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Coire a' Cheathaich - The Corrie of the mist

by Donnchadh bn Mac an t-Saoir

This poem is set in Glen Lochay west of Killin. Upper Glen Lochay formed a part of the medieval royal hunting forest of Mamlorn. During the 16th century, Glen Lochay came into the possession of the Campbells of Glenorchy, ancestors of the Earls of Breadalbane. John McGregor McPatrick VcCondachie Abrich, was recorded in 1678 as Forester of Mamlorn. Duncan bn lived there for a time in the 1750s.

Creag Mhr is composed of three ridges, the ESE ridge (Srn nan Eun) descends to Glen Lochay at the habitation of Batavaime. Another ridge also descends to Glen Lochay, this initially goes south from the summit before swinging SE down steep slopes. These two ridges enclose Coire Cheathaich (Misty Corrie), a former royal hunting ground. Duncan Ban MacIntyre, who worked as a gamekeeper in the area, wrote this poem ran Coire a' Cheathaich (Song of the misty corrie) which gives a natural description of the corrie and its flora and fauna.

'S e Coir' a' Cheathaich nan aighean sibhlach,
An coire rnach as rar fonn,
Gu lurach, miad-fheurach, mn-gheal, sghar,
Gach lusan flar bu chbhraidh leam ;
Gu molach, dubh-ghorm, torrach, lisreagach,
Corrach, plranach, dlth-ghlan grinn,
Caoin, ballach, dtheanach, cannach, msleanach,
Gleann a' mhilltich, 's an lionmhor mang.

Tha falluing dhinte, gu daingean, dbailt',
A mhaireas ine, mu'n risg i lom,
De'n fheur as cl-fhinne dh' fhs na h-rach,
'S a bharr air lbadh le drchda trom,
Mu choire guanach nan torran uaine,
A' bheil luibh is luachair a suas g'a cheann ;
'S am fasach guamach an cs a bhuana,
Na'm b' aite cruaidh e, 'm biodh tuath le'n suim.

Tha trusgan faoilidh air cruit an aonaich
Chuir suit is aoibh air gach taobh ad chom,
Min-fheur chaorach is barra bhraonan,
'S gach lus a dh' fhaodadh bhi 'n aodann thom
M'an choir' as aoigheala tha r'a fhaotainn,
A chunna' daoine an taobh so 'n Fhraing ;
Mur dean e caochladh, b' e 'n t-aighear saoghalt'
Do ghillean aotrom bhi daonnan ann.

'S ann mu'n Ruadh Aisridh dh'fhs na cuairteagan,
Clmhor, cuachanach, cuannar, ard,
A h-uile cluaineag 's am barr air luasgadh,
'S a' ghaoth 'gan sguabadh a null 's a nall :
Bun na coba is barr a' mhilltich,
A' chuiseag dhreach, 's an fhteag cham ;
Muran broghor, 's an grunnasg lonmhor,
Mu'n chuile dhomhair, am bi na suinn.

Tha sliabh na Lirig an robh MacBhididh,
'Na mhothar fsaich, 's 'na strca trom ;
Slios na Bn-leacainn, cha n-i as tire,
'S gur tric a dh' raich i 'n ln-damh donn :
'S na h-aighean dra nach tid do'n bh-thaigh,
A bhios le 'n lach gu h-rd 'nan grunn,
'S na laoigh gu h-iseil a la 's a dh'oidhche,
'S na h-uiread cruinn diubh air Druim-clach-fionn.

Do leacan caoimhneil, gu dearcach, braoileagach,
Breac le feireagan as cruinn dearg ceann ;
An creamh 'na chathraichibh, am bac nan staidhrichean,
Stacan fraoidhneasach nach bu ghann :
Am bearnan-brde, 's a' pheighinn roghail,
'S an canach min-gheal, 's am mslean ann ;
'S a h-uile mr dheth, o'n bhun as sle
Gu h-ionad crean na crch' as ird'.

'S romhach cta na Creige Mire,
'S cha n'eil am flach ad chir 'san am,
Ach meanan-cinnich, o 's e bu nsaire,
Air a chmhdachadh bhos is thall :
Na lagain chmhnard am bun nan srineag,
Am bi na sobhraichean, 's nenain fann,
Gu bileach, feirneanach, milis, rineagach,
Molach, rmach, gach sers' a th' ann.

