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Reminiscences of a Highland Parish
The Customs of New Year's Eve and Morning


AS NARRATED BY A HIGHLAND PIPER.
[This chapter is translated from the first Gaelic magazine ever published, which was conducted by my father, the late Dr MacLeod, of Glasgow. The account of these Highland customs, though bearing the signature of "Finlay the Piper," was written by himself, and is now offered, along with a few illustrative notes, as a Reminiscence of the "Parish," and also as a characteristic specimen of the narratives of the Highland peasantry.]

ACCORDING to promise, I will give you a true account of the manner in which we used to part with the old year, and welcome the new, during my younger days in the family of Glendessarie. The last night of the year was, as you know, called oidhche Challuinn, (the night of Calluinn.)

[The derivation of this word has sorely puzzled Celtic antiquaries; and it is enough to show the straits to which they are reduced, to mention that some derive it from Kalends, and others from the name of the goddess Kalydon, said to have been worshipped by some tribes of Sclavonians on the shores of the Baltic. We consider the explanation given by the piper fully as good as either of these. Let it be remembered, however, that the corresponding term Hagmana, used of old in England, (possibly still in some parts of it,) or Hogmanay, universally used in Scotland, is of equally uncertain origin—some deriving it from the Greek "Hagia mene," sacred month, while others resolve it into the French, Homme est ni, "the man is born," referring of course to our Saviour's nativity. And we may remark, without going into antiquarian dissertation, that, with the view of discovering the derivation of the word Yule, used in England and Scotland, almost every language from Hebrew to Danish has been questioned and tortured, all to little purpose.

The Gaelic term Calluinn, then, is not alone in the mystery of its origin. The Cainnual, or Coinneal, used to denote the first day of the year, has also exercised the ingenuity of linguists. Its simplest solution is, however, probably the nearest to the truth. It literally signifies candle, and in all likelihood refers to the illuminations customary at that joyous season.

Nalluig, or Nollaig, the Gaelic term for Christmas, is evidently of the same origin with the French Noaille, derived from Natalis.

We need say nothing about the highlanders observing the season of the New Year as a festive and joyous one. Almost all nations, Pagan and Christian, have done so, visiting their friends, feasting on the best, and giving a liberal supply to their cattle as well. The piper giving a sheaf of corn to his cows reminds one of Burns's well-known lines to his old mare Maggie, on New Year's Day.

The expression of their joy through rhymes was also common to other nations as well as to the Highlanders. Abundant specimens both of French and English verses used on occasions are to be found in our older books, nor are we aware that the Gaelic rhymes deserve any special mention. We have heard many which were more doggerel —others, again, through which a vein of satirical humour ran, well fitted to rebuke any churlish tendency in those who were addressed; but the great majority of them, like the English ones, expressed kindly wishes towards the households visited, while they all craved a good Callueun for the rhyming visitors.

The carrying about of the hide, beating on it with sticks, and surrounding the house three times, going always in the direction of the sun, or Deas-hil, is at least in modern times peculiar to the Highlanders. Till very recently it was generally observed, and is, we believe, in remote localities still practised. Some writers imagine that the thus walking around the house, clothed in the skin of a slaughtered animal, has reference to sacrificial and propitiatory rites. We learn, however, from "Brand's Popular Antiquities," edited by Ellis, that this is a remnant of the wild fantastic orgies of the old Roman Saturnalia, where men often disguised themselves in the skins of wild beasts, and abandoned themselves to the wildest enjoyments. Early Christian writers state that many of their flocks followed after these heathenish customs, saying expressively-

"vestiuntur pellibus pecudum "—" they are clothed in the skins of cattle."

We read of slight traces of this strange transformation being discernible in Yorkshire till a comparatively recent date; but, like many other old customs, it found beyond the Grampian mountains a more lasting abode than anywhere else.

One other observance we mention which we believe was peculiar to the Highlands. The Caisein tic/id, or the piece of skin covering the breast bone of sheep or cow—more especially the former, with its short curly wool—was kept as carefully as was the hide ; and on New Year's Eve, after being well singed in the fire, was applied to the nose of every one within the house, visitor or dweller. There- after it was carried to the byre, and the offactories of the cattle also regaled with its fragrance. All we can say of this practice is, that it was observed with the view of conferring some benefit on man and beast. Pennant mentions that the cattle in the North highlands were, on the evening in question, made to smell burnt juniper.

We gather from the old Statistical Account that in some parts of the Highlands Hogmany is called oidhche dasr na Coille—i.e., "The night of the fecundation of the trees," and that according to the direction of the wind on this night the character of the following season might be predicted. The west wind promised fish and niilk. The south, warmth and general fruitfulness. The north, cold and shivering—literally, dinning And the east wind, even as in the land of Pharaoh, the withering of the fruit.

