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Rannsachadh digiteach air a' Ghàidhlig ~ Goireasan digiteach airson nan Gàidheal

Category: Content Page 2 of 4

Alasdair “Brian” Stewart

Since 2008 people from across the UK have celebrated Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month each June. Through celebration, education and raising awareness, Gypsy, Roma and Traveller History Month helps to tackle prejudice, challenge myths and to amplify these voices in wider society. At The School of Scottish Studies Archives, we try to share relevant material in June from our own collections, which highlight Traveller life and experience; this material is a rich seam indeed and it’s a privilege to hold Traveller oral testimony here.

To celebrate #GRTHM here on this little corner of the internet, I wanted to share something from our Tale Archive, from someone whose name appears again and again in the indexes and transcriptions –  Alasdair “Brian” Stewart (1911-2008).

Alasdair “Brian” Stewart was of the Sutherland Stewarts, a family of the Highland Traveller tradition who can be found throughout our collections sharing tale, tradition and song. He was nicknamed Brian, due to his place of birth (Ach a’ Bhràigh) and he learned much of his repertoire of Gaelic tales – particularly hero tales –  from family members, such as his uncle Ailidh Dall Stewart (1882-1968) and his grandmother Susie Stewart (1846-??).

colour image of three men standing in a row, with a woman in front. The man on the far right is smoking a pipe.

Alasdair “Brian” Stewart, (far right), with his wife Ina. Pictured with SOSS staff Ian Fraser (left) and Donald Archie MacDonald. Image by Alan Bruford (C) SSSA (1974)

Brian was recorded a several times by fieldworkers from the School and in 1978 he was the focus of a volume of Tocher and I thought that it might be interesting to share Hamish Henderson’s recollections of meeting Brian and also a tale from him, transcribed for that volume.


It was the discovery, in 1953 and 1954, of an enormous wealth of folktale among the travelling people of Aberdeenshire that made me determined to look for oral narrative in Gaelic among the North Highland travelling folk. […] What we discovered that summer exceeded all my expectations. The semi-nomadic Stewarts of Lairg – the ‘summer walkers’, as the local crofters called them – turned out to be the custodians of a folk-cultural heritage even more voluminous than that of their North-East counterparts. Although every single member of the group could be considered a tradition bearer, the principal figure- and acknowledged champion – among them was blind AIec Stewart, better known as Aili Dall. This amazing old hero had a version of Am Bròn Binn (The Sweet Sorrow), an heroic lay now very rare, and stories of Oisean and the Féinn  as well as a vast store of wonder tales and other Marchen. My notebook, already packed with information about travellers recorded en route, was soon full of the names of other Stewarts and Williamsons who, as Aili Dall thought, would have material of interest for us; and among these I wrote down the name of another Alec Stewart who was a nephew of Aili’s, whose nickname was Brian, and who was working in the Forestry and living at Culrain.

When I got back to Edinburgh this information was passed on without delay to Calum Maclean, and Calum followed it up the same summer. His own beautifully written account of his meeting with yet another Alexander Stewart – ‘Alasdair mac Phàdruig,’ whom I had recorded at Tomich, Muir of Ord, a few weeks earlier while on the way to Sutherland – and with old Grace, Alasdair’s mother, will be found in Chapter VI of his book The Highlands (recently republished by Club Leabhar, with a preface by Séan O Súilleabháin). Alasdair mac Phàdruig told him many hours of stories in the Ord Arms Hotel, and was still telling them right up to the time Calum had to rush to catch a train to Brora. Unfortunately Calum did not locate Aili Dall and his entourage when in Sutherland –  they were of course on the move at the  time-  and the onset of the serious illness which then beset him made subsequent collecting much more difficult.

Consequently I returned myself to Ross-shire and Sutherland in 1957 and 1958 and in both years spent several weeks travelling around with the ‘summer walkers’. It was during the second of these tours that I went to see Brian in Culrain. Unlike his uncle, who still kept up the ancestral summer caravan through the great cleared straths of Sutherland, Brian was permanently settled in a neat little house called ‘the Bungalow’, kept spotless trim by his charming wife Ina. Had I not known of Briarn’s impeccable traveller lineage, I would have taken him at first sight for member of the laity – a crofter, or what-ever. It became immediately clear, however, that he was exceedingly and justifiably proud of his traveller Stewart ancestry, and was eager to speak about their way of life. (Since retiring from the Forestry three years ago he has spent part of every summer driving along the roads he travelled with horse anrl cart as a boy, and cleaning up the wells and camping sites used by his people – some of which must have a very ancient history).

Prospecting for stories and other lore from Brian, I found that his repertoire to a large extent duplicated that of his Uncle Aili Dall – nor was this strange, for he had learned most of his stories from old Susie, Aili Dall’s mother. Uncle and nephew thus had a common source for much of their material. Old Susie died in 1938 aged 9l; this means she was born 13 years before the publication of the first volumes of Campbell of Islay’s Popular Tales of the West Highlands, and must have learned many of her stories orally in the mid 19th century from relations born before the end of the 18th century – from folk, therefore, who in all likelihood were travelling the roads while ‘Ossian’ Macpherson was still alive.

