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Carmina Gadelica, Volume 2, by Alexander Carmicheal, [1900], at


Machair, level land; from 'magh,' a plain, and 'tir,' land. Long reaches of sandy plains fringe the Atlantic side of the Outer Isles. These are called 'machairs.' Even the more elevated parts of these long reaches are only a few feet above sea-level, while

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the more depressed parts are now and again submerged under the sea. This low-lying fringe is simply the fragment of the limitless tribute already exacted by the remorseless Atlantic. Even this fragment is being claimed year after year and century after century by the sea eating deeper and deadlier into the flesh, sinews, and bones of the ancient, 'Innis Cat,' Isle of the Catey.

The fringe of machair which borders the Atlantic side of the Long Island is in striking contrast to the mountain chain running along its Minch side. The machairs are closely covered with short green grass, thickly studded with herbs of fragrant odours and plants of lovely hues. Corn grown in this sandy soil is stunted if the season be dry, and is pulled up by the roots instead of being cut in the usual way. Such corn is called 'coirce coilchinn,' dwarf oats, 'eorna coilchinn,' meagre bere, 'seagal coilchinn,' stunted rye.


Mac-lir, Mac-an-lir, son of sea, son of the sea; from 'mac,' son, and 'lir,' genitive of 'lear,' sea.

In Gaelic the Isle of Man is called 'Mannain,' Man, and 'Eilean Mhannain, Isle of Man, 'Mannan mac Lir,' 'Mannan,' son of 'Lear,' the sea.

The stories of 'The Children of Lir,' 'The Children of Uisne,' and 'The Children of Tuirenn' are called 'Tri Broin nan Sgeulachd,' the three sorrows of story-telling. A highly dramatic and beautiful version of 'The Children of Lir' was told in October 1871 by Hector Macleod, shoemaker, Iochdar, South Uist, to Iain Campbell of Islay and the writer.

On the west side of the island of Vallay, North Uist, there is a sunken rock called 'Bogha Lir,' reef of Lear. It is said that the ship of Lear, son of the king of Lochlann, struck on this reef, when Lear himself and all on board were lost.

Probably 'Lir,' 'Lear,' is the Lear of Shakespeare.


Mac-tire, wolf. In the time of Athelstan an hospital was put up at Flaxton in Yorkshire to protect the nurse travellers who might have suffered from the ravages of wolves and other wild animals.


Maighdean na tuinne, muirghin na tuinne, maid of the wave, conception of the sea, ordinarily called 'maighdean mhara,' maid of the sea. The belief in the mermaid is common.

There are many mermaid stories throughout the Isles. I took down several of these, some of which may be mentioned.

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[paragraph continues] Colin Campbell, crofter, Ceanntangbhal, Barra, saw, as he thought, an otter on a reef in 'Caolas Cumhan,' Barra. The otter was holding and eating a fish, with his eyes closed, after his manner. The man raised his gun to fire, when to his surprise the creature before him looked like a woman holding a child. He had a telescope that had been given him by a ship captain for brave service rendered at sea, and looking through the glass he saw that the object before him had the head, the hair, the neck, the shoulders, and the breast of a woman, and was holding a child. The man was greatly astonished, and concluded that this must be the mermaid of whom he had often heard.

Inwardly thanking the loving Virgin for having withheld his hand, Campbell put up his glass. The click of the glass startled the mermaid, and in the twinkling of an eye she and her child went into the sea with a splash. Colin Campbell, an honest, intelligent, middle-aged man, firmly believed that he had seen the mermaid.

Neill MacEachain, crofter, Hough-beag, South Uist, was returning from the Clyde, where he and others had been with farm produce, before the days of steamers in the West. They were becalmed emerging from the Sound of Mull. The sun was scorching, the air was breathless, and the surface of the sea was smooth as polished glass, when all were astonished to see a creature about two yards from the side of the motionless skiff. Its head, neck, breast, and shoulders resembled those of a woman, though its hair was more coarse, and its eyes more glassy. All below the breast was in the water. The creature gazed at them for a minute or more with its large wondering eyes, and then disappeared into the sea as silently as it had come. The narrator offered no explanation of the strange phenomenon, never having seen anything like it before, though all his life accustomed to the sea. One of his companions, however, said that it was the mermaid, and declared that he had seen a creature exactly like it some years previously, while making kelp at Airdmaoilean, South Uist.

Neill MacEachain was an entirely truthful man and incapable of inventing. He was one of Nature's nobles, being richly endowed mentally and physically, and with a phenomenal memory. He was a relation of Neill MacEachain, or MacDonald, father of Marshal MacDonald, Duke of Tarentum, and was remarkably like the duke in form and features as well as in

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temperament. He had seen and conversed with the duke when he visited his relatives in South Uist.