For several statements in the foregoing long note, see "Brand's Popular Antiquities."]

They tell me that this word signifies noise, or rattling; and that the Highlanders so designated this night from the noisy mirth with which they celebrated it.

Well, my father was piper to Glendessarie, as was his father before him, and every son of mine has, as soon as weaned, taken to the pipe-chanter just as naturally as the young kid takes to scrambling up the rocks. It was the habit of this family to gather for Calluinig 1st (New Year's Eve) all the tenantry on their lands, young and old, especially all the foster-fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, and according to wont, Evan dun maor (Fair-haired Evan the ground-officer,) went round amongst them a few days before the time. "It is the wish of the family," says he, "that we should observe the Calluinn as of old; and see, my lads, that you have your Camain (shinties, or clubs) right and ready for New Year's Day." The piper set off in his full Highland garb about the height of the evening, (as the sun was beginning to decline.) We reached the great house; and can I expect that my heart will ever be as light and joyous as it was on that night? The young ladies of the family met us with bows of ribbon for the chanter of the pipe. The piper played a round on the green before the door, as the men gathered.

The time of Calluinn came, when some one had to carry the dry cow hide on his back and run round the house, and every one that could tried to get a stroke at it with his stick. "Who will carry the hide this year?" says Evan Ban. "Who but Para Mor?" (Big Patrick) says one. "Who but Broad John?" says another. "Out with the hide, Para Mor," says Evan Ban; "and you, Broad John, stand by his shoulder in case he may stumble." Para Mgr drew the hide about his head, taking a twist of the tail firmly round his fist. "coth om eta F nnl," (i.e., fair play as among the Fingalians, or Fingalian justice,) exclaimed he, as he drew near the door of the house where the Laird (Fear a' bliaile, the man of the place) was standing with his Caman (shinty) in his hand, "Calluinn here !" says he, giving the first rattle to the hide. Para Mor set off, but swift of foot as he was, the men of the Glen kept at his heel, and you would think that every flail in the country was at work on the one threshing-floor, as every mother's son of them struck and rattled at him, shouting, "A Calluinn here! The Calluiun of the yellow sack of hide! Strike ye the skin! A Calluinu here!" Three times they went Deas-iut (in a southerly direction, according to the course of the sun) round the house. "Blow up, piper," (Seid seas) said Evan Ban, "and when the company are in order, let them assemble in the rent-room." My father played Failt' a' Plzrionnsa, (the Prince's welcome;) for though there was not in the kingdom a man more leal and loyal to the family which then sat upon the throne than Glendessarie, yet he loved to listen to this tune; and often have I seen him shedding tears on hearing that thrilling music which had stirred his forefathers to deeds of manliness on these renowned battle-fields, where alas! they lost their men and their estates.

We went into the chamber where the family and the neighbouring gentry were assembled. He himself, the graceful president of the feast, stood in the midst, and his mild, winsome lady by his side. The lovely young branches of the family were around them, though, woe's me! few of them are alive to-day. The Laird (good man) of Carrie was standing at the door to guard against any one slipping in without saying his Calluinn rhyme, and John Ban, of the casks, (the butler,) beside him with a bottle in his hand. Every one had a rhyme that night except Lowland John and a young conceited fellow from the Glen, who had been for a year or two in Glasgow, and affected to have forgotten his native tongue, as well as the customs of his native land. John Ban dealt round the drink, and the bread and cheese, piled up plenteously, were distributed freely.

After a short time the songs began. He himself gave us an iorram, (boat song,) and well could he do it. Many a sweet song, lay, and ditty was sung, as well as those which were historical and commemorative. The fox-hunter gave us Dina a' chain ghlais, (the song of the gray dog,) and Angus of the Satires repeated a tale of the Fingalians. After the songs the dancing began, very different from the slow, soft, silken steps of the present day First came in a smart dame, dressed like a housekeeper, with a bunch of keys jingling by her side; strong, sturdy, and active she looked. The woman sang Port tz Beul, (i.e., a tune from the mouth,) selecting Cailleach an Dimdain, (the old wife of the mill-dust,) and it was she who capered and turned, and sprang nimbly. After this they danced the Daubli-Luidneaclr, (Black Sluggard.) But the best fun was when the " Goat Dance," "Weave the Gown," (Figli an Gun,) and the Thorny Croft (Civit an Droighin) were danccd.

[We have preserved these names in the hope that some one more learned than we in Hi-bland antiquities may explain them. The singing called Port d !ieul, a tune from the mouth, we have ourselves heard, and heard with high pleasure. In the absence of musical instruments, persons trained to it imitate dancing-music with the voice, and when they sing in parts the imitation is remarkably happy. We have seen a company dancing for hours to this primitive music.

