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Border Disputes:

Gaelic Cultural Identity and Interaction
in the Lennox and Menteith

Michael Newton

Independent Scholar, U.S.A.

The Lennox

The Lennox and Menteith are ancient earldoms of Scotland which are hardly known to many by name in the present day, let alone their significance understood in terms of Gaelic culture. Few people even realise now that Gaelic was spoken in these areas, in locations such as Loch Lomond-side, Callander, Brig o' Turk, Arrochar, and Aberfoyle, less than fifty years ago.

I have recently completed a compilation of Scottish Gaelic materials belonging to these areas which shed new light on the traditions which survived here until recent times.[1] As these areas are on the southern periphery of the Gàidhealtachd (Gaelic-culture region), they have been interacting with the Lowlands for centuries, and cultural exchange in both directions is sometimes apparent.

The surviving Gaelic literature of these southern extremities, however, conforms to mainstream Gaelic cultural norms and conventions. It emphasises solidarity with wider Gaeldom and stresses distinctions from Lowland adversaries, as a number of examples will demonstrate.

The earliest surviving Gaelic literature which is known to be associated with these areas comes from the renowned Muireadhach Albanach Ó Dálaigh, who fled from Ireland and established himself in the Lennox. The poem Saor do leannán, A Leamhain by him to the first Lennox earl on record, Alún, seems to have been composed about the year 1200,[2] before Muireadhach came to reside permanently in Scotland. It is one of the early examples of the dán díreach poetic tradition which characterises high-register Gaelic eulogy from this time onward to the seventeenth century. The early appearance of this poem in Scotland helps to strengthen Katherine Simm's suggestion that the widespread acceptance of this literary standard was due to the influence of the members of the Ó Dálaigh family operating in both Scotland and Ireland.[3]

There are a number of very interesting facets to this poem. It is the only example of learned Dinnshenchas (place name lore) which I know of in a Scottish context. It derives the name of the river Leamhan (modern Scots: Leven) from the name of the grand-daughter of a King of Scotland. She is said in this poem to be the 'talk of Tara', obviously earning the approval even of the capital of the Gaelic homeland. This royal woman, according to the poem, bore a child named Maine, who was the progenitor of the earls of Lennox.[4] Her mate was the famous Corc of Cashel, gone venturing into Scottish territory. Royal Gaelic descent on both sides, then, is claimed by Muireadhach Albanach for the earls of Lennox.

Beyond this human, genealogical aspect, the river Leven emanates from the royal seat of the Lennox at Bealach (modern Scots: Balloch). The poem begins by declaiming Alún to be a noble mate for the river Leven, thus invoking the ancient ritual of the symbolic marriage of a ruler to his land. This union is doubly strengthened by the claim that the river was named after his ancestress.

There must have existed considerable tension at this time between the older Lennox stock and the settlers newly arrived in the area who spoke a form of Northern Old English, some of them established around the burgh of Renfrew. The poem waxes nostalgically about the good old days, before the Goill ventured upon the borders of the Lennox. I take Goill in the poem to mean the settlers who came in with feudalism, rather than the Norsemen, for there is an implication of long-standing hostility still unresolved in these lines. Olaf of Dublin had laid siege to the fortress of Dumbarton in 870,[5] and recent archaeological research suggests that there may have been a lingering Norse presence in the area. It is doubtful, however, that this would have been of significant social relevance by the time that Muireadhach wrote this poetry.

Muireadhach Albanach wrote the later poem Mairg thréigios inn, a Amhlaoíbh to Amhlaoíbh of the Lennox, the grandson of the first earl called Alún.[6] This poem is a reminder to Amhlaoíbh of what a professional poet is due: a mixture of disapproval, demand, and praise. The poem may belong to a genre of satire called tréfhocal, in which one part threat is counterbalanced by two parts of praise. The procedure was for the poet to fire off the tréfhocal as a warning before entering into the realms of truly damaging satire.[7]

In this poem, Muireadhach once again recounts the noble Munster ancestry of the Lennox earls, illustrious ancestors such as Corc and Ailill, and the place-names Tara and Cashel. Amhlaoíbh is no doubt meant to be shamed into good behaviour by recalling the honourable deeds of his predecessors.

