The Great ‘Linnet’
28 June 2021
A song by Arthur Ross (eighteenth and nineteenth century) Researched and sung by Calum Ross
We received a call to sorrow
We are mourning instead of making music
And we ask all who are familiar with our ways
To now mourn along with us.
Man is wretched every day
On his journey towards death.
Not knowing when it will strike -
The time of his death is hidden from him.
But, ill or healthy, when the time comes
He will go to the eternal home,
And that’s how everyone is
On a speedy journey to eternity.
The Great ‘Linnet’, travelling the seas,
Went astray on a gloomy night;
She went astray in the darkness
And the storm threw her into Cadboll.
She stayed motionless there for a while
A broken ship on the hard rocks
And some tried to raise her up
Refloat her and use her for work.
But she refused to move for them once or twice
Though they had tradespersons trying
But when the night of death arrived
She took to the sea and set off.
And although there was a great number on board
Taking her up to Balintore
She took off from them rudderless, without sail,
She preferred not to wait for them.
For the seven who were on board
Left there without direction,
There was no escape from death for them
But the length of the tops of the crosstrees.
They had no sails to take pity on them
Or rudder to turn her around,
But let her run her course with the northerly storm
Taking them towards the grave where they would sleep.
Why I chose this song
For this undertaking, I wished to represent and present songs from Easter Ross (“A’ Mhachair Rois”) because I have a connection with the district. Having found the song “An Linnet Mhòr”, I wished to bring it to the attention of my contemporaries. It is an extremely powerful piece of poetry with regard to its imagery, its religious vocabulary and its religious fervour. I came across this song in the book “Saoghal Bana-mharaiche,” by Seòsamh Watson, who was extremely helpful with information and stories.
My forebears and my family in Easter Ross were fishermen and farmers and because of that I am interested in stories, songs and anecdotes about the sea, fishing and land-use. I have strong connections with many of the places mentioned in this song and with this song I wished to present and show them to you all.
Arthur Ross was born and brought up in Loans of Rarichies, Fearn district, in Easter Ross, in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. He was a farmer who lived with his brother, David, and sister, Elspet. It is probable that the bard was able to read and write and that he was not recorded but that the song was sung locally. The song was recorded and published and disseminated more widely by the “Northern Counties Newspaper and Printing and Publishing Company of Inverness” around the middle of the nineteenth century.
There is no record of him composing any other songs or poems but it is likely that he composed more than this one. It is interesting to discover the influence of religious belief on his writing style, imbued as it is with Biblical words and discourse, as can be seen in the writings of Dugald Buchanan.
The song’s official title is “An Elegy About the People Lost on Board a Ship Wrecked From Cadpoll Shore at the Beginning of the Year 1843”. The ship, the “Linnet”, went aground on rocks and people from the village tried to refloat her, hauling her to Balintore. Despite their efforts, the “Linnet” could not be restrained and they went with her. With no way of escaping or saving themselves, they were taken by the storm and perished. A religious meditation on death follows.
Easter Ross is famed for its beauty, fertility and fishing. The district likewise has a long and plentiful history from the time of the Picts and the Gaels, the reformation of the church and clan feuds etc. Most of the district’s fishermen lived in the “three sea-ports” (Hilton, Balintore and Shandwick) at the time. Life was hard for them, with losses at sea a part of the lifestyle of sailors and fishermen. Today the three sea-ports are still famous for fishing and their strong connection with Gaelic and the lore of the Gaels today.