As to the dances, there are some of them we can give no account of. A poor remnant of the "Sword Dance" is still preserved among us, and may be often witnessed on the stage; sometimes on the decks of steamers, and even on the streets of our large towns, burlesqued by idle vagabonds who assuredly disgrace "the garb of Old GauI," by exhibiting it in such contemptible performances. We learn from Brand, that among the Northern nations, and of old in England, the Sword Dance was practised on the most public and solemn occasions, and in a way that put the skill, the strength, and the nerve of the performers to a very severe test.

We know that in one or other of those mentioned in our text—the Thorny Croft—there was much pantomimic acting, as well as very dolorous recitative. A farmer, whose Iot it was to be located on ground covered with thorns and briers, gives a woeful account of the hardship of his fate—with the view, we believe, of exciting the compassion of some fair spectator—and we believe there was a considerable amount of dramatic acting in all of them.

The Duch-Luidizeach—Black-Sluggard, or black clumsy one—we may observe, is the name by which the native; of Lochaber still designate the yacht in which Argyle sailed away on the day of the battle of Inveilochy—Ieaving his men to the fury of 'Montrose and the MacDonalds. Of the dance so called we can give no account.]

The time of parting at length came. The gentry gave us the welcome of the New Year with cordiality and kindliness, and we set off to our homes. "My lads," says he himself, "be valiant on the field to-morrow. The sea-board men (Leththiri.e, Halfland) boast that they are to beat us Glen-men at the shinty match this year." Thus we passed the last night of the year at Glendessarie, and neither I nor my father ever saw a quarrel, or heard an improper word at such a gathering. It is since the gentry have ceased thus to mingle freely with the people that disgusting drunkenness has become common in these black tippling-houses, which prove the highway to almost every vice. The people of each estate were as one family—the knot of kindness tying every heart together, and the friendly eye of the superiors was over us all.

I might here give many useful advices to our lairds; but they do not understand Gaelic, and they would not take the counsel of the piper, so I must hasten to tell you about our way of passing the first day of the New Year.

On this New Year's morn the sun was late of showing his countenance; and after he came in sight his appearance was pale and drowsy. The mist was resting lazily on the hill-side; the crane was rising slowly from the meadow; the belling of the stab was heard on the mountain; the black-cock was in the birch-wood, dressing his feathers, while his sonsie mate—the gray-hen—was slowly walking before him.
After I had saluted my family, and implored the blessing of the Highest on their heads, I prepared the Christmas sheep, (Caora Mallaig,) gave a sheaf of corn to the cattle, as was customary, and was getting myself in order, when in walked Para Mor, and my gossip Angus Og, (young Angus.) They gave me the welcome of the New Year. I returned it with equal heartiness. Then Para Mor produced a bottle from his pocket. "A black-cock," says he, "whose gurgling voice (crowing, Celtic, gogail) is more musical than any roar (ran) that ever came out of the chanter of thy pipe." We tasted to one another, and then Mary, my wife, set before us a small drop of the genuine Ferintosh, which she had stored up long ago for great occasions in the big chest.

It was my duty to gather the people together this morning with the sound of the pipe. So we set off, going from farm to farm up the Glen, making the son of the cave of the rock (i.e., echo) answer to my music. I played "A Mhnathan a' Ghlinne so;" [This still popular pipe tune, known, we believe, as Breadalbane's March, is said to have been composed on the following occasion:—The father of John Glas, i.e., Gray John, of Breadalbane, to whom frequent reference is made in the present case of disputed succession (the Breadalbane Peerage case, 1864), was married to a daughter of the Earl of Caithness. The promised dowry was not paid to him, and he, apparently content with his wife herself as his portion, lived and died in peace with the Sinclairs. His son, John Glas, however, was of a different mind. Collecting a hardy band of Campbells from the age of thirty-five to that of fifty, he made a secret and sudden raid on the land of the Sinclairs, gathered as much spoil as would cover the amount of his mother's tocher, utterly defeated the Caithness men, who were unprepared for such an invasion, and, as he was leaving their territory, early in the morning, he summoned the poor women to arise, telling them that their cattle had been lifted, and their husbands wounded.] and if the pipe had been dry that day it had ample means of quenching its thirst

"I'he company continually increased its numbers until we came down by the other side of the Glen to the ground-officer's house, where it was appointed for us to get our morning-meal. The lady had sent a three-year-old wedder to his house. We had a roebuck from the corrie of yew-trees; fish from the pool of whitings; and such quanties of cheese, butter, and solid oatcake, sent by the neighbours round about, as would suffice for as many more—though we were fifty men in number, besides women and children. Grace was said by Lachlan of the Questions, (Lachuun ceistear,) the Bible reader. Evan Ban well sustained the hospitable character of the house which he represented. We had an ample and a cheerful feast.

