Morvern at the Mòd
FOR CENTURIES Morvern has been well-known for its Gaelic bards and fine singers.
It was good, therefore, to find so many people from the parish qualifying for this year’s Royal National Mòd and carrying home prizes. Heartiest congratulations go to: Hector MacKechnie, Hamish Kennedy, Layla MacIntyre, Tilly and Verity Lawrence; Rachel Bolton; the Lochaline children of Mull Mod Club and Morvern’s Burach Choir.
Hector MacKechnie from Savary, who won this year’s highly coveted An Comunn Gàidhealach’s Gold Medal, is a descendent of Donald MacKechnie (18361908), a well-known Jura bard and singer. Donald was part of a distinguished circle of Celtic scholars which included Professor Donald Mackinnon, first holder of the Chair of Celtic, the University of Edinburgh; Alexander Carmichael, folklorist, antiquarian and editor of Carmina Gadelica and Dr Alexander Nicolson from Skye who was a Gaelic scholar, sheriff-substitute of Kirkcudbright and Greenock, and a pioneer of mountain climbing in Scotland.
Donald MacKechnie, or ‘Domhnall MacEacharn’ as he was known on his native isle, was a frequent prize winner at Mòds at the turn of the 20th century. He composed An Sruthan, Am Bothan Beag and Bean a’
Chotain Ruaidh but only a few pieces of them are remembered. One of his best is Am Fiadh – The Deer. He also translated parts of the Rubaiyat – a selection of poems originally written in ancient Persian. Hector’s many friends in Morvern hope it won’t be long before he produces a CD.
The Morvern contingent were fortunate in having Riona Whyte and her son Alasdair from Salen, Mull, as tutors. Both are National Mòd gold medallists (Stornoway 2001) and (Dunoon 2006). The shining accolades don’t stop there. Riona’s mother, Creina Jackson (nee MacGregor), took gold for her solo singing at the Strontian and Oban Provincial Mòds in 1951. Now and again, Creina can still be cajoled into participating in local ceilidhs or leading the songs of praise at Kiel Church. Riona’s late father, Alastair Jackson, and his family came from Glen Cannel on Mull and Ledgrianach, Appin, before moving to Morvern where Alistair took Fiunary Farm next door to the manse – home of the most famous family of ministers in Scotland. A FEW weeks ago, in celebration of National Poetry Day, I gave a selection of some of my favourite local and national verse.
Judging by the volume of emails I received they were obviously popular. Here are a few more: The Human Race I wish I loved the human race; I wish I loved its silly face; I wish I liked the way it walks; I wish I liked the way it talks; and when I’m introduced to one, I wish I thought what jolly fun. (Sir Walter Alexander Raleigh 1861-1922). Northward Bound (on the deerstalker’s express) Does your heart still beat with the old excitement as you wait where the Scotch expresses are? Does it answer still to the old indictment of a fond delight in the sleeping- car, as it did when the rush through the autumn night meant The Gate of Desire ajar? Oh! the years, the years, they be rusty and mothy; Oh! the flesh it is weak, that once was strong; but the brown burn under the stone falls frothy and the music it makes is a siren song; then the pony’ll take you as far as the bothy, and that’ll help you along. (Alfred Cochrane, English cricketer, no date). The Distiller’s Grace Oh Gentle Jesus so divine, who turneth water into wine; please forgive us mortal men, who merely turn it back again. (Anon) An t’eilean Muileach - The Isle of Mull But gone are now all these joys forever, like bubbles bursting on yonder river. (Dugald Macphail 18191887). The Burn You keep me company, hospitable stream, caressing the moorland shoulder, or flickering from boulder to boulder, gambling goat-footed out of half-light into gleam: you keep me company, humming a tune like pan-pipes heard in a dream, and how many centuries older? I keep you company sing the pipes of dream: what matter if blood run colder, if man like a leaf must moulder? Spirit of love will abide, and sadness only seem. I keep you company, lover immortal, love ever young as a stream, and how many centuries older? ( Written at Ardtornish, Sept 1930, Anon). Ben Dorain How finely swept the noble deer across the morning hill, while fearlessly played the fawn and doe beside the running rill; I heard the black and red grouse crow and the belling of the deer. I think those are the sweetest sounds that man at dawn may hear. (Duncan Ban MacIntyre, 1724-1812; translated from the Gaelic by Robert Buchanan). A welcome to Strontian On Highland knoll by fairy footsteps prest, Strontian’s portal greets the welcome guest. ( Words above the doorway of Horsey Hall Hotel, Strontian, destroyed by fire in 1999. Anon). The Start (of a hill walk) Then he said, “In yonder forest there’s a little silver stream and whosoever drinks of it his youth shall never die”. (Alfred Noyes 1880-1958).
Horsley Hall Hotel, Strontian.