Brian’s versions of the tales offer many interesting points of comparison with the versions told by his uncle, and the recording – and, if possible, re-recording – of his complete repertoire seemed an obvious necessity.

Hamish Henderson, Tocher 29 (1978)

The story I have chosen (transcribed in Gaelic as it was told, and translated into English) is A’ MARAICHE MAIRNEAL, a variant of ATU433B King Lindworm – a tale type that often deals with maidens disenchanting serpentine husbands. Donald Archie MacDonald thought that Brian’s version was unique to the Sutherland Stewarts.  (Click on the image below to access the pdf of this tale.)


For further reading of Brian Stewart and his storytelling style, you can read Carol Zall’s article in Scottish Studies Vol 36:

Zall, C. (2013) “Learning and Remembering Gaelic Stories: Brian Stewart”, Scottish Studies, 36, p. 125. doi: 10.2218/ss.v36.2708.

To find out more about Gypsy Roma Traveller History Month events in Scotland, you can visit and follow the hashtag #GRTHM22 on social media.

Scotland’s Year of Stories

Gaelic Version  |  BSL Version

2022 has been designated Scotland’s Year of Stories – very apt for the Decoding Hidden Heritages Project! Scotland has such a rich history of storytelling and the School of Scottish Studies Archives can attest to this. For this week’s blog I’d like to share two stories I found in the Tale Archive that center around… storytelling!

(Click on the images to enlarge them)


Fear aig nach robh sgeulachd idir or Why Everyone Should be Able to Tell a Story, Translation from “Stories from South Uist” (Angus., Campbell, John Lorne. Stories from South Uist. United Kingdom: Routledge & Paul, 1961)

Listen to the original Gaelic version here.

‘A Man with no Story’, by Elizabeth Kerr, Maclagan Manuscripts, p.2391, c.1890

The manuscript reads: “Sometimes, at a Ceilidh, a person found himself severely pressed to relate an ursgeul, when perhaps he did not wish to do so, or felt unable. Here is an example of ingenuity in such circumstances. He would begin with all seriousness as follows: On one occasion a woman and her son had a Dun cow which they wished to sell, and so they set out with it to the market. They had a good long distance to go, and what but, before they reached the market, the cow stumbled, and fell into a hole, and could not come out. The boy got hold of its tail to pull it out, and when he was pulling, and pulling, away came the tail with him, and if the Dun Cow’s tail had been stronger, my ursgeul would have been longer.”

“The love of stories is hardwired into us all; it is one of the strongest ways we connect with one another and share our experiences. Great stories, well told, can evoke indelible images in our minds and bring contemporary and traditional cultures to life. Every culture has its stories to tell, and Scotland has a particularly rich heritage of stories and storytelling to spotlight and celebrate. These include our local tales, oral traditions, great stories told in books or on screen – all inspired by our country, our culture and reflected back by many diverse voices and across the widest range of forms.” (Museums Galleries Scotland)

Have a look at the Scottish Storytelling Centre for more information on the wonderful tradition of storytelling in Scotland.

Digitizing Archival Material

This week’s blog post will take a behind-the-scenes look at what’s involved in digitizing an archival collection.

My job in the Decoding Hidden Heritages Project is to scan and document the contents of the Tale Archive here at the SSSA. The Tale Archive is comprised of paper documents separated into folders depending on their classification (ATU number, Romantic Tales, Supernatural Tales, etc.). There is also a collection of corresponding index cards for these documents.

The Tale Archive at the School of Scottish Studies Archive

As with most archival collections, various stationary items like staples, rubber bands and tape have been used over the years. Although their use was innocent and common-sense at the time, people looking after historic and archival collections now are aware that these items can present conservation issues. Staples can distort and tear paper and card, and metal has the potential to react chemically with its environment and certain materials it comes into contact with. Plastics and rubbers are particularly notorious for deteriorating in historic collections, and sometimes in unexpected ways. Deterioration of plastics is still a relatively new area of study among conservation experts, and methods of dealing with deterioration and alteration of plastic collections will continue to evolve in the coming years.

“Plastics are a new class of materials and their individual weaknesses are little known and often unexpected. Traditional display and storage methods accelerate deterioration of plastics, and the ensuing chemical and physical damage can be unattractive, highly corrosive, irreversible—and largely un-treatable. Because of the diversity and versatility of plastics, they have been used in a huge range of common objects since their introduction in the 19th century. Unfortunately, for the first part of their history, their long-term properties were not well understood. Older plastic objects can deteriorate more rapidly and in a greater variety of ways than those made from traditional materials. More recent plastics may also deteriorate rapidly as a result of planned obsolescence, such as biodegradability.” – Canadian Conservation Institute Guidance on Caring for Plastics and Rubber

Rubber reacts to oxygen over time and can become brittle and sticky. The rubber band in the photo below had to be carefully taken off the affected index card to ensure no text was lost.

Sticky tape will lose its adhesion over time and will come lose and discolor paper as can be seen in the photos below.

