Posts Tagged ‘scotland’


One of the pleasures of library-exploring is turning up the odd document like this.

In a history of the local region (I am not from the area, and so it still had its strangeness) I came across a first-hand account of the entry of the Jacobite Rebels of 1745, into a small town in East Cheshire (Macclesfield).
I have excerpted as follows, keeping to the printed orthography the best that I can with a modern keyboard:

… the next morning [Sunday], the 1st instant [December, 1745], about 10 o’clock, we had notice from the country people that the Rebells were within a quarter of a mile of the town.


   When the first emotion of my own fright was a little abated, I ventured to peep out of a Garret window, but seeing my wife and her two sisters below at the Gates shame roused my courage, and I ventured to stand by ‘em, and saw the whole army pass by my own door, except a regiment of Horse commanded by Lord Elcho,

and some forces which came in late. But those I saw the next day. The quarter-masters first came into town, who, with their guard, were about 20 in number. They rode to the Cross and enquired for the constables.
…………………………………………………….. They enquir’d for Sir P Davenport’s house…
( he was away) …. and soon afterwards rode to his house, and after viewing it inside and out, marked the door with the word ‘Prince.’ I had now so much valour that I ventured to speak to one of ‘em, and enquir’d wt number of forces wo’d be in Town that day. He answ’d 10,000, upon wch I returned home much dismayed.
Immediately afterwds came in a regiment of Horse by way of advance guard, said to be commanded by the Duke of Perth ……………………………………
This regiment seem’d to be very poorly mounted. I believe for the most part were on such horses as they pickt up… but many of the men were lusty clever fellows. Not long after this, came foot in very regular order, with Bagpipes playing instead of drums, the colonels marching at the head of each respective regiment. And all the forces, as well as Horse and Foot, were in Highland dress, except the Bodyguards, which wore blue trimmed with red.
After about 4 or 5 Regiments had passed us by it was said the Prince was coming up…. and it happen’d that a halt was made just opposite my door for a minute or two, which gave us full opportunity of having a full view of him. He was in Highland Dress with a blue waistcote trim’d with silver, and had a blue Highland cap on, and was surrounded by almost 40 who appeared as his Guard.  He is a very handsome person of a man, rather tall, exactly proportioned, and walks very well …
He walked on foot from Manchester, as he had done, ‘tis said, all the way from Carlisle; and I believe they made their very best appearance into the Town, expecting to be received as at Manchester; but there was a profound silence, and nothing to be seen on the countenances on the Inhabitants but horror and amazement…..

… an order came to the Mayor to proclaim the Pretender… Poor Mr Mayor was obliged to be at it…They made the Town Clerk repeat the Proclamation after ‘em….

   Soon after the advanced guard came into town there was a young Lowlander (but in Highland Dress) quartered himself and horse upon us… His dress was very unpromising, but his manner shewed he had had a genteel education and was a person of some account. As he was exceeding civil, the women took courage and soon fell into discourse with him. He stood at the gate during the greater part of the procession, by which means we had an opportunity of learning the names of the Chiefs as they passed by … Many of the officers appeared very well – some few indeed were very old – in particular Glenbuckett who seemed to be 80 at the least, and bended almost double on horseback… he had been bedridden three years before the Prince’s son arrived in Scotland…
58 John Gordon 'Old Genbucket'

Many of the common men, tho’ dirty and shabby, were lusty fellows. There were many old men amongst the common soldiers… It was dark before the artillery came in, and as it grew duskish orders were given that the inhabitants should illuminate their houses upon pain of military execution…
The young Lowlander… whilst at dinner talked pretty freely, and said Manchester was a glorious town… he said it was strange the English could not see their own interest (by not joining the Scots): We had not been joined by 5 English men since we came from Scotland, but thought if they co’d get into Wales they should be joined by many there.


… My sister Molly observed that he had said nothing of his… Religion. … ‘I can assure you (his response) ‘he’s no more a Bigot in matters of religion than myself, who am a Protestant.’ My wife amongst other discourse mentioned Religion and the confusion the people were in at Church that morning when they came in. Upon which he asked her – ‘ Well Madam, and who did you pray for?’ – Says she, ‘for his Majesty King George.’ Upon which he said, ‘You did very right’; but, says she,, ‘supposing you had come here last night, should we have been interrupted in our prayers by any particular directions?’ ‘No, the Minister would have been ordered to pray for the King without naming any names, as had been done at Kendal Church the last Sunday.’


As to their number, there was no judging of it from their March into the town, and they seemed to be very artful in concealing their numbers. They bespoke billets for 10,000; and said 5,000 would come in next day, but for my own part I don’t think they exceed 6,000 in the whole.


My document breaks off here.
The distances they covered, and times given for travelling, are very interesting.

From Kendal to Macclesfield in one week.
The route is at times relatively level, but it is by no means straight, and interrupted by hilly ground: the Trough of Bowland for one, and south of Manchester rambles around the foothills of the Peak District.
The modern road system gives the distance as 92 miles.

They entered the Manchester environs on November 23rd. Here they were joined by 300 volunteers. If we compare this with the statement, We had not been joined by 5 English men since we came from Scotland, then we can only assume the volunteers were fellow Scots, or Irish workers based in Manchester.

From Macclesfield to Derby is a relatively shorter distance: 44 miles.
They arrived there on December 4 to 6th.
It was in Derby, with the absence of reinforcements, and the fabled Welsh meet-up having fallen through, that the march on London was abandoned.
Cities were hubs of a wide range of nationalities seeking work. Even so, it must have been estimated that to reach Birmingham, the next major centre on their route, would not have proved worthwhile.
By this time the English government had revived from their shock, and coordinated a counter-response.

The Prince returned to Scotland, arriving in Glasgow on 26th December.

If you follow this link it gives the route of the march from Ashbourne in Derbyshire, to Derby.

As you can see it was by no means an easy or straightforward route.
I can only marvel at the stamina of those ‘lusty men.’

