Sunday, August 16, 2015


Desecration of a Tree in a Churchyard

Meg Bateman and Anne Loughran, edd., Bàird Ghleann Dail. The Glendale Bards: A Selection of Songs and Poems by Niall MacLeòid (1843-1913), 'The Bard of Skye', His Brother Iain Dubh (1847-1901) and Father Dòmhnall nan Òran (c.1787-1873) (Edinburgh: Birlinn Limited, 2013), from an electronic edition without page numbers (introduction to a poem by Iain Dubh):
38. Aoir Dhòmhnaill Ghrannd

Sam Thorburn can be heard describing the circumstances that gave rise to this poem in Tobar an Dualchais. Sheep were climbing the wall of Dòmhnall Grannd's cabbage patch. He intended to protect it by blocking the breaches in the wall with branches he cut under cover of darkness from a tree growing in Cill Chomhghain churchyard in Glendale. On hearing of this, Iain Dubh composed his poem in which the hapless Dòmhnall is visited by the ghost of Tiel, the son of a Norwegian king, found washed ashore at Loch Pooltiel, said to have been the first person to have been buried in the graveyard and to have given the loch its name. The recitations of Sam Thorburn and Peigi Shamaidh use a stentorian voice for the ghost upbraiding the wheedling and terrified Dòmhnall for undertaking such a hideous crime as the desecration of the tree. While there is much humour in the poem, it reflects both something of the reverence given to trees in the Gaelic tradition and the degree of control levied traditionally by poets on members of their community through praise and satire.
Id. (translation of a few stanzas of the poem; the ghost is speaking):
4. Man, don't take fright at my appearance,
though you've sadly removed me from glory;
if I've come to your dwelling on a visit,
it isn't to ask for you with cheer and a greeting.
Your axe in the night brought sorrow
to the saints who with me were blissful;
when you chopped the shady cover of the graveyard
since in you wisdom's light was extinguished.

5. I am the spirit of Tiel, son of the King of Norway,
who was the first to be buried in the hill of Kilchoan,
to give true testament of the evil
of the act you committed tonight with your fingers.
I watched you disturbing the dead
as they lay at rest below boards,
though you managed to get back safe
with the earth of my sod on your shoes.

6. Rogue, what did you think you were doing,
when you robbed those sticks in your clutches,
an anointed bush that burst forth from the ground
by order of the enthroned Creator?
Memorial tree of widows and children,
whose beauty drew their sorrow from them,
that grew for death and for mourning us,
like the plant that cheered Jonah.


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