In 1995 I did not have the internet and I still watched TV! I remember seeing Time Team every weekend, was it Sunday early evenings? I was studying for my archaeology degree at that time, and the antics of the TV archaeologists was always an entertaining subject of discussion with my classmates. We had been out for week-long stints at Wroxeter and Bridgnorth and so had plenty of first-hand experience of what archaeology was like without film crews and national TV budgets…
I clearly remember the episode where the team visited Finlaggan, the medieval palace and administrative centre of the Lords of the Isles. I didn’t record it I don’t think, so I only saw it once live as it was broadcase, but I do clearly remember them showing a harp tuning pin from the excavations, and Alison Kinnaird playing her beautiful early clàrsach on site. I also remember the reproduction aketon that they made. I was actually inspired to make one myself – a very interesting exercise involving a lot of linen fabric and raw wool fleece!
I also recall sending off by post for the printed series brochure, which had a disappointingly small amount of background info on the programme. I don’t have this any more.
Anyway I suddenly thought, it must be possible to find info online about it, and sure enough there it is on Channel 4’s website. I haven’t watched the video yet but I listened to the audio and it brought back some memories!
Alison’s harp playing did make an impression on me; this was after I had got my first harp but before I had started seriously studying the playing technique and repertory. Listening again I recognised the English masque tune of the Battle of Harlaw.
I also found and downloaded the interim pre-publication versions of David Caldwell’s report on the NMS excavations at Finlaggan, from the NLS Repository.
All grist to the mill… one of my current projects is “music of the Lords of the Isles” (Ceol Rì Innse Gall perhaps?). Can I find / create enough medieval harp music to fill a programme of music that would have been heard played on the Queen Mary harp in the Great Hall at Finlaggan?
This drawing is from Alexander Brook’s 1892 article in PSAS, on the maces of the Scottish Universities. It is a drawing of two of the six heraldic shields on St Andrews Arts faculty mace.
The one on the right, no. IV, shows the arms of Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar (c.1375-1435). I don’t know what his connection is with the University of St Andrews, though he witnessed a royal confirmation of the University’s charter in 1432. The University started in 1411; the shield was presumably made and affixed to the mace on its completion in about 1416.
The Earl of Mar led the Royalist army at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411. It is fascinating to me to trace these connections. I will point out this coincidence in my concert on Sunday, when I will play the ceòl mór variation set of Cath Gairbheach (the Battle of Harlaw). Unfortunately the side of the Arts Faculty mace that has Mar’s shield is facing away from the centre of the exhibition room, but you can see it OK if you go round the other side of the case.
For the 5th and final session on the Battle of Harlaw, we sung through “Harrow’s March” from the Campbell Canntaireachd manuscript:
Hio tra dre o hiharin
Hio tra dre o hihambam
Hio tra dre o hinto hinto
Hin da hio a hiharin
Che dari o hiharin
Che dari che o din hihambam
Hio tra dre o hihambam
Che dari ha dre
Hio tra dre him bari
Che ha hio dre o hiharin
Click here for the manuscript facsimile
Click here for my Harlaw page
Yesterday I was at Makars Court in Edinburgh for the unveiling of the stone dedicated to Lachlan Mòr MacMhuirich, the famous Gaelic poet. This photo (thanks to Karen Loomis) shows me playing the harp to accompany Malcolm Maclean reading Lachlan Mòr’s Brosnachadh or incitement to Clan Donald before the Battle of Harlaw, July 1411. Seated behind are Elizabeth Grubb, Lady Provost of Edinburgh; Alan Currie (hidden); Councillor Deirdre Brock, Convener of the Culture and Leisure Committee, Edinburgh City Council; Dr. Donald William Stewart, University of Edinburgh; Robert Currie, President of the Clan Currie Society, and George Grubb, Lord Provost of Edinburgh.
For the third in my series of Saturday afternoon music workshops in Dundee’s Wighton Centre, we looked at the ceòl mór or pìobaireachd of “the Battle of Harlaw”. This is a complex and disputed area of study, with many scholars not noticing the connections and relationships between various source notations, or being misled by variant titles or historical claims. We looked at and sung through five different versions, starting with the ballad text in the Scots Musical Museum, and then looking at Danial Dow’s 1796 fiddle pibroch variation set, the lute version from the Rowallan manuscript (c.1620), the version published by Stenhouse in the 19th century copied by him from a now lost “manuscript… of considerable antiquity” and finally looking at a standard pìobaireachd setting, “The Desperate Battle of the Birds”.