Tha mala ghruamach de'n bhiolair uaine
Mu'n h-uile fuaran a th' anns an fhonn ;
Is doire shealbhag aig bun nan garbh-chlach,
'S an grinneal gainmhich' gu meanbh-gheal pronn ;
'Na ghlugan-plumbach air ghoil gun ain-teas,
Ach coilich birn tighinn a grunnd eas lom,
Gach sruthan uasal 'na chuailean cl-ghorm,
A' ruith 'na spta, 's 'na lba steoll.

Tha bradan tarr-gheal 's a' choire gharbhlaich,
Tha tighinn o'n fhairge bu ghailbheach tonn,
Le luinneis mheanmnach ag ceapadh mheanbh-chuileag
Gu neo-chearbach le cham-ghob crom :
Air bhuinne borb, is e leum gu foirmeil,
'Na ideadh colgail bu ghorm-glas druim,
Le shoislean airgid, gu h-iteach, meanbh-bhreac,
Gu lannach, dearg-bhallach, earr-gheal slom.

'S e Coir' a' Cheathaich an t-aithir priseil,
'S an t-ite roghail mu'm bidht' a' sealg,
Is bidh fidh air ghilan le lmhach fdair
Ag cur luaidhe dhubh-ghorm gu dlth 'nan calg :
An gunna gleusda, 's an cuilean eutrom,
Gu fuileach, feumanach, treubhach, garg,
A' ruith gu sibhlach, ag gearradh shrdag,
'S a' dol g'a dhbhlan ri crsan dearg.

Gheibhte daonnan mu d' ghlacaibh faoine
Na h-aighean maola, na laoigh, 's na maing ;
Sud bu mhiann leinn am maduinn ghrianaich,
Bhi dol g' an iarraidh, 's a' fiadhach bheann :
Ged thigeadh siantan oirnn, uisg is dle,
Bha sel g'ar ddean mu'n chrch 'san am,
An creagan osal am bun na frthe,
'S an leaba-dhona, 's mi 'm shneadh ann.

'S a' mhaduinn chiin-ghil, an am dhomh dsgadh
Aig bun na stice b' e 'n sgradh leam ;
A' chearc le sgican ag gabhail tchain,
'S an coileach cirteil a' drdail crom ;
An dreathan srdail, 's a ribheid chiil aige,
Ag cur nan smid deth gu lthor binn ;
An druid 's am br-dhearg, le mran inich,
Ri ceileir sunntach bu shubhlach rann.

Bha ein an t-slibhe 'nan ealtainn gl ghlan
Ag gabhail bheusan air ghig 's a' choill ;
An uiseag cheutach, 's a luinneag fin aice,
Feadan spiseil gu ridh a' seinn :
A' chubhag, 's an smerach, am barr an gain,
Ag gabhail rain gu celmhor binn :
'N uair ghoir an cuanal gu loinneil guanach,
'S e 's glain' a chualas am fuaim 's a' ghleann.

'N uair thig iad cmhla na bheil ad chir-sa
De a h-uile sersa bu chir bhi ann,
Damh na croice air srath na mintich,
'S e gabhail crnain le drecam ard ;
A' dol 'san fhithe gu bras le h-ibhneas,
A' mire-leumnaich ri ildeig dhuinn ;
B' i sin an rbhinn a dh'fhas gu mleanta,
Foinneamh, finealta, dreach, seang.

Tha mhaoisleach chl-bhuidh' air feadh na dslainn
Aig bun nam firan 'gan rsgadh lom,
'S am boc gu h-dlaidh ri leaba chirteil,
'S e 'ga brach le rtan crom ;
'S am minneain riabhach bu luime cliathaich,
Le chuinnean fiata, is fiadhaich' ceann,
'Na chadal guamach an lagan uaigneach
Fo bharr na luachrach 'na chuairteig chruinn.

Is lionmhor cnuasach a bha mu'n cuairt duit,
Ri am am buana, bu luaineach clann,
Ri tionnal guamach, gu fearail, suairce,
'S a' roinn gu h-uasal na fhuair iad ann ;
Cir-bheach 'na cnuacaibh, 's an nead 'na chuairteig,
'S a' mhil 'ga buanachd air cruaidh an tuim,
Aig seillein riabhacha, breaca, srianach,
Le'n crnan cianail as fiata srann.

