Calum Sgaire

Calum Sgaire's Song
This is a traditional Scottish Gaelic song arranged by The Bothy Band. It appears on The Bothy Band's second album Old H more...

This is a traditional Scottish Gaelic song arranged by The Bothy Band. It appears on The Bothy Band’s second album Old Hag You Have Killed Me, released in 1976.

This song was composed by Malcolm Macaulay (Calum Sgaire), who was from Bosta, Bernera, by the Isle of Lewis (born around 1822).

The story goes that Calum Sgaire was employed as a sailor on board a schooner ( the “Express”), and sailed between Loch Roag and the Baltic. This meant he was away for long periods, but he was in love with Margaret Macleod (also known as Mairead Chaluim Neill) of Breaclete. They planned to marry, but Margaret’s parents thought Calum Sgaire was unsuitable, and married her off to Angus MacDonald.

When Calum returned from a voyage and found out that Margaret was married, he was so heartbroken that he emigrated to Quebec. It is said that Margaret was so heartbroken after Calum left that she died a year later. Calum went on to marry a Lewis girl in Quebec (Mary MacIver ) and they had six weans.

From the Bernera Historical Society

Calum Sgaire was a young man growing up on the island of Bernera in the village of Bosta and, like so many Bernera men before and after, the sea flowed through his veins. By the time he was seventeen he was sailing on the schooner “Express” to the Baltic. The “Express” carried fish that had been cured in the “taighean saillidh” on the island, travelling past Orkney to Norway and beyond. For many years he made these trips but always returning to his island and the girl to whom he had given his heart. This girl was Margaret Macleod, a Breaclete girl, who every summer would go to the sheiling on the moor at Loch an Fhir Mhaol

Och nan och! Gur trom m’osnaich,
‘S fhada bho mo luadh a nochd mi.
Mise tuath an Cuan Lochlainn
Is is’ aig Loch an Fhir Mhaol”

On one of his infrequent trips home he asked for her hand in marriage, she was overjoyed and accepted gladly. Her parents, however were not as enamoured at the match and, whether this was because he was away from home so often or that they didn’t think he was a suitable match for Margaret we don’t know, but after Calum left, they told their daughter that she should marry another man who they deemed more suitable. To us this seems quite inhuman and we wonder how Margaret could agree but, at that time, parents wishes held a lot of weight and were obeyed to the letter and, to be fair, they probably thought they were doing what was best for their daughter.

In the early to mid 1800s, for poor families in the islands, wedding finery was not an option, but the bride always wore white gloves. After the marriage the gloves would be packed away and not worn again until the woman wore them to the church on the day of her first child’s baptism.

Margaret’s wedding day arrived and she went with her family to the church, she stood beside her husband-to-be and uttered her vows before the minister and congregation. After the ceremony all the guests, family and friends went joyously back to the house for the “banais taighe” to celebrate the marriage of the couple. At an opportune moment Margaret took her mother aside, took the gloves off her hands and passed them to her saying;

“Cha bhith feum agamsa tuilleadh dhaibh”
“I shall have no more need of them”

“Oh but you will” replied her mother “you will wear them at the baptism of your first born.”

Margaret repeated;

“Cha bhith feum agamsa tuilleadh dhaibh”

Within a year Margaret was dead. Some say of a broken heart.

When Calum returned he was distraught and decided there and then to leave Bernera forever. There was a ship leaving for Canada at that time, “The Marlow”. She was anchored between Tolsta Chaolais and the island of Vacasay. Two or three of Calum’s brothers, his sister and her family went to Canada with him. They worked very hard and prospered in this strange new world with its trees and bitterly cold winters.

Calum eventually married when he was in his mid to late 40s, another Lewis girl, Mary Maciver from Gress who had emigrated with her parents in 1842. They had six children, one named Sgaire, a name that has remained in this family down the generations.

This might not be the happiest of love stories, but then so few of the memorable ones are.

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Fail èile 's ho ro
Fail èile 's ho ro
Fail èile 's ho ra hu
Hog i ò 's na hu hì

Though it is enjoyable to be sailing
I cannot say I'm enjoying it just now
I would rather be in Bosta
Planting the corn in the field

Oh Lord, I've a heavy, sighing heart
My love is far away from me tonight
I'm away in the north at the Cape of Norway
While she's at Loch an Fhir Mhaoil

It set sail for home with us
It sailed 'round Orkney
With new masts and white sails on her
She was running with the tide

Since I got a definite order
To sail the ship
I'll steer her prow
Towards MacDonald of the Kyle

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