Projects like this one are a great opportunity for collections to be sifted through and to deal with any conservation issues present. As I go through the paper and cards to prepare them for scanning, I carefully remove any items that will prevent the documents from being scanned safely or that may harm them in storage over time. Paperclips and rubber bands are carefully removed and replaced with acid-free paper, which will prevent any further deterioration so the documents can stay legible for future generations to benefit from. If the paper/card is fragile and removing the deteriorated elements would do further damage, then it is left as found. I also have access to a special overhead scanner for these documents that takes a scan from above and does not come into contact with the document. Feeding fragile documents through the usual scanner could destroy them – and probably the scanner, too!

A bit of a top tip from the National Archives’ Managing Mixed Collections Guidance to use at home is to not store photographs next to rubber: “Vulcanised rubber emits hydrogen sulphide and carbonyl sulphide, gaseous pollutants that are the main agents responsible for tarnishing silver and causing photographs (which include a silver component) to fade and yellow. Rubber bands are made from vulcanised rubber, so it is important to ensure they are not used in close proximity to photographic materials.”

Have questions? Feel free to comment on the post and I will happily try to answer!

Further reading:

Care of Objects Made from Rubber and Plastic – Canadian Conservation Institute

Plastics? Not in My Collection – V & A Conservation Journal

Rudan dìomhair ann an làn-fhollais

(English Synopsis: Sometimes the most interesting word histories are hiding in plain sight right before our eyes and today we look at a formula which these days is mostly used as a response to “thank you” but has a much more interesting back story, harking back to a much more violent phase in history)

Uaireannan tha rudan gu math annasach ’s àrsaidh am falach fo ar sùilean fhìn ann an làn-fhollais. Mar a’ bheatha. Chan e beatha san t-seagh bhith-eòlach a tha fa-near dhomh ach am facal beatha a tha a’ nochdadh ann an grunn abairtean sa Ghàidhlig.

Na chnuasaich sibh a-riamh dè dìreach a tha abairtean mar ’s e do bheatha air neo do bheatha dhan dùthaich a’ ciallachadh? Bhuail an t-seann-cheist seo orm a-rithist grunn tursan sa phròiseact seo mar eisimpleir san sgeulachd Triùir Mhac Rìgh Éireann:

… nuair a chuala e guth ag éigheach, “Thig a-nuas, còmh rium agus ’s e do bheatha.” “Ó cha téid,” ars esan, “mise ’nad chomhair…

agus Ridire nam Beann ’s nan Gleann ’s nam Bealach:

Bha an doras fosgailte agus teine math air meadhan an ùrlair. Chaidh i a-stigh agus thubhairt bean an tighe, ’s i ’na suidhe aig ceann shuas an teine: “Thig a-nìos, a bhean bhochd. Is e do bheatha an-seo a-nochd. Bha an duine agad ann an-raoir, e fhéin agus a thriùir chloinne.”

Nise, ma chuireas sibh ceist air cuideigin beagan nas òige an-diugh a thaobh mar a chleachdas iadsan an abairt ’s e do bheatha, tha mi cha mhòr cinnteach gur e “mar fhreagairt air mòran taing/tapadh leat” an fhreagairt a gheibh sibh. Agus chan eil sin ceàrr idir. Ach chan e a’ chiall seo a th’ againn sna sgeulachdan idir, chan eil duine sam bith a’ toirt seachad taing. Agus ma nì sibh cnuasachadh beagan nas fhaide, ’s cinnteach gum buail an abairt do bheatha dhan dùthaich oirbh cuideachd, abairt eile air an aon alt ach gun luaidh air taing ’ga thoirt seachad.

Ma tha Gaeilge agaibh, bidh fios agaibh gun can iad tá fáilte romhat gu tric ach gu bheil an aon abairt, is e do bheatha, a’ nochdadh an-siud ’s an-seo cuideachd mar fhreagairt agus cuideachd san t-seagh eile, mar eisimpleir san òran ainmeil Óró sé do bheatha abhaile is e a’ cur fàilte air a’ Phrionnsa air ais san dùthaich. Tha an t-òran seo a’ nochdadh co-dhiù cho fad air ais ris a’ bhliadhna 1855 san leabhar Complete Collection of Irish Music aig George Petrie agus ’s e welcome home Prince Charley an t-eadar-theangachadh ann.

Ann an Gàidhlig sgrìobhte, ’s ann san t-Seann-Bhìoball (sna h-Apocrypha Gàidhlig, 1806) a lorg mi an tionndadh as sine gu ruige seo is cuideigin a’ cur fàilte air Raphael gu àite:

Tobit 5:13
An-sin thubhairt Tobit,
’S e do beatha, a bhràthair

Saoil an e rud gallta a th’ ann a thàinig on Bheurla no Lochlannais? Chan eil coltas gur e oir ma bheir sinn sùil air na seann-sgrìobhainnean, tha abairtean gu math coltach ris a’ nochdadh meadhanach tric. Mar eisimpleir, ann an sgeulachd mu dhèidhinn ChùChulainn agus Conchar tha CùChulainn ag ràgh día do bethu. Saoil a bheil ceangal ri Dia ann? Ma dh’fhaoidte ach bhiodh sin neònach oir cha robh ceangal eadar an Fhiann agus Crìosdaidheachd.