Breakfast over, I set off and played the tune of the Giasmlzeiir, while Red Ewen, the old soldier, was marshalling the men. We reached Gualanancarn, (the shoulder of the cairns,) where the gentry were to meet us; and before we knew where we were, who placed himself at our head but our own young Donald, the heir of the family! He had reached home that very morning, having hastened on without sleep, or rest, all the way from Dun-Edin, (Edinburgh.) Dear heart! he was the graceful sapling. I could not for a while blow a breath into the pipe. "Play up, Finlay," says Para Mor. "What sadness has seized you" "Sadness!" said I; "very far is it from me." The people of the sea-board then came in view, and Alastair Roy of the Bay at their head. When the two companies observed each other, they raised a loud shout of mutual rejoicing. We reached the field, and many were the salutations between friends and acquaintances exchanged there.

The sun at length shone forth brightly and cheerfully. On the eminences around the field were the matrons, the maidens, and the children of the district, high and low, all assembled to witness the Camanaclid, (shinty match.) The goal at each end of the large field was pointed out, and the two leaders began to divide and choose each his men. "I claim from you!" ('Buailidli vii ort, literally, "I will strike on thee,") says young Donald. "I permit you," (Leigidh mi leat,) says Alastair Roy of the Bay. "If so," says young Donald, "then Donald Ban, of Culloden, is mine." This was by far the oldest man present, and you would think his two eyes would start from his head with delight as he stepped proudly forth, at being the first chosen.

When the men were divided into two companies —forty on each side—and refreshments set at each goal, Alastair Roy flung his shinty high up in the air. "Bas, no Cas, Donald of the Glen," said he (i.e., Head, or Handle.) " Handle, which will defy your handling till nightfall !" replies Donald. Alastair gained the throw, (toss,) and was about to strike the ball immediately, when the other exclaimed, "A truce, (Deisde;) let the rules of the game be first proclaimed, so that there may be fairness, good-fellowship, and friendship observed among us, as was wont among our forefathers." On this Evan Ban stepped forth and proclaimed the laws, which forbade all quarrelling, swearing, drunkenness, and coarseness; all striking, tripping, or unfairness of any kind ; and charged them to contend in a manful, but friendly spirit, without malice or grudge, as those from whom they were descended had been wont to do.

Alastair Roy, as he was entitled to do, gave the first stroke to the ball, and the contest began in earnest; but I have not language to describe it. The sea-board men gained the first game. But it was their only game. Young Donald and his men stripped to their work, and you would think the day of liar na Leine (Battle of the Shirt) had come again. Broad John gave a tremendous blow, which sent the ball far beyond the goal. We thus gained the day, and we raised the shout of victory; but all was kindness and good feeling among us.

In the midst of our congratulations Para Mor shouted out, "Shame on ye, young men! Don't you see these nice girls shivering with cold? Where are the dancers? Play up the reel of Tullochgorum, Finlay." The dancing began, and the sun was bending low towards the Western Ocean before we parted. There was many a, shin and many a cheek of the colour of the Blaeberies (i.e., black and blue) that day, but there was neither hate nor grumbling about these matters.

We returned to the house of nobleness, as on the preceding evening. Many a torch was on that night beaming brightly in the hall of hospitality, though dark and lonely in its state today. We passed the night amid music and enjoyment, and parted not until the breaking of the dawn guided us to our own homes.

And now you have some account of the manner in which your ancestors were in the habit of passing New Year's Eve and New Year's Morn—Calluinn and Cainneal—in days not long gone by.

I know that people will not now believe me, yet I maintain that many good results followed from this friendly mingling of gentles and commons. Our superiors were at that time acquainted with our language and our ways. The highest of them was not ashamed to address us by name, in our native tongue, at kirk or market. There were kindness, friendship, and fosterage between us; and while they were apples on the topmost bough, we were all the fruit of the same tree. We felt ourselves united to them, and in honouring and defending them we respected and benefited ourselves. But, except in the case of the one family under whom I now am,

"All this has passed as a dream,
Or the breaking of the bubble on the top of the wave."

Our superiors dwell not among us ; they know not our language, and cannot converse with us; and even their servants many of our Lairds scorn to take from among their own men. They must have them from the Lowlands—spindle-sharked creatures, with short breeches and white stockings, but without pith or courage enough to rescue the young heir of the family from the beak of the turkey-cock! Not so were thy men, Donald of the Glen, on the day when "thy king landed in Moidar!''


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