John Morrison the Bard
Decades have passed since Highland people first began to enjoy the very popular song/poems of John Morrison of Scalpay, Harris, always known to his own folk as ‘Seonaidh Fhionnlaigh’. Born on the island in 1914, he was still fairly young when he composed ‘Tiugainn do Sgalpaigh’, ‘Eilean Sgalpaigh na Hearadh’ and others, and they were soon being sung whenever Gaels were to be found at ceilidhs, as well as being heard on record and on radio.
John Morrison worked at the fishing in Scalpay, then in Perth, Glasgow and Grangemouth – where he met his wife, Mary, and where they live today. But after that there were spells in Uist, South and North, before he finished his career with David MacBrayne in Glasgow. While in Uist, John and Mary lost a daughter, and years later, in 1955, one of the poems her father composed for her was recognised by the award of the Bardic Crown at the National Mod.
It is therefore surprising that the poet has had to wait so long for his work to be published in book form. Like many bards, John Morrison composed numerous light-hearted pieces which are now lost, but in the book – called Tiugainn do Sgalpaigh (‘Come with me to Scalpay’) – we have twenty-four of his poems/songs which include work praising his native place, accounts of days gone by and tributes to individuals he has known. He has also composed in English – a song called ‘The Green Hebrides’ which became popular and was issued as sheet music some fifty years ago, and it is among eight short English pieces also included in the book. At £7.00, it is published and distributed by Bill Lawson Publications, Northton, Isle of Harris HS3 3JA, and comes with an informative and appealing biographical introduction by an old friend of the author’s, Fred Macaulay.
A quick mention of two recent Acair titles. Colla Mo Rùn is Norma Nicleòid’s version of a beautifully told and illustrated story by Anita Jeram about a little lost rabbit, while Ms Jeram is the artist in Cho Mòr ‘s a Tha Mo Ghaol Ort and Sam McBratney tells the story – this time about hares! The translator is Iain Moireach, and the books – both strong hardbacks – come in at £9.99 and £3.99.
Copyright Ian MacDonald 2005.