Òran Beinn Lì (Song of Ben Li)

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by Mary MacPherson (c.1821–1898)

Performer: Catriona Anna Nic a’ Phì /Cathy Ann MacPhee

Mary MacPherson, Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (Big Mary of the Songs) composed this song in May 1887 after crofters from the Braes district of Skye received word from the Land Court that they had won the right to graze their livestock on Ben Lì and that their rents would be lowered. This was regarded as a significant victory because the dispute over the grazing of Ben Lì had resulted in the famous Battle of the Braes in 1882.

Lord MacDonald had angered the Braes crofters by taking the grazing rights to Ben Lì from them in 1865 and renting it to a farmer. The situation came to a head in 1881 when the crofters withheld their rents. In April 1882 the people of Braes forced Lord MacDonald’s official to burn the summonses he had come to Braes to deliver. About 50 policemen commanded by Sheriff Ivory came to Skye to arrest the ringleaders and their foray to Braes led to a clash with local people on the 19th of April. They arrested five men and seven women and about a dozen policemen were injured. The Battle of The Braes drew the attention of journalists and politicians to the sorry state of crofters in the Highlands.

In the song the “farmers of Valtos” were the first people to refuse to pay the increased rents and “Pàrnell” was Charles Stewart from Valtos, nicknamed after the Irish Land Leaguer, Charles Stewart Parnell.  The “Satan” referred to is Sherriff Ivory and the “angels” are the  policemen. Having been imprisoned and then taken to court for his part in the Braes incident Stewart was found to be innocent. In newspapers Ivory maintained that he was one of the ringleaders so, in June 1887, Charles Stewart successfully sued him in the Court of Session for defamation and Ivory was forced to pay him £25 damages.

Thugaibh taing dhan a’ mhuinntir
Tha fo riaghladh na Bànrigh,
Rinn an lagh dhuinn cho diongmhalt’
’S nach caill sinn Beinn Lì.

Cuiribh beannachd le aiteas
Gu tuathanaich Bhaltois.
Bha air tùs anns a’ bhatail,
’S nach do mheataich san strì.

Thugaibh beannachd gu “Pàrnell”,
Thug a’ bhuaidh air “An t-Sàtan”,
Chor ’s nach fhaicear gu bràth e
Tighinn air àrainn na tìr.

Nuair a thàinig e chiad uair
Leth-cheud “aingeal” fo riaghladh,
Chuir e còignear an iarainn
Ann an crìochan Beinn Lì.

Chaidh an giùlan leis “na h-ainglean”,
’S an glasadh an gainntir;
’S a dh’aindeoin cumhachd an nàimhdean,
’S leò am fonn is Beinn Lì.

’S na mnathan bu shuairce
’S bu mhodhaile gluasad,
Chaidh an claiginn a spuaiceadh
Ann am bruachan Beinn Lì.

Siud a’ bheinn a tha dealbhach,
’S dhan a’ Bhànrigh bha sealbhach,
’S chan eil beinn ann an Albainn
’N-diugh cho ainmeil ’s Beinn Lì.

’S ged tha ’n Cuiltheann is Glàmaig
Measg nam beanntan as àille,
Cha bhi ’n eachdraidh air a fàgail
Ach aig sàiltean Beinn Lì.

Translation:

Give thanks to the people under the Queen’s rule who gave us such a steadfast law that we will not lose Ben Lì.

Send greetings with gladness to the farmers of Valtos who were at the front in the battle and who did not weaken in the struggle.

Give greetings to “Pàrnell” who beat “The Satan”, to the extent that he will never be seen again approaching this area.

When he came the first time, with fifty “angels” under his command, he put five men in irons at the boundaries of Ben Lì.

They were borne away by the “angels” and locked in a prison, and despite the power of their enemies they still have the land of Ben Lì.

The kind women who carry themselves so courteously, their skulls were broken on the slopes of Ben Lì.

That’s the shapely hill which was fortunate for the Queen. There’s no hill in Scotland today as famous as Ben Lì.

Although the Cuillins and Glàmaig are among the most beautiful of mountains, the history will only be associated with the slopes of Ben Lì.