For all of this Hibernocentric praise, however, Alún and Amhlaoíbh bear surprisingly un-Gaelic names. They are likely to have origins in the North of England, perhaps having themselves been part of the feudal settlement arranged by King David I. It is telling that Muireadhach, in his first poem, alternates between names Alún and Ailin, perhaps providing the Earl with a Gaelic form for his name.

There are, however, some interesting place names around the royal seat of Balloch which seem to confirm the claims of Muireadhach's poem. The modern Carmen may be derived from an older form Cathair Maine.[8] In Balloch itself there is also Tullichewan, which W. J. Watson derived from Tuloch Eoghain,[9] pointing to connections with the Munster Eoghanacht. Even more interesting is the site called Caiseal (modern Scots: Cashel), which points to an earlier borrowing than the form caisteal normally found in Scotland, and the same form as found in Munster.

At face value, these place names seem to give credence to Muireadhach Albanach's Munster origin of the Lennox earls. While the tale of Corc of Cashel's adventure in Scotland is known elsewhere in Irish literature,[10] this poem is the earliest reference which claims a specific location for it. Dr. Thomas Clancy has suggested to me, however, that at least some of these place names might have been written onto the landscape in order to reinforce the claims of the poem, and, therefore, the royal Munster ancestry of the earls.

The traditions of Mo Cheasag, the patron saint of the Lennox, strengthen the claim of Munster associations. Tragically, little remains of what must have been a thriving medieval cult of saints in Scotland, but one important record which survives is the Aberdeen Breviary. It was an attempt to compile a national Scottish liturgy by Bishop William Elphinstone of Aberdeen and was printed in 1510.[11] Amongst the traditions and feast-days for seventy Scottish saints is that of Mo Cheasag (in Lallans, St. Kessog). According to the brief anecdote there recorded, Ceasag was of the royal family of Cashel in Ireland and, under duress, miraculously revived a group of boys after they had been drowned. There does not seem to be any information about how the saint came to be associated with the Lennox, but holy sites bear his name in Comrie, Callander, Glenfinglas, Killearn, and elsewhere.[12]

Hoping to ride on the royal coat-tails of their Earl of Lennox ancestors, the poetry of the MacFarlanes, who were based at the north end of Loch Lomond, frequently asserts their descent from kings. Although the remaining evidence does not specifically mention ethnic or national origins, such traditions must have been widely known and not needed repeating.

Clan Map of the Lennox

Be that as it may, these are not the only kin-groups in the Lennox to claim Irish origins. The Buchanans, and MacAuslens, (among others) claim descent from one Abhsolon Ó Cathain, who, according to tradition, fled from the continued harassment of Vikings in South Ulster to seek safe haven in the Lennox around the year 1016. The Earl of Lennox gave him a noble office and one branch of his descendants took the place name Both Chanain ('the Canon's Residence') for themselves.[13]

Although the traditions of both of these lineages are currently unproven one way or the other, they at the least testify to a strong impulse during the Middle Ages by Lennox families to maintain Irish origins.

During the course of the centuries, Lallans language and culture slowly encroached upon the southern and eastern edges of the Lennox and Menteith, although the cultural divide seems to have stabilised close to the geographical Highland line somewhere around the 15th century. Interestingly, some areas of the cultural Gàidhealtachd, such as the Lake of Menteith, Callander, Luss, and Glen Fruin, may be described as more Lowland than Highland in geographic terms. This cultural-linguistic border seems to have remained reasonably solid until after the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden in 1746. It seems fairly clear, however, that incomers settling into the Gaelic side of the divide before the eighteenth century did go native, however, and considered themselves to be Gaels.

Most of the rest of the evidence to be discussed is in the form of oral literature, prose and poetry, in vernacular Scottish Gaelic often not committed to writing until at least the eighteenth century. While the provenance of this evidence is sometimes betrayed by linguistic markers indicative of the area - clipping final syllables, variants using forms such as gar am bheil instead of the more common ged nach eil, and so on - the poetic conventions of these materials are remarkably consistent with that of the rest of the Gàidhealtachd. Although this is, after all, what we have come to expect from the analysis of the pervasive rhetoric of panegyric elsewhere in the Gaelic world,[14] it is reassuring to see that it still holds true in large measure despite how late and how far south many of these items are.