For the outcome, follow this link:

It is revealing what the young Lowlander says about religion: the fear of another series of bloody Catholic-Protestant reprisals was one of the major concerns that kept English people from joining the rebellion. It was only four generations after the Civil War, and the horror of that period must have been still working its way through their collective psyches.
How reliable were his comments? Would the situation have remained so?

Weaver of Grass

Posted: July 29, 2019 in Chat
Tags: , , ,

Donnie Munro, ex-front man of Runrig, Scottish/Scots Gaelic, band left the band in 1995.
In 2002 his solo album Across the City and the World contained the glorious song Weaver of Grass.
The song celebrates Angus McPhee, fellow Hebridean, and a weaver of grass.

Runrig officially retired/disbanded last year: 45 years!
Donnie left in 1995, and put himself forward as Labour councillor for Ross and Skye, Scotland. He was unsuccessful. It was no mean defeat, he was beaten by Charles Kennedy, who was to become the leader of the UK Liberal Democrat Party. Donnie Munro was contesting a traditionally-held LibDem seat.

He has his own radio show, Harvest Moon Radio
and still tours.

Runrig  also contributed another member to politics – Peter Wishart, keyboard player, left the band in 2001 to become elected SNP Scottish MP. A position he continues to hold.

So, what got me onto this track?
I found an old copy of Raw Vision, magazine of Outsider and Art Brut, from 1996 – issue 16.
There was the article on Angus McPhee, weaver of grass.

The article, Art Extraordinary, explores the collection of Dr W A F Browne, art therapist and consultant curator, based in Scotland.
Angus McPhee’s work forms part of the collection. His dates are 1916 to 1997.

Angus McPhee, we are told, came from a crofter family in the Outer Hebrides. He joined WW11 in 1939. The details are scanty. All we know is that shortly after – the War? After signing up? – he was committed to a mental asylum. He remained ‘in the system’ for the rest of his life: 50 years. He does not appear to have been dangerous in any way, as he was given freedom to roam the hospital grounds, and out into the land nearby. Nor does he seem to have been obliterated with medication, or electro-convulsive therapy.
He was not known to speak, although capable. He was competent enough to understand and sign an agreement allowing his articles to be used in displays.

It was ‘in the system’ his skill in the craft of grass weaving was developed to the full. This became especially apparent in the late 1970s: he would have been in his 60’s.
It is described more a form of ‘knitting’ using two lengths of fence wire.
He produced articles of clothing: caps, trousers, even shoes: ‘boots’. Also ropes of woven grass. He also used sheep’s wool gathered off fences and hedges, and made scarves, or as far as I can tell, combined wool and grass.
He would often leave these garments hidden under bushes.



He was later moved to another hospital, and lost access to wool, and the long grasses he had used previously. This did not seem to distress him, and substituted local materials. Using beech leaves he made pony harnesses, conical pouches.
He was getting old at this point, and his eyesight failing.

Wiki, naturally, has an excellent article on him, with images:

From this article we can fill in some gaps.
He was born on South Uist, the Outer Hebrides. He was a fluent bi-lingual English and Gaelic speaker.  In the War he was stationed on the Faroe Islands. It was there he became mentally unstable. He was returned home to Scotland, and hospitalised near Inverness, the east of Scotland.
His last years were spent back in Uist, at a nursing home.

A film documentary was made in 2004: Hidden Gifts: The Mystery of Angus MacPhee (IMDB), and book in 2011: The Silent Weaver by Roger Hutchinson

There is, of course, another dimension to the story.
We need to go back to the Raw Vision article. From there, back to 1991, and the Ötzil Alps. Here was discovered the remarkably well preserved body of Ötzi, the man who died between 3400 and 3100 BCE.
His clothes and various articles also survived. One of these was a woven grass cap much like those made by Angus McPhee.



Also preserved were woven grass cords and ropes, much like the ones made by Angus McPhee, for leading horses for which he had always shown a keen affection.

Old skills; our endless ability to transform environment, utilise, its constituents; the constant and continual bubbling up of creativity – whether for essential use, or the pleasure and healing of creation.


As an addendum, I remembered reading Francois Gilot’s memoir, Life With Picasso some time back.
She mentioned how, in the War, all rubber etc was requisitioned for the 3rd Reich. This led to people in Paris, France etc using wool for shoe soles.
My first thought was: But, rain!
Un, or semi, processed wool is very durable, and lanolin laden. Very smelly, too.

This is what people can do when put to the austerity test, though: utilise abundant natural elements. And with great success.

Scotland’s Merlin, A Medieval Legend and Its Dark Age Origins, by Tim Clarkson. Published by John Donald, of the Birlinn Limited imprint, 2016.
ISBN 97819065669991

This is a meticulously researched and even-handed investigation of the Merlin phenomenon.

Our story comes from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s book, Historia Regius Brittania, AD 1139. The Merlin and also Arthurian topics were based on early Welsh sources.Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Arthurian characters were then transformed through the French chanson de geste. Their Vulgate Cycle became a magnificent and expanding series of tales around King Arthur, his court, and chivalry, and all in a British (southern) setting.
Geoffrey of Monmouth first published a collection, Phophetiae Merlini, in AD 1130.

Geoffrey of Monmouth’s main book mentioned Merlin only marginally. He later dedicated a whole tale to his story, Vita Merlini. This tale was not as popular as the earlier book; the tale was set in southern Scotland.
Sources used the name Myrddin Wyllt, for this figure. It was this Welsh form, Myrddin, that supposedly gave the name to Carmarthen, in south Wales: Caer Myrrddin ie the castle of Myrddin.
The Merlin story also occured in earlier Irish sources.

The Scottish Merlin story dates from the 6th century AD, where the Merlin character, known as Lailoken,  runs maddened from the carnage of the battle of Arfderdd (AD 573). He lived in the forests and woods of Celibon in southern Scotland as a madman, spouting prophecies. His sister persuaded the king to help her find him and bring him back. His prophecies became famous. He later returned to the woods.

