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The dispersal of Highlanders from their native glens and the loss of their language have deprived many clans of much of their traditions and lore. This heritage, which the people shared and which helped bind them together, was passed on orally and preserved through the informal gatherings and ceilidhs which were features of their essentially pastoral way of life. Each clan, or district, had its sennachies(story tellers), bards and musicians and in their tales, poetry and songs, they provided the recognition of family, familiar places and events which inspired their clansfolk and fostered their loyalty. Few clans can now present these stirring reminders of their past but the MacGillivrays have a fine, if sadly little known, example of which they should be justly proud. In the earlier half of the 19th century, when Gaelic was very much the language of the Strathnairn folk, one of their favourite songs sang the praises of the MacGillivray of Dunmaglass. It was lengthy and in the tradition of the Oran Mor, the great classical song of the Gael.
No date is given for the composition but from the context it can be surmised that it is a panegyric to commemorate the birth of the son and heir [of William, IX of Dunmaglass, 1746-82], John Lachlan MacGillivray, in 1782; hence the reference to Lachlan at the end of the second verse. It is impressive how the knowledge of the bard, and the community, comes through strongly from the oral tradition. We have no written history of the clan at that period yet the bard's knowledge of his Clan's chiefs is verified by the later researches of Fraser-Mackintosh and others. Ian Ciar has been recognised as a 15th century Chief and the bard, in verse 10, refers to the Clan as the children of John. Three of the subsequent Chiefs were Farquhar, a name which recurs but without distinguishing other than the reference to "grey" Farquhar, a distinction we no longer know. Yet, very surprisingly and inexplicably, the bard makes no reference to Alasdair Ruadh na Feile,possibly the best known of the Chiefs, who distinguished himself as leader of the Clan Chattan during The '45.
As is customary in such songs, the sources of help in times of trouble or danger are listed. First, the ancient linkage with the MacGillivrays of Mull is recognised with the reference to Pennyghael and his men. The support mentioned in the two succeeding verses would be forthcoming from branches of the Dunmaglass line; kin in the neighbouring glen of Aberchalder and the clansmen of Dulcrombie [Dalcrombie]. Other interesting references are to the honesty of the Dunmaglass line in plying their trade of cattle droving and to the custom of the womenfolk sharing in their men's drinking.
This song is one of all the too few relics of our Clan's past and an important one of its kind. As such, it should be cherished and preserved. And if we can no longer use the original Gaelic, we should never forget the striking metaphor "Your race was not begotten of weeds, nor of worthless grass ... but sprang from the finest of the wheat".

From an article by Robert McGillivray, Edinburgh,
in the Journal of the Clan MacGillivray Society - Australia
Vol. 3, No. 3 (1993)

NOTE: The song is from the papers of Charles Fraser-Mackintosh related to legal claims on the Chiefship and estates of John Lachlan, X of Dunmaglass, following his death in 1852. It is amongst a portfolio of evidence gathered to support the standing of clans as legal entities during the litigations. It was recorded in Gaelic verse with English translation (presented here), but without musical notations. The name of the bard who composed it is given in Gaelic patronymic form, but he is assumed to have been a MacGillivray clansman.


By John Donn M'James V'David
(Le Iain Donn MacSheumais 'Ic Dhaibhidh)

My love to the warlike race
The gentle, vigourous, flourishing
Active, of great fame, beloved
Whom we have over us,
The race that will not wither, and has descended
Long from every side,
Excellent M'Gillivrays of the Doun,
Whom I shall ever hold in esteem.

Your race was not begotten
Of weeds, nor of worthless grass,
Nor did it grow in the edges of the field,
But sprang from the finest of the wheat;
These are the excellent plants,
Healthy, erect, pure, soft,
Who would raise a banner on its staff
Around Lachlan the Beloved

When you would get early on foot
You would not seek idleness or rest,
When the banner was raised
Ye would not refuse to move to the music of the pipe.
Cold blades in your grasp,
Steel shields in the hands of the heroes,
Gentlemen who would not grudge loss
Driving enough of cattle before them.

Handsome, excellent gentlemen
Who would not spare themselves in army or camp,
Marching over moss and hill, army or
Wood, and in rough places, hollows and mountains,
Who would not spare their effects
Nor their high precious blood
To avoid danger
That William might never be in difficulty.

But excellent, well-made, vigorous men,
As meek and gentle as a woman,
As meek and soft
As a woman who wears head dress,
As nimble and fierce
As an armed hero to give an angry blow,
Liberal as a Duke
Is Farquhar of the Doun in truth.

The excellent Farquhar
Is without deceit,
Without failing, or cunning,
Straight-forward, open, warm,
Single-minded, without hypocrisy,
Liberal, heroic, bold,
Chief of those of excellent fame,
Spite of the Lowlander's craft
Thou art the head of the cause of the crown.

At short warning
Thy friends will come from North and South,
Men of excellent form
From Mull of the green hills like waves,
Pennyghael with his men
Will come over the high-swelling waves,
They will come in a moment
Lest thou shouldest have any annoyance.

From Aberchalder also
The heroes will certainly come forth,
Seed of them who are now no more,
Who were just, upright, righteous;
It was their delight to speak
Of these things around the table;
Many is the friend
Who dwells around thee.

From Dulcrombie of the hills,
The rocks and the grey glens,
The hero will come in haste,
Who is not soft in the conflict of swords,
The neat spotted shield
And the firm sword in his hand,
That would frighten the Lowlander
When his spirit would be up.

The children of John without fault,
Race of William, son of gray Farquhar,
Who would draw blood in the hunt.
Few are they that would not trust them,
Often hast thou bought the drove
Without obligation save the touch of thy right thumb,
And paid again in truth
With gold and grey silver.

The sportsmen will be found
On the summit of the high mountains;
Thy race were destructive
To the sharp-horned hart of the hills;
The roebuck would be in haste
And the son of the dog in pursuit at his heels;
Many of the entrails of the deer
Which the flayers of the skin would leave on the ground.

O King! Joyful would we be
When returning home to rest.
Though the hero might be wearied,
Every man's business would be in his hand,
He would have the joy of drinking,
And the sounds of the sweetest music,
With them of the fairest locks
Who could reply in the choicest conversation.

Also with the fairest spouse,
The gentle woman with the fair curled hair,
Hospitality without stint,
The sound of strings
As usual tuned
We were cheered around each table.
Without want, without wound, without misfortune,
The heroes had amusement indeed
When the drinking horns were placed around the table.

It was the custom of the hero
To take wine as his drink
Alongside of the wife,
The fairest and gentlest of disposition,
That was the companionship without deceit,
In which the love of each was manifest,
Without hatred or ill-will in their heart,
But honour with pleasure is their disposition.

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