Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Western Isles

Here is a fabulous little film, a true treasure from the archives.

Set in the Hebrides during WWII, it features Gàidhlig speakers, some lovely waulking songs (Òran Luaidh), and sumptuous footage of the sea and islands. With the focus on a household who make Harris tweed, those in our communities who carry on the spinning and weaving traditions should enjoy this as well.

Read more about the film here.

Moran Taing to Tobar an Dualchais for sharing this!

The òran luaidh are a great source of inspiration to those of us with women's circles. Their call and response style, with a woman leading with improvised verses, and a group of women repeating the chorus, were historically used to share gossip, community lore, and personal stories. Traditionally, they were for women only, though some modern language preservation groups have everyone sing the songs now. Such as in this version of an òran luadh, adapted for instrumentation and a mixed group:

Karen Matheson: "Chuir m'Athair Mise Dha'n Taigh Charraideach" (còmhla ri "Seudan a'Chuain")

For both Gaelic Polytheists and Gaelic Christians, this kind of structure is also used for some types of prayer and ceremony. It's a specifically Gaelic women's approach, yet the form is also found in the song-prayers of a number of different animistic cultures. For more on prayers that take this form, check out the latter volumes in particular of the Carmina Gadelica (Gàidhlig: Ortha nan Gàidheal). The full set of the Carmina is expensive, but there is also interlibrary loan. Most good University libraries have a copy, and it's essential to any Gaelic studies program. The first volumes are available online at a few sites, as well.

The article above mentions the film, I Know Where I’m Going!, also shot in the Hebrides (but in black and white), and featuring our beloved Coire Bhreacain, Cauldron of the Hag. (English: the Corryvreckan Whirlpool.) I Know Where I’m Going! is also interesting for its footage of the isles and sea, but focuses more on the protagonist and her romantic life than Gaelic culture. Still, worth checking out if you like quirky old movies.

photo by russ baum

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Óró 'Sé Do Bheatha 'Bhaile

In a recent discussion about trad songs for summertime, I was surprised to see I hadn't posted anything here about Óró 'Sé Do Bheatha 'Bhaile. This is one of my favorites, not only for its history as a Rebel song (in a series of Rebellions), but also as it's about Sovereignty. Which Warrior Queen is being called to? What does it mean to welcome her home?

As the refrain ends, "Now that summer is coming," seasonally this is more appropriate for Spring. But I find that it often crops up in the river of song when a welcome is called for. Sláinte Mhaith!

The Wikipedia article on the song is pretty good, and has some of the alternate versions. This is my preferred variation, adapted by Pádraig Pearse:


'Sé do bheatha, a bhean ba léanmhar,
Do b' é ár gcreach tú bheith i ngéibheann,
Do dhúiche bhreá i seilbh méirleach,
Is tú díolta leis na Gallaibh.

Óró, sé do bheatha 'bhaile,
Óró, sé do bheatha 'bhaile,
Óró, sé do bheatha 'bhaile
Anois ar theacht an tsamhraidh.
Tá Gráinne Mhaol ag teacht thar sáile,
Óglaigh armtha léi mar gharda,
Gaeil iad féin is ní Frainc ná Spáinnigh,
Is cuirfidh siad ruaig ar Ghallaibh.
A bhuí le Rígan na bhFeart go bhfeiceam,1
Mura mbeam beo ina dhiaidh ach seachtain,
Gráinne Mhaol agus míle gaiscíoch,
Ag fógairt fáin ar Ghallaibh.


Welcome oh woman who was so afflicted,
It was our ruin that you were in bondage,
Our fine land in the possession of thieves
And you sold to the foreigners!

Oh-ro You're welcome home,
Oh-ro You're welcome home,
Oh-ro You're welcome home
Now that summer's coming!
Gráinne O'Malley is coming over the sea,
Armed warriors along with her as her guard,
They are Gaels, not French nor Spanish
And they will rout the foreigners!
May it please the Queen of Miracles that we might see,
Although we may live for a week once after,
Gráinne Mhaol and a thousand warriors
Dispersing the foreigners!

1Original: "Rí na bhFeart - King of Miracles," usually interpreted as the Christian God, altered here to "Rígan na bhFeart - Queen of Miracles," in honor of Sovereignty, who in Irish lore is always personified as a woman. There is a great tradition of poets, lorekeepers and ceremonial people singing of the Sovereignty of Ireland but, during times of severe oppression, thinly disguising these tales, songs and prayers as "simply" a story of longing for a woman.