Red and Strong Is the Blood

The Lamont Harp, Clàrsach Lumanach, presented c. 1460-1464 to Charles Robertson of Lude, National Museum of Scotland.
The Lamont Harp, Clàrsach Lumanach, presented c. 1460-1464 to Charles Robertson of Lude, National Museum of Scotland.

THE HARP OF THE GAEL.

GAELIC MOD PRIZE POEM.

BY REV. DUGALD MACECHERN, B. D.
(Translated by Author.)

HARP of my own dear country,
Trembling against my bosom,
Sweeter to me are thy strains
Than all of the wide world’s music,
Shapely thy curving neck
Like the wild swan afloat on the ocean,
Gleaming thy sun-bright strings,
Like the golden hair of my dear one.
What ah! what can express
Like the harp’s wild tender trembling,
Love that lies in the heart
Like a precious jewel hidden?
Sweet to me is the viol
When move in the dance the maidens,
Dear to me are the pipes
When my sword is red in the battle,
But ’tis the harp should be tuned
With slender and swift-moving finger,
When in her song my dear one,
Sweet-throated, her love confesseth.
Tell me thy secret, my harp,
Who taught thee to tremble in music?
Was it the ocean crooning
To th’ yellow sands and the sea-wrack?
Say, were thy tutors the lark
And the tuneful thrush of the wild-grove,
Blast of the giant bens
And whisper of wind-kissed forest,
Chant of the waterfall where
The stream leaps down from the mountains,
These, and in glens of our love
The songs of the sweet-throated maidens,
Say, were thy tutors these?
Who taught thee to tremble in music—
Music of kings in the times
When the Sun in his youth was shining,
Music of more than heroes
In the days of Fingal and Ossian.

Coll of the waves! Eilean Chola,
Musical were thy children,
Thine was the last of the line
Of the old-time harpers of Albyn,
Sad was thy heart, oh Murdoch!
When last thou tunedst the harp-strings,
Sad was thy heart, and the ship
Like a seagull out on the ocean,
Passing tby spray-swept island,
Bearing the Prince of thy bosom,
Bearing Prince Charlie an exile
Out on the sorrowful ocean,
Saying good-bye to Albyn
And to the crown of his fathers—
The golden crown of his fathers
Lost on the field of battle,
And to the land of the heroes
Who unto death were faithful.
Passed thy prince from thy view
Till the sail seemed merged in the ocean,
Passed—and together that hour
Thy harp and thy heart were broken.

Never again did thy song
Rise in the halls of the chieftains,
Never in Coll of the waves
In the eyrie of Tighearn Chola.
Even as the rose will shut
When her lover the Sun is departed,
So didst thou close thy heart,
The music, the glory departed.
Music with thee was laid
In thy grave in Mull of the mountains.
How could the strings be tuned
When lost were the rights of our fathers.
Banned was the tartan plaid
And they cursed the tongue of the mountains;
Who, who could tune thy strings
And the land of the Gael dishonoured?

Harp of the kings, let us sing
In the ears of the wise of the nation,
Standing on steps of the throne
Of the Scot-descended Edward,
Close to the Destiny Stone,
The stone of the Scots and of Aidan—
Sing how a nation alone
May stand forever unshaken.
Red and strong is the blood
Where the wind is scented with heather,
Races of heroes are bred
On the purple breasts of mountains,
Often the heroes of hills
Have hurled back doom from a nation—
Have we forgotten Omdurman
And Hector in crisis of battle?
Sing how the blood of the cities,
Swiftly degenerate, faileth,
Sing of proud kingdoms that fell
Their children forsaking the mountains.

Harp of the Scots, thou art kin
To the harp that is slumbering in Tara,
Shall we not therefore sing
Together our songs, O Erin?
Branches we are of the stem
Whose roots reach the ages forgotten,
Proudly the harp of the Gael
In the banner of Erin is floating,
Proudly in veins of the king
The blood of the Gael is flowing—
Blood of the Scots of Dalriad,
Blood of O’Neil and of Canmore.
Here in the hands of our love
Is balm for the wounds of thy bosom,
Thy deep, red wounds—and thy grief
Shall vanish like visions with morning.
Cease from your terrible tears,
O dark-haired daughters of sorrow,
Golden and beautiful breaks
The morn on the hilltops of Erin!

