Bò Mhòr nam Balach – en

19 February 2024

A song by Dòmhnall Iain Chaluim Nèill researched and sung by Eilidh MacPhee

Lyrics

Ho ro the big cow belonging to the boys
A good thing she didn't escape from them!
Ho ro the big cow belonging to the boys

It was the Bluidsear who raised her
And with too much feeding, she went wrong
And because she was rutting in heat
He thought it was time to give her up.

Ho ro the big cow belonging to the boys

His brother sent word to Lòci
That her equal could scarcely be found
And that if he wanted meat
he should go and buy her.

Ho ro the big cow belonging to the boys

Duncan Beag put on his dungarees
Took with him the stick and the rope;
And since the bargain pleased them all
Our heroes decided to buy her.

" "

Early on Monday after the Sabbath
they moved her from the place of her birth
And though she was sad when leaving,
The good folks of Gearrannan gave her a warm welcome.

" "

But the brute was unusually strong
None like her in all of Scotland,
Although she got three stout blows from Tormod
she didn't lift a hoof from the ground.

" "

The blonde boy had a shot next
a tall, sturdy and strong lad
And although he landed two or three on her
she held her head up just like a lady.

" "

Calum rolled up his sleeves
Put his tongue out into the fresh air
Our hero aimed another blow at her
That was the one that fell her to the ground.

" "

Then she spoke to them in Gàidhlig
" I'll give you a piece of advice or two
You drink the juice of my bones,
Because some of you could do fine with a toddy!"

" "

When Rob reaches the Queen
And tells her about his neighbour
Elizabeth will send word without delay
And Calum will get two or three medals.

" "

Although she finished her journey to this wilderness,
It was the hammer that wounded and pained her,
Her death will always be remembered
While there is a Grainneach living in the village.

Ho ro the big cow belonging to the boys
A good thing she didn't escape from them!
Ho ro the big cow belonging to the boys

How I chose the Song

Usually when I learn Gàidhlig songs I get them from my mum, and because her family come from Lewis I decided to focus my research on songs from Carloway and particularly the village of Garenin. To find out more I went on a trip with granny over to Lewis where I got to speak with people from the area and I was very lucky to get about ten or so songs from or about Garenin. Out of the songs I found 'Bò Mhòr nam Balach' stood out because its quite a funny song and I liked that it mentioned names that I recognised, for example Lòci, who is related to Peigi Lòci who gave me the words of the song. Also, to learn the song I listened to a recording of my grandpa singing it and it was a joy to be able to take a song that he had sung but make my own version of it by using my own selection of verses to tell the story in a way that I liked.

The Author

Dòmhnall Iain Chaluim Iain Nèill was born in February 1932 in Garenin. He was a sailor in the Merchant Navy for a while and he was also a whaler in the South Georgia Sea. He married Kirsty Anna Morrison in 1957 and they settled in Shawbost where they had four children. There he worked in a mill, on the roads and as a weaver. He would often write but hardly any of his work has been published, apart from his famous song 'Gruagach Dhonn Bhrunail' that he wrote about his future wife Kirsty Anna when he was at sea.

The Song

The song tells the true story of when a group of men from Garenin tried to buy a cow for meat for the village. Once the men had bought the cow, no matter what they tried they couldn't seem to slaughter it. Although they manged it in the end this songs relays that story in not only a funny way but it also in a way which appreciates and respects the cow for her strength and endurance.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Deirdre Graham and Jo MacDonald for their help and guidance through the project and a huge thank you to Peigi Lòci, from Carloway, for giving me the words. Finally, I want to thank my Granaidh who has been incredibly helpful since I started the project.

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