The desire to make connections with the dominant kin-groups further north in the Gàidhealtachd continued strongly in the testimony of Gaelic oral narrative, particularly with the stalwarts of the conservative Gaelic world, Clan Donald. Perhaps there were historical reasons for this conceit, for the MacDonald poet Iain Dubh mac Iain mhic Ailein says in his rallying song to the Highland clans (composed c. 1715):

...Clann Phàrlain
Dream àrdanach dhian:
'S ann a b' àbhaist dh'ur n-àireamh
Bhith 'm fàbhar Shìol Chuinn.

The MacFarlane clan,
A keen and proud people:
Your folk were once held
In favour with the descendants of Conn (i.e., Clan Donald).

There are numerous traditions about the magical skills of MacFarlane chieftain Andrew the Wizard. He was supposed to have learned the Sgoil Dubh ('wizardry') when he was in Rome in the company of his good friend, Alasdair nan Cleas, chieftain of the MacDonalds of Keppoch. That the MacFarlane and MacDonald chieftains were so closely associated in tradition, and had closely related variants of tales told about each other, demonstrates the degree to which Loch Lomond chieftains participated in the larger Gaelic world.

Judging from remaining written evidence, one of the most active poets of the Callander area in the late eighteenth century was Margaret Cameron, originally a native of Glen Orchy. She wrote a song in vernacular Scottish Gaelic praising shinty players in the Braes of Leny (near Callander), the sort of light-hearted ditty bordering on the mock heroic which would have been sung at local gatherings among members of the community about their antics. The names of two local men mentioned in the song, Iain Breac MacDhomhnaill and Domhnall Gorm, are well known in MacDonald history, and perhaps are merely nick-names invoking these legendary figures. Soon the poetess more explicitly states this clan allusion:

Ach togt' orra àrdan Chloinn Dòmhnaill
Is bheireadh iad stròic às gach mala . . .[16]

But let the pride of Clan Donald be awoken in them
And they will rip shreds from every brow . . .

One of the last Gaelic poets in Luss was John Walker, a man who is said to have helped with the Gaelic translation of the New Testament. A wedding song by him for the Reverend John Stuart of Luss when he married in 1792 is full of advice about how to treat a wife, adding that he himself will be keeping an eye on matters. Walker reminds the reverend that his wife is of the stock of the Macintyres, and that he must treat her with respect accordingly. After briefly summarising the origin legend of the Macintyres, who are claimed to be a branch of the MacDonalds, the poet meekly adds:

'S iomadh fear dhiubh siud rinn mòr-bheairt
Nuair bha 'n còir 'ga toirt a dh'aindheoin,
'S gar am bheil annamsa ach lòpan
'S ann den t-seòrsa ud bha mo sheanair.

Many of those men did great deeds
When their rights were unjustly usurped,
And although I am only a mean labourer
My grandfather was one of that stock.

The Lowland perception of Highland neighbours is well known, having filtered down to us through English-language media in novels and films: Highlanders were supposed to have been lawless, thieving, primitive, superstitious, antagonistic to and jealous of their Lowland neighbours, and so on.

It must be said that such beliefs are not present in Gaelic-language sources, with two exceptions. There are indications in Gaelic tradition which assert the primacy of the Gaels in Scotland, and therefore their right to the land, and the wealth of the land, over the later Lowlanders.[18]

Most of the Gaelic tales and traditions of the Lennox and Menteith, however, involving the lifting of cattle implicate Highland targets, not Lowland enemies. It should also be recognised that, in this Gaelic lore, the men of the Lennox were most often protecting their stock from the incursions of more northerly raiders, particularly the men of Atholl. The MacFarlane pìobaireachd song, Togail nam Bò ('Raiding the Cattle'), incidentally, said to be sung by them when going out lifting cattle, indicates them going through Gleann Crò, and thus to the North-west, further into the Highlands and probably into Campbell territory.[19]

Furthermore, traditions emphasise the strategic location of the territory of the MacFarlanes as a gateway between Highlands and Lowlands, and the role of the MacFarlanes in protecting southern territories against such depredations. Granted, such sources openly acknowledge that the màil-dubh ('black-mail') was a protection racket, but this is portrayed as a beneficent service rather than a sinister threat in Highland tradition.

