I see Cleatrabhal distant

Western Isles

29 June 2021

A song by Angus MacLellan (1912-1995) Researched and sung by Peigi MacVicar



In Tigharry at rest there is
The pure smell of the sea
And its roar, with clamour in every cranny.
I see Cleatrabhal distant …

Tigharry of the pastures
And the grey-green hillocks
The fringed brown lochs and pools.
I see Cleatrabhal distant …

My eye sees afar
From the heathery Harris hills
To small bare Barra of the cattle.
I see Cleatrabhal distant …

Alone in the west
Pointed St Kilda of the birds
And jagged Haisgeir where the seals sleep.
I see Cleatrabhal distant…

Heisgeir isle itself
Which raised sturdy mariners
Who were brave like heroes.
I see Cleatrabhal distant …

Àrd an Rùnair of the waves
Which put poetry into MacCodrum
and sweet was his music.
I see Cleatrabhal distant …

The villages of Paibil of the plains
Where the land is fertile
Where the barley grows succulent.
I see Cleatrabhal distant …

To the south I look down
There’s a big, wide, grey mountain
Covered in twisting skeins of mist.
I see Cleatrabhal distant …

There are low hills and glens
Between me and Lì
And thousand-fingered dark lochs.
I see Cleatrabhal distant …

The lands of joyful Sollas
I haven’t named in my poem
Nor Baile MhicPhàil of the green grass.
I took Cleatrabhal away…

Sitting on the cairn
Between moor and beach
I see the most beautiful machair under the skies.
I see Cleatrabhal distant …

Many a man and woman
In distant lands
Will fondly remember their young days
Who saw Cleatrabhal afar…

Wouldn’t it be agreeable to be now
In that land they love
Sitting on the rock in its presence
Seeing Cleatrabhal distant…

Colosaigh hill is silent
Where those that are gone sleep
Who will never feel sweat in rough country
Who saw Cleatrabhal distant
Bowed monument of the north
Beinn Olghaidh with waves below her point.

Why I chose this song

I heard this song on the radio when I was beginning my research for Fuaran and it engaged me because it was about Cleatrabhal in North Uist. Baleloch, near there, is where my family stay when we visit relatives on the west side of the island. Kenna Campbell was the singer and after listening a couple of times I did some more research and found the words written in the book ‘Beagan Bàrdachd à Uibhist a Tuath’, a collection of the songs of Aonghas Lachlainn.

The author

Angus MacLellan, Angus son of Lachlan, was born in 1912 and brought up in Tigharry in North Uist. He intended to go to the mainland as soon as he finished school but he had to stay at home to work on his father’s croft. When he left, aged 24, he headed for Glasgow hoping to find work on ships but, because he had no experience, that didn’t last long. After that he went to London and began to work for the Lighthouse Service around the coast of England. For health reasons he had to return home after time in the south to croft with his sister and brother though he always maintained that he wasn’t a good crofter. Here he composed his poetry, some in his head and some he’d compose on paper.

The song

Aonghas Lachlainn describes what can be seen from Cleatrabhal, starting with Tigharry, where his home was. He can see as far as Harris and Barra, then out to St Kilda and Heisgeir. Nearer are Paible, Ben Lee and Sollas, and he finishes with Cnoc Cholasaigh and A’ Charra Chrom (the name of my home in Skye). He ponders on times past and the people who would prefer to be there but can’t. In most of the song he is praising the beauty of Uist and the other Western Isles.

More information

Cleatrabhal is a hill on the west side of North Uist. It can be seen from the villages of Tigharry, Hogharry, Hosta, Baleloch and further afield. The author mentions people who are no longer in Uist but who would like to be there, perhaps emigrants or soldiers who did not return.


I would like to thank Calum Alex MacMillan for his guidance and my father for encouraging me to research various topics.

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