Alasdair Mac Iain Bhain
Notes by Murdo M Grant of Fortrose and LewistonMurdo was kind enough to supply the English versions of seven of Alasdair Mac Iain Bhain's songs translated by a friend of his, Iain Macleod.
SEVEN "SONGS", OR POEMS, BY THE SOLDIER BARD FROM INVERMORISTON,
ALASDAIR MAC IAIN BHAIN. c,1772-c.1804.
Translated by lain MacLeod, Culbokie, formerly Principal Teacher of Gaelic, Dingwall Academy
1. Oran Air Gleann-Na-Moireasduinn (A Song To Glenmoriston). The bard, in saying farewell, thinks of all the beautiful places, the wildlife, the pleasures there enjoyed - and the sweetheart whom he will "love till the day I die."
2. Oran an t-Saighdeir. The soldier's song in which he describes how the hardships of campaigns all over Europe have aged him prematurely since he was tricked by "the gold" and "the promises." Rather than the sounding of the pipes for action he would prefer "the lowing of a slim cow on its way to be milked in the glen." Probably his best known poem.
3. An Diugh 's Mi Fagail Na Rioghachd (Today As I Am Leaving The Country). A graphic account of a stormy crossing of the Atlantic, 1795-96. "A month after All Saints' Day sore was the scattering and loss at sea... waves came over and swept away my bed."
4. Is Cianail an Rathad 's Mi Gabhail a' Chuain (Dreary Is The Ocean Road I Am Taking). This appears to be a more detailed account of the ship in the same expedition: "For seven weeks of tempestuous weather...continually pumping water out of her hour after hour."
5. Marbhrann do Thighearna Ghlinne-Moireastuinn (An Elegy For The Laird of Glenmoriston). "My day of sharp sorrow concerning lan Og, from the castle of music and from the glen rich in grass... It is a jewel that has been taken from us." He died in September, 1801.
6. Theid Mi le m' Dheoin (I Will Go Gladly To Glenmoriston - The Land of Young John). A very moving account of how his health has failed after "A heavy piece of metal has lodged in my body. If you go into the wood you will see a tree twisted because of the way in which its own saplings have grown around it." The pain, he says, is "the messenger of death" but he still hopes to reach home and recover. We know that he expired shortly after reaching Achnaconeran. According to Alexander Macdonald, native of that part, in "Story & Song From Lochness-Side", he was "almost immediately attacked by strong colic. He lingered in agonising pain for some time, and, after great suffering, appeared to have died."
7. Oran an t-Siosalaich (A Song To The Chisholm). This takes the form of the customary tribute by the clan bard to his chief, only this is the head of another clan! The reason we are told is that, as a young man, at a mart, he was indebted to The Chisholm because of an act of kindness there.
Dr. William Mackay gave a paper on 'The Bard of Glenmoriston" to the Gaelic Society of Inverness .(Vol.10. p. 279 of that society's Transactions.) He describes him as the second son of John Grant of Achnaconeran (lain Bhan a Phluic) and refers to the account in his book, "Urquhart and Glenmoriston", p. 415. Three of the songs are also in Appendix O of that book. Dr Mackay adds that he hopes to present others, as his sources are still collecting.
For songs he is indebted to several people, especially the bard's "nephews", James Grant, Mussady, Stratherrick, and Duncan Grant, Lewiston, my gt grandfather, who was one of the early tenants of that new village. This was 1881-83, when these two would have been respectively around 66 and 80. James's son, Peter, while village constable (perhaps the first?), and residing at Achnaconeran, also had a memorial stone erected in Invermoriston Cemetery close to that time.
According to Alexander Macdonald in his "Story and Song From Lochness-Side", there are also "Alexander Grant's Airs", "exceptionally perfect specimens of Gaelic melodies" to which he set his words.
Army service in Denmark, Portugal, Spain, France and the West Indies listed by Dr Mackay is echoed in the poems: "There isn't a part of Europe....which doesn't bear the trace of my shoe on it." He appears, from the memorial inscription, to have died in Achnaconeran in 1804. The poem "I Will go Gladly to Glenmoriston", written in Spain, describes failing health in the last year owing to "A piece of metal has lodged in my body", and "The place to which I am going is a healthy one".
A desire to discover more about Alasdair's campaigns led me to Military Records in the National Record Office at Kew on three occasions in 2000. Enthusiasm of the amateur researcher!