Some seventy years ago, people were cutting seaweed at Sgeir na duchadh, Grimnis, Benbecula. Before putting on her stockings, one of the women went to the lower end of the reef to wash her feet. While doing so she heard a splash in the calm sea, and looking up she saw a creature in the form of a woman in miniature, some few feet away. Alarmed, the woman called to her friends, and all the people present rushed to the place.

The creature made somersaults and turned about in various directions. Some men waded into the water to seize her, but she moved beyond their reach. Some boys threw stones at her, one of which struck her in the back. A few days afterwards, this strange creature was found dead at Cuile, Nunton, nearly two miles away.

The upper portion of the creature was about the size of a well-fed child of three or four years of age, with an abnormally developed breast. The hair was long, dark, and glossy, while the skin was white, soft, and tender. The lower part of the body was like a salmon, but without scales. Crowds of people, some from long distances, came to see this strange animal, and all were unanimous in the opinion that they had gazed on the mermaid at last.

Mr Duncan Shaw, factor for Clanranald, baron-bailie and sheriff of the district, ordered a coffin and shroud to be made for the mermaid. This was done, and the body was buried in the presence of many people, a short distance above the shore where it was found. There are persons still living who saw and touched this curious creature, and who give graphic descriptions of its appearance.


Marrum, marruin, milk, cream, and their products; 'mart math marruineach,' a good productive cow.


Martain, La Fheill Martain, Martin, Day of the Feast of Martin. There are two Martins. One is known as 'Martain a bhuilg,' Martin of the bag. His feast is the 15th July. The other is 'Martain an Tuir,' Martin of Tours, to whom St Ninian's church at Whithorn was dedicated. His feast is on the 11th November, a term-day in Scotland.


Mathan, maghan, bear; 'mag-ghamhainn,' handed stirk; from 'math,' bear (?), and 'gamhainn,' stirk.

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The bear was common in Scotland down to 1545, probably later. It is mentioned in the following lines addressed by one bard to another:--

'Is tu am maghan, ’s tu am mastic,
’S madadh-alla an reubain,
Is tu sionnach sion nan cuireid,
  ’S taghan dubh na deisdin.'


Thou art the bear, thou art the mastiff,
And thou the wild wolf of rapine,
Thou art the fox of foxine wiles,
  And the martin black detestable.


Meabh, Mēve, queen of Connacht and wife of Ailill. She lived at 'Rath Cruachan,' the fort of Cruachan, and was the cause of the 'Tain Bo Cuailgne,' 'Cattle-spoil of Cooley.' She is the type of bravery. (Vol. i. p. 8.)


Meang, whey. 'Fionna-mhiong,' the thicker whey pressed out of the curds, literally white whey, from 'fionn,' fair, and 'meang,' 'miog,' whey.


Meannanaich, bleating like a kid; from 'meann,' kid; applied to the sound made by the snipe. The flight of the snipe is peculiar. In flying horizontally the bird moves zig-zag; in ascending, obliquely; and in descending, perpendicularly. In the descent the inner flexor of the wing seems to remain rigid, the outer alone moving, and that with singular rapidity. The vibration of the wing makes a sound like the cry of a kid. The sound is heard at night in early summer, and is probably made to scare the owl, which is destructive to the young of the snipe. The snipe is one of the eerie birds of the people. Many descriptive Gaelic names are applied to it--twelve or thirteen are known to me. (Vol. ii. p. 179.)


Meirbh, to disintegrate, to digest; in root akin to 'marbh,' to kill; a place-name in Benbecula, Barra, Iona, and elsewhere.

A small lake in Benbecula is called 'Loch nam meirbh.' There are two islets about fifty yards apart on the lake, called respectively 'A Mheirbh Bheag,' Little Meirbh, and 'A Mheirbh Mhor,' Large Meirbh. In the centre of the Little Meirbh is a circular hole in the rock, partly natural and partly artificial, like an inverted cone. In this cavity criminals were tied and left to die, the water of the lake covering their lower limbs. From this the remains were removed and buried in the larger Meirbh. This small mossy isle, the surface of which is only a few feet above water, is covered with 'bogha-mucag,' 'butha-mucag,' blue hyacinth, of great luxuriance and richness of colouring.

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There is a small lake in Barra called 'Loch Tangastal,' and in it a small square keep called 'Tur Leoid,' the tower of Leod, the scene of Miss Porter's novel St Clair of the Isles. Jutting into the lake in the direction of the old tower is a flat sandy peninsula called 'A Mheirbh.' Human bones, in whole skeletons and disarticulated, with bronze and brass brooches, fragments of swords, dirks, and daggers, have been turned up here from time to time, corroborating the traditions of the people and the story of the novelist.

'Meirbh,' in Iona, was surrounded by a wall, traces of which are visible.