Ma chumas sinn oirnn leis an rannsachadh, chì sinn gun robh abairtean mar rotbia-su fáilte “bidh fàilte romhaibh” agus rotbia in failti sunda againni “bidh fàilte romhaibh againn an-seo” a’ nochdadh ann an sgrìobhainnean far a bheil daoine a’ cur fàilte air daoine eile gu àite. Agus gu h-annasach, tha an abairt a leanas againn cuideachd ann an sgrìobhainn às an 15mh linn: rotfia do betha.

Nise, chan eil coltas dia, Día no ’s e air rotfia ach ma dh’fhaighnicheas sinn de dh’eòlaiche na Seann-Ghaeilge dè tha rotfia a’ ciallachadh, gheibh sinn freagairt gu math inntinneach. Innsidh iad dhuinn gur e ro-t·bia an litreachadh ceart anns a’ chiad dol a-mach agus

  • gur e ro-leasachan a bh’ ann an ro a nochdadh air beulaibh ghnìomhairean agus a bha a’ ciallachadh rudeigin mar a dh’ionnsaigh
  • gun robh -t- ’na chomharradh air an dàrna pearsa (thu), an aon -t a th’ againn aig deireadh dhut no bhuat
  • gum b’ e gnìomhair san treas phearsa san àm ri teachd a bh’ ann am -bia, car mar bidh e ann an Gàidhlig an-diugh
  • gu bheil do a’ ciallachadh an aon rud fhathast, ’s e sin rud a th’ agad, do mhàthair, do chù is msaa
  • agus gu bheil betha a’ ciallachadh an aon rud fhathast, beatha.

Agus ma chuireas sinn còmhla gach mìr dhen dealbh seo, tha abairt againn a tha a’ ciallachadh rud mar “bidh do bheatha agad” agus leis cho borb ’s cho cunnartach ’s a bha na linntean ud, bhiodh fàilte air gun teagamh, “thig an-seo agus cha chuir sinn bàs ort”…

Thairis air na linntean, dh’fhalbh an ro- agus chrìon tbia mean air mhean gu dia, agus an uair sin agus mu dheireadh thall, ’s e. Bidh bolgan-solais os cionn feadhainn dhibh a-nis agus sibh a’ smaoineachadh air an fhacal annasach di a tha a’ nochdadh ann an abairtean mar tha thu di-beathte agus làn di do bheatha – sin an tbia ud agus chan eil ceangal ris an roimhear de idir.

Lorg mi fiù aon sgeulachd far a bheil an abairt ’ga chleachdadh sa chaochladh, ag innse do chuid-eigin nach eil fàilte romhpa ann an àite. Anns an sgeulachd, tha Séadanda dìreach air a’ chù aig Culainn a mharbhadh agus tha Culainn a’ faighneachd dheth cò esan agus nuair a chluinneas e cò esan, tha e a’ freagairt ’S e do bheatha air sgàth d’ athar is do mhàthar ach chan e do bheatha air do sgàth fhéin.

Tha coltas, an dèidh sin ’s ’na dhèidh, gun robhar a’ cur fàilte air daoine gu àite, a’ gealltainn dhaibh nach cailleadh iad am beatha an-seo, leis an abairt seo an toiseach agus gun do thòisich daoine air a chleachdadh a bharrachd air sin mar fhreagairt dha mòran taing is tapadh leat uaireigin.

Nise, eadar an eachdraidh seo ’s fonn drama a tha a’ tighinn orm, saoil an e facal Gàidhlig a th’ ann an uisge-beatha an da-rìribh? Tillidh mi chun na ceist chonnspaideach seo an ath-thuras a nochdas uisge-beatha ann an sgeulachd agus chì sinn!

Mìcheal Bauer, cuidiche rannsachaidh

Enchanted Cuckoos and Singing Leaves for May Day

I had intended to share this tale yesterday, as it was the First of May. I hope you will forgive my tardiness!

History of British birds : the figures engraved on wood" (1797)

Wood engraving of a cuckoo, from History of British Birds (1797). (Public Domain)

May 1st is the date we traditionally associate with the beginning of summer  (not that it feels particularly summery in Edinburgh today) and I wanted to find a suitable tale to share with you from the collection in the Tale Archive, at SSSA.

Duncan Williamson told the story of Jack and the Singing Leaves (ATU432) to Linda Williamson and a group of children, in 1976  (SA1976.062.A2;B1).  The recording and transcription are held in the archives.

Jack, one of three brothers on a farm, was very lazy but loved animals and one day he rescued a cuckoo with a broken wing. His uncaring brothers thought Jack was a fool for taking the bird in, but they did not see that it was an enchanted bird from a faraway country. In return for his kindness, the cuckoo promised to return to Jack on the first day of May, with a gift.

Page of a typed transcript

The gift of the magical singing leaves are brought to the Princess for her birthday, where they enthral the Royal Family, so much so that the King asks for more leaves and will make Jack a rich man in return. As the story transpires, by the end of the summer, they all appear to live happily ever after – with the exception of Jack’s brothers perhaps!