The source this Scottish tale drew upon was the St Kentigern tale of Lailoken, the madman in the woods. Connected with this tale is the 9/10 century Irish King Sweeney/Suibhne tale. Once again there is the warrior running maddened from the battle, but this time through being cursed by St Ronan. He was a prince/chieftain. There are two very moving episodes where his wife contacted him, to bring him back into the world of people. The first one Sweeney turned away from her; the second time he turned to her, but she had turned from him thinking him beyond help.
Sweeney met Lailoken, who was called Alladhan in the tale, on his sojourn in Britain. The region is identified as the south Strathclyde region.

The prophecies, Tim Clarkson, notes, were back-referenced: writers gave historical accounts of the figure, then fitted prophecies to past events (mostly AD 12th century local events).
The supernatural element to the story is an essential part, however.
The later Thomas the Rhymer legend took over a lot of the Lailoken characteristics.

The major researcher of the Merlin story was the Victorian scholar, William Forbes Skene. He went so far as to identify the site of Lailoken’s immediate locale, and supposed grave. He visited the most likely place for the tumultuous battle of Arfderydd, and identified from scattered sources the major figures of the battle.

The name can be traced back:
Myrddin Wyllt (Myrddin the mad)
(Alladhan – Irish through the Dal Riata cultural and settlement connection)
Llallogan (Cumbric language)

What we now know of the Merlin story seems to be the remnants of a much older and more complex one.
Merlin, the wizard and prophet, was confidante of King Arthur. In old age he was lured away into the woods by Morgana La Fay/Vivian and imprisoned within a tree/cave.

It is always these three, though: the man who runs mad in the woods, the king/chief who he was close to, and the woman who is wife, sister, or lover.

There was something niggling me about framework of this tale. What did it remind me of?
It was the Gilgamesh story, all the way from 1800BCE, and what is now Iraq. Gilgamesh and his companion the wild man, Enkidu.

Tim Clarkson notes the similarity of basic theme, but not the three-person structure.

Enkidu was lured from his wild life and into Uruk with Gilgamesh, by the temple ‘prostitute’ Shamesh. On Enkidu’s death, Gilgamesh himself went wandering in Enkidu’s wilderness. He did not begin to prophesy, but he did go to seek out immortality. Already part god, he sought out the only survivor of the Flood to learn the secret of not-dying. He had to seek admittance from Siduri, the keeper of the tavern at the end of the world, to the domicile of the one survivor.
She allowed him through, but it was refused him.
One version has Gilgamesh later become a king of the Underworld, lord of the dead.

The Gilgamesh tale hinges on the roles of women: Enkidu accented to Shamhat; Gilgamesh refused the advances of love goddess Ishtar. That refusal cost him Enkidu, his state of mind, and his city of Uruk.
Gilgamesh spurned Ishtar’s advances; he sought out Siduri.

Contemporary with this tale is a tale from the Middle Egyptian period, The Tale of Sinuhe.
In this tale Sinuhe was returning from fighting in North Africa with the king’s son and their army. He overheard a messenger to the king’s son telling of the death of the king. The news caused him to lose his mind, and he wandered off. He wandered ‘like a rudderless barge’ and eventually ended up as warrior to a chieftain in what became Syria/Lebanon. Eventually he recontacted the new king, and was welcomed back to Egypt having won new territories for the king.
There is no prophesying, or seeking wisdom or secrets.

There are aspects of the tale, however, that suggest his wanderings as a vision of the realm of the dead, a traverse through the Underworld. He ‘comes forth by day’ back in Egypt of the semi-divine ruler, the new king.


How far can we take this?

Think of the Buddha in 5thBCE India: a prince who wanders off with other ascetics into the wilds. An extreme ascetic, he eventually accepted a bowl of food from a woman: In a famous incident, after becoming starved and weakened, he is said to have accepted milk and rice from a village girl named Sujata. Such was his emaciated appearance that she wrongly believed him to be a spirit that had granted her a wish.
He realised from this that extreme fasting was not the way, that there had to be a Middle Way – he went on to develop his Middle Way, and with followers.
Think of Jesus of Nazareth, once again in the wilderness, and preaching, praying. Think of his relationship with both Herod, and indeed, God. And think of the relationship with Mary Magdalen. Think of him spurning Satan in the wilderness.

Did both of these life stories purposely use the older tale of the madman/holy fool/seeker of mysteries in the wildness?

Ok, maybe the Jesus one is stretching it. But Wiki does give us this:

The description of Nebuchadnezzar II in the Book of Daniel (2nd century BC) greatly influenced the medieval European concepts. Daniel 4 depicts God humbling the Babylonian king for his boastfulness; stricken mad and ejected from human society, he grows hair on his body and lives like a beast. This image was popular in medieval depictions of Nebuchadnezzar. Similarly, late medieval legends of Saint John Chrysostom (died 407) describe the saint’s asceticism as making him so isolated and feral that hunters who capture him cannot tell if he is man or beast.

And, of course, Esau was an hairy man.

In the Greek world the figure of Heracles seems closest to the wild man in the woods. He does seem to have similarities in some respects to the earlier Enkidu figure.
The Roman world gives us Silvanus – although, as protector of woods, there is an echo here of the role of Humbaba, the cedar wood ogre of the Gilgamesh tale.

There are copious examples of ‘wild man’ tales – some become blended with other tales: Robin Hood, maybe even Hereward the Wake fits here. Think of William Tell. The madman element is essential, though, and these tales seem to omit that.

Where, if at all, does the Green Man figure fit into the story? He is more like the Roman Silvanus. Maybe that was the source of the Green Man legend: left-overs once again of Roman occupation, or even of Romans who stayed on after the dissolution.

What was it about the Lailoken tale that made it so memorable, though? There must have been many driven mad by battle over the centuries.
Was it the St Kentigern connection, hagiographic reverence, and the huge trade in Saint’s stories?





































































































































































































































/8 the tribal chief, and the wife/sister/lover?







