Catalogue of Gaelic Manuscripts in the National Library of Scotland

© Ronald Black, 2012

Adv. MS 72.2.12

(Gaelic MS.LXII). WILLIAM MACMURCHY: PROVERBS etc.

18th cent. 15 ff. 15 x 18.5 cms. Watermark: ‘coat of arms’. Written c. 1759 (cf. p. 11) by William MacMurchy (d. c. 1778), Campbeltown, Kintyre, schoolmaster, tailor, poet, musician and scribe. He may have been a pupil of Hugh MacLean (schoolmaster, Kilchenzie, Kintyre, c. 1699), as his Gaelic hand, typical of its period for Irish manuscripts, bears at times a strong resemblance to that of the latter – note especially Adv. ms 72.2.15, p. [ii]. His collection of Gaelic, including Irish, manuscripts is said to have been extensive and valuable. He left a collection of proverbs which, after passing through the hands of Alexander Campbell, Argyll’s chamberlain for Kintyre, was obtained from the Rev. Dr John Smith of Campbeltown by Donald Mackintosh and used in compiling his Proverbs of 1785 (Henry Mackenzie, Ossian Report, Appendix, p. 89). It does not appear to have been preserved. A few of Mackintosh’s proverbs, however, are found in the present manuscript.

For details of transmission to the Highland Society of Scotland see Adv. ms 72.2.15. The manuscript was among the six given to Ewen MacLachlan for examination on the visit to Edinburgh in July 1811 with which he began his work for the Society. His receipt (Ingliston ms A.i.15 d) describes it as ‘Part of a MS. consisting of poetry, and Collections of proverbs’, and his description of it in Adv. ms 72.3.4 shows it to have had the same number of pages in 1811 as now. Traces of leaves torn out at the spine reveal that it is the remnant of a 48-folio gathering, the composition of which is as follows: 4 ff. remnants unmarked + 4 ff. remnants Roman script + 1 f. remnant Gaelic script + 1 f. remnant unidentifiable script + 9 complete ff. now pp. 1–18 + 1 f. remnant unmarked + 1 f. now pp. 19–20 + 1 f. remnant unmarked + 1 f. remnant Roman script + 1 f. now pp. 21–22; 2 ff. remnants Roman and Gaelic scripts + 2 ff. remnants unmarked + 4 ff. now pp. 23–30 + 4 ff. remnants Gaelic script as described below + 12 ff. remnants unmarked. Some wear at edges, present outer pages somewhat rubbed. Stitched, unbound. Marginalia: ‘Donald’, and a group of semi-legible letters (initials?) in bottom right-hand corner, p. 1; ‘David’, p. 10. Paginated twice by MacLachlan, first from back to front (partially deleted), then correctly as below.

In this manuscript MacMurchy tends to write his vernacular in Roman script and more linguistically conservative material in Gaelic script. Written sideways like a note-pad. Previously catalogued in: Mackinnon, Cat., pp. 175–76, 192, 210–11; Mackechnie, Cat., pp. 238–39; F.R. 192, f. 65; cf. also Donald Mackinnon, ‘The Scottish Collection of Gaelic MSS.’, TGSI, vol. 16 (1889–90), pp. 285–309: 291–92. Printed complete in Alexander Cameron, Reliquiæ Celticæ (2 vols, Inverness, 1892–94), vol. 1, pp. 151–66.

For William MacMurchy see Cuthbert Bede [Rev. Edward Bradley], Glencreggan: or, A Highland Home in Cantire (2 vols, London, 1861), vol. 2, pp. 235–38; W. M. Conley, ‘A Poem in the Stewart Collection’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol. 11, part 1 (1966), pp. 26–37; Frank Bigwood, The Argyll Courts 3: Justices of the Peace in Argyll, Processes etc. of the JP Courts 1686–1825 (North Berwick, 2001), pp. 49, 52; Frank Bigwood, The Argyll Courts 4: The Burgh Court of Campbeltown, Processes and Other Court Documents (1752–1774) (N. Berwick, 2001), pp. 16, 65, 68; Maolcholaim Scott, ‘Politics and Poetry in Mid-Eighteenth Century Argyll: Tuirseach andiugh críocha Gaoidhiol’, in Colm Ó Baoill and Nancy R. McGuire, eds, Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 2000 (Aberdeen, 2002), pp. 149–62; Thomas Owen Clancy, ‘Mourning Fearchar Ó Maoilchiaráin: Texts, Transmission and Transformation’, in Wilson McLeod et al., eds, Cànan & Cultar / Language & Culture: Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig 3 (Edinburgh, 2006), pp. 57–71; Pádraig Ó Macháin, ‘Scribal Practice and Textual Survival: The Example of Uilliam Mac Mhurchaidh’,Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol. 22 (2006), pp. 95–122; Ian Macpherson McCulloch, Sons of the Mountains: The Highland Regiments in the French and Indian War, 1756–1767 (2 vols, Fleischmanns, N.Y., 2006), vol. 2, p. 167.


