MacEdward Leach and the Songs of Atlantic Canada
A Choille Ghruamach
(The Gloomy Forest)
Angus MacIsaac CB 1 Tape 1 Track 4
Giant's Lake Audio:
Homeland Song


`S tha mise `m ònar `s a choille ghruamach,
Tha m'ìnntinn luaineach, cha tog mi fonn.
Am meadhon fàsach an Abhainn Bhàrnaidh,
Gun dad as fheàrr leam na buntata lom.
Mun dean mi àit' ann 's mun cur mi bàrr ann,
`S choille ghàbhaidh chuir far a'bonn,
Le neart mo ghàirdean gum bi mi sàraicht',
Is treis a fàilig mu fàs a chlann.

`S nuair thig na dròbhairean 'nis gan iarraidh,
`S ann leis na breugan a nì iad feum.
Gun focal fìrinn aca `ga ìnnse
Ach cruithidh dìteadh mar their am beul.
De `s fheàrrd` bhi `g innse gu bheil `s an tìr seo
Gach nì as prìseil a tha fo'n ghrèin
Nuair chi sibh `n t-àite sin gun dad a chì sibh
Ach coille dhìreach toirt dhibh nan speur.

Bidh gealldh làidir 'ga thoirt an trath sin
Bidh cliù an àite `ga chuir an cèill
Bidh iad ag rathainn gu bheil `san àite sin
Gu sona saibhir gun dad a ghèill.
Gach naidheachd meallta `ga chuir gan ionnsaidh
Feuch an sanntaich iad tighinn nan dèidh
`S nuair thig iad sin an t-àite,
Chan fhear na stàdach na iad fhèin.

`S nuair thig an samhradh 's mi as a'Chèitein,
Bidh teas na grèine `gar fagail fann
Gun cuir iad spiorad `s a h-uile creutair,
A bhios fo euslan air feadh nam tom.
Am mathan beisdeil do ni e èirigh,
Air feadh an treud gur e mo a chall.
`S a chuileag iongach gu socach puinnsean
`Gar lota lionmhor re-roimh na lann.

`S nuair thig an geamhradh 's mi as an Dubhlachd,
Bidh sneachda duinnte gu bàrr nan geug.
Gu domhain dubhail 'dol far na glùinean,
Ged `s math an trùsair cha dean i feum.
An stocainn dhùbailt `s a' mhogais shlaodach
An deidh a dùnadh gu dlùth le eur
Bho'n `se fasan ùr dhuinn `ga chosg le Fionnlagh,
Mar choille dhùsgadh do'm brùid an dè.


I'm here alone in the gloomy forest,
My mind wanders, I cannot raise a tune.
Everything is barren in Barney's River,
With nothing better than the bare potato.
Before I build a place here, and I plant a crop,
and fell the dense forest
With the strength of my shoulder, I shall be tired
And my strength failing before the children grow.

When the drovers come to entice them,
It's with lies they succeed
Without a word of truth,

But the case stated as they voice it
What is the use of saying that in this land

There is everything that is precious under the sun
When you came to the place you cannot see anything
But the tall forest blocking out the skies.

There will be a strong promise given then,
The renown of the land is spread
They say that there is in the land
Happiness and prosperity with little want
Every false message sent to them
To entice them to follow
And when they come to the place,
It's condition is no better than their own.

And when summer comes in Maytime,
The heat of the sun leaves us weak
It puts spirit into every creature
That is unhealthy amongst the hillocks (or bushes)
The brutes of bears they get up,
and do much damage amongst the flocks
And the clawed flies forever stinging us
with their poisoned lances.

And when winter comes in December
The snow closes in to the top of the branches
So deep and thick going over the knees,
Though the trousers are good, they are no use
The double stocking and clumsy moccasin
After it's tied with gut
As it is the fashion now to buy from Finlay,
The forest, awakened to its grief yesterday.


Debatably the most famous of Gaelic songs composed in Nova Scotia, A Choille Ghruamaich (sometmes titled, "Am Bard ann an Canada", "The Bard in Canada") was composed by John MacLean (Iain Mac Ailein, or “the Bard MacLean”) of Barney’s River, Antigonish Co., upon his immigration to Nova Scotia from the island of Tiree in 1819. The song is a commentary on the strife which immigrants faced in the unbroken Nova Scotian wilderness, and chronicle’s MacLean’s own experiences from his deception by re-settlement agents to the planting of his first crops.

In Scotland, John MacLean had been a shoemaker and was later commissioned to perform as bard to the Laird of Coll, Hector MacLean. The Laird, although disappointed to hear of MacLean’s desire to emigrate, would remain a distant friend long after the bard had resettled. A Choille Ghruamaich was composed for the Laird of Coll in order to inform him as well as other potential emigrants that Nova Scotia was not the land of prosperity promised to them. MacLean complains of the dense forest, cold winters, numerous and threatening wild animals and the loss of his Gaelic poetic ability. This type of song was common among the compositions of newly settled immigrants. Fortunately, MacLean as well as others would soon grow accustomed to life in the “New World” and even praise the new-found freedoms and tight-knit communities to be found there (see the version of Bithibh Aotrom ‘s Togaibh Fonn Leach collected from an unidentified informant).

A Choille Ghruamaich remains a well-known song in Nova Scotian Gaelic communities. It is appreciated for its description of Scottish immigrant life in the 19th century and it’s evocative, classical poetry. John MacLean continues to be regarded as Nova Scotia’s preeminent bard. Having belonged to the classical bardic system in Scotland, he continued to compose within a more vernacular tradition in Nova Scotia. Many of MacLean’s poems observe classical rules of rhyme, versification and syllabic count. The language would today be considered quite florid, and displays what must have been a vast and consummate Gaelic vocabulary. The tune is similar to that of Coire a’ Cheathaich, composed by Duncan Ban MacIntyre in Scotland in the late 1700s.

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