Morvern Lines with Iain Thornber week 04

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Last week I wrote about Dr John Maclachlan of Rahoy (1804-1870), bard and physician, who lived by the shores of Loch Teacuis where his father, originally from Dunadd, was the Duke of Argyll’s tenant farmer.

This week I want to say something about Duncan Macpherson (c. 1835-1931), another Morvern bard, also from Rahoy, who composed some lovely songs which are less well known than they used to be.

Duncan Macpherson was born at Rahoy. He was the eldest son of John and Sarah MacPherson who arrived in Morvern from Ardnamurchan when Sir James Riddell of Caister, Norfolk, began evicting his small tenants in the economic depression following the end of the Napoleonic War.

After the death of his father, Duncan moved to Glasgow. From there he went out to New Zealand about 1880 to join three uncles who had settled in South Island when they were forced out of Ardnamurchan in 1864.

Duncan married and settled on a sheep and cattle station in Otago until the death of his wife by drowning while fording the great Matukituki River. Duncan died at Mount Aspiring on January 22, 1931, when he was struck by a train.

According to his descendants, Duncan maintained a lively interest in the Gaelic language and composed a number of songs, some of which were published in The Oban Times in the 1880s. One of Duncan’s best was, Duanag do’n Mhorbhairne – A Song to Morvern, in which he fondly
remembers the place of his birth.

The song is in Gaelic and has many verses – too many to include now but here are two of the originals to give a flavour of the language of the time, and a translations of the rest. If any reader would like the whole song, please get in touch with me by email.

A ho ro, mo run am fearann,
A ho ro, mo run am fearann,
Mo ghaol a’ Mhorbhairne bhoidheach
Anns an robh mi og am leanabh
[A ho ro, my beloved land,
A ho ro, my beloved land,
My love is beautiful Morvern
Where I spent my early childhood]
A ‘Mhorbhairne bhoideach chliuiteach
Far am biodh an oigridh shunndach:
Ceal is dannsa ‘s orain shugraidh
Mu’n Bhliadhn’ Uir, aig feill is bannais
[Lovely, renowned Morvern, where the lively young folk
used to be,
With music, dancing and playful songs at the New Year,
At markets and weddings]
The healthy, pure water of Beinn Iadain
Running down to the lochs of numerous salmon;
Fine it was to fish for them on Gearr-abhain [River Aline]
Up by the bounds of Achranich

Fiunary of renowned noblemen
With whom the Queen often conversed;
There was not another family in Scotland
Who could match you in preaching from a pulpit [the Macleod ministers]
Your castles were regal and strong:
Ardtornish and Kinlochaline,
Killundine, Dun Fhin and Dun Ban
And high, proud gables of Dungallon
Are not the two sides of Loch Sunart beautiful?
Sunny green Strontian, Laudale,
The Glen [Glencripesdale] and Rahoy
Where the Red-Haired Doctor [John Maclachlan] was a babe
From the Sidhean [Sithean na Raplaich]
You see all together every glen,
Loch and lovely island,
Beinn Hiant, yellow-covered with daisies,
Land of milk, of grass and sprouting branches
The children of Angus [MacInneses] are banished,
There is scarcely a man in the upper half [White Glen].
But a graveyard and cold ruins,
Emblems of the days that are gone
The other night I dreamt I was in Rahoy as of yore,
But when I awoke – cause of my distress,
It was as far from me as the moon
Many a happy evening I spent as a child by Loch Teacuis,
Running and jumping with lively abandon
O! these were the beautiful days
A greeting from me across the sea to my friends,
My fellow-countrymen and every Gaelic society:
Health and thousands of blessings be yours,
Whether we meet or not, and forever!

Towards the end of last year I included a poem in Morvern Lines called, ‘I’m fine thanks’. Judging by the number of emails I received about it, it seemed popular. Here is another in the same vein which I hope will go down equally well. Author unknown.

It really is a bore growing old

When longer arms are needed for the letters on the page,
When ‘threes’ and ‘eights’ both look the same (a certain sign of age!)
When eyes begin to narrow just to focus on the screen,
When distant objects blur or merge and sight is not so keen

To ‘age with grace’, is what to do (at least so we are told)
But it really is a bore, growing old!
When glasses, keys and wallets seem to hide themselves each day.
When patience wanes in others, irritated by delay.
When, wearily, you climb the stairs and can’t remember why.
When you repeat an oft-told tale and family members sigh,
Accept a trip down memory lane just isn’t worth the stroll
As it really is a bore growing old!
When arthritic fingers fumble and the waistline’s heading south,
When the apple crumble rumbles on the journey to the mouth.
When at breakfast-time and supper you are shovelling the pills,
When lifts are welcome options or you’re puffing on the hills.
‘Just act your age, silly goat!’, you’ll sure as hell be told,
But it really is a bore, growing old!
When a needle you can’t thread to sew a button on your breeks,
When the doctor’s freezing fingers bring the colour to your cheeks.
When no one says ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’, but ‘Hi’
When assistants have no knowledge of the things you want to buy.
Go with the flow and bite your tongue, on temper keep a hold
But it really is a bore, getting old.
When you’re down there tying laces and you wonder with a frown,
What usefully could else be done whilst you’re that far down.
When your toenails are like granite and they’re almost out of reach.
When no longer is the BBC a font for proper speech
Just drop your standards like the rest, and come in from the cold,
But it really is a bore, growing old.
When you come back from the car park and you cannot find your car,
When you’re really not too certain just exactly where you are
When the back-swing’s shot to pieces and you cannot follow through
When you cannot hit the b****y ball the way you used to do
Just carry on and play the shots until the old knees fold,
But it really is a bore, growing old.
When you’re told it is your birthday and it comes as a surprise,
When you need to be reminded that you haven’t zipped your flies
When you’ve never touched an iPod or on eBay bought and sold
When on reason and reality you barely have a hold
Just swallow hard and take a breath and do just what you’re told
But it really is a bore, getting old.