Harp of the world-scattered Gaels,
Sing how the Gaels are in number
Even as the stars; how in strength
They are sinew and muscle of empires.
Brothers they are, of our blood,
Though spread to the four winds of heaven,
Brothers, if exiles, still,
Though their white-sailed ships return not.
What if the straths are forlorn,
The Blood of the race is not passing,
What if the language should fail,
The Race of the Gael is not dying!
See how the Gaels are in number
As sands on the marge of the wild wave,
Conquering with hands of toil
The cities and lands of the stranger;
Under the sun of the Indies
And in the lands over ocean,
Wielding the axe of the settler
Far in the depths of the forest,
Digging the yellow gold,
Low in the depths of the canyon,
Struggling on far fields of battle
Struggling—and falling with glory!

Tell me, my harp beloved,
Shall the hope that I cherish fail me—
Shall I behold the Gaels
To the glens of their love returning,
Men at work on the crofts
As I saw in the times unforgotten,
The mother in musical Gaelic
To the babe at her bosom crooning.
Friendly at feast of the Old-Year,
Chieftain and clansmen together,
Cheeks of the youth aglow
At the Shinty on New-Year’s morning—
Every old custom so dear
To our beautiful glens returning,
Bagpipes on fields of battle
Chanting their war-notes defiant,
And, in the halls of peace
The harp with its wild sweet trembling,
Why should I thus drop tears
On the ruins of old homes broken—
Spanning the bens, behold!
The rainbow, the rainbow is shining!

Listen, my harp, my beloved!
When cometh the time of my changing,
When my hand white as the snow,
To dust in the grave shall crumble,
Do not let any man’s hand
Strike from thee chords of sorrow —
Shall I not rise again
To the wind my boat’s sail spreading,
For the beautiful Island of Youth
In the gold of the Sea of the Sunset.
There I shall practice thy music,
There in the Hall of the Noble—
Beloved! when I am dead,
For me let no wail of sorrow
Rise from thy sun-bright strings,
But a song—a song victorious.

I Stretch My Eye Across the Brine

198. Then Columcille and his household departed from Erin, and this is the number they were: twenty bishops, two score priests, thirty deacons, and two score sons of learning that had not yet the rank of priest or deacon, as the poet, even Dallan Forgaill, hath said in this quatrain:

Forty priests their number.
Twenty bishops, lofty their virtue,
For psalmody, without doubting.
Thirty deacons, fifty boys.

199. And these folk were full of wisdom and knowledge and the graces of the Holy Ghost. And the years of Columcille at that time were two and two score. And other fourteen and twenty years of his life he spent in Alba in pilgrimage and exile.

200. Then went Columcille and his household into their ship. And there he made his quatrain:

My foot in my tuneful coracle;
My sad heart tearful
A man without guidance is weak;
Blind all those without knowledge.

201. And he bade farewell to Erin then, and they put out into the ocean and the great deep. And Columcille kept gazing backward on Erin till the sea hid it from him. And heavy and sorrowful was he in that hour. And it was thus he made this quatrain below:

I stretch my eye across the brine,
From the firm oaken planks;
Many the tears of my soft grey eye
As I look back upon Erin.

There is a grey eye
That will look back upon Erin;
Never again will it see
The men of Erin or women.

At dawn and at eve I lament;
Alas for the journey I go
This is my name–I tell a secret–
‘Back to Erin’.

– Betha Colaim Chille (Life of Columcille),
XIV. Of the Exile of Columcille from Erin, 198-201; compiled by Manus O’Donnell in 1532; edited and translated from manuscript Rawlinson B. 514 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Vitreus Codex

OF THE ANGEL OF THE LORD WHO APPEARED VISIBLY TO
ST. COLUMBA WHILE STAYING IN HINBA ISLAND, WHEN SENT TO ORDAIN AEDHAN TO BE KING.

