Carmina Gadelica, Ortha Nan Gaidheal Volume I
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Pages (PDF): 314
Publication Date: 1900
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This is Volume I of Carmina Gadelica, a compendium of prayers, hymns, charms, incantations, blessings, literary-folkloric poems and songs, proverbs, lexical items, historical anecdotes, natural history observations, and miscellaneous lore gathered in the Gaelic-speaking regions of Scotland between 1860 and 1909.
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THIS work consists of old lore collected during the last forty-four years. It forms a small part of a large mass of oral literature written down from the recital of men and women throughout the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, from Arran to Caithness, from Perth to St Kilda.
The greater portion of the collection has been made in the Western Isles, variously called 'Eileana Bride,' Hebrid Isles, Outer Hebrides, Outer Isles, 'Eilean Fada,' 'Innis Fada,' Long Island, and anciently 'Iniscead,' 'Innis Cat.' Isle of the Cat, Isle of the Catey. Probably the Catey were the people who gave the name 'Cataibh,' Cat Country, to Sutherland, and 'Caitnis,' Cat Ness, to Caithness.
The Long Island is composed of a series of islands, separately known as Barra, South Uist, Benbecula, North Uist, and Harris and Lewis. This chain is one hundred and nineteen miles in length, varying from a few yards to twenty-five miles in width. Viewed from the summit of its highest link, the Long Island chain resembles a huge artificial kite stretched along the green Atlantic Ocean, Lewis forming the body, the disjointed tail trending away in the blue haze and terminating in Bearnarey of Barra. This long series of islands is evidently the backbone of a large island, perhaps of a great continent, that extended westward beyond the Isle of the Nuns, beyond the Isle of the Monks, beyond the Isle of St Flann, beyond the Isle of St Kilda, beyond the Isle of Rockal, probably beyond the storied Isle of Rocabarraidh, and possibly beyond the historic Isle of Atlantis.
This backbone is now disarticulated like the vertebra of some huge fossil fish, each section having a life of its own. These joints are separated by rills and channels varying from a few feet to eight miles in width.
The Atlantic rushes through these straits and narrows into the Minch, and the Minch rushes through the straits and narrows into the Atlantic, four times every twenty-four hours. The constant rushing to and fro of these mighty waters is very striking.
Many of the countless islands comprising the Outer Hebrides are indented with arms of the sea studded with rocks and islands dividing and ramifying into endless mazes, giving in some cases a coast-line of over four hundred miles within their one-mile entrance. No mind could conceive, no imagination could realise, the disorderly distribution of land and water that is to be seen in those Outer Islands, where mountain and moor, sand and peat, rock and morass, reef and shoal, fresh-water lake and salt-water loch, in wildest confusion strive for mastery. Viewing this bewildering scene from the summit of Ruaival in Benbecula, Professor Blackie exclaimed:--
O God-forsaken, God-detested land!
Of bogs and blasts, of moors and mists and rain;
Where ducks with men contest the doubtful strand,
And shirts when washed are straightway soiled again!
The formation of the Long Island is Laurentian gneiss, with some outcrops of Cambrian at Aoi, Lewis, and four examples of trap at Lochmaddy, Uist. The rocks everywhere show ice action, being smoothed and polished, grooved and striated from hill to sea--the grooves and striæ lying east and west or thereby.
There are no trees in the Long Island except some at Rodail, Harris, and a few at Stornoway, Lewis. The wind and spray of the Atlantic are inimical to trees under present climatic conditions. There are evidences, however, that there were trees in historic and prehistoric times.
It is said that a prince of Lewis forsook a Norse princess and married a native girl. The princess vowed by Odin, Thor, and Frea, and by all the other gods and goddesses of her fathers, to avenge the insult, and she sent her witch to burn the woods of Lewis. The tradition of the burning of these woods is countenanced by the presence of charred trees in peat-moss in many places. It is on record that a Norse prince married a native Barra girl, but whether or not this was the prince of Lewis is uncertain.
There are many evidences that the sea has gained upon the land in the Long Island. In the shore and in the sea, peat-moss, tree-roots, sessile reeds, stone dykes, dwellings and temples may be seen, while pieces of moss, trees and masonry have been brought up from time to time by hooks and anchors in from ten to twenty fathoms of water. I do not know anything more touching yet more fascinating than these submerged memorials of bygone times and of bygone men.
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