Bha cus r'a fhaotainn de chnothan caoine,
'S cha b' iad na caochagan aotrom gann,
Ach bagailt mhaola, bu taine plaoisg,
A' toirt brgh a laodhan nam maoth-shlat fann :
Srath nan caochan 'na dhosaibh caorainn,
'S 'na phreasaibh caola, ln chraobh is mheang ;
Na gallain ra, 's na faillein dltha,
'S am barrach dinte mu chl nan crann.

Gach ite timchioll 'nam fasach iomlan,
Mm is Fionn-ghleann 's an Tuilm 'ga chir
Meall-tionail limh ris, gu molach, tlthail,
B'e chulaidh dh'arach an laich oig ;
Na daimh 's na h-ildean am maduinn Chitein
Gu moch ag irigh air ridhlean feir,
Greighean dhearg dhiubh air taobh gach leargain
Mu 'n choire gharbhlaich, d'an ainm an Ce.



The Misty Corrie of the hinds vagrant,
The darling corrie of the freshest land,
(Each flowering herblet to me most fragrant)
Full grassy, smooth-white, sappy, bland ;
Shaggy, dark green, and fruitful, herbous.
Steep, with flowers thick and pure like lawns.
Mild, spotted, and flowery, pretty, with sweetgrass.
Glen of the arrow grass, the numerous fawns.

A fastened mantle, secure and doubled.
Which lasts a season, till it strip bare.
Of grass the loveliest of the soil's increase.
The top of it bending with dews not spare,
Girds the glad corrie of the green hillocks.
Up to its head herb and rush are there ;
And the smiling pasture in trim for reaping.
Were it a hard place for farmers' care.

The raiment blithe on the back o' the moorland
Put routh and joy on each side o' thy breast.
Tender sheepgrass, the flower o' the earth-nut
All herbs a hill-face that might have graced
Are round the kindliest found of corries.
Which men can, this side of France, compare ;
Unless it change, it were long-lived gladness
For merry lads to be always there.

Round Ruadh Aisridh have grown the grass tufts,
Cosy and cup-shaped, neat, and high,
Each small green pasture, its surface waving.
And the wind sweeping it far and nigh :
The root o' the moor-grass, the top o' the arrow-grass,
The straight stem, the stalk bent crookedly ;
The strengthening bent and the plenteous groundsel.
Round the hid nook where the heroes be.

The slope of the pass, where dwelt Mac Baady,
Is a ruin run wild, rank swathes bent down ;
Ban-leacainn's flank, it is not the meanest,
And oft has it reared the prime hart brown :
The pairing hinds that no fold will enter.
They dwell high up in groups with their young.
And snug are the calves by day and by night there.
And as many gathered on Drum-clach-fionn.

Thy kindly hill-side with whortle and cow berries.
With cloudberries chequered, their red heads round ;
The garlic in tufts at the top of the stairs.
Fringing precipices which abound :
The dandelion and the penny-royal.
The soft white moss-down, the sweet grass round ;
In every bit from its base profoundest
To the site of the crests of its highest bound.

Oh ! lovely is the Great Crag's vesture,
'Tis now no rank grass is thee before.
But delicate mossesand they of the sappiest
On this side, that side, coating it o'er :
And the smooth dells at the base of the cliffs,
Where the primroses are, and weak daisies,
They are leafy, rushy, and sweet, and bushy.
Shaggy, and tressyeach sort there lies.

A gloomy eyebrow of the green cresses
Is round each spring-well that's in the land ;
A sorrel grove at the foot of the rough stones,
The gravel pounded to fine white sand ;
In plunge and gurgle without heat boiling.
But jets a-toiling from bare falls' end.
Each noble streamlet in blue-backed swirling
In rapids curling and cataracts' bend.

White-bellied salmon is in the rough corrie,
Which comes from the stormy billowy sea.
With mettlesome playfulness capturing small flies
In his bent hooked beak, not awkwardly :
On the fierce current 'tis he leaps briskly.
In his sword-like mail, with back blue-grey.
With gleams of silver, finny, fine-speckled.
Scaly, red-spotted, white-tailed, slippery.

