The church and the highlands

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3 This title, besides being a strictly Celtic one, was confined to the country north of the Forth, that is to say, to Scotland proper. It was unknown in Galloway and Strathclyde.


The Mormhaor and his Function

Mòrmaors were of the same race with the people whom they governed.Such, in brief outline, was "the ancient Scottish Mòrmaor," the hereditary ruler of a province,1

3 whose boundaries were fixed by its population. His rela­tion to the King still remains to be considered ; and as this is a topic involved in some obscurity, it will be necessary to be careful how we proceed.

It is worthy of remark, in the first place, that, according to Skene, before there were Mormhaor, there were Eighean or petty kings of the several great provinces into which Scotland was divided. This statement, however, seems to be conjecture on his part. Certainly, there is no ascertainable evidence pointing to any change of the kind ; and I am in­clined to believe that Skene was led astray by the circumstance of the Mormhaor of Murray's frequently being styled " Ei Alban " by the Irish Annalists, instead of by his proper appellation. But whatever

""Although many of the Saxon and Norman Barons and other foreigners obtained extensive territories in Scotland, and even at an early date not unfrequently succeeded by marriage to the possessions and powers of some of the Mòrmaors, yet we never find them appearing under that title." Ibid., Skene's " not unfrequently," is here a palpable exaggeration. By the time the Anglo-Saxon and Norman adventurers were firmly established in Scotland (under David I.), the title was rapidly ceasing to exist. The ancestor of the Cumyn family who married the daughter of Fearghas, last Mormhaor of Buchan, became Earl, not Mormhaor, of Buchan in right of his wife. It is impossible to state definitely when the title of Mormhaor ceased to be used; but the transition stage, the passing of Celtic into Feudal Scotland, is sufficiently well marked in the Book of Deer; for the Mormhaor of Marr, who, as such, is recorded there, is known to subsequent history by the inferior title of Comes or Earl.

2 Skene divides Celtic Scotland into seven provinces j but it is difficult to determine on what historical basis he made his somewhat arbitrary calculation. He assigns a Mormhaor to each of his seven provinces; but the actual number of provinces, as of Mòrmaor, was greater.

The Mormhaor and his Function 11

was the original connection between Mormhaor and Righ, it is evident that it was always of the slenderest and frailest description. The title or dignity itself was possibly an early development of the distinguishing feature of Celtic policy, namely— divided responsibility; and from what we know of that system and its manner of working, we are justified in concluding that jealousy of central authority—if no more potent motive—kept Righ and Mormhaor well apart, and rendered them mutually antagonistic. Indeed, it is highly improbable that the king was able to exercise any jurisdiction or authority over the Mormhaor, save the right to a nominal càin, or occa­sional cuairt, or quartering; and even these slender ties were apt to be avoided or totally disregarded when­ever the king was not powerful enough to enforce their observance, which was the ease in many instances, and the normal state of affairs in respect of a number of others. The power of the Mormhaor was centred in the tribe which he governed; and if the king was not strong enough to oblige the tribe, it stands to reason that he could not hope to compel the Mormhaor, who was their ruler and head. The early history of Scotland gives us occasional glimpses of the sanguinary wars which the Mormhaor conducted against one another, and against the king whenever he provoked them, or they deemed themselves strong enough to attack him; and from this circumstance, if from no other, we are justified in concluding that the Mormhaor was practically in­dependent of the king, a condition in which he continued until the introduction of the feudal system into Scotland occasioned his extinction.1

1 David I. was certainly a sagacious prince, according to his own lights; and if he had not feared his Mormhaor, he would hardly have provided for their disappearance.

"Every notice regarding the succession of the Mòrmaors that has reached us" (says Skene), "proves that they observed a rule of succession strictly hereditary. Of this many examples might be given, but perhaps the strongest will be found in the suc­cession of the Mòrmaors of Murray." Succession to the dignity of Mormhaor, besides being hereditary, was a " strictly male succession," according to Skene. There are cases on record, however, in which the daughter of a Mormhaor con­ferred that dignity on her husband, who, in her right, became Mormhaor ;1

2 and so transmitted their joint right to their offspring.