The recording can be listened to in it’s entirety via Tobar an Dualchais and it runs to around 35 minutes in length.  I listened to it whilst I looked over the scans of the transcript and was so happy to see Duncan’s Scots accent is well captured by the transcriber. What the written version doesn’t convey though are the responses from the children he is telling the story too; they can be heard in the background held in the thrall of a good tale and it is a joy to listen to.

I heard a cuckoo whilst walking near the Water of Leith last week….does that mean summer is on the way?




The Well of the World’s End: More than Meets the Eye

An illustration of a young woman in a dress is shown seated on the edge of a well. She looks downwards at a frog that sits next to her.

Illustration by John D. Batten in English Fairy Tales, London: David Nutt, 1890.

English Fairy Tales by Joseph Jacobs includes many tales that are familiar to most of us, and several that I have come across in my digitization work on the Tale Archive here at the School of Scottish Studies Archives. Some of these stories I remember coming across include Tom Thumb, The Red Etin, and Nix, Nought, Nothing which I mentioned in my last blog post about the Mi’kmaq Tale. One tale that I came across whilst working on the ATU 400 tales is ‘The Well of the World’s End’ on p. 215 of English Fairy Tales. The tale is an interesting combination of what most of us would know as Cinderella and The Princess and the Frog – although it’s not quite as child-friendly for our modern times, as the frog turns into a prince not with an innocent kiss, but with the chopping off of his head!

You may be wondering why I chose to discuss a tale from English Fairy Tales, as it doesn’t seem to be about what the Decoding Hidden Heritages Project is all about: Gaelic Narratives. However, Jacobs cites one of his sources for the tale of ‘The Well of the World’s End’ as: “[John] Leyden’s edition of the Complaynt of Scotland, p. 234…” (1801). He goes on further to mention ‘parallels’ of the tale:

In Scotland it is Chambers’s tale of The Paddo, p.87; Leyden supposes it is referred to in the Complaynt (c. 1548), as “The Wolf of the Worldis End.” The well of this name occurs also in the Scotch version of the “Three Heads of the Well”.

The Popular Rhymes of Scotland (1870), compiled by Robert Chambers, is a publication that comes up frequently in the Tale Archive here, and the Complaynt of Scotland is a book with a fascinating history that I highly recommend looking further in to if you haven’t come across it before.

I was initially drawn to the tale of ‘The Well of the World’s End’, and the entire publication, because of its wonderful illustrations, but the tale reveals a much more interesting story than what appears on the surface, and is worth a deeper dive (pun intended?) if you have the time. The links I’ve included in this post provide plenty of interesting reading material!

I’ve also included the front page from English Fairy Tales below, as it provides a snapshot of the wonders that can be found in its pages…


Leyden, John, James Inglis, David Lindsay, and Robert Wedderburn. The complaynt of Scotland: written in 1548. With a preliminary dissertation and glossary. Edinburgh: Printed for Archibald Constable. And sold by T. Cadell junior, and W. Davies, London, 1801.

Jacobs, Joseph, and Batten, John D. English Fairy Tales. London: David Nutt, 1890.

Am fear-mara

(English Synopsis: Mermaids and selkies are a recurring theme in Gaelic stories but especially in the age of #MeToo, many of these stories jar somewhat and are perhaps due for a critical re-evaluation. As a thought experiment, I decided to see what would happen if I re-told a selkie story and swapped the genders. As it turns out, it’s surprisingly difficult and leaves you with a story that makes you wonder about our perceived gender roles.

Bha ban-tuathanaich ann bho chionn fhada agus bha i a’ falbh air a’ chladach latha agus chunnaic i seachd ròin a’ tighinn gu cladach. Chaidh i am falach agus chunnaic i iad a’ tighinn gu tìr is a’ cur dhiubh nan cochall-èisg aca. Dè bh’ annta ach fir-mhara bhrèagha. Nuair a dh’fhalbh iad ’gan nighe fèin sa mhuir, chaidh i ann is ghoid i leatha an aon a bu mhotha dhe na cochaill is chuir i am falach e. Nuair a thàinig na fir-mhara air ais a dh’ionnsaigh nan cochall aca, fhuair gach aon dhiubh a chochall fhèin ach am fear a bu mhotha dhiubh. Lorg e a chochall fhèin gus an robh e sgìth. Dh’fhalbh càch a-mach air a’ chuan is dh’fhuirich esan leis fhèin ’s e a’ caoineadh ’s a’ caoidh, na shuidhe air aon dhe na clachan air a’ chladach ’s e rùisgte. Thàinig i far an robh e ’s chuir i  cleòca mu thimcheall agus thug i leis dhachaigh e. Fhuair i aodach dha ’s dh’ionnsaich e obair a dhèanamh ’s bha e glè ghnìomhach. Phòs i e agus dh’fhàs i trom aige.

dealbh de ròn

Thud, carson a phòsainn mèirleach mar thusa?