Meoir, finger. The middle finger and thumb were used to lift the eggs, especially the last two. (Vol. i. p. 287.)


Miamh, substance, fat. Generally an adjective.

'Is miann leis a chleireach a mhias mhiamh
     a bhitheas air bord an t-sagairt.'


Desired by the clerk is the rich
     dish on the priest's table.

On the west and on the east side of Harris are deeply indented arms of the sea called 'Miamhuig'; from 'miamh,' fat, and 'uig,' bay. The one on the west is called 'Miamhuig nam beann,' the fat bay of the mountains, and that on the east 'Miamhuig a chuain,' the fat bay of the ocean. Both bays contain much alluvial mud and sediment brought down from the mountains. [Rather Norse 'mjó-vík,' narrow inlet.]

(In the Outer Hebrides the 'ocean' is the 'Cuan Sgī,' the haze ocean, known as the Little Minch, while the open Atlantic is known by the Norse name of 'haaf.'

'Ri fuaim na haaf,
Is uaigneach mo ghean.'


To the sound of the 'haaf,'
Lonesome is my mood.)


Milc, meirc, sweet, sweetness; from 'mil,' honey.


Milcein, meilcein, solid warm white whey; from 'mil,' honey, sweetness.


Mileur, milereach (alva marina), sea-grass, sweet grass; from 'mil,' sweet, and 'feur,' grass. This grass is known by different names in different districts as 'mileurach,' 'milseanach,' 'misleanach,' 'mineurach,' and other forms.

The root of this grass is sweetish, and much relished by the barnacles, grey-lags, and other geese. Dried and cured, the grass is used in the Isles for bedding, and in the south for upholstery.


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Mīs, miseach, misleach, maoisleach, maoilseach, goat, doe. Primarily the doe in the first year; from 'maol,' hornless, and '-seach,' a feminine suffix.


Mnatha Greuig, Greek woman, Penelope, the type of tactfulness. (Vol. i. p. 8.)

'Minealas na mnatha sith,
Finealas na mnatha Greuig.'


The softness of the fairy woman,
The fineness of the Greek woman.


Mnatha-sithe, fairy woman. This is Fann, queen of the elfin world, queen of the Celtic other-world. The reference (vol. i. p. 8) is to her connection with Cuchulainn in the old Gaelic saga, 'Serglige Cuchulainn.' She typifies skill.


Mogais, mogan, foot cylinder, from 'mog,' a cylinder, and 'cas,' a foot, foot-gear reaching to the knee, and resembling in form as in name the moccasin of the Indians.


Mogan; in Uist, spirits distilled from oats.


Moilean, moillean, a small, thick round cake, a dumpling; such as that made for St Mary's Day. 'Moilean' is applied to a stout little boy, colt, or other sturdy young male animal, and 'moileag' to a stout little girl, filly, or young female animal.


Moineis, shy, delicate, backward, the female of the grey seal. The female seal is much more shy and retiring than the male seal. But though ordinarily retiring, the 'moineis' is courageous in defence of her young. The unshrinking manner in which this timid creature will throw herself between danger and her cub is touching and instructive.

The 'cuilean,' whelp of the grey seal, is cream-coloured and very beautiful. The fur is soft and satiny, and continues thus for two months. After that the fur gradually gives place to hair, and the cub of the 'moineis' becomes like that of 'maolag,' 'maoileag,' the female of the common seal, which is grey at birth. The 'maolag' brings forth in June, the 'moineis' in November.


Mothan. I cannot be certain what plant this is, but it seems to be either the thyme-leaved sandwort (arenaria serpyllifolia) or the bog-violet. It was one of the many sacred plants of the old people. It secured parturition and acted as a love-charm, as indicated in the following lines:--

'A thilleadh aigne nam ban baoth
A ghleidheadh gaol nam fear fior.'


To repel the fancies of the foolish women,
To retain the love of the true men.

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[paragraph continues] The 'mothan' also ensures the safety of a person carrying it or drinking the milk of a cow which has eaten it.

Donald MacCuithean, cottar, Fearann-an-lethe, Skye, said:--'Dun Gharsain was a famous fairy bower, from which the fairy people sallied forth on Hallow-Eve, like starlings swarming from their cave on St Patrick's morning. They trigged and danced, they reeled and set, on their lawn under the light of the silvery moon and the twinkling stars, no one interfering with them. They were very cunning, however, and sometimes waylaid the sons of men into their bowers, and carried away children to increase their colonies, and women to nurse their unbegotten nurslings. But 'buamasdair gun toinisg,' a clown without sense, destroyed the bower of the fairies of Dun Gharsain when the fairies were all away helping the queen of Blath-bheinn to make a tartan kilt, a tartan coat, and a tartan plaid for her tall son on his marriage with the fair daughter of the king of Cuilionn. No one remained at home except one fairy woman who was ill, and the man took away the stones to build folds for his cattle and pens for his sheep, leaving nothing but the site of their beautiful bower.

