Song to Coire a’
Cheathaich is one of Macintyre’s most important poems. A beloved
scene is depicted with affectionate touches, and each section of the
picture is filled in with meticulous care. All the details, except
perhaps the salmon, have been noted by the poet within the corrie or its
environs, and the discomforts of heavy rains and frequent mists are
forgotten when he thinks of sunny mornings and happy days on the hills.
No doubt other corries
would have served the poet equally well for a subject, but personal
feeling is too strong to let the poem become a wholly objective
exercise. This poem is, indeed, an outstanding example of Gaelic
descriptive poetry, with its musical rhymes, ornate diction and
completeness of survey.
This, the most famous
corrie in Gaelic literature, lies on the south-east slope of Creag
Mhór, some six miles north of Crianlaraich, and about five miles
east of the southern spur of Ben Dobhrain.
It is within the Forest of Mamlorn and is drained by Allt Cheathaich,
a stream that flows into the River Lochay, a little to the north of Allt
Lŕirig Mhic Bhŕidein; the latter is a tributary of Abhainn
Ghlas, which flows into the west end of Loch Lyon (see Map
Two other tributaries of
the River Lochay may be noted— Allt Bad a’ Mhŕim, flowing
parallel to Allt Cheathaich, less than a mile to the east, and Allt
Bad Odhar, which joins the Lochay at a point three-quarters of a
mile further east. Here is ‘Badour,’ where according to tradition
the keeper’s cottage, occupied by the poet, was situated, some ten
miles west of Killin.
The Misty Corrie of the roving young
is the dearest corrie of verdant ground;
how lovely, lea-loving, sleek-bright, sappy,
was every floweret so fragrant to me;
dark-green, fertile, teeming,
steep, blooming, full pure, exquisite,
mellow, dappled, flowery, bonny, rich in sweet grass,
is the glen of arrow grass, and many a fawn.
A continuous mantle,
that will last long ere it peeleth bare,
of the fairest-tressed grass that the soil produceth
—its head bowed down with
the heavy dews—
is round the gay corrie of the green hummocks,
wherein herb and rush grow to its top;
and the pleasant pasture would be fit for mowing,
were it firm land where tenants were with soum
On moorland contours there is gladsome
that lapped thy bosom in wealth and cheer;
sheep’s fescue grass, earth-nut foliage,
and all plants that could be on slope of knolls,
round the friendliest corrie that can be found,
on which men have looked this side of France;
unless it changeth it were bliss on earth
for lightsome lads to be always there.
‘Tis round Ruadh Aisridh the tussocks
sheltering, curly, handsome, tall;
and every green plot hath its herbage swaying,
as the wind sweepeth it to and fro;
the root of deer’s hair grass, the tip of arrow grass,
erect rye-grass, kneed foxtail grass,
the potent bent grass and copious groundsel,
are round the secluded covert, haunt of the stags.
The heath of the pass, where MacWattie sojourned,is a grassy jungle, flush with
the flank of Ban Leacainn is not inferior—
oft hath it reared the dun, full-grown stag;
the calving young hinds that go to no byre,
but, with their young, form a group high up;
and the calves, so sumptuously, by day and by night,
and such droves of them clustered on Clach Fionn Ridge.
Thy genial braes, abounding in
blaeberries and cowberries,
are studded with cloudberries of the round, red head,
with garlic forming pads in the angles of ledges,
and fringed rock-stacks, not a few;
the dandelion and penny-royal,
soft, white cotton sedge, and sweet grass are there,
in every part of it, from the lowest hill foot
to the crested region of the highest reach.
Craig Mhor’s coat is really gorgeous,
and never near thee is the midden grass,
but moss saxifrage, for ‘twas more modish,
hath enrobed it, near and far;
the level dales at the base of spurs
where primroses and wan daisies are,
have plants, so leafy, bladed, sweet, downy,
rough and shaggy—every type there is.
Around each spring that is in the region
is a sombre brow of green water-cress;
at the base of boulders is a clump of sorrel,
and sandy gravel, ground fine and white;
splashing gurgles, seething, not heated,
but eddying from the depth of smooth cascades,
each splendid rill is a blue-tressed plait,
running in torrent and spiral swirls.
In the rugged gully is a white-bellied
that cometh from the ocean of stormy wave,
catching midges with lively vigour
unerringly, in his arched, bent beak,
as he leapeth grandly on raging torrent,
in his martial garb of the blue-grey back,
with his silvery flashes, with fins and speckles,
scaly, red-spotted, white-tailed and sleek.
Misty Corrie is a precious valley
and a royal place round which the hunt was held;
deer will be slung up when blast of powder
driveth dark-blue lead thick into their pelts;
the gun is ready, and the whelp is nimble,
blood-thirsty, forceful, valiant, fierce,
careering fleetly, bounding briskly,
stretched to the utmost against a red flier.
The hornless, young hinds, the calves and
were ever found round thy sloping folds;
this was our wish of a sunny morning,
to go to seek them and hunt the bens;
though storms overtook us with rain and deluge,
we had means of comfort in these parts then,
in the lower crags, in the forest foothills,
in the den of refuge, where I reclined.
What time I woke in the still, clear
beneath the precipice, this gave me joy;
the moorhen with her cackle, huskily chanting,
the gallant cock, murmuring with a bow;
the lively wren with his tuneful chanter
revelling in lusty and melodious notes;
the starling and the robin, with much commotion,
singing merry carols of flowing stave.
The birds of the heath, in pure, bright
were singing melodies on woodland bough,
the winsome skylark hath her special warble,
beloved chanter playing fluently;
on the top of sapling, the cuckoo and the mavis
sing a tuneful and sweet refrain;
when the choir piped up, blithely and gaily,
the finest music heard was their chorus in the glen.
When all the creatures in thy bounds
of every kind indigenous thereto;
the antlered stag is in the moorland vale,
voicing deep notes in a loud deer-call,
making for the peat-hag, excited with rapture,
and madly leaping at a small, dun hind;
she was the damsel that grew up stately,
handsome, graceful, straight-limbed and lithe.
The yellow-haired doe is amid the dark
at the foot of saplings peeling them bare;
the buck in solitude maketh a grand bed,
scraping it up with his hoof recurved;
while the brindled fawn with his sensitive nostril,
of smoothest side and wildest head,
cosily sleepeth in a lonesome hollow,
a curled-up ball beneath a rushy arch.
Round about thee, growing fruit was
at the time of picking it, how children roamed,
thriftily gleaning so brave and mannerly,
and nobly sharing all they found there;
there were lumps of beeswax and round-shaped bees byke,
while honey is won on the hard hill-side,
by brindled, speckled and stripy bees,
with their mournful droning of surly hum.
Plenty of ripe nuts could be obtained,
nor were they empty shells, light and scarce,
but naked clusters of thinnest husks,
battening on the pith of tender twigs;
the strath of freshets is a mass of rowan clumps
and stalky bushes, full of boughs and sprays;
with verdant saplings, shoots growing densely,
and foliage shrouding the head of the trunks.
Each surrounding region is wholly pasture—
Mam and Fionn Glen, with Tuilm hard by;
Meall Tionail next it, so shaggy, balmy—
a fitting agent to raise young stock;
the stags and hinds, in the May morning,
rise betimes on a grassy plain—
whole red herds of them on every hill slope,
round the rugged corrie whose name is Mist.