Fada na dhèidh sin, an àm an earraich, bha i a-muigh a’ treabhadh agus bha an duine aice a-muigh a’ coimhead mun cuair air gnothaichean agus nuair a thàinig e a-steach, thuirt e ri mhac, “Nach iongnadh leat nach eil do mhàthair a’ cur mu dhèidhinn a’ mhulain-arbhair sin a bhualadh is feum aice air sìol gu goirid?” Agus thuirt a mhac, “Tha rud bòidheach aig mo mhàthair ’ga glèidheadh sa mhulan sin is chan fhaca mi riamh rud cho bòidheach ris.” Agus dh’fhaighnich esan gu dè an cruth a bh’ air is dè an dath a bh’ air. Agus dh’innis am balach an cruth mar a b’ fheàrr a b’ urrainn dha is gun robh dath uaine air. Chaidh esan dhan ghàrradh far an robh am mulan agus sgap e e às a chèile. Ruith am balach is dh’innis e dha màthair mar a thachair is thàinig i gu luath a dh’fhaicinn an duine aice mu ’m fàgadh e i. Ach bha an cochall-èisg air mun dàinig i. Dh’iarr i air fuireach leatha ach chan fhuiricheadh.

Tha maighdeannan-mara a’ nochdadh gu math tric ann an sgeulachdan Gàidhlig, eadar maighdeannan-ròin is maighdeannan-mara agus tha iad cumanta cuideachd ann an dùthchannan eile eadar Inis Tìle ’s Lochlann. Ged nach robh maighdean-ròin sna sgeulachdan a bha romhan sa phròiseact seo, tha iomadh maighdean-mhara air nochdadh, can ann an Iain Mac an Iasgair.

Feumaidh mi aideachadh gu bheil mi car amharasach mu na sgeulachdan seo an-diugh, ged a bha mi gu math dèidheil orra nuair a bha mi òg. Gu sònraichte ann an linn na h-iomairt #MeToo, tha iad a’ fàgail blas car searbh ’nam bheul oir aig a’ cheann thall, chan eil annta ach sgeulachdan èigneachadh bhoireannach agus cha chreid mi gun innsinn iad dha mo chlann fhìn nam biodh clann agam. Chan ann san dreach tradaiseanta co-dhiù.

Cha robh a leithid ann nuair a leugh mo sheanmhair na sgeulachdan seo dhomh ach chuala mi gu bheil diofar dhaoine air na sgeulachdan tradaiseanta seo ath-innse air dòigh a tha nas cothromaiche, can na Gender-swapped Fairly Tales. Chan e eòlaiche sgeulachdan a th’ annam agus is mathaid gun deach seo a dheasbad am measg nan eòlaichean mu thràth ach bhuail e orm gum biodh e inntinneach an aon rud fheuchainn. Sgeulachd na maighdinn-mara, boireannach an àite an fhireannaich is a chaochladh, dìreach mar dheuchainn.

Tha an sgeulachd gu h-àrd ann am More West Highland Tales agus rinn mi dìreach sin.  Agus abair iongnadh a bh’ orm nuair a mhothaich mi dè cho doirbh ’s a bha sin. Tha an toiseach ag obair ceart gu leòr ach tha rudan a’ fàs car neònach an uair sin. Gabhaidh a chreidsinn fhathast gun rachadh boireannach am falach is sia fireannaich a’ nochdadh air a’ chladach às a’ mhuir. Ach an uair sin a’ goid a’ chochaill is a’ sparradh air fireannach a pòsadh agus an uair sin clann a bhith aca? Tha e a’ fàgail na sgeulachd air fad car do-chreidsinneach ma chuireas sinn boireannach an àite fireannaich is a chaochladh agus tha sin sin, saoilidh mi, a’ togail ceistean mòra a thaobh cò a’ ghnè aig a tha làmh an uachdar ann an seann sgeulachdan agus am bu chòir dhuinn an innse do chlann an-diugh mar a bha iad o shean.

Mìcheal Bauer, cuidiche rannsachaidh

Decoding Hidden Heritages: Connections

One of the best things about having worked in The School of Scottish Studies Archives & Library for the past five years is seeing how people are connected with the archive recordings here.

I don’t only mean seeing how our readers are affected by connecting their own research to the myriad depths and layers of oral record testimony – though that process is rather like watching someone discovering treasure every single time. Once the Decoding Hidden Heritages project reaches its culmination, the transcript material from the Tale Archive will be another important layer to these recordings, and available for all to discover.

I also refer to the connections than extend outside the archives.

Black ad white image of a man sitting outside a house, he is talking into a recorder, being held out to him by a fieldworker. the fieldworker is cut out of the left side of the image

Angus MacNeil of Smirasary, Glenuig, being interviewed by Calum Maclean (out of image) 1959 Image copyright: SSSA

Many of the people who were recorded in the first decades of the School of Scottish Studies are no longer alive, but their material lives on in those who have connections to the people, their native area, or work or traditions. For example. Shetland fiddle players come to the collections to learn the playing style of the isles; Gaelic singers have used the archive to learn a regional variation of a song for performance; local heritage groups using material recorded in their location for museum exhibitions; storytellers learning tales…and the Carrying Stream flows on.

For me,  these connections are particularly palpable when tied to family and we have great links with relations of some of our contributors and fieldworkers. Some can fill in details for us, such as other family members who were recorded or give background information that adds more depth. Often they give permission for re-use of material, if the archive do not hold the rights. Sometimes people come to us looking for recordings their relatives made and at other times we are connected with people who did not know their relation was recorded at all. In all of these instances those connections between contributor, recording, family and us, as the archive, are further strengthened and emboldened.

