Griogal Cridhe – Beloved Gregor
Còisir Dhùn Èideann (Edinburgh Gaelic Choir) meet once a week in the Quaker Meeting House, just a few streets away from the Royal Mile. My interest in Gaelic became piqued earlier this year when I attended a Gaelic harmony workshop, and have been attending choir rehearsals since. In the last few weeks I have noticed that I am becoming more familiar with the language – for example when looking at certain words I can kind of figure out how it’s meant to sound. It’s really hard work, but I had forgotten how much I enjoy singing as part of a group, and it’s an added bonus that I can combine this with learning Gaelic.
At our last rehearsal we sang unison songs as a little break from our usual rehearsal routine. One of them was the song Griogal Cridhe, which is the lament of the widow of Gregor Ruadh, the Red MacGregor of Glenstrae. Griogal is Gaelic for Gregor, and cridhe (a word that I have come across quite a lot in my foray into Gaelic music) means heart, or in this case beloved. The song is the oldest known Gaelic song, and well known in Scotland. There are Gaelic songs that are possibly older, but this one can be dated to a specific event, which just happens to be a heartbreaking chapter from clan history.
MacGregor (1541-1570) was the 10th chief of Clan MacGregor, and his tenure is remembered for a particularly bloody, long-lasting feud with Clan Campbell of Breadalbane. Once close allies, the troubles between the two clans came about as the result of a power struggle for control over manpower, lands and other resources in Breadalbane and Lorn. Previously the clans had expanded together from their neighbouring glens into Lorn, settling once again side by side in their new lands. This geographical closeness cemented all kinds of links between the clans including marriages – MacGregor himself was married to Marion Campbell, the daughter of Grey Colin Campbell. When cracks in the clan relationship began to appear, many clansmen were torn between their loyalties.
Sir Colin Campbell, better known has Grey Colin, became Laird of Glenorchy and Baron of Dalach by purchase in 1550. Two years later he evicted the McGregor chieftain from Balloch Castle, demolishing the castle and building one for himself, known as Taymouth Castle and located on the outskirts of the village of Kenmore. Grey Colin’s Taymouth exists to this day in name only – most of the castle was demolished and rebuilt in the 19th Century by the Campbells of Breadalbane.
The clan feud came to a head in 1562 when Grey Colin imposed hard conditions on the young MacGregor chief, who was infefted with the lands of Glenstrae. (Your Scots word for the day is infeft – an old Scots law word which means to invest with or give symbolical possession of inheritable property). In the same year the MacGregors seized lands on Loch Tay, which resulted in the death of some Campbells and their allies. The raiding and fighting was particularly intense in the following year – Mary, Queen of Scots was even involved, giving authority to Grey Colin to pursue the MacGregors ‘with fire and sword’ through two acts of the Privy Council.
Seven more years of rebellions and fighting followed, and in 1570 MacGregor was betrayed and captured by Grey Colin and beheaded in the presence of Murray of Atholl and others as a salutary lesson to the Clan MacGregor. MacGregor’s wife, Marion Campbell, is said to have witnessed the execution at the hands of her father, and penned the heartbreaking elegy which we know today in response. In the song, Marion describes the horror of what happened, as she sings to her child:
I´Sioma hoidhche fhliuch is thioram
Side na seachd sian
Gheibheadh Griogal dhomhsa creagan
Risan gabhainn dion
Obhan obhan obhan iri*
Obhan iri, o!
Obhan obhan obhan iri
Smor mo mhulad smor
Eudail mhóir, a shlaugh an Domhain,
Dhòirt iad t´ fhuil o ´n dé,
´S chuir iad do cheann air stob daraich
Tacan beag bho d´ chré.
B ´annsa bhi le Griogal cridhe
Teàrnadh chruidh le gleann,
Na le Baran mór na Dalach,
Sìoda geal mu m´ cheann.
´Nuair a bhois mnàthan òg a´ bhaile,
´Nochd nan cadal sèimh,
´S ann bhios mis´ air bruaich do lice,
´Bualadh mo dhà làimh.
Dhìrich mi dh ´an t-seòmar mhullaich,
´S theirinn mi ´n tigh-làir,
´S cha d ´fhuair mise Griogal cridhe
´Na shuidhe mu ´n chlàr.
Many a night both wet and dry
Weather of the seven elements
Gregor would find for me a rocky shelter
Where I would take refuge.
Obhan, Obhan, Obhan iri
Obhan iri O!
Obhan Obhan Obhan iri,
Great is my sorrow, great.
Great darling from the “Domhainn” folk
They let your blood yesterday
And they put your head on an oaken stake
Near where your body lay.
I would be glad to be with dear Gregor
Guarding cattle in the glen
Instead of with the big Baron “Dalach”
White silk around my head.
While the young wives of the town
Serenely sleep tonight
I will be at the edge of your gravestone
Beating my two hands.
I climbed into the upper chamber
And lay upon the floor
And I would not find my dearest Gregor
At the table in his place.
Using the law and the statutes to suit themselves the Campbells successfully evicted the MacGregors from Glenorchy and Glenstrae, but the MacGregors didn’t take this lightly. Amongst their reprisals for the death of their chief in 1570 was the killing of thirteen Campbells. Although denounced for this, the MacGregors were granted a pardon within two years. 443 years after the fact, the song continues to have an emotional pull on singers, continuing the legacy of these two great clans.
*The chorus (obhan obhan obhan, etc. . .) is made up of nonsense words, meant only to convey emotion, not meaning.Tagged