Links to these items will be found on my Harlaw web page. Next week we will consider the English masque tune, as well as revisiting the Gaelic Brosnachadh. 2pm in the Wighton Centre, DD1 1DB.
On Friday, July 22nd, and Saturday July 23rd, I am taking part in interesting and important events in Edinburgh, organised by the Clan Currie Society.
On Friday 22nd, at 11am, a stone will be unveiled in the Makar’s Court, outside the Writers Museum just off Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. The court is paved with stone slabs, each commemorating an important Scottish writer, and the latest stone is for Lachlan Mór MacMhuirich, and will be engraved with the first two lines of his famous brosnachadh, or incitement to Clan Donald before the battle of Harlaw in July 1411:
A Chlanna Cuinn, cuimhnichibh
Cruas an am na h-iorghaile
On Saturday 23rd, starting at 10am, in the Royal Scots Club on Abercrombie Place, Edinburgh, there will be a symposium on Lachlan Mór MacMhuirich and the Battle of Harlaw, with a good selection of speakers.
You can find out more details on the Clan Currie event website.
See also my Harlaw music pages.
The next Cathedral recital is tomorrow, Tuesday 5th July, at 12.45pm
Medieval battle music in the ruins of St Andrews Cathedral.
The programme will be centred around the grand formal ceremonial tune, ‘The Battle of Harlaw’, celebrating the bloody fighting in Aberdeenshire six hundred years ago this month, in July 1411. Other highlights of the programme will be ‘Hei Tuti Teti’, reputedly Robert the Bruce’s march, and later used by Robert Burns for his song ‘Scots Wha Hae’. I will also recite some verses from the Gododdin, “Scotland’s oldest poem”, which describes the defeat of the men of Edinburgh in a battle in around 600AD – over one thousand four hundred years ago.
This event is part of my summer series of medieval harp concerts in the cathedral. Performed in the Priors House, a medieval vaulted chamber set within the ruins of the Cathedral in St Andrews, this series brings to life different aspects of ancient and historical Scottish music.
The last concert, in June, focussed on medieval church music and included pieces from the ‘St Andrews Music Book’ – a medieval manuscript compiled and written in St Andrews in the 13th century, which is now preserved in a library in Germany. For August, I will play grand Gaelic laments, weeping for the fallen and commemorating great chieftains and warriors. But this next recital on 5th July will draw together tunes from very disparate sources to paint a picture of the ceremonial and martial music of court and castle in medieval Scotland.
The harp I use is a unique replica of the clarsach of Mary Queen of Scots. The 500-year-old original is preserved in a glass case in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. I commissioned my replica from Irish harp maker Davy Patton in 2006-7. With its amazing soundbox carved out of a single huge willow log, and its intricate carved and painted decoration, the replica harp is a precious medieval art object that fits very well into the ancient ambience of the cathedral.
Admission is free. Tickets can be reserved in advance by calling the Cathedral visitor centre on 01334 472563.
Yesterday was the first in my series of Saturday afternoon workshops on the music associated with the Battle of Harlaw. In the pleasant and airy surroundings of the Wighton Centre in Dundee, a mixed group of singers and instrumentalists came together to explore the traditions. In this first session, we started with an overview of the battle, looking at a map of the area north-east of Aberdeen, and discussing 15th century Scottish politics.
Then, using the tombstone of Gilbert de Greenlaw as an example, we discussed the military technology of the time, and the nature of the fighting and preparations. Everyone was interested to handle the replica 15th century arms and armour!
Finally, we studied the Scots ballad. Working from Child’s version, and listening to Jeannie Robertson, we discussed the tune, as well as the subtext behind the story, and sung and played through the entire ballad.
Next week, we will be considering the story from the other side, looking at the Gaelic incitement to battle, or brosnachadh. Saturday 9th July, 2pm, Wighton Centre, Dundee. See you there!
I have made a new page about the Battle of Harlaw, to draw together the events I am presenting next month for the 600th anniversary of the battle, and some of the resources that I will be using for them.