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1 .1 (Gaelic script begins.) Deirdre’s lament for the sons of Uisneach, beg. (acephalous) Tri Manuinn a bh’ aig riog Bretann, 29 qq. Corresponds substantially to qq. 32–60 of Clann Uisnich nan each geala in John Gillies’s Collection of Ancient and Modern Gaelic Poems and Songs (Perth, 1786), pp. 264–67. Continues (2.8) after following item, which was written first.

2 .1 (Roman script.) Six proverbs beginning with R.

2 .8 See 1.1 above.

4 .1 Proverbs beginning with S: 36 in Roman script + 5 proverbial qq. in Gaelic script.

6 1 (Roman script resumes.) 34 proverbs beginning with T.

7 .11 Medical receipt beg. A groats worth of herypikery.

8 .1 Four proverbs beginning with U.

8 .7 Stop passenger, untill my life you’ve read, 16 lines. “An Epitaph Inscrib’d on the Tomb of Margt Scot who died in the Town of Dalkeith Feb: 9th 1738.”

9 .1 (Gaelic script.) Gairim is guidm tu a cloch na leig Brighid amach, 5 lines. ‘Tuirimh Bhrighid’. Repeated in Roman script.

10 .1 (Roman script continues.) 13 proverbs beginning with C.

11 .1 To melt the soul to captivate the ear, 14 lines. On death of Handel (1759).

12 .1 Proverbs beginning with C, numbered 59–120.

14 Blank save for heading ‘Sgibinis’ in Gaelic script; p. 15 blank.

16 .1 (Roman script resumes.) 53 proverbs beginning with I, numbered from 57; p. 18 blank.

19 .1 A mhic ata gu tuirseach tim, 5 qq. (religious); p. 20 blank.

21 .1 (Gaelic script resumes.) Do rinnis an tigh marcuigh, 20 qq. (humorous), subscribed ‘Finnid / William Mac Mhurachaidh’.

23 .1 Death of Conlaoch, beg. (acephalous) Fithiod bliadhna bhetham soir, 20 qq.

23 .21 Tigh don choill is gerradh croinn, 8 lines. ‘Faighdoireacht Amadan Emhna Mhacha’.

24 .7 Dula chuaidh me dhenamh aodidh, 26 qq. headed ‘Laoidh an Tailleoir’, cf. Chaidh mi turus dheanamh eudaich, ms 14882, f. 154. Corresponds to J. F. Campbell, Leabhar na Feinne (London, 1872), pp. 201–02, ‘An tailfhear do na Fiannaibh’ (17 qq.) with two extra quatrains + ‘Labhair Diarmaid’ (7 qq.); p. 26, where the last three quatrains appear, is headed ‘Gloir Diarmuid’. See William J. Watson, ed., Bardachd Ghaidhlig (3rd edn, Glasgow, 1959), pp. 115–19; R. Black, ed., An Lasair: Anthology of 18th Century Scottish Gaelic Verse (Edinburgh, 2001), pp. 80–87; cf. Henry Mackenzie, Ossian Report, Appendix, p. 312.

26 .9 Oisin agus Padruig. Oisin gur fad tu do suain, 17.5 qq. (incomplete).

28 .5 O! ’s tuisech anocht atáim, 14 qq. On the sale of his patrimony by MacDonald of Largie, cf. the tradition that part of the estate was sold after the ’45 (W. M. Conley, ‘A Poem in the Stewart Collection’, Scottish Gaelic Studies, vol. 11, part 1 (1966), pp. 26–37: 37). See William J. Watson, ed., Bàrdachd Ghàidhlig (3rd edn, Glasgow, 1959), pp. 176–78.

30 .1 Glenn Síoth an glensa rem taobh, 10.5 qq. ‘Laoi Diarmuid’. Incomplete due to excision of rest of manuscript. For a translation of this version see J. H. Lloyd, O. J. Bergin and G. Schoepperle, ‘The Death of Diarmaid’, Revue Celtique, vol. 33 (1912), pp. 157–79: 168–70.

The stub of the following leaf preserves most of a further quatrain of ‘Laoi Diarmuid’. The stub after this preserves (recto) the first line Osna caruid a ccuan Fraoich, headed ‘Cumha Fhraoich’. Another poem takes up on the following leaf, the first line preserved on the stub (verso) being A Chill Íthe aoibhinn duit. The verso of the next stub ends leite lith ar nglasfhiodhbhadh. These are the last words remaining in the manuscript.

© Ronald Black, 2011