Category: Gleanings

Peter Grant of Strathspey: Theology in Song

All lovers of Gaelic song will be familiar with Calum Kennedy’s heart-rendering ‘Oran mu Leanabh Og’ (‘Song of a Young Child’), but few, I suspect, will be aware of its source.  It was composed by the most prolific of our Gaelic hymn-writers, Peter Grant, and portrays an infant reporting back from heaven to assure his parents that if they knew the bliss he now enjoyed, far from grieving for him, they would be longing to join him.

Grant’s poetry was quintessentially lyrical and in the not too distant past his songs were being sung all over the Highlands.  The first collection appeared around 1809 (when Grant was only 26), the last in 1926: 21 editions in all.  Now his name is all but forgotten, yet not only are these songs treasures in themselves (and quite enough to provide a whole programme for BBC Alba), but his life and work provide a fascinating window into the world of the post-Culloden Highlands.

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What's the Point of Independence?

It’s probably a disgrace, but I’ve already forgotten the date of that referendum on Scottish independence.  This cannot be attributed entirely to senility.  I still know who I am, the date of Christmas, and the difference between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism.  These, after all, are important things, and one might feel honoured to announce them.  But it’s hard to enter into the mind of someone like Alex Salmond who, last week, pronounced himself ‘honoured’ to announce a referendum on something so negative as the break-up of the United Kingdom.

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‘My Lady Bishop’

Last week’s decision of the Church of England not to allow women bishops will have little immediate impact here in the Highlands.  We do, of course, have our own form of Anglicanism, Eaglais Easbaigeach na h-Alba, but neither the Archbishop of Canterbury nor the General Synod has any authority over Scottish Episcopalians.  They already have women priests, including the Reverend Shona Boardman in Stornoway, but no women bishops, though that is certain to change when (and it’s when, not if) the Church of England finally mitres women.

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Richard Dawkins, Microbiologist

It’s not my job to sell tickets for Stornoway’s Lanntair Gallery, and so I kept mum about Richard Dawkins’s recent visit to the scenes of my childhood.  I would still be mum were it not that the coverage of the event in the local press was the most prejudiced piece of news coverage that ever had the honour to catch my eye.  Professor Dawkins so mesmerised the reporters that spelling and syntax went out the window; and objectivity had not even been allowed in.  The previous evening, the ‘case’ for God had been put by ‘Rev Robertson’ (neither what he was christened nor how he should be styled), but the report could hardly get him out of the way quickly enough, contenting itself with noting that he is a good orator, afraid of flying, and was challenged by Dr. Dawkins.

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Traditional Gaelic Singing?

first time.  The experiment was well worthwhile, and will itself, we hope, become part of the Mod tradition.  But at the same time there were lessons to be learned.

It’s hard to understand, for example, why each singer had to sing two songs in quick succession, leaving them with no time to get the first out of their system before venturing on the second.  The rush certainly contributed to things going pear-shaped.  Two singers got the pitch horribly wrong, and three others forgot their words: every singer’s worst nightmares in the space of ten minutes, leaving excellent young performers who had trained for months wishing the ground would swallow them up.

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‘Three-score Years and Ten’

A few weeks ago my eye fell on a fascinating headline in the literary magazine, ‘Northwords Now’. ‘Aonghas Dubh aig aois a gheallaidh,’ it said. I hadn’t heard the phrase for a long time, but it was in common use in the older Gaelic world when life seemed more precarious than it does now; and when, of course, biblical language coloured everyday speech in a way that is rare today. All in all, it was a splendid headline. The phrase goes back to the words of the Psalmist, ‘The days of our years are three-score years and ten,’ and from them came the sentiment, often expressed by septuagenarians, ‘I got the promise.’

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Of Jerry Cans and Pasties

Every week in life I’m tempted to open this column with the immortal words, ‘It’s been an itsy-bitsy week’; and every week I resist the temptation, for the very good reason that if I discourse on itsy-bitsyness fifty-two times a year they’ll dock my pay.

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Ethics Reflecting Society

I must admit I’d never noticed that our dear Government has a Minister of, or for, Equalities; and I must further admit that when I discovered that it does, I assumed that her function was to ensure that the non-millionaires in the Cabinet suffered no discrimination from the millionaires;  and, if she had time, to protect Straights from Gays.

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Prayers at Council Meetings

Councillors must not pray

You have to feel sorry for Britain’s poor secular humanists, hounded on every side, their human rights threatened by church bells, crucifixes, burqas, Christmas cards, ‘Christmas’ holidays, ‘Easter’ holidays, bishops in parliament, religious observance in schools, and now, to crown them all, prayers at council meetings.

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Muslims and Poppies

Muslims have been part of my world since I first entered it a century ago, spending  the first five years of my life I lived above one of Stornoway’s best known retail outlets, Bùth nan Daione Dubh, on Point Street.  I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say that in English.  They weren’t Pakistanis, because this was before India gained independence and Pakistan emerged out of the trauma of partition.  We called them “The Darkies’” and thought it no more impolite than referring to the chemist as “Kenny Froggan” or the draper as “Peter Squeak”; and it was certainly less offensive than Christopher Columbus calling America’s First Peoples “Indians” (just because he’d got his navigation wrong) and they in turn calling Europeans “palefaces”.

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