The Misty Corrie, retreat beloved,
The royal spot where they'd hunting be.
And deer are whelmed with a shot of powder
Sowing dark lead in their fur thickly :
The well-trimmed gun, and the dog light-footed.
Bloody, keen-scented, strong, and dread.
Running swiftly and cutting gambols
In challenge going against courser red.

Ever were found round thy hollows lonely
The calves, the fawns, and the hornless hind ;
There fain would we be on sunny morning
The peaks to stalk going them to find :
Though blasts and rain and flood assailed us,
On the bounds meantime was means for our lair,
'Neath the low rock at the base of the forest
In the Bed of Shelter I stretch me there.

In the calm bright morn when I awakened,
At the base of the crag, it was joy for me ;
The grouse with her cackle, a hoarse song singing.
The courtly cock crooning brokenly ;
The sprightly wren, and the musical pipe of him.
Sending the notes from him vigorous, sweet ;
The starling and red-breast, with much bustle,
And cheery warble of verse most fleet.

The mountain birds were in flocks so pretty,
Melodies singing on sprays in the wood ;
The peerless skylark with her own ditty
Smoothly sings a love interlude :
The cuckoo, the blackbird, on top of the branches.
Pipe a melodious musical strain :
When the songsters are calling joyously, lightly.
Their song was the purest heard in the glen.

When all that are near thee come together
Of every sort that ought to be nigh.
The antlered stag in the strath of the moorland,
Giving a croon with a loud deer-cry ;
Into the mire with joy going rashly,
Merry he skips to a brown young hind ;
That was the queen that has grown up stately.
Handsome, and clean-flanked, straight, refined.

The yellow-backed doe is amid the thicket
At the foot o' the saplings stripping them bare,
The buck at a courtly bed works darkly.
As he digs up the earth with bent hoof there ;
The brindled kidling of barest ribsides,
With timidest nostrils, and wildest head.
Snugly it sleeps in a secret hollow
'Neath the crop o' the rush in a small round bed.

Many's the hoarding that grew around thee,
At harvest time would the children bound
To a snug gathering, pleasantly, manly,
And sharing nobly what there they found ;
In lumps bees' wax, and their nest a wee ball.
From hard knoll-side is the honey laid by
From the bees streaked, and spotted, and brindled,
With their mournful buzzing and humming high.

There to gather was plenty of ripe nuts,
And no light scanty shells were they.
But clusters bare with husk o' the thinnest
Take pith from the sap o' the tender spray :
Strath of the rills, with clumps o' the rowan.
With bushes slim, full of boughs, twigs these ;
The saplings fresh, and the shoots thick growing.
And the foliage closed round the top o' the trees

Each place around is a teeming wasteland,
Mam, and the Tuilm, and Fionn-gleann near,
Meall-tionail at hand, both tufty and sheltered,
'Twas the means the offspring young to rear ;
The stags and the hinds at morn in Maytide
Are early on grassy plains uprist,
Red herds of them on every brae-side,
Round the rough Corrie named of the Mist.




This introduction is taken from the 1912 edition of The Gaelic Songs of Duncan Maclntyre by George Calder
The English translation of the Gaelic is by George Calder.

Drumliaghart, where the poet was born, is a spur of land stretching athwart the valley that lies toward the west end of Loch Tulla, and is visible from the West Highland Railway. Favourable to some extent for cultivation, it was in the early part of the 18th century occupied by a crofting community, one of whom was the poet's father. Now the deer graze by the grass-grown hearths ; and the scene all around is a magnificent solitude. To the north tower the peaks of the Monadh Dubh ; to the south and east are "Glenorchy's proud mountains," prominent among which are Mam Charaidh and Ben Dorain, the subject of his songs. A region in summer beautiful as the land of dreams, in autumn raucous with the belling of stags ; while in winter the mountains assume and pass through all shades of colour from deepest indigo to virgin white. Duncan Maclntyre had looked on these things with a poet's eye, and learned what there was to learn from them. For church and school were situated at Clachan-an-diseirt, now known as Dalmally, fifteen miles down the glen, and education in the accepted sense was quite beyond his reach. But he had drunk deep from the well of traditional song and story, and when the time came he could himself touch the harp with a master's hand.