My father-in-law died last year. He was 96.
So we had his house to sell – not done this before. The rather nebulous local couple, the buyers, wouldn’t say if they wanted furniture (new family). All the kitchen stuff, yes. No contact. Oh well.
First week this year we had our house roof retiled – been dreading it. An exhausting experience.
‘Now we can relax,’ we said.
An email: the buyers want to move in asap: 23rd Jan. Yikes! 6 days. My f-i-law had kept Everything, neatly ordered, but… everything. In a panic to clear the place we had to let important stuff go. We knocked ourselves up getting it ready. Took the keys to the estate agents (their rapacious natures came to fore – we’d still had to leave things because we don’t have, nor can afford, transport).
‘It’s 25th, they said. We have their email for 23rd. Went to notify the conveyancers that we’d handed the keys in.
‘Ah,’ they said, ‘we’d sent an email this morning…’ (we’d left by then). ‘It’s been changed to the 12th Feb.’
All those papers, items, we’d had to let go….
It has now moved to the 6th Feb. Ok, that’s doable.
Only we both came down with exhaustion, and a Winter bug – as time ticks away.

I was thinking, are there loose parallels here with the Brexit fiasco? The rather nebulous buyers image, for one: the unknown before us; those calling the shots.
We’d met a number of Leavers recently – and, boy, are they mad! They are furious. They are adamant, dug-in, come what may. No negotiation.
For whatever reason, 52% of people who voted want Out. It shocked us all. What infuriates them most is that there was No Plan. There’d be to hell to pay if the govt reneges on this deal. A new Ref would probably be the same result.
Because people don’t like to be pushed about, basically. And hurt pride? Yes; they know they have been made fools of. This arrogant stubbornness is the flip-side of the so-called ‘bulldog spirit.’
As for us: we will have to try and snatch-back as many worthwhile things out the jaws of suicidal, ruinous, Brexit.
But I wouldn’t trust my judgement, or that of anyone I have met, to decide on this vitally important topic. There are so many hidden levels of investment – from greedy-eyed Brexit MPs, making a killing off other’s misery, to rumoured ‘special relationships.’
So, who would I trust? Ah, yes, that question.
‘If Corbyn gets in,’ one Leaver said, ‘he’d bring the communists in.’
‘I didn’t think there were any of those left,’ I quipped. He chose not to hear. And Theresa May – surprised everyone with her tenacity, but there’s No Plan B. She was never a decision-maker.
I get the impression she has tried to appease both sides, and fallen down the gap in between.

I rather like that image: between two stools. An image doesn’t claim to special insight, truth, veracity; it just to be striking.
This is why the best cartoons are so important. They catch a fleeting moment, expression, in an image, and open it up. We love the entertainment an image gives. They can please, but also mislead. They don’t change anything, but they do ease the tension, allow in nuances.

And I feel for Northern Ireland and Eire in Brexit: what an impossible situation!
Scotland… I am a little wary. The hard-line Independence people are as furious and one-dimensional as the Leavers.
Think of them as the ‘Scots Wha-Haers’ that the great Scottish writer Hugh MacDiamid inveighed against, in his 1926, A Drunk Man Looks At A Thistle.

‘Scots wha hae wi Wallace bled’ (The Brus, by John Barbour, 1375:
And get that date: 1375, ye Chaucerians) as the only criteria for Scottish identity?
And yet, I always preferred William Wallace to Robert the Bruce: Wallace, a man of the people, crushed by the English. And is there an echo of that ultimate religious sacrifice in that?
It is said the Independence Referendum in Scotland failed because the Media, Arts, Medicine, Health, Research, etc, were afraid of being shut off from sources of research grants, and knowledge.
Ahem? Nudge, nudge? But then the Tory Party of UK has  gone out of it way to ignore anything to do with Scotland, so…

The people: what are we, and where are we now?

On William Wallace: if anyone has a tour of the Houses of Parliament, stop in Westminster Hall for moment, because that is where Wallace was tried, hung, drawn, and quartered. Some authorities have it as Smithfield: See Wiki for English vindictiveness and vengeance:

I’ve stood out by Stirling Castle, and gazed over the Firth of Forth to the Wallace memorial. It is a tower, set against high, dark, hills.
I felt a shiver of awe.

I first came across the figure of Lailoken when I was reading up on Seamus Heaney’s version of the Sweeney tale: Sweeney Astray, Faber and Faber, 1983.
This version is based on the translation from the original Irish by James G O’Keefe, 1913.

Often referred to as King Sweeney, the tale has him as cursed by St Ronan on the battlefield of Mag Rath, 637 AD, for repeatedly spurning Ronan and his disciples, the last straw being when Sweeney threw a spear that cracked the Saint’s matins bell, and killed a disciple. Sweeney was cursed, and left the field of battle, to wander mad, part bird, for many years. There were occasions when his madness began to fade, but it was replenished.


A freize of the Sweeney story.

The central part of the Sweeney tale, and where the whole tale turned around, is when Sweeney had left Ireland in his mad wanderings. He eventually arrived in Britain. There he met a madman, in a similar position and condition to himself. This ‘madman in the woods’: Fer Caille, ‘man of the woods’, was called Allan in the Sweeney Astray text, from  O’Keefe’s name, Ealladhan.
Seamus Heaney, in his Introduction, comments that the tale of the madman in the woods is a far older tale, that was incorporated into the Sweeney story.

The madman in the woods has been identified as Lailoken.
According to some sources he was the bard of King Rhydderch Hael, and based at the king’s castle of Dumbarton, on Dumbarton Rock on the River Clyde, just outside Glasgow. This was in the 6th century AD.


Dumbarton Rock.

Lailoken himself has been connected with Partick, now part of west Glasgow.