Besides this exception, ministers began trying to reform the manners of Highlanders according to the norms of the Lowlands, and such innovations begin appearing in Gaelic sources in the seventeenth century. The Revd. Alasdair MacPhàrlain wrote a sermon in verse in the mid-eighteenth century in his zeal to reform the MacFarlanes of Arrochar which explicitly names cattle-lifting as theft, punishable by death in this life and everlasting damnation in the next:

...'S mealltach faoin an nì do ghadaich'
Dùil bhith aig' ri buidhinn creich;
'S crìoch gu tric do 'theagar salach
Gad mu 'mhuineal ris a' chroich.

Co-dhiubh 's crìoch dà, 'chroich no tinneas,
Bàs le h-arm no ànradh cuain,
Tilgear 'anam a dh'ionnsaigh 'n Donais
'S leis mar chòir luchd braid is cluain . . .

It is a foolish thing for a thief
To place his hopes in reiving parties
His dirty earnings often come to an end
By having a noose around his neck on the gallows.

Whatever end he might meet, the gallows or sickness,
Death in combat, or loss at sea,
His soul will be thrown to the Devil
As is proper for thieves and deceivers . . .

The verses suggest that the religious 'take-over' of the activities of the Gaelic poet were in motion here as they were elsewhere in the Gàidhealtachd at this period. An indication of Revd. MacPhàrlain's success in moral reform is attested by his successor, the Revd. John Gillspie, who wrote the following in the entry for Luss in the Old Statistical Account for Scotland:

The settlement of some graziers here, from the low country, contributed likewise to produce those happy effects. They were at first considered by the natives as aliens, and invaders of property, to which they had no natural right, being neither lineal descendants, nor collateral branches of the MacFarlane race. Such was their antipathy to their new neighbours, that they made several abortive attempts to extirpate them. This, however, gradually subsided, and they lived together afterwards in habits of friendship.[21]

There is a poem credited to the tacksman of Inversnaid, Rob MacPhàdruig, well known as having the "second sight", which seems to deal with this transitional period. Although the poem has only been preserved in English translation, it nonetheless appears to originate in an authentic Gaelic source which laments the downfall of the MacFarlanes and holds out hope that the natives would one day reclaim their rightful place. The prophetic theme of return is common in many Highland poems of dispossession, attempting to encourage the hearts of the downtrodden:

. . . The pride of Clan Farlane o'erclouded and gone
And the land of our fathers no longer our own
The hamlet in ruins, all rusted the sword
The sheep-boy our master, the stranger our lord!
In the towers where their revels the heroes have led
Undisturb'd do the osprey and owl make their bed
And the halls where our Chieftains in greatness have trode
My soul! How demeaned to the Southron's abode! . . .
While our sons all unmann'd and mindful of worth
To the Saxon resign half the boast of their birth
Then breaks the proud spirit, oft bended before
As the cup of misfortune in fullness flows o'er.
Yet the time shall arrive when triumphant in joy
The banner shall gleam on the proud Lochan Sloy
And the sons of the South, in disgrace and dismay
Shall speed to the mountains of Moffat away![22]

The later effusions of Sir Walter Scott and others in the English language have obscured and overshadowed Gaeldom's own literature and self-image. This early Scottish Gaelic literature is a very important cultural resource which can be read in order to analyse the Gaels' perceptions of themselves and their Lowland neighbours. Summarising the views of Gaelic tradition as a whole, Dr John MacInnes states:

The Gaelic warrior wears the distinctive tartan plaid; the Lowlander wears hodden grey breeches, black cloak and hat. The Gael drinks wine and fights with sword or bow-and-arrow; the Lowlander uses a gun. The Gael eats venison, beef and pork; the Lowlander subsists on kail.[23]

It is surprising how clearly these stereotypes appear, and how well they survive, in the literature of the Lennox and Menteith. In a legend about a sixteenth-century conflict which happened close to the Lake of Menteith between the Grahams of Menteith and the Stewarts of Appin, a Graham taunts a Stewart with the insult:

A Stiubhartaich dhuibh na h-Apainn
A cheàrdaich ghlais air a chàl![24]

O you dark Stewart of Appin,
O you pale, kale-eating tinker!

Besides the implications of kail, the colour glas ('pale') is employed frequently to insult the Lowlanders in Gaelic literature.

