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Duncan Ban MacIntyre
Final Farewell to the Bens


A footnote in C fixes the date of the poet’s visit to his beloved mountain as 19th September, 1802. The song was composed next day, reminding us of Wordsworth’s "emotion recollected in tranquillity." The poem is not a description of mountain scenery, but a series of reminiscences, touched by the glamour of the former days and old associations. Macintyre, however, never remained long in sentimental mood: in the midst of regrets for departed joys he derives consolation from the regular income ensured by his service in the Town Guard of Edinburgh. We may well doubt the story that he was so much overcome by emotion as to require his brother’s assistance to finish the poem. (See F, p.511.)

The circumstances of its composition, its theme of halcyon days, its simple phrasing and fine tune have combined to make Cead deireannacli nam beann one of the best-known songs in Gaelic.

I was on Ben Dobhrain yesterday,
no stranger in her bounds was I;
I looked upon the glens
and the bens that I had known so well;
this was a happy picture—
to be tramping on the hillsides,
at the hour the sun was rising,
and the deer would be a-bellowing.

The gallant herd is joyous,
as they moved off with noisy stir;
the hinds are by the spring,
and the speckled calves looked bonny there;
then the does and roe-bucks,
the black-cocks and the grouse cocks—
the sweetest music ever heard
was their sound when heard at dawn of day.

Blithely would I set out
for stalking on the hill passes,
away to climb rough country,
and late would I be coming home;
the clean rain and the air
on the peaks of the high mountains,
helped me to grow, and gave me
robustness and vitality.

I earned my living for a time,
at shielings that I knew full well,
with frolic, fun, flirtation,
enjoying maidens’ tender fellowship;
‘twere contrary to nature
that this should still obtain there;
we had perforce to leave them,
when the time arrived to separate.

Now since old age has stricken me,
I have an ailment that will cleave to me,
that has wrought havoc on my teeth,
while my vision is beclouded;
I am not fit for exploit
though I might find it needful,
and though pursuit were on my trail,
I could not step out very fast.

Although my head is hoary
and my locks have become scanty,
oft have I loosed a deer-hound
against a wild, high-headed one:
though I, who loved them always,
were to see them on the hillside,
now, being sadly short of breath,
I cannot go a-chasing them.

In their rutting season,
devotedly I followed them;
then an interlude with country folk,
while giving them new songs and verse;
another spell with comrades,
while we were campaigning:
cheery were we then,
nor was the dram to us a novelty.

When I was in my early youth,
‘twas folly kept me destitute;
‘tis Providence bestows on us
each fair thing that was promised us;
though I am scant of riches,
my mind is full of solace,
for I trust that George’s daughter
will have provided bread for me.

Yesterday I was on the moor,
and grave reflections haunted me:
that absent were the well-loved friends
who used to roam the waste with me;
since the mountain, which I little thought
would suffer transformation,
has now become a sheep-run,
the world, indeed, has cheated me.

As I gazed on every side of me
I could not but be sorrowful,
for wood and heather have run out,
nor live the men who flourished there;
there’s not a deer to hunt there,
there’s not a bird or roe there,
and the few that have not died out
have departed from it utterly.

Farewell to the deer forests—
O! they are wondrous hill-country,
with green cress and spring water,
a noble, royal, pleasant drink;
to the moor plains which are well beloved,
and the pastures which are plentiful,
as these are parts of which I’ve taken leave,
my thousand blessings aye be theirs.


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