For those who read my previous blog on seeking the unknown person in the collections – I have an update! A former colleague (connections, again!) sent the post on to her friend from Glenuig who may have known my two unknown women of Smirasary – “You never know, he might have an idea who they are?”

Within a few hours I had a response – not only did he know who they were, but one of the women was his grandmother. The woman that was down in our records as “Anon Woman B / Mrs MacDonald?” was indeed a Mrs MacDonald. She was Johanna MacDonald (1880-1973) and there is more material in the Archives attributed to her from other fieldwork trips to Smirasary in the mid-late 1950s. You can hear some of those other recordings on Tobar an Dualchais. Another fantastic set of connections and one which will hopefully lead to these transcriptions becoming more accessible.

I never fail to be surprised at the connections people have to The School of Scottish Studies Archives, or the weight and strength of those connections!

“Magic Flight”: A Mi’kmaq Tale

There are 28 versions of Aarne–Thompson–Uther (ATU) Index tale type 313 at the School of Scottish Studies Archives, but this particular one stands out. It is a tale told by Isabel Morris Googoo from the Mi’kmaq (or Micmac) tribe in Whycocomagh, Nova Scotia, to folklorist Elsie Clews Parsons in 1923. It was originally published in the Journal of American Folklore in 1925, but the copy we have on file is from a 1986 edition of the Cape Breton Magazine, with added illustrations of Mi’kmaq petroglyphs from a publication by the Nova Scotia Museum. The article notes that “it is an example of elements of European stories and religion that have been worked into Micmac tradition.” In this part of Canada, this European influence would have come more specifically from Scottish and French settlers, although this tale type has variations that can be found across the globe. It even has ties to Ancient Greek mythology. In Scots, it is best known as Nicht, Nought, Nothing collected by Andrew Lang from “an aged old lady in Morayshire” (In Lang’s words). Unfortunately, the lady is not named as is too often the case with female narrators, and actually what makes the Mi’kmaq Magic Flight story so interesting is that it was told and collected by women, and they are specifically named. In the Journal of American Folklore article, we are even given the names of the source of the story: Googoo’s grandmother, Mary Doucet Newell. The collector, Elsie Clews Parsons, was one of the earliest figures for the feminist movement and was outspoken on the negative effects of gender role expectations, publishing works on the topic in the early 20th century.

An Irish version of the Magic Flight tale, also collected by a woman, can be read on the Duchas website here.

The Mi’kmaq Magic Flight tale from the Cape Breton Magazine is attached here in its entirety. Note the adverts, providing a wonderful glimpse into the social history of 1980’s Nova Scotia!

A Micmac Tale – Magic Flight



Parsons, Elsie Clews. “Micmac Folklore.” The Journal of American Folklore 38, no. 147 (1925): 55–133. *Warning: this article contains some offensive language*

Peverill, L.., Robertson, M.. Rock Drawings of the Micmac Indians. Petroglyphs. N.p.: n.p., 1973.

Cape Breton’s magazine. 1972. Wreck Cove, N.S.: R. Caplan (Edition no. 41, 1986).

Lang, Andrew. Custom and Myth. United States: Harper & brothers, 1893.

Dè a’ Ghàidhlig air fee-fi-fo-fum?

(English Synopsis: Musings about what the words fith fath fuathagaich /fi fa fuəgɪç/ which are spoken by giants in certain tales such as Gille an Fheadain Duibh ‘The Lad of the Black Whistle’ could mean and whether there might possible be a link to the fee-fi-fo-fum from Jack and the Beanstalk.)

Ann an seann-sgeulachdan, tachraidh e gu math tric gun nochd facal, abairt no gnàthas-cainnte annasach. Ach chan iongnadh mòr sin: b’ i a’ Ghàidhlig a’ chiad chànan aig an fheadhainn a dh’innis na sgeulaichean ud. Bhiodh iad a’ toirt dealbh air an t-saoghal ann an Gàidhlig sa chiad dol a-mach, agus bha Gàidhlig èasgaidh shùbailte shiùbhlach aca a tha a leithid mar rionnagan san oidhche fhrasaich an-diugh. Ach leis gun dàinig na sgeulachdan seo a-nuas thuca o ghinealach gu ginealach, uaireannan nochdaidh rud-eigin annta air a bheil coltas fìor-aosta agus nach eil furasta ri thuigsinn idir.