At the time this area was, as the King’s name suggests, a part of the old Welsh territory. This territory took in all the west coast of northern England, through modern Cumbria, Ayreshire and up to the River Clyde. All spoke an earlier form of Welsh.
East of this, Nothumbria and modern Border regions, Lothian, including Edinburgh and to the Firth of Forth was Old English speaking.
North of this Central Lowland region was, to the east, Pictish land; their language has not come to us in any researchable quantity. To the west the new Irish incursions were creating Dal Riata, and their language would soon overtake the Pictish, to develop into the modern version of Gaelic: Scottish Gaelic.

There was a major battle, one of ‘the three pointless battles’ according to readings of the collections of Welsh Triads. The battle of Arfderydd, 573 AD.
This was where Lailoken came unstuck. One version is he killed a cousin of his King, and was cursed. Whatever the cause, he left the battlefield, and lived a life much like Sweeney.
(In the O”Keefe he had insisted his lord’s warriors wore their best silk clothes to battle. The result was predictable.)

We know of Lailoken through St Kentigern (known as St Mungo), and patron saint of Glasgow. St Kentigern’s story was recorded in the 16th century.

The character we know through St Kentigern as Lailoken was closely connected with the Welsh figure of Myrddin Wyllt, that is, Murthin the Mad.
Sweeney’s name in the Irish is Suibne Geilt: Sweeney the mad one. Wikipedia has him as Sweeney mac Colmain, king of Dal Araidhe. The Sweeney Tale is usually attributed to the 12th century.
The closeness of Wyllt and Geillt, Brithonic and Goidelic, is shown here.
Likewise, the closeness of the name Myrddin to our legendary Merlin has drawn many to presume they were one and the same. Geoffrey of Monmouth first made this connection in his twelfth century History of the Kings of Britain.
Following up place names in the text W F Skeen identified the battlefield of Arfderydd as based on or near the present day church of Arthuret, just outside the small village of Longtown, Cumbria.

Like many of these old scenes of importance, they look rather underwhelming in the present day.,+Carlisle/

From Arfderydd, Lailoken was supposed to have fled into the Caledonian Forest. The area is now an open patch of country, close to the River Esk. There are no woods, never mind forest. The Caledonian Forest clings on, supposedly the last relics of the fir trees that followed the retreat of the ice sheet, only in a couple of patches in Deeside and that area.

So, what happened when Sweeney met Lailoken/Alan/Ealladhan/Myrddin?
He sought him out, befriended him, and travelled with him for the next year. Then Lailoken had a date with his death at the waterfall of the Black Mount.
Sweeney himself then returned to Ireland, and tried to return to his people. The whole story had changed: instead of avoiding people, he now sought them out.

When Sweeney came to Britain both the Heaney and the O’Keefe say ‘he left the fortress of the Britons on his right side’, before meeting Lailoken.
Taking that fortress to be Rhydderch Hael’s Dumbarton Rock, then Sweeney must have travelled either north, from Strathclyde, or west from Stranraer. Either way he was north of the Clyde-Forth border. Language-wide this would make sense also.
Travelling for a year – they could have travelled a long way, or circled, like St Brendan on his voyage.
My argument is they travelled north, up to the Black Mount near modern Bridge of Orchy and the celebrated Ben Dorain.


The Black Mount.

The Myrddin story is set in the Border country. This fits with the battlefield being near Longtown in Cumbria.Whether Myrddin’s is a different story, or a corrupted later version are questions as yet unanswered.

Lailoken, like Myrddin Weillt, was also known as a prophet, divinely inspired. Sweeney was not.
Were people looking for a world beyond the world, that only disordered senses could detect? There were few, if any, sane prophets: the speaking in madness was considered the authentic method.
The prophet tradition goes back so far, it is beyond sight. We cannot put it down to the split-world scenario that that the Christian religion promoted: this world, and the next, and ne’er the twain shall meet. It was older than that, this belief in a world, or worlds, beyond our known one, worlds where true reality and authority lay. Yet its communications had not our syntax, barely our vocabulary; their communications with ours were garbled, highly metaphorical, or more probably referential to an order of the world that was not ours, with different priorities, values.
We see this in many religions -and how many now have been influenced by Christianity? Most, if not all – how the ways of God are different from the ways of man. And yet we are to attain to the god’s ways, to ways not of this world, in order to save a part of ourselves, the part that lives on while the this-world part must die.

It could well be that the legendary ‘madman in the woods’ is connected to the Green Man image. Who came first, though?


We could posit connections to the legendary Robin Goodfellow character, who appears in Shakespeare (Midsummer Night’s Dream), and who also gave provenance to the Robin Hood tales/songs.
These tales and characters gather more and more barnacles as they travel through the seas of time.

The most moving description I have come across has Lailoken wandering ‘like many battle-maddened men’ in the woods and forests.
Was Lailoken their epitome? Was his figure a way of portraying the effects of post-traumatic stress/battle fatigue? Was this a way of giving these people a measure of dignity by making them ‘holy fools’ of a sort?
Myrddin Weillt was described as telling his tale of the terrible battle, after which he immediately jumped up and ran wildly away. It is the same with Sweeney. This reaction to reliving the trauma does make this theory sound plausible.

See ‘Scotlands’s Merlin’, by Tim Clarkson, John Donaldson Publishers Ltd, 2016

The Whys Man, or ? Man, George was a force for good: sculptor, artist, conductor of chaos and cultural and historical phenomenon. Punster and funster, with a serious side.

Was? He died in 2012. He was 90.

Centred around Glasgow and Clydebank he collaborated with the defunct ship-building industry in 1989, to use its expertise to make a statement – together they created the celebrated Paper Boat.
It was an ordinary folded paper boat, but scaled up and made sea-worthy. Along with assorted groups and interested parties the Boat was ‘launched’ with its own Paper Boat Song and choir. George was MC and choir leader.

Paper Boat Song


The Boat represented the loss of livelihood and cultural and industrial heritage, of national sidelining and political maneuvering.
The Boat had a placement for a period on the Hudson River, New York.