As a rule, however, succession to the Mòrmhaor-achd was in accordance with the Gaelic law3 regu-'In 1032 died Gilcomgain Mac Maolbride, Mòrmaor of Murray (Annals of Ulster). In 1058, the Annals record the death of Lulac Mac Gilcomgan, and in 1086, the death of Maelsnechtan Mac Lulach, Mòrmaor of Murray (Highlanders of Scotland, p. 53).

2 Colban, Mormhaor of Buchan, was Mormhaor in right of his wife, Eva, daughter of Gartnait, Mormhaor of Buchan. Finella, daughter of Connor, Mormhaor of Angus, inherited her father's rights, and wished to bequeath them to her son, but the latter's execution at Dunsinnan prevented the fulfilment of her design. Other examples of a woman's conferring, or transmitting, the right to this dignity could be cited. The position of women under the Gaels was favourable to the sex. " It appears," says O'Curry (Introduction, p. clxxii), "that women could inherit .... land as well as men. When, in default of male heirs, land passed to women, that is, ' became an inheritance of hand and thigh,' part of the estate went to the Fine (Cian) in payment for the military and other services attached to the lands, which could not be fulfilled by women." It is possible that much the same arrangement existed in Scotland (at all events among the Scots), in the case of a woman, in default of heirs male, succeeding to a Mòrmaorachd or Mormhaorship. The husband of such a woman would be the natural repository of her rights, and leader and protector of her cian.

3 In Ireland the same law of succession was observed (see O'Curry's Introduction, p. ccxxxii.). The Pictish law of succession lating the transmission of hereditary right, by which the brother of a deceased Mormhaor was preferred to his nephew, at all events during the latter's minority.1 This, of course, was also the case with regard to the crown; and it is not surprising to find repeated attempts on the part of the Mormhaor to break this rule of succession in favour of their sons, just as we can observe a similar tendency on the part of the kings. Succession to the Mòrhmaorachd, therefore, would appear to have been a hybrid one, generally Gaelic, but sometimes Pictish, and in two cases cited by Skene, we have practical illustrations of the working of this double-edged rule of succession.

It only remains to observe in conclusion of this dissertation that, of all the ancient Scottish Mòrmha-orachd, the Peerage of Scotland can produce only a

was entirely different. The succession to the throne and to property among these people resided in the females. "This custom is unknown among the Celts; it is, so far as we know " (says Professor MacKinnon, quoted by Dr Mac Bain in his ex­cursus) " non-Ayran."

'In 1130 Angus, son of the daughter of Lulach, became Mormhaor of Murray " according to the Pictish law of succession," on the death of Lulach's son Maelsnechtan (Celtic Scotland, Vol. I. p. 460). At the beginning of the eleventh century, Malcolm Mac Maelbride, Mormhaor of Murray, was in possession of the throne of Scotland; " and although it appears from the Sajas that Sigurd, Earl of Orkney, married Malcolm's daughter, and that on Mal­colm's death Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney, his grandson, was his nearest heir according to feudal principles, yet we find that he was succeeded in Moray by his brother Gilcomgan MacBride, to whose posterity, also, his claim to the throne of Scotland descended." Highlanders of Scotland, p. 53, Skene's allusion to "feudal principles," is here entirely out of place. The latter succession was regulated in accordance with the Gaelic method. Skene sometimes confuses Pictish and Gaelic succession together. In the second of the above-mentioned cases there can be no doubt but Thorfinn would have succeeded had Malcolm had no brother.


Mo SgSul

single existing representative—the Earl of Marr, who i is the direct heir-at-law, through a long and illustrious ancestry of personages, who were Mòrmhaor of Marr ab initio, and were never known under any other


Sgeul leam duibh : beucaidh damh. Geamhrail sneachd, samhradh seach

Gaoth, ard, fhuar, ìosal grian Geàrr a slighe, ruitheach chuan.

Ruadh raineach, cèilte cruth 'Suas gnàth giùran guth

Glacaidh fuachd, sgiathan eoin Aimsir eighe—seo mo sgeul.