Tha sgeulachd ann a nochdas ann an diofar cruthan ach aig cridhe na sgeulachd tha balach òg a nì sabaid an aghaidh trì fuamhairean agus am màthair. Fhuair am balach obair buachailleachd aig cailleach ann am baile air chor-eigin agus bidh e a’ falbh le gobhair na caillich. Ged a thoirmisg a’ chailleach dha falbh rathad nam fuaimhairean, sin a nì e. Agus nuair a ruigeas e an gàrradh a tha mun cuairt air taigh a’ chiad fhuamhaire, cuiridh e toll ann agus leigidh am balach na gobhair a-steach. Bidh am balach crosta seo (an-dà, tha e dìreach air dochann a dhèanamh air gàrradh fuamhaire bochd agus na gobhair ag ithe a’ bharra aige a-nis!) an uair sin a’ sreap suas craobh agus a’ cluich fhìdeag ann. Thig an uairsin fuamhair ’s e airson facal modhail fhaighinn air mac an ànraidh seo shuas sa chraobh agus bidh rann àraidh aig an fhuamhair ’s e a’ tighinn:

Air fith fath fuathagaich¹ air barraibh an albhagaich,²
’S fhada bha mo chorp air feadh ga meirgeadh ’s tolladh
a’ feitheamh air greim dhe d’ fheòil is
balgam dhe d’ fhuil, a mhic an Albannaich.³

¹ no fuagaich/fuamhaich
² no almhagaich/all(a)mharaich agus fiù air baile nan Albannaich uaireannan
³ no rìgh

Nise, tha an dàrna, treas is ceathramh sreath furasta gu leòr ri thuigsinn, fuilteach ’s gu bheil iad. Ach bha a’ chiad sreath a-riamh a’ cur iongnadh orm. Dè th’ ann an albhaga(i)ch? Agus dè dìreach a tha air fith fath fuathagaich a’ ciallachadh? Feumaidh mi aideachadh nach eil fhios a’m, ged a tha nàdar de dh’amharas agam. (Ma tha sibh airson èisteachd ris, seo aon dhe na clàraidhean aig Sgoil Eòlais na h-Alba. Tha am fith fath fuathagaich a’ nochdadh san dàrna clàradh, ’s dòcha dà mhionaid an dèidh toiseach a’ chlàraidh.)

A’s a’ chiad dol a-mach, saoilidh mi gu bheil baile nan Albannaich dìreach na mhearachd is an sgeulaiche a’ dol car iomrall (no fiù an neach a rinn an tar-sgrìobhadh, chan eil na clàraidhean cho soilleir uaireannan). Ged nach eil mi cinnteach idir mun albhagaich, leis gu bheil gach tionndadh dhen sgeulachd ag innse gun do shreap e suas craobh, chanainn gu bheil air barraibh (< bàrr + -aibh) ag innse gu bheil e na shuidhe air rudeigin, ge be dè th’ ann an albhagaich. Tha albhagaich a’ toirt ailbh(eag) “creag” nam inntinn ach carson a bhiodh e air creag is e dìreach air craobh a shreap?

Ach co-dhiù, ’s e a’ chiad phàirt a tha a’ fàgail tachais nam inntinn bhochd. Dè th’ anns na faclan seo? An e faclan fuadain a th’ annta, vocables mar gum biodh? Cha phìobaire mi ach chan eil coltas canntaireachd air — chan ann air fuathagaich co-dhiù. Chan eil cus ciallach sna faclairean a bharrachd. Tha aon fhacal ann, fìth-fàth, sin cleòca a dh’fhàgas do-fhaicsinneach thu. ’S e facal gu math aosta a th’ ann; tha e a’ nochdadh san t-Seann-Ghaeilge mar fía fé (is cruthan eile). Ach cha chreid mi gur e cleòca mar a sin a th’ againn an-seo. Chan eil dad ann an gin dhe na sgeulachdan a tha a’ toirt iomradh air do-fhaicsinneachd.

An aon rud – agus sin an leth-amharas air an dug mi iomradh roimhe – a bhuail orm, sin an rann ud a tha a’ nochdadh ann an ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’:

I smell the blood of an Englishman,
Be he alive, or be he dead
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread

Chan e dìreach gu bheil fee-fi-fo-fum car coltach ri fith fath fuathagaich ach tha an rann air fad gu math coltach na nàdar ris an rann Ghàidhlig, nach eil?

A-rèir coltais, ’s ann aig Shakespeare a tha seo a’ nochdadh ann an sgrìobhadh a’ chiad turas (mar fie, foh, and fum). Tha an Oxford English Dictionary (aig a bheil e mar fee-faw-fum) ag innse dhuinn gur e doggerel a th’ ann ach cha do lorg mi cus a mhìnicheas air na tha fee-fi-fo-fum a’ ciallachadh ann, no cò às a thàinig e. ’S e sin, an e faclan fuadain Beurla a th’ annta no saoil an do ghoid a’ Bheurla seo air cànan eile? Ged a tha eòlaichean sgeulachdan ag innse dhuinn gu bheil ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ a’ buntainn ri roinn sgeulachdan ris an canar “neach a’ marbhadh dràgan”, chan fhaighear a’ phònair draoidheachd ud ach ann am Breatainn. Cha chuireadh e iongnadh orm nam biodh freumh no freumhag Cheilteach aig Jack, car mar a dh’fhàg àireamhan nam Breatannach lorg san yan tan tethera.

Ach ged a tha pailteas iongnaidh orm, chan eil dad a dh’fhios. Saoil a bheil sgeulachd mar seo aig na Cuimrich? No a bheil mi fada ceàrr ’s mìneachadh gu tur eadar-dhealaichte air? Dè ur beachd-ne?

Mìcheal Bauer, cuidiche rannsachaidh

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