See the YouTube documentary:

Another of his head-line grabbing creations was using the locomotive building industry to help build a scaled-up train engine made wholly of straw. The material was emblematic – George was well-read and savvy, an heritage of the old Scottish education system. The train was suspended from a shipyard crane. At the end of its ‘life’ it was ceremonially burned ‘like a Viking ship burning’.


He counted among his friends Joseph Beuys. As a self-taught artist his focus was perhaps wider than the schooled artist. His was very much Public Art. At the heart of each piece was enigma though, mystery, the question of existence, of our legitimacy as a species. On his web page it says of him: ‘There is never a guarantee within Wyllie’s work, but only a question, notably found in the centre of all things. He carried this out in an almost metaphysical or sometimes pataphysical way.’ The 80-foot Paper Boat carried quotations from Adam Smith’s ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments.’

George Wyllie was wily enough to accept a MBE medal in 2005. He was previously a Customs and Excise Officer. It was fitting; there was no division for him. Think of Robbie Burns, also an Excise man.
Forever an entertainer and showman, he put himself forward as candidate for the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party in 2007 local elections. He was 86.
Gone too soon, George; too soon.


He brought great gusto and humour, and scale of achievement to the overshadowed, neglected and declining central belt of Scotland, and its historic connection to the wider world. He lifted lives up and gave back a sense of fun, meaning.

The Whys Man, or ? Man, George was a force for good: sculptor, artist, conductor of chaos and cultural and historical phenomenon. Punster and funster, with a serious side.

Was? He died in 2012. He was 90.

Centred around Glasgow and Clydebank he collaborated with the defunct ship-building industry in 1989, to use its expertise to make a statement – together they created the celebrated Paper Boat.
It was an ordinary folded paper boat, but scaled up and made sea-worthy. Along with assorted groups and interested parties the Boat was ‘launched’ with its own Paper Boat Song and choir. George was MC and choir leader.

Paper Boat Song


The Boat represented the loss of livelihood and cultural and industrial heritage, of national sidelining and political maneuvering.
The Boat had a placement for a period on the Hudson River, New York.


See the YouTube documentary:

Another of his head-line grabbing creations was using the locomotive building industry to help build a scaled-up train engine made wholly of straw. The material was emblematic – George was well-read and savvy, an heritage of the old Scottish education system. The train was suspended from a shipyard crane. At the end of its ‘life’ it was ceremonially burned ‘liking a Viking ship burning’.


He counted among his friends Joseph Beuys. As a self-taught artist his focus was perhaps wider than the schooled artist. His was very much Public Art. At the heart of each piece was enigma though, mystery, the question of existence, of our legitimacy as a species. On his web page it says of him: ‘There is never a guarantee within Wyllie’s work, but only a question, notably found in the centre of all things. He carried this out in an almost metaphysical or sometimes pataphysical way.’ The 80-foot Paper Boat carried quotations from Adam Smith’s ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments.’

George Wyllie was wily enough to accept a MBE medal in 2005. He was previously a Customs and Excise Officer. It was fitting; there was no division for him. Think of Robbie Burns, also an Excise man.
Forever an entertainer and showman, he put himself forward as candidate for the Scottish Senior Citizens Unity Party in 2007 local elections. He was 86.
Gone too soon, George; too soon.


He brought great gusto and humour, and scale of achievement to the overshadowed, neglected and declining central belt of Scotland, and its historic connection to the wider world. He lifted lives up and gave back a sense of fun, meaning.

In the earlier piece (On Nom de Plume, by John Stammers) I established fairly definitely that the structure of enquiry and overall layout of Non de Plume, was a close referral to a Michael Donaghy poem, Our Life Stories. The Stammers poem begins:

The bunch of flowers in the vase, what are they called?
I’ll call them Anstruthers for no other reason
than that…………

Well, here is another possible connection.

In 1999, Scottish poet Robert Crawford published an outstanding book, Spirit Machines, with Cape Poetry.

One early piece in the book is the poem Anstruther. It is written in typically Crawfordian witty, laconic and rumbustious manner; it begins:

Here the great Presbyterian minister
with his lifebelt and memorial lighthouse

sails with the captain of many clippers
towards the Salutation Bar.

We take it, then, that the minister in question is Anstruther-notable Dr Thomas Chalmers. We take it he sails off to take up a post in the Isles, overseas, or is it inward where sobriety is left high and dry, and the choppy firth of conscience and belief tests his mettle once again. Is this to be his new parish? In life he was co-founder of the Free Kirk, a break-away group which later became a dominant assembly. Along with his break-aways went many Gaelic-speakers, and Highlanders (hence my reference to the Isles).

The stanzas I have in mind are 5 to 8:

…we stand and stare up at the stars

 near the electrician’s. They look so close
they could be catching lobsters and called
not the Plough but Breadwinner 111,
Shearwater of Cellardyke, North Carr Lightship

 Morning Ray, Fisher of Men.

First, a note about Anstruther itself. It is a largish town on the coast of north Firth of Forth, near St Andrews. It has a number of notable features – one is a seeming cricket pavilion just outside town. This is in fact the surface portal of a large underground nuclear bunker. It is reputedly large enough to house top military people from USA and Britain.

Another feature of the town was the Beggars’ Benison, a type of hell-fire club for the top people of the area. Its activities were… quite hilarious.

One notable personage from the town is Radio One dj Edith Bowman. Then we have our man, Dr Thomas Chalmers, as mentioned co-founder of the Scottish Free Kirk and renowned Presbyterian minister. Anstruther forms part of the constituency of MP Menzies Campbell. Small world. I wonder if he would have been up for the shenanigans of the Beggar’s Benison? The mind boggles at the prospect!

Further information on the Beggar’s Benison can be found in Robert Crawford’s book Robert Burns and Cutural Authority (Edinburgh University Press, 1997).

Oh, and Anstruther is pronounced Ainster in the Scots.

In Crawford’s poem names are identity: we have here, in the early days of partial devolution of the late nineties the continuing assertion of Scottishness, of the necessity of naming in order to establish legitimacy, independent identity and history, and self-sufficient nation-hood.