At another time, while the famous man was staying in Hinba island†, one night in an ecstasy of mind he saw an angel of the Lord sent to him, who had in his hand the glassy book (vitreum librum) of the ordination of kings, which the venerable man, when he had received it from the hand of the angel, at his bidding began to read. And when he refused to ordain Aedhan to be king, as was recommended to him in the book, because he loved logenan his brother more; suddenly the angel put out his hand and smote the Saint with a scourge, the livid mark of which remained on his side all the days of his life. And he added this word, saying, “Know for certain that I am sent unto thee from God with the glassy book (vitreum codicem), that, according to the words which thou hast read in it, thou mayest ordain Aedhan to the kingdom. And if thou art not willing to obey this command, I will smite thee again.” When, therefore, this angel of the Lord appeared for three nights in succession, having in his hand that glassy book, and committed to him the same commands of the Lord concerning the ordination of that king, the Saint, obeying the word of the Lord, sailed over to the Iouan island (Iona), and there ordained Aedhan, who arrived in those days, to be king, as he had been commanded. And among the words of ordination he prophesied future events concerning his sons and grandsons and great grandsons, and, placing his hand upon his head, ordained and blessed him.

Cuimine (Cummian) the Fair, in the book which he wrote of the virtues of St. Columba, has thus said, that St. Columba began to prophesy of Aedhan and his posterity, and of his kingdom, saying, “Believe without doubting, Aedhan, that none of thine adversaries will be able to resist thee, until thou first actest fraudulently against me and against my successors. Wherefore, then, do thou commend it to thy sons, that they may commend it to their sons and grandsons and posterity, lest they through evil counsels lose the sceptre of this their kingdom out of their hands. For at whatsoever time they do anything against me or against my kinsmen who are in Ireland, the scourge, which for thy sake I have endured from the angel, shall by the hand of God be turned upon them to their great disgrace and the heart of men shall be taken away from them, and their enemies shall be greatly strengthened over them.”

Now this prophecy has been fulfilled in our own times, in the battle of Roth‡, when Domhnall Brecc, grandson of Aedhan, without cause wasted the province of Domhnall, grandson of Ainmire. And from that day to this they are ever on the decline through means of strangers, which excites in the breast deep sighs of grief.

— St. Adomnán’s Vita Columbæ, Book III, Chapter v.

† The Columban retreat isle of Hinba is perhaps Eileach an Naoimh (Eilean-na-Naoimh) [rocky place/island of the saint], the Holy Isle, southernmost of the Garvellachs archipelago, lying in Firth of Lorne between Mull and Argyll.
‡ The Battle of Moira, known archaically as the Battle of Mag Rath, was fought in the summer of 637 by the Gaelic High King of Ireland Domnall II against his foster son King Congal of Ulster, supported by his ally Domnall the Freckled (Domnall Brecc) of Dalriada. The battle was fought near the Woods of Killultagh, just outside the village of Moira in what would become County Down. It was allegedly the largest battle ever fought on the island of Ireland, and resulted in the death of Congal and the retreat of Domnall Brecc.

Dunadd in the Annals of Ulster

View of Dunadd, an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.
View of Dunadd, an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.

The siege of Dún At and the siege of Dún Duirn.

– Annals of Ulster, U683.

Aengus son of Fergus, king of the Picts, laid waste the territory of Dál Riata and seized Dún At and burned Creic and bound in chains two sons of Selbach, i.e. Donngal and Feradach; and shortly afterwards Bruide son of Aengus son of Fergus died.

– Annals of Ulster, U736.

I Would Not Speak Falsehood

View from atop Dunadd, (Scottish Gaelic Dún Add, 'fort on the [River] Add'), an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.
View from atop Dunadd, (Scottish Gaelic Dún Add, ‘fort on the [River] Add’), an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, Scotland, and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.
On a time that Columcille was in Alba, he sent holy Baithin on certain errands to Aedan son of Gabhran. Aedan inquired of him who that man was, to wit, Columcille, of the which the folk of the Western World gave such great report.

“He is a good man,” saith Baithin, “for he hath not broken his virginity, and he hath done naught, small or great, in vain-glory, and never hath he spoken falsehood.” Then Aedan bethought him how he might confute that. And he brought Columcille to him. And he let seat his own daughter Coinchenn in a chair in the presence of Columcille, and she with royal robes upon her.

“Beautiful is the maiden,” saith Aedan.
“She is in sooth,” saith Columcille.
“Were it pleasing to thee to lie with her?” saith Aedan.
“It were pleasing,” saith Columcille.

“Hearest thou him of whom it hath been said that never hath he broken his virginity, and he saying he were fain to be lying with a maiden!” saith Aedan.