I might have guessed that there are quite a few Alexander Grants for the likely period in muster rolls, paylists and discharges. It was also clear that records were far from complete for various reasons, including campaigns and Atlantic storms.
One possible is in W097, piece 577, 42nd Regiment (Black Watch), discharges in 1802. Age 29 is fine, and period of service. The reason for discharge "wound received in the breech while acting as a marine in the action of 23rd June, 1795" matches exactly the wound described in his poem. But that date seems rather early in his service. Trade "taylor" is possible; but he appears to have been born in "Kinusick". No doubt professional research could produce a more accurate result.
Murdo M Grant, March, 2018
SONGS BY ALASDAIR MAC IAIN BHAIN, THE BARD OF GLENMORISTON.
(By William MacKay author of Urquhart and Glenmoriston, From Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness Vol 10)
We will conclude the literary part of the present volume of Transactions with the following paper by Mr William Mackay, solicitor, Inverness (Hon. Secy. of the Society), on the songs of Alasdair Mac Iain Bhain:-
Alexander Grant, the author of the following songs, was the second son of John Grant (better known as Iain Ban na Pluic), Achnagoneran, Glenmoriston, and was born about the year 1772. He early joined the army; and as we gather from his "soldier's song", and other productions, he saw service in Denmark, Portugal, Spain, France, and the West Indies. During his wanderings he was solaced and cheered by the fellowship of the Highland muse; and the songs which have come down to us possess great merit, containing vivid glimpses of the life of the British soldier during the great events which followed the French revolution, and breathing burning affection to the scenes and companions of his happy childhood and youth. Of his native Glenmoriston, and the joy of revisiting it, he sang and dreamed for years; but, alas! his dreams and hopes were not to be realised. The long longed-for furlough came, and the happy soldier travelled northwards; but at Seann-Talamh, above Drumnadrochit, and within a few hours' journey of his father's house, he was suddenly taken ill, and, unable to proceed further, he sought shelter under the hospitable roof of "Bean a' Ghriasaiche Ghallda", and there expired. It is said that he was buried in the first instance in Kilmore, Glen-Urquhart, and that while a young woman, whose heart he had won and retained, lay on his grave weeping, she imagined she heard moans from beneath her. On her reporting this, the grave was opened by the bard's friends, and it was found that the body had turned in the coffin, and was lying face downwards! It was removed to Glenmoriston, and the church-yard of Invermoriston now holds the dust of Alexander Grant.
The first song which I shall give is Oran an t-Siosalaich, and I may be permitted to mention the circumstances under which it was composed. Towards the end of last century, young Grant, a handsome fellow, in the Highland dress, crossed from Glenmoriston to Strathglass with the object of buying a cow for his father at a sale on The Chisholm's estate. He purchased the cow, but when reckoning time came he was unable to pay down the price, and the auctioneer, unwilling to give him credit, was about to re-expose the "beast", when The Chisholm (William), observing the young Highlander's troubled face, enquired when he would be able to pay. On a day being named, the Chief became his security, and sent him home rejoicing. On the appointed day, Grant appeared at Erchless Castle, and handed The Chisholm the price of the cow; and a cheering glass having been offered him, he accepted it, and proposed his benefactor's health, and gave expression to his own gratitude, in the spirited words of The Chisholm's song. Delighted with the splendid tribute thus paid to him by the young bard, The Chisholm returned the money, and made him a present of the cow; but the Chief's lady - a proud daughter of Glengarry - although complimented in the song with exquisite delicacy, did not conceal her displeasure that the compliment was paid in the last verse!
It is right that I should acknowledge that for the following songs, and for the few facts which I have mentioned, I am indebted to the Bard's nephews, Mr James Grant, Mussady, Stratherrick, and Mr Duncan Grant, Lewistown, Glen-Urquhart; to the late Mr Alexander Macdougall, Bullburn, Glen-Urquhart, and his brother, Mr Donald Macdougall, now residing at Lewistown; to Mr Grigor Scott, a native of Glen-Urquhart, from whom, notwithstanding his absence in England for a quarter of a century, I have received the most perfect version of Oran an t-Siosalaich; to Mrs Angus Macdonald, Achnagoneran, and her son Mr Alexander Macdonald, of the Highland Railway, Inverness, both of whom have gone to great trouble on my account; and last, but not least, to my own father and mother. Other songs by Grant are being collected for me, and these I hope to give on a future occasion.