Sgeul leam duibh.

Alasdair Beag.

1 In the words, slightly altered, of Biddell's Peerage and Consistorial Law, p. 169.

2 Air a thionnadh as an t-seann Ghàidhlig gu Gàidhlig nuadh.


I am more than pleased to observe that the trustees of the MacCallum Celtic Lectureship in connection with the University of Glasgow have been able to arrange for a course of six addresses by Professor Kuno Meyer, whose ripe scholarship, refined taste, and generous enthusiasm in the cause of Gaelic letters are most favourably known and greatly admired this side of the Moyle. Professor Kuno Meyer is an indefatigable worker, who has also know­ledge, learning, a singular honesty of purpose, and fearlessness, which all unite to render him not only convincing but engaging in the highest degree. I venture to predict that his lectures (the publication of which in book form I eagerly look forward to) will be a brilliant success.

Not long ago Professor Kuno Meyer started a school for Irish learning in Dublin, which, I believe, has already more than justified its foundation. Writing towards the close of last year to a friend of the writer's, Professor Kuno Meyer took occasion to remark that " at this moment Professor Strachan is teaching old Irish to a class of forty students. The success has been far greater than imagined. It shows that the time was ripe for it. Many of these students (who represent the pick of native Irish scholars) have come great distances, from Galway and Waterford, Cork and Belfast. Such being the case, I have no doubt that my object is now permanently secured. The school will be largely self-supporting. But we


26 Gaelic Literature and Professor Kuno Meyer

still need money for a house of our own and for a library. If you or other kind friends of the cause in Scotland could help us you would do a generous no less than a most useful thing. Next winter I hope to induce Scotland to do something similar. The success of my scheme in Dublin will, perhaps, open the eyes of people."

"Next winter" has come and Professor Kuno Meyer is now amongst us. Let us hope that his desire to "open the eyes of people" as to the importance and practicability of his scheme will now and here be realised. We sorely need some such school as the Professor has succeeded in establishing at Dublin with so encouraging results. Our national MSS. (a rich and valuable collection) lie untranslated in the Advocates' Library at Edinburgh, principally because those who would like to translate tbem are incapable of doing so ; whilst the miserable few who could do so lack either the time or the inclination to translate them.

"Many circumstances," says Professor Kuno Meyer," "still retard the proper appreciation of the value and importance of early Irish ìiterature."

In its full extent and variety it is known to none as yet. It were rash to attempt to generalise on the merits and demerits of a literature upon which no one can speak with authority. It is indeed some­times assumed that if not the whole, at least the greater and more important portion of Irish literature is before the public. That this is not so with regard to lyrical poetry I have pointed out in the preface to King and Hermit. As to Irish romance, the facts are shortly these.

1 Preface to Liadain and Curithir, an Irish lore story of the ninth century, published by Mr David Nutt, Long Acre, London.

Gaelic Literature and Professor Kuno Meyer 27

" In his indispensable Essai d'un Catalogue de la Literature Epique de VIrlande, published in 1883, M. d'Arbois de Jubainville has enumerated the titles of about 550 separate tales and poems. Of these, about 400 have been preserved in MSS., while of the remaining 150 the titles only have come down to us, the tales themselves being lost. But M. d'Arbois's Catalogue is by no means exhaustive. With our in­creased knowledge it would now be easy to add at least another hundred tales1 which we possess in MS. But even this number of 500 separate pieces does not represent the whole wealth of Irish fiction, as quite a number of MSS. still remain unexplored.Now, of these 500 tales and poems, about 150 only have so far been published with translations, and of these again very few in such a form as to appeal to the general reader ; for the public will not take much interest in Irish literature until men arise to do for it what Dasent has done for the Old Norse sacras, or what Bnckert and Schack did in Germany for Oriental poetry.

Meanwhile, whoever would without a knowledge of Irish obtain some insight into the spirit as well as the form of Irish romance, should turn to such masterly versions as Whitley Stokes's Death of Cuchvhnn* The Voyage of Maelduin* or The De­struction of Da Dergds Hostel,3

5 or to Standish

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