The enemies of the MacGregors are snubbed in an anonymous poem commemorating the Battle of Glen Fruin in 1603 by using these stereotypes. The poem, written in the strophic metre, a metre most closely associated with clan panegyric, flashes quick images of the battle in powerful yet restrained language:

Nuair a dhìrich sibh 'm bruthach
'S a ghlaodh sibh 'Bad Giuthais!'
Bha luchd nan ad dubha fo leòn.

Bha mi 'n làthair an latha
'N robh do bhràithrean is d' athair
Far an d' fhàg sibh 'nan laighe luchd chleòc.

When you climbed the bank
And you cried out 'Pine clump'
The folk of black hats were dealt blows.

I was present at the battle
At which were your brothers and father
Where you felled the cloaked people.

Another song also in the strophic metre is attributed to a fugitive MacGregor, probably after the defeat of Culloden. It paints even more satirical pictures of the Lowlanders, whom he avoids as he wanders the hills north of Arrochar:

Luchd nam falluingean dearga,
Chan iad an comann as fhearr leam
'S chan eil mi an geall air luchd chleòc.

Luchd nan adaichean dubha
'S nam piorbhuicean buidhe:
Chan iadsan mo bhuidheann nas mò.

The people of the red mantles,
They are not the company I favour
And I am not fond of the folk who wear cloaks.

The people of the black hats
And of the yellow wigs:
They are not my people either.

The change of habit is a common cause of complaint in songs after the post-Culloden Act of Proscription, and in songs of the Clearances, when people were forced to leave their homes in the Highlands and to adapt to foreign ways in strange lands. The title of one of the songs in a manuscript written by the hand of the Revd. Stuart of Luss is Òran na Bantraich ('The Widow's Song'). It is in the voice of a female emigrant who expresses her sadness at leaving the green Highland straths and the injury to pride when her husband was forced to wear Lowland clothing.

Mo rùn a chleachd bhith 'n èideadh Ghàidh'l,
Bidh e 'm biorraid as grannda lì;
A thriubhas cainb' a' leum mu 'mhàs,
'S a lèine 's nàr le 'thaobh.

My darling, who used to wear the Highland garb
Now wears a hat of hideous hue;
Canvas trousers wobble about his rear
And his shirt is an embarrassment to his body

I believe it is possible to see in the oral literature of this area an awareness of the cultural forces emanating from the Lowlands which threatened the independent existence of the Highland way of life. The most amusing of these is a parable of two bulls, a tale which bears more than a passing resemblance to the climax of the Táin Bó Cuailgne. This story may have been modelled on the ancient Ulster tale since tales of Cú Chulainn, among other items of the traditional repertoire, were known in the area. The story claimed latterly to explain the origin of a mammoth rock on Loch Lomond-side.

In this tale, a red bull comes from England in order to put the Highlands to shame, but is met by an unassuming black Highland bull. The English bull questions the Highland bull's worth by emphasising his own noble origins and revealing the poverty of the Highlands, but the Highland bull emerges victorious from the fray. The tale reveals an awareness of the disparity of wealth between the two nations, but suggests, nonetheless, Gaelic self-confidence.[28]

The item which informs us the most about this antagonism, however, is the account of the Battle of Glen Fruin, fought in 1603, the same year in which King James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne. This anecdote, or series of anecdotes, was known throughout the Gàidhealtachd, as is evidenced by its being printed in a tract in Sutherland within living memory of the event, and its being included in the MSS of tales and traditions written by John Morris (1787-1834), the seanchaidh of Lewis. References to the event recur in Gaelic poetry, particularly in regards to hopes of a Jacobite victory. Its popularity must, at least in part, be due to its being emblematic of the problems which the English-speaking world imposed upon the Highlands.

I will be drawing upon a mid-nineteenth century account collected by John Dewar in this summary, although it does not differ from numerous others over a wide time period.[29] Two MacGregor boys were seeking shelter one night when returning from an honest attempt to make money in Dumbarton. Being prevented from returning by bad weather and being unacquainted with the road, they sought and offered to pay for food and lodgings all around the south-end of Loch Lomond - the mostly non-Gaelic area - but were refused for the simple reason that they were MacGregors. This was despite the fact that they did not belong to the same branch of MacGregors which caused this part of the world so many problems. Thus the tale begins with a breach of the cardinal law of Gaeldom, that of hospitality.