When he left this quiet haven, a youth of twenty-one, it was to take service with the King. The troubles of the '45 were felt in the wilds of Glenorchy. The Royal Warrant to the Duke of Argyll as Lord-Lieutenant of the County ran ;
" You are hereby ordered and directed to call out such part of the Militia and Fencible men of the Shire of Argyll which you shall find most necessary or expedient for our Service and the Public Peace."
Among such fencible men was Archibald Fletcher, tacksman of the Crannach, that part of the farm of Achallader which lies a little more than a mile upstream from the old castle of the same name. Himself unwilling, or as the poem broadly hints, afraid to go, Fletcher engaged Maclntyre as his substitute, promising him 300 merks and the use of a sword. How the Royal troops behaved at Falkirk all the world knows. The poet, at heart a Jacobite, not only ran away like the rest, but lost his employer's weapon. When the regiment was disbanded, on or about the 1st September 1746, he, nothing daunted, returned to his native place ; but his reception was of the coldest. Fletcher refused to pay the fee, alleging as a reason the loss of his sword. Duncan had only a poet's remedy. Facit indignatio versus (Indignation makes verses). The poet, for the first time realising his gifts, made a song about Fletcher which in its way set the heather on fire. It certainly roused the ire of the tacksman to such a pitch, that the next time they foregathered he struck the poet over the back with his stick, remarking : Dean oran air sin, a ghille : " Make a song on that, my lad." On hearing of the matter, Breadalbane interposed, saw justice done, and caused payment to be made to the poet, who thus came by his own. He had his cash in hand, and his revenge beforehand. And we note with pleasure that notwithstanding all this, it was one bearing the name of Fletcher who did in after years act a very friendly part towards the poet, striving, though ineffectually, to secure for him the appointment of Bard to the Highland Society of Scotland.

Soon afterwards his noble patron appointed him forester in Coire Cheathaich and Ben Dorain. The locality was already rich in associations, but the light of his genius has made it classic ground. Here in his youthful prime, in a good position which was assured, combining light duties with ample leisure, he composed the two poems which have raised his name highest in the temple of fame. Tradition says he lived in a cottage near Bad odhar, the ruins of which are still visible, and every hill and dale in the neighbourhood is sungevery mountain between his home and Auch, which was then the seat of power, is named with pride and affection. The Corrie itself is dwelt on with a minuteness of detail which only genius could render interesting. It remains as he left it, save for the disappearance of the wood, and the glugan phimbach, The latter was, according to tradition, a spring rising out of the mountain to the height of a foot or two. So it was a delight to others besides the poet, till a Sasunnach wandering in these parts, and moved by what spirit it is not easy to say, rammed his stick into the orifice and stopped the jet for ever.

After a time and probably owing to promotion he removed to Dalness, which lies under the shadow of Buachaill Eite. The ruins of his cottage, situated on a level space between two streams, and shaded by old ash trees, must always be a sacred spot to the admirers of genius. Tradition has it that he looked after Breadalbane's deer on Ben Starabh. The notice says he was forester to Argyll, presumably to Archibald, third Duke. The estate of Dalness, however, was in possession of the Macdonald family long before Maclntyre's day.

In 1608 Angus Macdonald got a Tack thereof from Archibald Campbell of Inverawe, and it remained in the tenure of the family till, in 1694, the same superior granted a proper wadset to Alexander Macdonald of the lands of Dalness, who the same year became absolute owner of the estate, obtaining a feu-charter which for greater security he deposited with the Chief of Glengarry, where it remained till Glengarry's house was burned down by the Duke of Cumberland in 1746, and the charter was destroyed or lost. In 1764 the lands were feued of new by Mrs Janet Campbell of Inverawe to John Macdonald of Dalness. The presumption that it was this family and not Argyll, to whom the poet was forester, is strengthened by a reference in his Song to a Ewe. A lady named Susan had presented him with a ewe bred in Coire Uanan. Alexander Macdonald of Dalness married Jean, daughter to Dugald Maclachan of Corrounan. They had four sons, and after their father's death in 1726, three of them, including the successor to the property, lived for some time with their grandfather at Corrie. What is more likely than that some young relative of his employer should present the poet with a ewe in the same spirit in which he received it ?