'When the fairies returned and saw the destruction of their home, they were very angry and vowed vengeance. A light not of earth was seen where their hall had been, and a voice not of man was heard in the air saying:--

'"Tilg an dearg air Tarmaid dubh,
Tilg an dearg air Tarmaid,
Tilg an dearg air Tarmaid dubh,
A bhrist mo theud, a reub mo chrut,
’S a chuir am brugh a dh’aona-cheann."


Throw the dart at black Norman,
Throw the dart at Norman,
Throw the dart at black Norman,
Who broke my chord, tore my harp,
And put the bower in ruins.

[paragraph continues] To this another voice replied:--

'"Chan urra mi f hi g’a chur a dhi,
Chan urra mi fhi g’a chearbadh,
Chan urra mi foil a dhol ’n a choir,
Is bainne na bo a dh’ith am mothan
Ann an coil a shealghain."


I cannot myself put him to death,
I cannot myself undo him,
I cannot go stealthily near him,
And the milk of the cow that ate the 'mothan'
In the folds of his throat.

[paragraph continues] After this the fairies left Dun Gharsain and never returned, except it might be now and again, a stray fairy from some far-away land, who would come to look at the site of the home where his people had lived and danced and passed their happy lives.'

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Dun 'Gharsain' or Ghaisin is at Tobht Ardair in Bracadale, Skye, and is the site of a concentric fort destroyed by the stranger. Near it are 'Dun Beag,' the Little Fort, and 'Dun Mor,' the Big Fort, the latter of which is described by Johnson in his Tour.

A passage in W. G. Stewart's Highland Superstitions and Amusements (p. 90) shows that the 'mothan' was used as a charm in Glenurquhart and Strathspey:--'Go to the summit of some stupendous cliff or mountain where any species of quadruped never fed nor trod, and gather of that herb in the Gaelic language called mothan, which can be pointed out by any "wise" person. The herb you will give to a cow, and of the milk of that cow you are to make a cheese, and whoever eats of that cheese is for ever after, as well as his gear, perfectly secure from every species of fairy agency.'


Moire, Moire, Mary. These forms are confined to the Virgin, while 'Mairi' is rarely applied to her. Feminine and masculine derivatives of 'Moire' occur in the Isles. A knoll near Clachan-a-ghluip, North Uist, is called 'Crois Moireig,' cross of the female devotee of Mary, and an islet at Staonabrig in South Uist is called 'Eilean Mhoirean,' isle of the male devotee of Mary.

It is said that three brothers came to Christianise South Uist. The brothers were called 'Maoilean,' the tonsured, 'Micheil,' the devotee of Michael, and 'Moirean,' the devotee of Mary. The brothers built three prayer-houses on three low-lying peninsulas jutting into the Atlantic. These peninsulas became known as 'Aird Mhaoilean,' the point of Maoilean; 'Aird Mhicheil,' the point of Michael; and 'Aird Mhoirean,' the point of Moirean. Aird Mhoirean is now represented by 'Eilean Mhoirean,' the isle of Moirean, an inlet a few square yards in extent and a few feet high, often washed over by the Atlantic waves.

All these places contain ruins evidently very old, and of ecclesiastical origin. Those on Aird Mhaoilean adjoin the remains of a circular fort. It is not uncommon to find a church in the near neighbourhood of a fort. The church, cell, and burying-ground of St Brendan, Barra, abut on a strong stone circular fortress.


Munn, Munna, Muinig, Munnigean, Mungan, St Munn, St Mungo. Probably the 'mungan,' fairy flax (linum catharticum) is called after

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[paragraph continues] St Mungo. This plant was largely used for medicinal purposes. The common name for it in Gaelic is 'lion na mnatha sithe,' flax of the fairy woman.


Mur, luibhre, leprosy; also called 'losg.' Leprosy was common throughout Europe during the Middle Ages, and in some places down to modern times. Probably the toad is called 'losgan' from 'losg,' irruption, leprosy.


Murn, darling, maiden, damsel, girl, hence 'muirneag,' a little girl, a pretty girl, 'muirneach,' precious, endearing, prepossessing. 'Muirneag' is the name of a hill in Lewis. It is mentioned in the 'Imirich Cuain,' Ocean Flitting, an emigrant song by John Macrae, a minister of Lewis.

'Murn,' maiden, occurs in Irish 'mo mhuirnin,' my little darling, Anglicised 'mavourneen.'


Muthairn, little mother, dear little mother. Other Uist forms are 'mathairne,' 'mathairneag,' 'mathaireag.' Cf. O. Ir. 'mathairnet.'


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