When the boys are refused such a reasonable request, they see little option but to break into a goat shelter and to poach and roast a sheep. Being held suspicious by the locals and under close scrutiny, they were apprehended early in the morning and sentenced to death for their crime in a less than fair trial. When actually hanged on the gallows under the supervision of Colquhoun of Luss, the ropes broke and the boys fell to the ground. They were not left to go free, however, as custom dictated, but were forced to be hanged again on refitted nooses.

It would appear, then, that these MacGregor boys are simply acting according to their own cultural norms, and are the victims not only of circumstance but of differing standards of conduct.

The chieftain of the MacGregors in Glenstrae, who knew the boys well, becomes enraged when he hears of their execution, and arranges to meet with Colquhoun of Luss to bargain for some peaceful settlement. They agree to meet with one hundred men each at the head of Glen Fruin, just to the west of Loch Lomond. Colquhoun, however, is deceitful, and plans an ambush on the MacGregors, swelling his ranks with Lowlanders eager to eradicate the Highland renegades. Despite his treacherous intentions, the MacGregors, against all the odds, manage to overcome the superior numbers and to emerge victorious.

But their victory is fleeting and bitter in the end, for in the course of the battle, a number of on-looking Lowland students were killed by one of the warriors in the forces of the MacGregors. It is very telling, however, that he is very explicitly stated as not being a MacGregor, or even from this part of the Highlands. He is said, in Dewar's account, to have been outlawed from his native Glencoe.

The Dumbartonshire women, after coming to search for and bury their dead, engage in subterfuge in order to infuriate the distant King James into extirpating the MacGregors. They come before him bearing bloody shirts, and in some accounts these shirts were not taken from the battlefield at all but fabricated by them to incriminate the MacGregors. The king subsequently initiated a brutal campaign of extinguishing the identity and existence of this clan.

The sinister reputation of the Campbells in Gaelic lore is due to their frequent role as agents for the central UK government, and therefore their allegiance to forces antithetical to traditional Gaelic life.[30] Some of the earliest surviving vernacular Scottish Gaelic poetry deals with the persecutions of the MacGregors at the hands of the Campbells, who were formerly their superiors and allies.

There is an anonymous song to Gregor Glùndubh of Glengyle (just to the east of the top end of Loch Lomond), praising him for his rescue of a MacGregor soldier captured in the aftermath of Culloden as the soldiers were returning south. In this song, again employing the forceful blows of the strophic metre, the Clan Gregor are urged to be patient for justice to return to them despite such conflicts:

Bidh luchd nam beul cama
Is na h-eòin air an sgamhan -
Thèid an àlach le'n ceannas gu crìoch.

Ged tha Caimbeulaich breugach
Ri Sìol Ailpin 's an eucoir
Chan urrainn iad gèill thoirt orra 'chaoidh.

The folk of the twisted mouths (i.e., Campbells)
Will have birds (feeding) on their necks -
That brood and their leadership will come to an end

Although the Campbells are deceitful
To the Sìol Ailpin[32] in injustice
They must never submit to them.

A final poem to consider was written by the Luss poet John Walker. It is written in the well-known convention of Oisean as dèidh na Fèinne, a man lamenting his lonely condition after he has outlived his peers, and published in his 1817 book of poetry. It is significant, I think, that he speaks of the passing of the ùruisgs, which were supernatural beings especially given to watery locations, for these seem to symbolise native tradition. Each district was said to have resident ùruisgs who met at tribal gatherings. Such beings, says the poet, are now no more:

'S bha uair a chluinnte ùruisgean
Ri bùirich 's an Eas-chrom.

Gun fhasgadh no gun fhàrdach aca
Ach sgàirneach no bun craoibh;
Iad fhèin is a' bhean is na pàistean aca
'S iad lom-rùisgte ris a' ghaoith.

There was a time when ùruisgs were heard
Bellowing in Eas-chrom (the winding waterfall).

Without any shelter or protection
But a pile of rocks or a tree trunk;
They, the wife and their children
Were totally exposed to the wind.

