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Robert Burns Lives!
Robert Burns Was Not A Gaelic Speaker but, By Murdo Morrison

Edited by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Greater Atlanta, GA, USA

Many names float around the global world of Robert Burns and when I hear of these individuals, I look forward to meeting them in person. Many times I know the name but not the individual. One such name is Murdo Morrison and although he was unable to write an article for me some time back, as luck would have it, a few days ago an email showed up on my laptop from him. It seems we both have wanted to contact each other for some time to introduce ourselves. We have a lot of things in common but the overriding connection is our love for Robert Burns. Murdo is busy doing his thing for Burns in Scotland and I try to do mine here in the States.

Below is an interesting article written by Murdo explaining some of what he does for Burns. I thoroughly enjoyed the article and gladly pass it along to our many readers knowing you will too. A part of Murdo’s article involves The Twa Dogs, one of my favorite pieces by Burns. He loved dogs as I have all my life. Ironically this past week our son Scott, his wife Denise and our two grandchildren, Ian and Stirling, spent the week at Amelia Island (just across the Georgia border in Florida) attending our annual Georgia Health Care convention. Susan and I decided not to go this year as travel does not appeal to us now as much as it did a few years ago. As a result, we were happy to take care of their two beautiful Boxer dogs, Zoe and Dodger - one old, one young; one wise in experience, one a six-month old pup; one very alert, highly active, and playful, the other nearly blind in one eye but one of the sweetest ninety-five-pound dogs on earth. If you like a loving dog, Zoe will return your love pound for pound. Dodger still has a few things to learn in that department. We were blessed having Zoe and Dodger for a week, and Murdo will say a little about Burns’s The Twa Dogs which will help us understand what Burns was saying. Welcome, Murdo! Enjoy his article, readers!

Both men pictured below have been guests at our Robert Burns cottage in Atlanta and left us with good thoughts of Scotland. (FRS: 6.20.2016)

Robert Burns Was Not A Gaelic Speaker but…
By Murdo Morrison

Left to right….Dr Peter Hughes, President Robert Burns World Federation with Murdo Morrison, FSA Scot. Hon President. President Allanton Jolly Beggars Burns Club.

Robert Burns was not a Gaelic Speaker although, even in his brief lifetime, he would hear Gaelic spoken and by the time he was born the ancient language of most of Scotland, including his native Ayrshire, was in the process of being eliminated.

Scots, Lallans, Doric continued in daily use but the ruthless efforts to stamp out Gaelic was most effective in the South West. The English language became dominant and was perceived to be the language of education. In parts of the Western Highlands an older generation conversed in Gaelic, their sons and daughters knew some Gaelic but the next generation, despite many efforts, will possibly be the last users.

Aiding and abetting the decline is the decreasing population with a younger element from small families moving in pursuit of education and careers.

Robert Burns dips in to the language in a number of different ways and one example is the name he gave to his favourite sheep dog. This is the dog featured in “The Twa Dogs”. There was one dog complete with fancy braw brass collar- that – according to Burns – proved that he was a “gentleman and a scholar”

The other dog was, of course, “Luath” - a ploughman’s collie by description but in reality a much loved dog belonging to the Bard. This dog in reality was killed on the day before the funeral of Robert Burn’s father.

Who committed this deed and why is lost in the mists of history but Burns was determined that his much loved dog would live on – or at least his name would. “Luath” in Gaelic means “fast” and that was indeed an appropriate name for an active sheep dog with affection for his master and energy for tasks in hand.

Robert Burns also used a number of Gaelic tunes and with his undoubted musical appreciation skills he had the ability to hear and remember Gaelic tunes which he then used in his song compositions.

One notable song which conveys love and yearning and understanding and has an eternal quality is “Ae fond kiss” That song and the depths of meaning can move people to tears as the words and music blend perfectly together.

The tune for this song is undoubtedly of Gaelic origin and the tune itself is still in use. The title quoted to the non-Gaelic speaker is slightly confusing.

“Rory Dall’s Port” is not the description of a particular harbour or even a wine. The
original title is Port Ruaridh Dhall immediately recognised by Gaelic Speakers as “Blind Roderick’s tune.” There are two contenders for the identity of Blind Roderick and one of them was Roderick Morrison, son of John Morrison, from Bragar on the Island of Lewis. This talented Harpist was the harpist for the Macleods of Dunvegan.

A Gaelic Scholar – the late Reverend Roderick Macdonald – was crowned the “Bard of the Mod” the highest award presented annually to a Gaelic poet. This islander from North Uist was a passionate follower of Burns and he translated the complete works of Burns in to Scottish Gaelic.

The translations are excellent and listening to Tam O Shanter in Gaelic would nearly convince the listener that it had been written in Gaelic in the first place. This master of translation captures every twist and nuance in that remarkable tale.

In discussion with BBC Radio Scotland’s Gaelic department I suggested that a radio broadcast of a Burns supper in Gaelic was feasible and this was accepted. The broadcast went ahead and I had the pleasure of presenting the Immortal Memory. Bill Innes proposed the toast to the Lasses and a reply laced with humour and song awaited from Anne Lorne Gillies. Other artistes contributed to what was the first ever Gaelic Burns Supper being broadcast.

The legacy of Robert Burns lives on in many languages and Gaelic speakers were delighted that this broadcast took place and helped generate even more interest in our National Bard.

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