For the first time, a bilingual anthology of the poems and songs of the Gaelic poet Murdo MacFarlane, the Melbost Bàrd, is available in one complete volume.
Murdo, known as Bàrd Mhealboist (The Melbost Bard), was a published poet, songwriter and campaigner for Gaelic. Born and brought up close to Stornoway Airport, he was taught Latin, English and French but received no education in Gaelic although it was his mother tongue.
This comprehensive collection, Doras Gun Chlàimhean, has been put together after years of painstaking research by Gaelic broadcaster and writer Catriona Murray.
In his time, Murdo spent a period in the employment of the landlord Lord Leverhulme on various schemes but eventually he left to travel to North America in the 1920s and spent many years in Manitoba. Sadly, he did not like the place and did not take to the way of life over there. In 1932 Murdo returned to Scotland and went on to do his national service through World War II. Following the end of the war, he spent the rest of his life in Lewis and never married.
He was a strong campaigner against the enlargement of Stornoway Airport as a NATO base in the 1970s. The thaw in the so-called Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West helped ensure that campaign was ultimately successful.
It was during that period that Murdo wrote many poems, songs and pipe tunes which have become the most popular anthems at Gaelic ceremonies and events since then. They include Cànan nan Gàidheal, Òran Cogaidh, Màl na Mara, and Mi le m' Uillin air Mo Ghlùin.
There was a surprise development when Murdo’s poetry was taken up by a young band Na h-Òganaich in the 1970s. That exposure led directly to other bands, such as Runrig and Capercaillie, being inspired by his work. In addition to his verse, which covers war, emigration, heritage, language and philosophy, a selection of Murdo’s other writings, in Gaelic and in English, is included.
He was regularly interviewed by broadcasters at that time, sometimes in his later years with his trademark habit of wearing two pairs of spectacles at the same time. He claimed that he could see better using that unconventional method than wearing one prescribed pair.
Murdo MacFarlane died in 1982. Throughout the previous decade he became a household name for a generation of Gaels who came to know and love his songs through performances by groups like not just Na h-Òganaich, but also Na Siaraich and the Lochies.
A Gaelic biographical account of the bàrd prefaces the verse and includes photographs of him. English translations of the poetry reflect meaning rather than being literal translations and information on the poems and songs, where available, also form part of the volume.
No single volume of all his verse was ever published until now. The collection cements his standing as a celebrated Gaelic tradition bearer and language activist of the twentieth century and is a unique and valuable contribution to Gaelic literature.
This article was updated on 26th September to remove incorrect information in regards to Catriona Murray