Fios chun a’ Bhàird (A Message for the Poet)

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by William Livingstone (1808–1870)

Performers: Ceòlraidh Ghàidhlig Ghlaschu / The Glasgow Gaelic Musical Association

Professor Donald Meek in his book Tuath is Tighearna (Tenants and Landlords), published by the Scottish Academic Press for the Scottish Gaelic Texts Society (Edinburgh 1995), explains that this sad, angry and powerful song was composed shortly after the estate policy of John Ramsay of Kildalton set in train the departure to Canada of a number of people from the Oa district of Islay.

Though William Livingstone was born in Kilarrow in Islay, as a tailor he worked mainly in Glasgow, living in Tradeston on the south side of the city. He was largely self-taught, including some knowledge of classical and other languages, and had a deep interest in Scottish history. He composed long “epic” poems and shorter poems in which he responded passionately to what he perceived to be the unfair treatment of the Gaels.

In her book Songs of Gaelic Scotland (Birlinn, Edinburgh 2005) Dr Anne Lorne Gillies sets out the background to this song:

It seems the homesick tailor longed for a length of Islay tweed with which to make himself a jacket, and confided his wish to the Rev. Blair, Islay-born minister of St. Columba’s Church, Glasgow. Mr Blair passed the information on to his mother (Bean Dhonnchaidh/Duncan’s wife) who parcelled up a web of grey home-spun cloth, and despatched it to the mainland with the following instruction to the postman: Fios thun a’ Bhàird Ìlich, o Bhean Dhonnchaidh (A message to the Islay Bard from Duncan’s wife).

Its safe arrival in Tradeston touched Livingston greatly and inspired him to write the poem as a kind of thank-you letter. However it turned out to be a message from the bard not so much to the minister’s kindly mother in Islay, as to the whole world: a clarion call to all who read it to recognise the terrible injustice of the Clearances and their wanton, irreversible effect upon the human ecology of the Gàidhealtachd in general, Islay in particular.

Tha a’ mhadainn soilleir, grianach

’S a’ ghaoth an iar a’ ruith gu rèidh;
Tha an linne sleamhainn, sìochail
On a chiùinich strì nan speur;
Tha an long na h-èideadh sgiamhach

’S cha chuir sgìos i dh’ iarraidh tàmh,
Mar a fhuair ’s a chunnaic mise
A’ toirt an fhios seo chun a’ Bhàird.

Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird

Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird

Mar a fhuair ’s a chunnaic mise,
Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird

Tha taighean seilbh na dh’fhàg sinn
Feadh an fhuinn nan càrnan fuar;
Dh’fhalbh ’s cha till na Gàidheil
Stad an t-àiteach, cur is buain;
Tha stèidh nan làrach tiamhaidh
A’ toirt fianais air ’s ag ràdh:
Mar a fhuair ’s a chunnaic mise,
Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird

Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird

Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird

Mar a fhuair ’s a chunnaic mise,
Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird

Chan fhaigh an dèirceach fasgadh
No ’m fear-astair fois o sgìos,
No soisgeulach luchd-èisteachd
Bhuadhaich eucoir, Goill is cìs,
Tha ’n nathair bhreac na lùban
Air na h-ùrlair far an d’ fhàs
Na fir mhòr’ a chunnaic mise:
Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird.

Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird

Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird

Mar a fhuair ’s a chunnaic mise,
Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird.

Lomadh ceàrn na h-Òa,
An Lanndaidh bhòidheach ’s Roinn MhicAoidh;
Tha ’n Learga ghlacach, ghrianach,

’S fuidheall cianail air a taobh;
Tha ’n gleann na fhiadhair uaine
Aig luchd-fuath gun tuath, gun bhàrr;
Mar a fhuair ’s a chunnaic mise,
Thoir am fios seo chun a’ Bhàird.

Translation:

The morning is bright and sunny and the west wind blows gently;
The strait is smooth and peaceful since strife of the skies has subsided.
The ship is beautifully rigged and tiredness will not make her seek rest
As I found and as I saw taking this message to the Poet.

Take this message to the Poet,

Take this message to the Poet

As I found and as I saw
Taking this message to the Poet.

The houses, once the possessions of those departed lie as cold ruins across the land.
The Gaels have left, never to return; cultivation, planting and harvesting has stopped.
The foundations of the melancholy ruins bear witness to that and say,
“As I found and as I saw, let this message reach the Poet.”

Take this message to the Poet,

Take this message to the Poet

As I found and as I saw
Taking this message to the Poet.

The needy cannot find shelter nor the traveller a place to rest
Nor will the evangelist find listeners. Injustice, foreigners and taxes are victorious.
The speckled adder is curled up on the floors where once were raised
The big men I saw there. Take this message to the Poet.

Take this message to the Poet,

Take this message to the Poet

As I found and as I saw
Taking this message to the Poet.

The district of Oa has been plundered, lovely Lanndaidh and the Rhinns of MacKay;
Sunny Largie with its hollows has a sad remnant on its slopes
The Glen is now a green wilderness, held by men of hate, without tenants or crops.
As I found and as I saw, take this message to the Poet.

Take this message to the Poet,

Take this message to the Poet

As I found and as I saw
Taking this message to the Poet.