Probably it was to his first home that he brought his bride, Mairi Bhn Og. A relation of the poet, as tradition says, intermarriage in the crofting community being frequent and close, she was in a somewhat better social position than her lover. Her father, a petty bailiff as well as keeper of a small wayside inn, which was later replaced by Inveroran Hotel, was named Nicol Maclntyre, and she inherited not only his calving kine but his Christian name, being known as Mairi Nighean Neacail (Mary, daughter of Nicol), to distinguish her from the other Mairis of the Clan. A handsome woman according to all accounts, she became a dutiful and affectionate wife. The husband being a poet and admittedly of an easy disposition, the wife required to be practical, as the following anecdote will show. One rainy day as he lay in bed composing his poems, the wet began to make itself disagreeably felt. Addressing her by the classic title she then enjoyed and has ever since retained, A Mhairi Bhn Og, ars esan, hifalhh a mach agus cuir tugha air an tigh, tha snigh a' tighinn a stigh : " Fair Young Mary,'' quoth he, " go forth and thatch the house, the ooze comes in." Yet he would hear nothing in her dispraise. An admirer of the poems, fascinated by the description of her charms, but disappointed by her actual appearance, hinted to the poet that she was not so very beautiful after all : Cha n-fhaca tusa i leis na suilean agamsa : " You have not seen her with my eyes.'"' Reading the songs, we are charmed by her as she appeared in her youth to loving eyes in the Highlands. Later glimpses show her ever the same comely and efficient helpmeet to her husband. She bore him his children, and saw some of her daughters settled in life, one married to Dr MacNaughton, known as Dr MacVicar, Killin ; another, Elizabeth, to Joseph Hutcheson, who had shipping interests in the Western Isles. Of both these unions representatives survive.

After they left the Highlands, the legend runs that when he was cook to the regiment, she presided in the canteen ; that latterly she kept a shop in the Lawnmarket ; that she was a good distiller and that her husband, called upon to answer for this part of the housekeeping, satisfied the court by declaring that he had drunk more whisky than he had ever made. Duncan Stewart, the man who collected the money wherewith to erect the tombstone in the Greyfriars Churchyard, often so he told my informant saw her when she lived in the West Port, and wore a sowhack. She accompanied her husband in his journeys to the Highlands ; and two years after his death she followed him to the same grave in the Greyfriars Churchyard.

After Maclntyre left the Highlands he joined the Edinburgh City Guard. When this event took place is uncertain, but beyond question he had abandoned Nic Cbiseam, his stalking gun, and shouldered Senaid, the weapon of the Guard, before the first edition of his songs appeared in 1768. " A humble Highlander,'* says Chambers, " considered it as getting a berth when he was enlisted into the Edinburgh Guard. Of this feeling we have a remarkable illustration in an anecdote regarding the Highland bard, Duncan Maclntyre, usually called Donacha Bhan [sic]. This man, really an exquisite poet to those understanding his language, became the object of a kind interest to many educated persons in Perthshire, his native county [sic]. The Earl of Breadalbane sent to let him know that he wished to befriend him, and was anxious to procure him some situation that might put him comparatively at his ease. Poor Duncan returned his thanks, and asked his Lordship's interest to get him into the Edinburgh Town Guardpay sixpence a day." Tradition adds that he had besides a cow's grass on the Castle Esplanade !

Of his life in Edinburgh little is known. It is not surprising that Burns, who came and went like a meteor in 1786, should never have heard of the Highland bard, then resident in the city ; but it does seem strange to have to look in vain through subscription lists for the name of Scott, who was interested in everything Scottish, Lowland or Highland, and who loved the Highlanders so well that he even knew a good deal of Gaelic. A glance at the minutes of the Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland will suggest an explanation. The members set before them as a definite aim the encouragement of Gaelic poetry, for which doubtless they deserve great praise. Yet their outlays on this great object were small, their applause stinted and halting, their judgment such that it will not be upheld by posterity. If this be true of educated and influential Highlanders, what could be expected of Lowlanders, even though they were men of genius, like Burns and Scott ?