Mairidh Gaol is Ceol
(Love and Music are eternal)
ONE hundred years ago this week, the Battle of the Somme was in its horrific early stages. The beginning of The Great War launched the world into an unprecedented eruption of brutality and savage violence on a scale that leaves shock waves to this day.
The Battle of the Somme epitomised the horror of trench warfare and the long drawn out months of hell that was in cruel contrast to the swift glorious adventure to victory that so many of the men had been promised and believed they were embarking on in 1914.
Last weekend, as many countries paid respect and tribute to the fallen, the vast amount of deeply beautiful and poignant music and poetry generated by this momentous human tragedy came to mind.
The works of Wilfred Owen, Siegried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg and many others are known to the world and portray, from the perspective of those who were there, the futile slaughter and despair of the Somme. From the Highlands and Islands, too, were many musicians and bards who composed tunes and songs that are performed and recorded widely to this day.
These works of artistic beauty from the depths and squalor of the trenches give a lasting memorial to the brave men who sacrificed their lives for what they believed was a noble cause.
As musicians, we play many of the tunes composed from this time and it is easy to forget their origins. It is fitting to reflect on what these composers went through, as illustrated in the short Poem below composed by my mother, Flora MacPhail.
The lines reference three well known pipe tunes – The Battle of the Somme, ( by Willie Lawrie of Ballachullish), The Ruins of Arras and The Taking of Beaumont Hamel ( Both by John MacLellan of Dunoon), and the famous song An Eala Bhàn The White Swan ( By Donald MacDonald of North Uist – Dòmhnall Ruadh Chorùna).
It is not in the remit of this column to comment on the flaws of humanity that lead to such tragically repeating chapters in our history, or on the political and military follies that were so apparent before and during The Great War. The men who died did so bravely, selflessly and with honour. For that, we will continue to honour them and we will remember them.
The poets and musicians of the First World War are long passed away but in their music and words, they live on.