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Gairloch in North-West Ross-Shire
Part II.—Inhabitants of Gairloch

Chapter XVIII.—William Mackenzie and Malcolm Maclean


TWO of the older bards of Gairloch deserve a chapter to themselves.

William Mackenzie, the Gairloch and Loch Broom catechist, was •commonly called "An Ceistear Crubach," or "the lame catechist," owing to his being lame of a leg. He was a native of the parish of Gairloch, and was born about 1670. He seems to have been a poet of no mean order. In his early years he had the reputation of being a serious young man; he committed to memory the Shorter Catechism in Gaelic, and was afterwards for seven years employed in the capacity of perambulatory catechist at a small salary. On one occasion in the dead of winter a tremendous storm overtook him, and he was driven to seek the shelter of a rock. He was fortunately discovered, and conveyed on horseback to the house of Mr Mackenzie of Balone, where he experienced the greatest kindness. Here he saw a beautiful young lady, his host's sister, who afterwards became Mrs Mackenzie of Kernsary, and, inspired by her charms, he composed a celebrated song of great poetic merit.

He happened to be in Strath, Gairloch, at the time of a wedding, to which however he was not invited. Being joined by some others who had suffered the same indignity, and who brought a bottle of whisky with them, he forgot the sacredness of his office, and as the glass went round composed a satirical song lampooning the newly-married couple and their relations and guests. The song eked out. The ministers shook their heads, and condemned the profanity of their catechist from their pulpits. He was dragged before the kirk-session and severely cross-examined. One or two of his judges espoused his cause, and insisted that he should recite the obnoxious song. " I can repeat no song," said the bard, " unless I accompany the words with an air, and to sing here would be altogether unbecoming." This obstacle was, however, got over, and Mackenzie sang the song with great glee, while his judges could not restrain their laughter. However he was dismissed from being catechist, and was never restored to the post. He died at a good old age, and was buried in Creagan an Inver of Meikle Gruinard, on the northern confines of the parish of Gairloch.

Malcolm M'Lean, called "Callum a Ghlinne," or "Callum of the glen," was a native of Kenlochewe. His reputation as a bard rests entirely on a celebrated song he composed in praise of his own daughter. It is the only example of his genius now extant. He was fond of singing the songs of other poets, and had an excellent voice. As a young man he enlisted in the army, and after serving a number of years was allowed a small pension on his discharge. He became a crofter in his native country, and married a woman of exemplary patience and resignation. He is described as a bacchanalian of the first magnitude, and by his intemperance reduced his wife and daughter to miserable poverty. The daughter, his only child, was of uncommon beauty, but for want of dowry was for a long time unwooed and unmarried. In his later years his drinking habits became more notorious than ever, and when he was seen approaching an inn the local topers left their work and trooped about him. No wonder the resignation of his poor wife, under such circumstances,. is proverbial in Gairloch. He died about the year 1764.

Professor Blackie has made a spirited translation of Malcolm Maclean's song, which with the Professor's kind consent is given below.

The forgiving gentleness of Malcolm's wife is recorded in the following story:—Malcolm had occasion to go to Dingwall on a summer day for a boll of oatmeal; he took a grey horse with him. On his way, with just enough cash in his pocket to pay for the meal, he entered an inn, where he met a Badenoch drover, who proved to be a boon companion. The two continued drinking together for some time; the bard at length spent the last sixpence of his meal money. Thinking, no doubt, of the awkwardness of returning without the meal, he remarked, "If I had more money, I would not go home for some time yet." "That's easily got; I'll buy the grey horse from you," replied the drover. The bargain was speedily concluded, and the money paid. The well-seasoned poet continued the " spree,'" until at length the price of the grey horse was gone too. "Now,'" said he, "I must go." "But how," said the drover, "can you face your wife?" "My wife!" said the poet, "she's the woman that never said, nor will say worse to me than, God bless you, Malcolm.''" "I'll bet you the price of the horse and the meal," replied the drover,. "that her greeting will be very different." "Done!" eagerly shouted Malcolm, grasping the other's hand. Away they went, with the landlord and two other men to witness the bard's reception by his wife. He staggered into his dwelling, where he would have fallen into-the open fire, had not his wife caught him in her arms, exclaiming, "God bless you, Malcolm." "But I have neither brought meal nor money," said the bard. "We will soon get more money and meal too," replied the wife. "But I have also drunk the grey horse," said he. "What matter, my love," she said, "since you are alive and well." It was enough: the drover had to count down the money ; and it was not long before the patient wife had the satisfaction of hailing her husband's return with both horse and meal.

Callum o' the Glen

Chorus.

My bonnie dark maid,
My precious, my pretty,
I'll sing in your praise
A light-hearted ditty;
Fair daughter whom none
Had the sense yet to marry;
And I'll tell you the cause
Why their love did miscarry,
My bonnie dark maid!

I.
For sure thou art beautiful,
Faultless to see;
No malice can fasten
A blot upon thee.
Thy bosom's soft whiteness
The seagull may shame,
And for thou art lordless
Tis I am to blame.

II.
And indeed I am sorry,
My fault I deplore,
Who won thee no tocher
By swelling my store;
With drinking and drinking
My tin slipped away,
And so there's small boast
Of my sporran to-day.

III.
While I sit at the board,
Well seasoned writh drinking,
And wish for the thing
That lies nearest my thinking,
'Tis the little brown jug
That my eye will detain,
And when once I have seen it
I'd see it again!

IV.
The men of the country
May jeer and may gibe,
That I rank with the penniless
Beggarly tribe;
But though few are my cattle,
I'll still find a way
For a drop in my bottle,
Till I'm under the clay.

V.
There's a grumpy old fellow,
As proud as a king,
Whose lambs will be dying
By scores in the spring,
Drinks three bottles a year,
Most sober of men,
But dies a poor sinner
Like Callum o' Glen.

VI.
When I'm at the market,
With a dozen like me
Of proper good fellows
That love barley-bree,
I sit round the table,
And drink without fear,
For my good-wife says only,
"God bless you, my dear!"

VII.
Though I'm poor, what of that?
I can live and not steal,
Though pinched at a time
By the high price of meal.
There's good luck with God,
And He gives without measure;
And while He gives health,
I can pay for my pleasure.

VIII.
Very true that my drink
Makes my money go quicker;
Yet I'll not take a vow
To dispense with good liquor:
In my own liquid way
I'd be great amongst men,—
Now you know what to think
Of good Callum o' Glen.


 


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