“I would not speak falsehood,” saith Columcille. “And know thou, O Aedan, there is none in the world that is without the desire to sin. Natheless he that leaveth that desire, for God’s sake, shall be crowned in the Kingdom of God. And wit thou well, I would not lie with the damsel for the lordship of the world, albeit for the lust of the fleshly body that is about me, it is indeed my desire.”

If now Columcille had said at that time that he had no wish to lie with the damsel, Aedan had laid that against him as a lie, according to the word he had himself spoken, to wit, that save the human body of Jesu Christ, there hath none put on flesh that doth not have desire toward sin.

— Betha Colaim Chille (Life of Columcille),
XVII. More of the Labors of Columcille in Iona, 241;
compiled by Manus O’Donnell in 1532; edited and translated from manuscript Rawlinson B. 514 in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

Dunadd

Dunadd, (Scottish Gaelic Dún Add, 'fort on the [River] Add'), is an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, Scotland and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.
Dunadd, (Scottish Gaelic Dún Add, ‘fort on the [River] Add’), is an Iron Age and later hillfort near Kilmartin in Argyll and Bute, Scotland and believed to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata.
Dunadd is mentioned twice in early sources. In 683 the Annals of Ulster record: 'The siege of Dún At and the siege of Dún Duirn' without further comment on the outcome or participants. In the same chronicle the entry for 736 states: 'Aengus son of Fergus, king of the Picts, laid waste the territory of Dál Riata and seized Dún At and burned Creic and bound in chains two sons of Selbach, i.e. Donngal and Feradach.'
Dunadd is mentioned twice in early sources. In 683 the Annals of Ulster record: ‘The siege of Dún At and the siege of Dún Duirn’ without further comment on the outcome or participants. In the same chronicle the entry for 736 states: ‘Aengus son of Fergus, king of the Picts, laid waste the territory of Dál Riata and seized Dún At and burned Creic and bound in chains two sons of Selbach, i.e. Donngal and Feradach.’

Originally occupied in the Iron Age, the site later became a seat of the kings of Dál Riata. It is known for its stone carvings below the upper enclosure, including the imprint of a foot and a basin thought to have formed part of Dál Riata’s coronation ritual. On the same flat outcrop of rock is an incised boar in Pictish style, and an inscription in the ogham script. The inscription is read as referring to a Finn Manach and is dated to the late VIII century or afterwards.

The renowned incised stone footprint on Dunadd.
The renowned incised stone footprint on Dunadd.
The ceremonial basin at Dunadd. Along with the footprint, some historians have suggested that the two might have played a role in the coronation summary of the Scots kings of Dál Riata.
The ceremonial basin at Dunadd. Along with the stone footprint, some historians have suggested that the two might have played a role in the coronation ceremony of the Scots kings of Dál Riata.

Tarbert Castle

Tarbert Castle is located on the southern shore of Tarbert Bay, at Tarbert, Argyll, Scotland, at the north end of Kintyre. Tarbert Castle was a strategic royal stronghold during the Middle Ages and one of three castles at Tarbert. The castle overlooks the harbour and although pre XIV century in construction, the tower dates back to 1494 and the visit of James IV to the Western Highlands.

In 712, Tarbert was burned by King Selbach mac Ferchair of Cenél Loairn and of Dál Riata and in 731 by his son, Dúngal mac Selbaig, the latter event being recorded in the Annals of Ulster:

The burning of Tairpert Boitir by Dúngal.

Annals of Ulster, U731.4.

King Edward II of England transferred control of the castle to the Scottish King John II de Balliol in 1292. A fortified structure was built in Tarbert during the XIII century. It was reinforced with the addition of an outer bailey and towers in the 1320s by Robert the Bruce, to protect it against the Lords of the Isles. A towerhouse was added in the XVI century, which is the most noticeable part of the remains. The castle occupies high land above Loch Fyne, providing views up East Loch Tarbert and beyond to the Firth of Clyde. This castle was captured from John MacDonald of Islay, Lord of the Isles by James IV of Scotland as part of his campaign to destroy the power of the Lords of the Isles in 1494. In 1687 the castle was involved in another skirmish when Walter Campbell of Skipness Castle seized it as a stronghold for Archibald Campbell, 9th Earl of Argyll as part of actions in support of the Monmouth Rebellion in England.