Màiri Mhòr nan Òran

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Mary MacPherson)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Mary MacPherson
Native name
Màiri Mhòr nan Òran
BornMary MacDonald
10 March 1821
Skeabost, Skye, Scotland
Died8 November 1898
Portree, Skye
OccupationNurse and midwife, poet
LanguageScottish Gaelic
EducationGlasgow Royal Infirmary
Literary movementHighland Land League
SpouseIsaac MacPherson

Mary MacPherson (Scottish Gaelic: Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (Big Mary of the Songs) or simply Màiri Mhòr; 10 March 1821 – 7 November 1898) was a Scottish Gaelic poet from the Isle of Skye, whose work focused on the Highland Clearances and the land struggle. Although she could read her own work when written she could not write it in Gaelic.[1] She retained her songs and poems in her memory until others wrote them down for publication.[2] She often referred to herself as Màiri Nighean Iain Bhàin (Mary, daughter of fair haired John), the name by which she would have been known in the Skye of her childhood.[3]

Life[edit]

Born at Skeabost Skye in 1821 to John Macdonald and Flora MacInnes.[4][5] She moved to Inverness in 1844 where she married Shoemaker Isaac MacPherson on 11 November 1847.[5] She and Isaac had five children who lived to maturity. Following the death of her husband in 1871[6] Mairi Mhòr took employment as a domestic servant with the family of an army officer. She was accused of stealing clothes belonging to the officer's wife, who had just died of typhoid, and sentenced to 40 days imprisonment. All court documents relating to the case appear to have been lost and it is unclear exactly what happened. It is often claimed that another servant with a grudge against her planted the stolen clothes in Mairi Mhòr's box. She protested her innocence for the rest of her life and was almost universally believed by the Gaelic speaking community. At the time of her trial she was supported by John Murdoch, campaigning journalist and founder of The Highlander. Charles Fraser-Mackintosh, Inverness solicitor and politician, is also said to have acted on her behalf but it is unclear in what capacity. This marks the start of a friendship between the poet and the politician that lasted for the rest of her life. Her brush with the law and the feeling it aroused is recorded in Tha mi sgìth de luchd na Beurla (I'm tired of the English speakers). She said that the humiliation (tàmailt) she endured brought her muse to life.[7][1]

On her release in 1872 Mairi Mhòr moved to Glasgow, aged about 50. Here she seems to have learned to read and write in English, and qualified with a nursing certificate and diploma in obstetrics from Glasgow Royal Infirmary.[5] In 1876 she moved to Greenock to work but often returned to Glasgow for cèilidhs and other gatherings of Skye people. Both Glasgow and Greenock had sizeable Gaelic-speaking communities at the time. It is thought that she probably sang at many of these ceilidhs as there is evidence of her frequently doing so after she retired to Skye in 1882. By this time she had acquired a reputation for her songs and her championing of the crofters in the increasingly heated debate over land rights. She sang at the first ever National Mòd in Oban in 1892 but did not win a medal.[8][9]

Photograph of Mairi Mhor with her spinning whorl

On returning to Skye she lived with a friend, Mrs MacRae of Os, until Lachlann MacDonald, laird of Sgèabost provided her with a rent free cottage. She then became actively involved in the Crofters' War and the Highland land issue, which provided the themes of some of her best known songs. She is known to have been present at Highland Land League meetings and to have been actively involved with campaigners such as Alexander Mackenzie and her friend Charles Fraser-Mackintosh in the run up to the Napier Commission of 1883-4 and the Crofters Act of 1886.

In one of her songs of this period, ‘'Nuair chaidh na ceithir ùr oirre’’ Mairi describes a crossing of Strome Ferry with Fraser-Mackintosh, Alexander Mackenzie (Clach na Cùdainn), his son and Kenneth MacDonald to gather support for the land struggle. ‘’Clach’’ tells her that the boat will sink if she gets on board with the rest as she weighs in at 17 stone (108 kg). Instead she is to wait behind and the boatman will return for her alone. She was 5 ft 9 inches tall (172.5cm) tall so the epithet mòr can refer to her physique as well as to her status in Gaelic poetry.[10] Among other well known and frequently sung songs from her Land League period are ‘’Oran Beinn Li’’, ‘’Coinneamh nan Croitearan’’ and ‘’Eilean a’ Cheò’’

Like her contemporary Gaelic bard and activist, Mary Mackellar, Mairi Mhòr greatly admired and became friendly with Professor John Stuart Blackie. She was a skilled spinner and wool worker and made Blackie a tartan plaid. Later she devised a tartan which she called’’The Blackie’’. Blackie gave her a beautifully crafted cromag (shepherd’s crook). She also presented Charles Fraser-Mackintosh with a woollen suit. She had done the spinning and dying but not the weaving.[11]

Her last known address, at Beaumont Crescent, Portree in the building now called the Rosedale Hotel, is commemorated today with a blue plaque.[12]

