MacDonald’s First Visit to Glasgow

Sgìrean Eile

29 June 2021

A song by William (Billy) Marshall (1935-1996) Researched and sung by Sophie MacDonald

Lyrics

When I came to Glasgow first, out to the Lowlands
I was like a man adrift, astray and getting lost;
The noise it seemed like thunder, it caused me to feel giddy
And often-times I wished I was back in the land of the hills.

The noise of the tramway cars was rumbling in my ears,
When I went along the Broomielaw, my eyes were full of tears,
Wishing that I was back in my dear native home,
How sad that I am a Gael in Glasgow all alone.

The men and the women who met me on my way –
I didn’t care for their ways, they had too much to say;
Some of them asked me for money and when I said, “Clear away!”,
They stuck their tongues out at me, and nasty things did say!

That aroused my nature, my temper it got wild,
And I went down to scatter them along the banks of Clyde;
I caught hold of a boy among them and I tossed him round my head,
I threw him into the middle of the street and they picked him up for dead.

Then along came the policeman, a splendid man was he,
An excellent, comely man, belonging to Portree;
He said to me,“O, young man! What, what is all this row?”
“They started the dispute and I will tell you how”.
I began to tell him, he’d heard the likes before,
And he whistled to his companion, who stood in the shop door,
He took out his notebook and pretended down to write
How John MacDonald started the Lowlanders to fight.

I was ashamed and disgraced to be in such a fix,
He said to me, “As you’re a Gael, you’ll have to stop those tricks.
Go, and don’t do this ever again, just treat them with disdain,
Because I’ll certainly arrest you if you do the likes again!”

I thanked him heartily and I went upon my way:
Many years have passed since then - I’m in Glasgow to this day;
I know every corner of the city, I know my Glasgow well,
And in the great kindness of my neighbours I ever more shall dwell.

How I chose the song

I wished to find more songs from Glasgow because I was brought up here and this is where I learned Gaelic. Although I have heard many songs fronm the Highlands I hadn’t come across songs from Glasgow before. I came across this song after speaking to Mary Ann Kennedy and I learned that she had had similar thoughts and this encouraged me to research this subject. I really liked this song because it is bilingual and so interesting and different from anything I had heard before.

The author

William Marshall was born in Clydebank but he moved when the place was damaged in the Second War. His first home was in Bannerman Street, Clydebank, which was badly damaged in a German bombing attack in 1941. Young William was moved to Dunvegan in Skye and this is where he learnt fluent Gaelic. After the war he returned to Glasgow but kept going to Skye for holidays and that’s how he strengthened his language skills. He began to sing in 1967 when people noticed his talent at a ceilidh in Govan and after that he often sang on radio and at other gatherings. He recorded Songs of a Skye Man in 1988.

The song

This macaronic song uses English and Gaelic to describe, in a light-hearted and amusing way, the cultural clash in Glasgow at the time. Many people to whom I have spoken say that when they were young this style of song could often be heard but that they are not heard today. This macaronic style is very new to me. It gives a clear insight into the situation of many Gaels in Glasgow and how their life was. The song describes the loneliness and confusion he felt. But at the end of the song, having been living in Glasgow for many years, he is now so familiar with the city.

More information

William Marshall explains how the situation was for many people who moved to Glasgow from the Highlands (he must have known people like this although he was brought up in Glasgow). They moved because there were few jobs to be had in the islands and there were better work opportunities in Glasgow. They came from places that were peaceful, quiet and empty to a busy, noisy place; the two cultures are very unalike and it’s no wonder that it was difficult to adjust to a new life and language.

The song mentions a policeman and at this time many of the policemen in Glasgow were Highlanders. Thus, if you were in trouble it was beneficial for you to be a Highlander. A bit like a “get out of jail free (this time) card”, to quote Mary Ann Kennedy. This shows that although it was at times difficult there was loyalty between them and they could have a bit of fun too.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Jo MacDonald, Mary-Ann Kennedy and Norman Campbell who helped me with my research.

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