Òran na Cloiche

Song of the Stone
Òran na Cloiche is a Scottish Gaelic folk song, written by poet Donald Macintyre. It documents the return of the Stone more...

Òran na Cloiche is a Scottish Gaelic folk song, written by poet Donald Macintyre. It documents the return of the Stone of Destiny to Scotland, which was retrieved from Westminster Abbey on Christmas Day, 1950 by students. It was most notably covered by and Gaelic/folk singer Kathleen MacInnes on the Òg-Mhadainn Shamhraidh album and Scottish folk band Mànran from their eponymous debut album.

Donnchadh Bàn Mac an t-Saoir (Duncan Ban MacIntyre; 20 March 1724 – 14 May 1812) is one of the most renowned of Scottish Gaelic poets and formed an integral part of one of the golden ages of Gaelic poetry in Scotland during the 18th century. He is best known for his poem about Beinn Dorain; “Moladh Beinn Dòbhrain” (English: “Praise of Ben Doran”).

Born in Druim Liaghart in Glen Orchy, he went on to work in various occupations, including as a soldier in the Argyll Regiment of Militia, as a forester, and as a constable of Edinburgh City Guard. While a soldier in the Argyll regiment he fought for the Hanoverian forces during the Jacobite Rising of 1745–6. He took part in the Battle of Falkirk as a substitute for a local gentleman, Archibald Fletcher of Crannach, and managed to lose his sword during the fighting — an event which would later lead to the composition of a humorous poem about the battle.

When he returned from the battle, MacIntyre was refused his pay by the gentleman who had commissioned him to fight in his stead because of the lost sword and it was in reply that Duncan composed the aforementioned poem, satirising the gentleman and the sword he had lost.

Despite his service with the Loyalist forces he displayed Jacobite sympathies in some of his works, notably his “Òran don Bhriogais” (English: Ode to Trousers ) inspired by the Disarming Act (1746), which saw the outlawing of traditional Highland dress, music, and weaponry following the Battle of Culloden. His conduct during, and attitude following, the Battle of Falkirk perhaps hint further at a lack of enthusiasm for the Hanoverian cause.

Most of his poetry is descriptive and the influence of the great Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair is notable in much of it. Despite the Jacobite upheavals that wracked Scotland during his lifetime it was his experience as a gamekeeper in Argyll and Perthshire in the employ of the Duke of Argyll which had greatest impact upon his poetry. His greatest work, Moladh Beinn Dòbhrain, stems from this period. The significance of Duncan Bàn’s nature themed poetry is such that it has, along with that of the aforementioned MacMhaighstir Alasdair, been described as “the zenith of Gaelic nature poetry”.

Duncan moved to Edinburgh in 1767 and was to spend the rest of his life there serving with the Breadalbane Fencibles and the City Guard before retiring in 1806. During his time in Edinburgh he composed several prize winning poems and attempted to win the place of Bard to the Highland and Agricultural Society, losing to Donald Shaw despite receiving much praise for his poetry.

Duncan Ban’s native region had no school and he remained illiterate throughout his life and kept his work by memory. He had to receive help from the minister of Lismore, Donald MacNicol, with transcriptions. The poetry of Duncan Bán would later be translated into English by such notable figures as Hugh McDiarmid, Derick Thomson and Iain Crichton Smith.

He is buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, where he died in 1812, and a memorial to him stands there, having been erected by friends and well-wishers of the man who had gained fame during his lifetime as Donnchadh Bàn nan Òrain or “Fair Duncan of the Songs”. The church holds a service in Gaelic every Sunday.

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The Stone that my grandmother
And grandfather used to talk about
Has returned as it left
My brave Stone

And I don't care whether it's in Kerrera
Callendar or Calvay
As long as it's in
Steep, rugged Scotland

'S i u ro bha ho ro hilli um bo ha
Hilli um bo ruaig thu i hilli um bo ha
'S i u ro bha ho ro hilli um bo ha

To be put in a place of refuge
Which will conceal it safely
So that they can't, they won't manage to
Remove a single fragment of it
The Stone that was lost to us
Prised from their grasp
And certainly, if it has returned
That's a very good thing

Let us swear by our hand
Each and every one of us
That we will allow nothing to endanger
The man who unloosed it
And dared to rescue it
From an unpleasant place
If they lay hands on him
We'll need to be strong
And strike a blow for him
Using steel

The Minister was so sorrowful
When he woke that morning
His eyes bleary
As he turned out
Walking the floor
Sighing and praying
And looking at the nook
Where he'd found the Stone missing

There was much pacing
And running 'round the floor
And all he could say was
"Where did the Stone go?"
And, "By the Holy Mother
What will I do tomorrow
I know the Queen
Will be beside herself"

Said he, looking deathly pale
"I'd never have believed
It could have been raised from the floor
By someone no bigger than a wasp
Something is to happen to me
And Heaven help me
The man who unloosed it
Must be as strong as a horse"

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