Although Gaelic tradition was rapidly declining, tradition-bearers continued to recount legends and folktales actively until at least the 1860s. John Dewar was a scribe who was employed by John Francis Campbell to collect folktales for his Popular Tales of the West Highlands, and later by the Duke of Argyll to collect clan sagas and historical legends. In a letter to John Francis Campbell, published by him in the Introduction to these famous volumes, Dewar describes Loch Lomond-side in his youth:

I remember, upwards of fifty years ago [c. 1810], when I was a boy, my father lived in the farest north house, in the valley called Glen na Callanach. I also used to be with my grandfather; he lived near Terbert [sic], Loch Lomond-side. I remember, in the winter nights, when a few old people would be together, they would pass the time with telling each other stories, which they had by tradition . . .[34]

When Dewar returned to Arrochar in 1860 to collect tales, he remarks in a letter to John Francis Campbell that he was able to collect more tales than he expected.[35]

Although we must recognise that the surviving textual remains of Gaelic-speaking Lennox and Menteith are only a tiny fragment of what must have once been a huge and complex literary activity (written and oral in nature), they are clearly representative of Gaelic literature as evidenced throughout Scotland. Situated, as they were, on the boundary between Gaelic- and Lallans-speaking cultures, it is no surprise that the makers of this literature look often toward the 'centre' for cultural icons of authenticity (e.g., Ireland) and authority (e.g., Clan Donald). By the seventeenth century, these materials display a preoccupation with the growing hostility of the Germanic-speaking world. Rather than being a remote 'backwater' of Gaeldom, however, artistic and cultural innovations - the utilisation of dán díreach, the composition of songs in the pìobaireachd style, the passing of the poetic mantle from filidh to minister, and so on - can be seen here as early as in any other region of Scotland.


[1] Michael Newton 1999.

[2] The date is suggested in Thomas Clancy 1998, p. 258, where the most recent English translation of the poem can be found. The poem was originally edited in Lambert McKenna 1939 (vol. 1), pp. 173-4 and 1940 (vol. 2), pp. 102-3.

[3] Katherine Simms 1998, p. 243.

[4] These rulers are called 'earls' in English, but the term mórmaer was often used to refer to them in Gaelic sources, and this poetry uses the term Rígh.

[5] Alfred P. Smyth 1984, p. 158.

[6] The poem was originally edited in Brian Ó Cuiv 1968, and recently translated into English in Thomas Clancy 1998, pp. 260-2.

[7] This was discussed in a CSANA 1998 Lecture by Dr Liam Breathnach. The text which explains this procedure is Corpus Iuris ibernici 2226.31.

[8] I. M. M. MacPhail 1987, p. 7.

[9] W. J. Watson 1926, p. 221.

[10] Myles Dillon 1946, pp. 34-7.

[11] Michael Lynch 1992, p. 96.

[12] Michael Newton 1999, pp. 36-9.

[13] ibid., pp. 142-3.

[14] John MacInnes 1978 is the primary source for discussion of these Gaelic panegyric conventions.

[15] Colm Ó Baoill 1994, lines 289-92.

[16] Michael Newton 1999, pp. 232-3.

[17] ibid., pp. 118-9.

[18] John MacInnes 1989, pp. 93-4.

[19] Michael Newton 1999, pp. 162-3.

[20] ibid., pp. 260-1.

[21] Sinclair, John, (ed), 1791-9, The Statistical Account Of Scotland.

[22] James MacGregor 1824, p. 62.

[23] John MacInnes 1989, p. 94.

[24] Michael Newton 1999, pp. 160-1.

[25] ibid., pp. 212-3.

[26] ibid., pp. 244-5.

[27] ibid., pp. 258-9.

[28] ibid., pp. 86-9.

[29] This account is in Michael Newton 1999, pp. 190-211. Other accounts can be found in Michael Newton 2000 and Amelia Georgiana Murray MacGregor 1898, Chapter XXIII.

[30] John MacInnes 1981, pp. 148-9.

[31] Michael Newton 1999, pp. 238-9.

[32] Michael Newton 1999, pp. 274-7.

[33] J. F. Campbell, 1860, Popular Tales of the West Highlands.

[34] The Sìol Ailpein is, according to tradition, an ancient kin-group which included the MacGregors, the Grants, and others.

[35] NLS MS. 50.1.14, p. 436.


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