Tè nan Gorm-shùilean Meallach

Composed by Neil MacLeod

Researched and sung by Duncan MacLeod

Farewell and my best wishes
To Ardmair of the peaks,
Where I left my fair loved one
And me so sadly longing for her
Where I left my beloved,
With the alluring blue eyes,
Soft and fair skin like cotton,
On my darling’s breast.

Where I left my maiden,
For whom I’d be asking;
A kind heart without malice
Like a diamond in the dew.
Up the Rock going home
I look back to the village,
Trying to see my loved one,
Her of the curly ringlets.

The maid of the lovely locks,
So neatly put in place;
Lips that can sing more sweetly
Than the thrush in the trees.
Had I but as much wealth
As there is money in Coigach,
It is you I would marry,
Before any young lady in the land.

The cheeks so fine and beautiful,
On the maiden who wounded me;
Should she not marry me,
I shall sorely lament her.
Lovely rippling white skin,
On the breast of my beloved;
Plentiful is the beauty to recount,
On the brow of my dearest.

It is more than six years,
Since your love first beset me;
But now that I am greying,
You care not for my love.
You are my Grace Darling,
It’s you who will row the boat;
You’ll take her to Martin’s Island,
No matter how strong the gale.

The song

The song was composed by Niall MacLeod of Coigach otherwise known as the “Polbain Bard”. He was born around 1885 and was well-known as a village bard.

Few of his songs remain in writing or recording today, and what has been saved is largely due to the efforts of Roddie MacLeod, a relative of mine from Polbain. Roddie was one of the last native Gaelic speakers from Coigach and grew up hearing about the Bard and his songs. He realised that these songs were only known to a small handful of people of the older generation, and so a few years ago he published a book called “An Trubhal na mo Dhòrn”. This book contains transcriptions and translations of Niall MacLeod’s songs that Roddie had gathered. His son Kevin (my dad’s second cousin) helped to create the book. They hoped that someone in the family or a local singer would learn some of the songs and they would continue to be living pieces of Coigach’s heritage.

I was drawn to the song due to its simple and sad love story. The language is very descriptive and I like that it mentions Eilean Mhàrtainn, Isle Martin, which is where my grandad and family once lived. I learned the tune from a 1950s recording of Angus Ross, a cousin of Roddie’s, that was sent to me by Kevin.

Sadly, Roddie died recently (October 2019) at the age of ninety-one. He would have loved for these fantastic songs to thrive and be sung again.

Duncan MacLeod, 2019

Acknowledgements

Recorded at Aird Studio, Inverness
Filmed at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness
Filmed by Mike Webster, Spiral Out Pictures
Make-up Sam Whitby