robh sgiath-airm ‘ar Ceannard a’
Measg Mhaithean is Uaislean ri’n guaillibh san streup;
Air a ghleidh, is air a shaoradh, gu h-ionmhuinn le sonas,
A choidh gu robh Ceannard is dochas ‘ar Treubh.
There were others of our people who did
their part as Bards. Charles Stewart, Knock, wrote hunting
songs, which were at one time popular. Lewis Macpherson,
Tulloch, was famous for his gift of romancing, somewhat
after the manner of Baron Munchausen. "Tom Bill" was the
author of a clever satire that made a great sensation
sixty years ago. Donald Shaw, Achgourish, published
"Legends of Glenmore" in 1859; Daniel Grant, late
of Bachdcharn, "Spiritual Songs" (2nd ed.), in 1862; and
James Horne, Fae, "Poems," in 1865. But the man best
known, and whose writings have had the widest and the most
salutary influence, was Mr Peter Grant, Baptist Minister.
He was affectionately spoken of throughout the Highlands
as Parruig Granud nan-òran, "Peter Grant of the
Songs," and well deserves the first place among our Bards.
Mr Grant was born at Balintua, near Congash, where his
father had a small, farm, on the 3oth January, 1783. It
was a hard thing in those days for the poor to get
education, but Peter was a thoughtful boy, with a great
love of knowledge, and he made the best of his
opportunities. Gaelic was his mother tongue, but after
some years he acquired English, which he spoke with
correctness and fluency. Two or three striking incidents
in his life may be noted. Once a friend visited his
father’s house, who sang some of Dugald Buchanan’s songs
in the evening. Peter was but a boy, and he sat in a
corner, drinking in both words and music with delight.
Some time after he got a copy of the book, which he used
to ponder over when out in the fields herding, and soon he
had it all by heart. Another time he had gone to Grantown,
when he was drawn to a quiet nook—then a gravel pit, now
the site of the Baptist Chapel— where certain of the good
people called "Missionaries" were holding a Gospel
meeting. Mr Grant had been for some time Precentor in the
Parish Church, but he was not satisfied with the preaching
of the minister. He yearned for something better, and now
he felt that he had found it. He used often in after life
to tell how the words of the Psalm which was being sung
when he drew near, had touched his heart—
"For God of Sion hath made choice,
There He desires to dwell;
This is my rest, here still I’ll stay,
For I do like it well."
The preacher was Mr Lachlan Mackintosh,
one of Mr Haldane’s converts. It is said that Mr Haldane
made Mr Mackintosh a Christian, and that Mr Mackintosh
made Mr Haldane a Baptist! This was a turning-point in Mr
Grant’s life. He was soon after baptised, and joined the
Baptist Congregation at Grantown, of which he became
Pastor in 1826. Mr Grant was an able minister. He was, as
one said, "a plain, pointed, and powerful preacher of the
Gospel," and during his pastorate of 41 years he was
honoured to do much good, not only in Strathspey, but in
other districts where he had preached in his evangelistic
tours. Mr Grant was early impressed with the evils in
society, and the dangers to which the young were exposed.
Like Luther, he did not see why Satan should have the best
of the music, and he resolved to do what he could to bring
about a change for the better. His "Dan Spioradail,"
Spiritual Songs, were published in 1809, when he was
in his 26th year. It is curious that the Highland people,
while they strongly object to hymns in church, have no
hesitation in using them in their homes. So it came about
that Mr Grant’s hymns were soon sung all over the
Highlands. He lived to see his little book in its 10th
edition, and it must have often cheered his heart to know
that by its humble means he had been able to commend the
love of God and the glorious Gospel to thousands, at home
and in the Colonies, who had never seen his face. Mr
Grant, though a strict Baptist, lived on friendly terms
with ministers of the Old Church, and took an active part
with them in promoting Sabbath Schools, Bible Societies,
and other schemes of Christian usefulness. In the preface
to the 6th edition, 1842, he says to "the Lord’s people of
all denominations, who had been praying and using means to
enlighten the dark places," "be not weary in well-doing;
your labour has not been in vain in the Lord. I can
testify from personal knowledge that a wonderful
reformation has taken place on the manners and morals of
the people in general; besides, I hope many are truly
converted." Mr Grant died on 14th December, 1867, in his
85th year. His last meeting with his people was very
touching. Old and feeble, he could not give the usual
address, but, leaning on his staff, he said, as it is told
in like manner of the beloved disciple, "Little children,
love one another." Some days after he passed in peace to
that Eternal Rest of which he has sweetly sung in
one of his songs.
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