Sùileachan Cailleach

I'm always hesitant to say 'this is the way it is' when I speak or write of Gàidhlig and the community; I don't believe I have that authority yet and might never have it. So this blog entry is only about a recent experience of mine, one that means a great deal to me.

My friend and Gàidhlig mentor Séidheag once told me that sometimes Gàidhlig songs just come to you. At the time, we were discussing Oran na Cloiche, a great but difficult song I'm still learning beag air bheag. I understood what she meant intellectually, but I didn't understand it fully until I had a song from Griogair Labhruidh last week. It's a song of the Cailleach of Beinne Brice, a protector of deer who 'moves in and through the herd' near the high, sacred spring of the mountain. Griogair's arrangement focuses upon Her as the Goddess of that place and is most sympathetic both to the Cailleach and to Her efforts on behalf of the deer.

His discussion and performance of the piece struck me in a way I can't quite describe without babbling, so I won't. But if you read my blog, you already know that I'm a believer in Goddesses and a protector of wild animals, so you might imagine the rest. I went to Goraidh Dòmhnallach, a local fluent speaker for help with the translation, and then I went back to Griogair for the pronounciation in his rare, Ballachulish dialect, since it was important to me that I sing the song the way I learned it.

A day or two later, this crossed my Facebook feed: Cailleach na Beinne Brice: The Carlin of Ben Breck. I had already committed myself to learning the song, and this reinforced my commitment, since it offered more history and more verses than I had before. I added it to my collection of lore about the piece, and I've been practicing Griogair's arrangement since.

Here's the important bit, for me anyway. Up until now, I'd been listening to recordings of modern Gàidhlig singers and learning the songs I liked. But those were recent renditions of ancient songs, and the rhythms of the language and the lore weren't whole in them anymore. I have Crònan Glastig Na Beinne Brice from a native singer and speaker who lives, if memory serves, in the shadow of the mountain itself and who offered the song to his class with a living Goddess in it. Because of that, I learned, or perhaps it was imprinted upon me that taking up a song, or receiving a song that comes to you isn't a one-way transaction. I have a responsibility now to bear it correctly, to tell its story and its lineage, or as much as I can know of it. And if hearing the song for the first time left me inclined to babble, I won't even begin to speak of the way that realization struck me. It moved through me like a spear.

My Anglo self wants to tell the whole of this story, to write and write and write about it as if the progression of words might bring you into the thing. My Gàidhlig self is a little embarrased that my Anglo self is writing at all and hopes she'll stop soon because the song is the thing, and it needs to be heard far more than all of the other stuff you've read here. So when you see me, if you want to hear it, ask. I would be glad (now that's an understatement) to sing it for you.