Gaelic singer Mary Jane Lamond is a member of the Language in Lyrics team.

Le Màiri Sìne NicLaomuinn

By Mary Jane Lamond

Feasgar math dhuibh uile. Tha fios aig an fheadhainn a tha eòlach orm gu bheil mi gu math measail air rannsachadh agus a’ fuasgladh thòimhseachain. Tha na beachdan a leanas a’ dol a bhith ro shìmplidh do chuid agaibh ach tha mi ‘n dòchas gum bi ‘ad feumail do chàch…

Those who know me know that I’m very fond of research and untangling puzzles. Today I invite you to join me on a trip ‘down the rabbit hole’ (my preferred sort of journey). In other words… searching for Gaelic song texts on the internet.

I’ve was so fortunate that I was often able to learn songs from tradition bearers and my peers ‘air chèilidh’, through visiting. I’m also aware that experience isn’t readily available to everyone. But, we have the good fortune to have a wealth of recorded material from which to learn.

I was a student at St. F.X. when I first started to work on learning Gaelic songs. I didn’t have the means to go and visit my elders often, but I did have access to recordings. This was back in the era of cassettes, and just a bare bones internet, so I found it helpful to go The Father Brewer Celtic Collection at St. Francis Xavier University and go through published song collections to see if I could find a setting of the song that would give me a base from which to begin transcribing the version I had on tape.

A favourite place of mine, Father Brewer Celtic Collection at the Angus L. MacDonald Library

A favourite place of mine, Father Brewer Celtic Collection at the Angus L. MacDonald Library

Although it doesn’t replace the valuable experience of meandering through books in the library, the internet is now an extremely useful tool for searching for song texts as so many Gaelic publications have been uploaded to the internet in the form of searchable PDF’s. It’s amazing, really, what you can find!

Transcribing a song is an extremely useful exercise in building language skills and intimately getting to know a song and a singer. However, you can sometimes give yourself a head start on the transcription process by searching for a song online before you start.

(Clicking on any gold coloured text in the following example will give you a link to follow)

For example, I went to Gael Stream, the online platform for Dr. John Shaw’s Cape Breton Folklore and Folk Song Collection, housed at St. Francis Xavier University, and looked for a song I wasn’t familiar with (and there are plenty). I chose An t-Òigear Uallach, sung by Dan Joe MacNeil of Deepdale, Inverness County.

I suggest that if you can make out an unusual line from the song, searching for that line is the best way to narrow your search results.  Those of you familiar with Gaelic song will know that searching for “O gur mise tha fo mhulad” [Oh, I am miserable] is going to give you too many results. (I tried it and got 2,600!)

In the case of this song, I thought that searching just the title in quotation marks might be specific enough, and I was right! A quick internet search showed me that this song was published in An t-Òranaiche but also appeared in Am Filidh , a collection of songs composed by Seumas Munro.

Sure enough, there was An t-Òigear Uallach, with just a few variations in the text as it was sung by Dan Joe MacNeil on Gael Stream.

I have to say, it isn’t always this easy to find such a close text and quite often you will have to do lot more transcribing. We’ll be posting more about some tips for that process in future blog posts.

As that went so swimmingly, and I hadn’t hardly even broken sod, I decided to see what I could find out about Seumas Munro. I searched his name (also in quotation marks) and found a short biography of a Seumas Munro in this jewel of a book :



You can find this book at Archive.org

On page 36 A. MacLean Sinclair writes…“Seumas Munro was born at Fort Inverlochy(?) around the year 1794. He was a school master for a long time at Blàr Odhar. He was educated, and full of music and poetry. He died in 1870. He was never married. The Gaelic Grammar that he put out is extremely valuable. For rules of writing Gaelic correctly it is the best one there is.”

As the song featured in MacLean Sinclair’s book is not An t-Òigear Uallach, I wasn’t sure if we were talking about the same Seumas Munro, SO (I did warn you this was going to be a trip down a rabbit hole, but I promise to stop soon…truly) I went to the National Library of Scotland, which is a complete wonder, and I did a search for Munro’s book “Am Filidh” and got this search result:

So you can see that “my” Seumas Munro also published a Gaelic primer, so it might be the Seumas Munro that A. MacLean Sinclair describes? If anybody has more information on the author of “Am Filidh” do let us know.

Time to come up for air. Hope you enjoyed the trip and that someone decides to start singing this song!

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