What connections can we establish with the Stammers poem? We know from interviews that Stammers has gained a wide and extensive knowledge of contemporary poetry from among other ways, browsing the Poetry Society bookshelves. Also we have the Don Paterson connection, as mentioned earlier. Don Paterson, W N Herbert and Robert Crawford are all part of a Scottish grouping strong on technical matters.

Internal evidence of the Stammers’ poem offers neither the Scots’ pronunciation of Anstruther, nor knowledge of the town or place. We only connect on the querulous naming strategy.

Crawford’s suggested naming of the stars and constellations in terms of local landmarks, economic practice, and religious heritage, differs in nature from the suggested fallibility of the Stammers’ approach.

With Crawford we cross time like a lobster boat on the Firth; we also take with us our contemporary knowledge and approaches when we do this. This is basic historicity, but potent nonetheless.

With Stammers the misnaming is, as said, a gesture of fallibility, that is, a recognition of fellowship; it also carries the contrary recognition of the cultural ambience of a select educational level in its referencing of Derridean techniques. And further, of course, the now select few who read modern poetry, and will note the Donaghy reference. Such ambivalence is evident in the Crawford piece, but has a different strategy, and explores a different intent. With Crawford there is always the up-to-date referencing of cultural and technological achievements, but not at the expense of the claims of history. Hence, throughout the poem is the ever-present use of the present tense. In Crawford there is always the co-existence of time scales. This is part of his legitimising of Scottish political and cultural identity.

Both poems are buzzing with the quotidian details that constitute the substrata of cultural lives.

And the electrician’s in the excerpt above, from Crawford’s poem? Is this a local-colour, authenticising detail too? Or is it a pawky contemporary reference to the energizer of life, the great Himself?

I am reminded here of an earlier Gaelic poem (Derick Thomson?) set in the Isles, where the locals (the Wee Frees who broke away with Chalmers, but refused the Episcopalian majority) believed the air was so clear they could see God at his dinner.

The point I am circling here is how both writers approach what in an earlier piece (Urban Writer) I summed up as, in quote, the ‘sociolects of power’. Both writers, consciously in Crawford, and subconsciously (the assumed centrality of the London cultural identity) in Stammers, portray in their writing the claims of nationhood.

Seathan, the Son of the King of Ireland is a Scottish Gaelic waulking song. It has been called the Queen of Songs.

Many elements in the song may seem strange to us now, but the piece holds together through its many variations of line, theme, rhythm and structure. Professor Derrick Thomson notes of the song, that it is ‘…unique in its building of detail…(and) skilful use of incantation. The incremental repetition is used as a passionate incantation…’ (Introduction to Gaelic Poetry)

There was a tradition amongst earlier Scots Gaelic writers for adapting structures from one area of writing or composing, to another. The unlettered poet Duncan Ban MacIntyre composed his long and wonderful poem Praise of Ben Dorain entirely by memory (it was transcribed later); the poem utilises the structure of the cael mor (big music) of the Scottish bagpipe repertoire of laments, the pibroch.

Gaelic poetry is a syllabic poetry, and based on sound structures ‘to make them easier to remember, with rhyme not as important as repetition, alliteration and rhythm’.

Seathan… has a very complex structure, and a harrowing theme that explores the pent-up emotional landscape of grief and loss and love. It takes the personal experience and puts it into legendary, almost mythical context, that in no way belittles the personal, but helps kick-start the mechanism of coping.


A waulking song is a work song, specific to the home-based cloth industry, one of the ‘central institutions of a female subculture in Gaelic society’. As an activity waulking is heavily rhythm-based, and comes late on in the cloth making process, where the cloth has already been hand-woven into skeins. These could be up to seventy yards in length. Their ends were sewn together to form a loop. It was then soaked in a solution of stale urine and water (my sources do not tell from where the former was obtained). The purpose of this was to ‘neutralise the oils of melted livers of dog fish… used to dress the wool.’

What strikes one most strongly here about these practices amongst the outlying crofts and island communities is their sheer ingenuity. Faced with the intractable problem of preparing the harsh, wiry, lanolin-heavy wool of native sheep these crofting, sea-dependent people experimented with chemistry; a basic kind perhaps, their resources being very scarce…. And it was a matter of trial and error: the loss and hardship following on from failure to find the right compounds could have been severe.

Each community must have developed its own variation on a basic practice. Economic forces would have regularised methods over time. In this we can read the struggle of local communities to retain identity whilst procedures were standardised around them. By the time Harris Tweed became industry-sized local practices would have already been lost to a streamlined, though more economically stable, method.

The ownership of the source of materials for dressing wool in Renaissance Florence, the alum mines, was a major bargaining tool; it facilitated Medici connections with the Papacy.

The cloth being waulked was worked by the women of the community. There are cases where men were allowed into the process, but only as on-lookers, or singers. Waulking consisted of two groups of women facing each other across a table, with the cloth between them. Generally, they would pick up the cloth and bang it down, then slide it along. Other methods worked at a section of cloth before moving it on, until the whole was considered done.

‘Done’ was measured by the middle finger of the chief singer: ‘A cloth that was about eight finger lengths broad would be three inches narrower when it was ready.’ ‘Done’ was a cloth made softer, thicker, more tightly woven.

The waulking breaks down the prepared fibres so that they split lengthwise, retaining their columnar structure. The result is similar to felting, but not so extreme; it produces a heat-retaining, relatively water-resistant cloth material.

And so we have a highly rhythmic and regular activity, centred on all-women groups. Their songs became not just accompaniments, but expressive: ‘frank, intensely vivid… statements of women’s experiences.’ Thomas Tennant recorded: ‘… they (the women) grow very earnest in their labours, the fury of the song rises; at length it arrives to such a pitch, that… you would imagine a troop of female demoniacs to have assembled.’ That is, the whoops and calls of the women accompanied their work as they waulked harder and harder. Also note that the work and thereby the song, builds in intensity as it progresses.


