Seòl-sìdhe Chlann Anndra | Little Effort, Big Results
By Colleen Lynk
Known simply as Clann Anndra in North Uist, the Laings of Uist were known for being clever people with strong memories. They were also renowned for being able to accomplish easily what may have been difficult for others. I have heard an old tale that this may have been due to an encounter with na sìthichean, the fairies, in which a Laing woman was able to earn back her freedom and was thus granted one wish: for her people to be forever twice as hardworking as any others on earth. Others attribute these talents to the first Laing to arrive in Uist in 1712, Maighstir Seon, a renowned schoolmaster and catechist. Either way, it is a reputation that has remained prevalent throughout history. These skills, coupled with an effortless talent for the art of sloinneadh (genealogy), came together to create a rich history of storytelling and bàrdachd (poetry). This can be seen in more recent history through the works of Andrew Laing (1900-1969), Bàrd Hòrasairigh, a talented storyteller and composer of Gaelic song, and the Reverend Malcolm Laing (1888-1968), a writer of stories and bàrdachd in both Gaelic and English.
This history first made its way to Cape Breton in 1827 when, at the age of 19, Angus Laing (Aonghas mac Dhòmhnuill ’ic Iain ’ic Anndra ’ic Maighstir Seon) made the journey from Knockintorran, North Uist to Leitches Creek, Cape Breton (it is also at this time that the family name here in Nova Scotia became Lynk due to what is believed to have been a simple transcription error). Whether Angus himself brought with him the aptitude for storytelling and composing of Clann Anndra, I will never know. However, it is something that I often see in his descendants – namely in my own father, a great-great grandson of Angus. Though my father never did inherit Gaelic from his mother, Sadie Lynk (Sadie ni’n Dan Dhòmhnuill Aonghais), something that was sadly quite common within his generation, he certainly inherited the memory and talents of the Uist Laings.
As a child growing up, I was often fascinated with my father’s ability to recall the names of what seemed like an endless amount of people from his community in Glace Bay. He often had stories attached to these people, accompanied by which street they lived on, who they may have been connected to and how. These stories were not limited to his own experiences, as he also had numerous stories that he had heard from others and stored in his memory. He was and is what I consider to be a true seanchaidh (tradition bearer) in his own right.
Not only was I enthralled by his stories, I often thought quite longingly of the guitar case sitting quietly in my parents’ room. I knew that on special occasions it would make its way out into the living room. The ol’ acoustic that had been tucked away inside was held snug in the hands of my father as he gently strummed and sang familiar tunes. Though the communal aspect of this was something I held dear, however, I would hardly say that his guitar was necessary for a tune to take place. I often heard him singing as he did the dishes or as he sat, sometimes putting together fun little versions of the songs that he loved by changing the lyrics or adding the names of our cats or family members. This was something that seemed so effortless for him, and something that I still have the habit of doing myself.
In a way, though I have only recently obtained the language and the understanding to name this, I feel I have learned so much about the ways of Clann Anndra and about the traditions of the Gaels through my father. I began my own journey with Gaelic and with discovering the long and rich family history of my Gaelic speaking grandmother, Sadie, as way to honour her memory.
This has allowed for me to feel connected to her in such a meaningful way that I had always felt was missing, as I was born nearly a decade after her passing and never had the opportunity to connect with her in childhood. What I didn’t expect was that this journey would also gift me with a closer connection to my father. I have been blessed to re-experience the gift of his stories and songs over the last couple of years. They have been instrumental in my understanding of where I stand in my Gaelic identity.
I hope that I am able to carry what I have learned so far into my work here with Language in Lyrics. I also hope to come out of this experience with an even better understanding of these traditions and their profound significance to our culture, language, and our people. I feel both immense passion and burning excitement as I continue to discover the history and recordings of the many, many songs that have endured within our Gaelic communities. I also feel purpose in doing my part to preserve them. I will do my best to maintain my family’s legacy both in the context of this project and beyond, and I look forward to sharing more of my thoughts and discoveries through this blog.
Tuilleadh fiosrachaidh / Further information:
Andrew Laing (1900-1969), or Anndra mac Alasdair ’ic Anndra ’ic Raghnaill ’ic Iain ’ic Anndra ’ic Mgr Seon, was born in Baile Mòr, Paibil, North Uist. Known as Bàrd Hòrasairigh, the songs he composed, such as ‘An t-Eilean Beag Lurach mu Thuath’, are still sung in the communities of North Uist. Naomi Harvey, Ceòlas researcher during the European Oral Song Tradition (EOST) project in 2013-14, has adeptly collected Andrew’s songs and set them within their community context. The book ‘An t-Eilean Beag Lurach mu Thuath: Òrain Anndra Laing’ is available from the Gaelic Books Council and Ceòlas.
The online archive Tobar an Dualchais also contains 42 recordings of Andrew Laing, including songs, stories and toasts.
The Reverend Malcolm Laing’s book, ‘Tha Cuimhn’ Agam: Gaelic and English Writings’ is available on Amazon.ca
Colleen will be publishing a fortnightly blog every second Thursday from June to August 2019 – keep an eye out for future instalments!