Plaque on the Rosedale Hotel, Portree to Mairi Mhor nan Oran

MacPherson died in Portree 1898 and was buried in Chapel Yard Cemetery in Inverness beside her husband. A gravestone was erected by Charles Fraser-Mackintosh, M.P.[13]

Beaumont Crescent, Portree. Last known address of Mairi Mhor nan Oran

Significance of her work[edit]

During the Highland Land League, song was a key mode of spreading information to local Gaelic speaking communities in Skye, many of whom were not literate in Gaelic. Furthermore her poetry now provides a significant body of evidence about the crofters' uprisings.[5]

Published work[edit]

  • Gaelic Songs and Poems, by Mary MacPherson, 1891.[14]
Grave Stone of Mairi Mhòr in Chapel Yard Cemetery, Inverness

Critiques of her work[edit]

Donald Meek quotes Sheriff Alexander Nicolson in his ‘’History of the Island of Skye’’ as saying that Mairi’s songs had little permanent value after the events they commemorated has passed. Nicholson felt that ”few of her productions are worthy of preservation…. her imagery was too fleeting and superficial” [15]

Sorley Maclean, on the other hand, wrote of her work that “Its greatness consists of the fusion of social and private passion…..with extra-ordinary vitality and ‘’ joie de vivre’’; for of all the Gaelic poets not even Alexander MacDonald (Alasdair mac Mhaighstir Alasdair) had more vitality and ‘’joie de vivre’ than Mairi Mhòr…. Mairi’s poetry is rich in imagery and symbol although it is not very rich in metaphor … Mairi Mhòr’s poetry has always been greatly moving to the ‘sophistocated’ as well as a great many of the ‘unsophistocated’ among those who know her language”.[16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Somhairle Mac Gill-eain, "Ris a' Bhruaithaich The Criticism and Prose Writing of Sorley MacLean" (Stornoway : Acair, 1985)251-2
  2. ^ Dòmhnall Eachainn Meek,“Màiri Mhòr nan Òran : Taghadh de a h-Òrain” (Dùn Eideann : Comann Litreachas Gàidhlig na h-Alba, 1998)51-56
  3. ^ Dòmhnall Eachainn Meek,“Màiri Mhòr nan Òran : Taghadh de a h-Òrain” (Dùn Eideann : Comann Litreachas Gàidhlig na h-Alba, 1998)31&186
  4. ^ Norman,, Macdonald,. The great book of Skye : from the island to the world : people and place on a Scottish island. Maclean, Cailean,. Portree. ISBN 0952868792. OCLC 897503159.
  5. ^ a b c d Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. 23 September 2004.
  6. ^ Mary MacPherson, DASG.ac.uk, Retrieved 29 January 2016
  7. ^ Dòmhnall Eachainn Meek,“Màiri Mhòr nan Òran : Taghadh de a h-Òrain” (Dùn Eideann : Comann Litreachas Gàidhlig na h-Alba, 1998)23-27
  8. ^ Dòmhnall Eachainn Meek,“Màiri Mhòr nan Òran : Taghadh de a h-Òrain” (Dùn Eideann : Comann Litreachas Gàidhlig na h-Alba, 1998)pp27-28 &30
  9. ^ Somhairle Mac Gill-eain, "Ris a' Bhruaithaich The Criticism and Prose Writing of Sorley MacLean" (Stornoway : Acair, 1985)251
  10. ^ Dòmhnall Eachainn Meek,“Màiri Mhòr nan Òran : Taghadh de a h-Òrain” (Dùn Eideann : Comann Litreachas Gàidhlig na h-Alba, 1998)19 &186-9
  11. ^ Dòmhnall Eachainn Meek,“Màiri Mhòr nan Òran : Taghadh de a h-Òrain” (Dùn Eideann : Comann Litreachas Gàidhlig na h-Alba, 1998) 19 & 29
  12. ^ Mary MacPherson, Waymarking.com, Retrieved 29 January 2016
  13. ^ Dòmhnall Eachainn Meek, “Màiri Mhòr nan Òran : Taghadh de a h-Òrain”(Dùn Eideann : Comann Litreachas Gàidhlig na h-Alba, 1998)30-31
  14. ^ "(1) Blair Collection > Dàin agus òrain Ghàidhlig Early Gaelic Book Collections National Library of Scotland". digital.nls.uk. Retrieved 2018-10-19.
  15. ^ Dòmhnall Eachainn Meek,“Màiri Mhòr nan Òran : Taghadh de a h-Òrain” (Dùn Eideann : Comann Litreachas Gàidhlig na h-Alba, 1998)45-46
  16. ^ Somhairle Mac Gill-eain, "Ris a' Bhruaithaich The Criticism and Prose Writing of Sorley MacLean" (Stornoway : Acair, 1985)253&257

External links[edit]