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This article is taken from PN Review 71, Volume 16 Number 3, January - February 1990.

par lui même Sorley Maclean


In spite of the wonderful visual and tactile sensuousness of much seventeenth-century and still more of eighteenth-century Scottish Gaelic poetry, and its triumphant 'realisation' of static and dynamic physical nature, I think that, on the whole, the Scottish Gael is more fascinated by sound in poetry than by visual form or colour. At any rate, I do not think that there is any doubt that the greatest glories of Scottish art are in the great 'pibrochs', such as 'The Lament for the Children', and in the 'sub-literary' songs that can be dated - as far as they can be dated - from the middle of the sixteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth. ('Sub-literary', not by any means a pejorative word, is, as far as I know, the accurate invention of a brilliant Skyeman, the late James Ross.)

Raasay, the island on which I was born, had a great 'pibroch' playing about the end of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth from John MacKay and his sons, of whom Angus was the most famous; and great 'light' pipe music from two Donald MacLeods, one of whom survived well into the twentieth century, but was not living in Raasay in my time. Although my own father was rated a very fine piper, he seldom played 'pibroch', but used to be very enthusiastic about those he heard at the Portree Games. He could sing the 'Cro of Kintail' as if it ...

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