The ‘Queen of Songs’, Seathanruns at close on two hundred lines in its written form. It has been estimated it would take over an hour to perform, complete with chorus parts. As waulking sessions lasted for about three hours, the rest of the time accompanied by lighter songs, we can imagine the intense bonding of a waulking, and the huge emotions that came into play whenever this song was performed.

There have been a number of present day singers: Capercailie, the Scots Gaelic musicians have recorded an excerpt. The singer Flora MacNeal has recorded a version that was passed down orally from her mother’s cousin. This version takes the form of a lament.

The first written version of the song is contained in Alexander Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica (originally published 1899); this also has two much shorter variants, which he had also collected orally.

Seathan would undoubtedly be the product of many singers, and added topical improvisations. Professor Thomson writes: ‘Its style and language… argues for a sixteenth century to seventeenth century origin, and if that were so it would suggest that the metrical pattern is a still older one, for here we have an assured and mellow use made of the patterns…’. He asserts, ‘…the song has a highly distinctive drive which unifies it… we see in it the unity imposed by an artist’s imagination.’

The song is sung by a leader amongst the women, the others come in on the chorus vocables, which mostly consist of a meaningless ‘breathing’.

In translation we miss the distinctive rhythm and word music of the original. What is conveyed to us though is the impression of a mature and controlled work. Taken away from its active, communal role we can only speculate on the sheer visceral power of the song, performed in the cramped conditions of a waulking, and accompanied by the physically exhausting, odoriferous, and emotionally draining activities that surround the waulking session.

Professor Thomson comments that the form of the song is that of, ‘… the rhyming paragraph technique… used also in the finest of Irish keens (The Lament of Art O’Leary) dating from 1773.’

Firstly, rhyming paragraphs are unlimited runs on one end rhyme around a central theme. It is another example of a borrowing from another field, in this case using earlier written poems from the classical period. Also, the close connection between the classical poets and practices of Ireland and Gaelic Scotland has a long history.

Secondly, the Lament of Art O’Leary represents one of the last examples of ‘orrain mor’ (in Scots, ‘big music’), as against the lighter ‘airs’ of dance and celebratory songs. The Lamentis based on a specific historical event that represents the state of Ireland at that time: the hegemony of the English Planter families.

It has been suggested that the Lament can be read as constructed in five parts, ‘… each one referring to a particular phase of the wake and funeral ceremonial… a possible latent discourse at the crucial stages of the obsequies.’ (see the divisions given in The Celtic Miscellany, Penguin Books. Also, we have to take into consideration, as the notes point out, that the arrangement of stanzas in all extant written records vary greatly at times). This is apposite to what Professor Thomson says of Seathan: ‘On a psychological level we see the song being used as therapy, and clearly this is a highly important aspect…’

What unites both works are similar cultural and religious backgrounds: the Gaelic culture of Scotland came directly from Ireland, and kept strong links even though the languages changed. As late as the 1770’s Alexander MacDonald, could write his magnificent Birlinn of Clan Ranald (influenced by Homer’s Odyssey) about the building, equipping and sailing of a boat to Ireland. It is, in effect, a poem of farewell to Scotland after the old clan system suffered its last, devastating defeat at Culloden.

The Roman Catholic sensibility informs both works. They are both based on the keening at the wake of dead kinfolk. In the case of Seathan it can be read as a lament for the whole Gaelic culture, in its inclusiveness of reference, as well as clan sensibility. Its appeal is both to the personal experience of loss in love; the experience of early widowhood, utilising the laments from earlier inter-clan wars; and the loss of first love. It turns into humankind’s experience of love and loss, without stinting or avoiding the intensity of the emotions roused, or the harrowing sense of loss that is the lot of those who are left behind.

In waulking songs the rhythm must fall at exactly even intervals. Scottish Gaelic is metrically a syllabic language. It has certain similarities and implied practices with classical Latin; in Gaelic the stress is nearly always on the first syllable, and so is suggestive of trochaic structures, similar to the one popularized by Prudentius, contemporary of St Ambrose.

It can be seen from the translation that there is a wide and sophisticated use of classical rhetorical figures, with anaphora dominant as the emotional charge builds, and, as we have seen, the waulking rhythm speeds up, intensifies. Metonymy in particular is very skilfully employed, the term ‘calf of my love’ as well as being a biblical image (The Song of Songs) also refers, to as we see in stanza 18, to its economic importance and thereby as a metonymy of status. The term also occurs in the Lament

Nor must it be underestimated as a term of endearment; as such it is very informing to see the way it is used. Affection is only divorced from the articles of daily life, that is, as an emotional force in itself, in the overlying appeal of the whole song. Love is always predicated. In this way the whole song can be seen as an exploration of the emotional landscape, as much as the details explore the Gaelic cultural landscape.

Historically it was this point in the life of Scottish Gaeldom that it became difficult to separate the culture from the emotions. Earlier practices show how a person can be divorced from a particular culture yet be accepted by a related one: exile from Ireland need not mean outlawdom perpetua. There are many instances of Irish exiles thriving under Scottish protection. Yet what is happening at the time of the composition of the song, is a defensive identification.

The use of epithets, ‘son of the king of Ireland’, and ‘daughter of a king’, of the wanderings of the hero and heroine, of their wide cultural claim: silken clothes, red-gold pillows, both raise the personal experience of love, and the pain of loss of love, into a larger context through a recognition of personal experience, and thereby personal worth – the acceptance of the self and self-worth  – into the arms of a larger community/perspective. The subjective experience is made large in an environment of overwhelming physical forces: death by sea, death by war.

The primacy of subjective experience in a cultural sphere can be seen in the unwillingness to give up the body of the loved one even to the Church and Christ himself, whose claims and promises are seen as by no means beyond question.

I would suggest that the performance of the song, along with its concomitant physical activities, enacts a whole physical and emotional catharsis, for a culture, and at the climax of the economic survival of the community, by the traditional holders of that culture’s ethos: its women.