IN translating this I have departed from my first plan, which was to give in all cases exactly what I got from one man, and abstracts of other versions. In this case the longest version was translated; and to its passages and notes were added from three other written versions: and from two of which I took notes myself. Where the same incidents are given by two men in different words, the passage which seemed best has been selected. Where one version has an additional incident which the rest have not, it is inserted in its order. Where versions vary, the variation is given in a note. Thus many passages are substituted and inserted, but I have carefully avoided adding anything of my own invention.
At the earnest request of the publishers, the Gaelic of this long story is omitted, to make room for other
matter; but the manuscript is preserved, and some few curious passages are given in foot notes.
The chief "author," as the scribe calls him, is John MacNair, who lives at Clachaig, near the powder mills at Dunoon. The scribe is John Dewar, a labourer now working in the woods at Roseneath, and their version fills sixty foolscap pages. I find that there is a tendency to change dialogue into narrative in writing a story, as is the case here; but when these men tell stories, dialogue predominates.
MacNair, who is a shoemaker, got the story about thirty-five years ago from an old man named Duncan Livingston, who lived in Glendaruel, and was then about sixty-five. Dewar says that he was a shoemaker, and grandfather to another old shoemaker, James Leitch, who lives at Eas-clacbain in Glendaruel, and from whose dictation Dewar has taken down several long and curious stories which I have. Leitch says that his grandfather "had Ossian's Poems by heart," and many tales "sgeulachd;" and a list of those who still know the latter is given.
Of Livingston, MacNair says--
"I have an interesting story about that old man. In the time of the American war, the laird was pressing the tenants to go, and this old man seemed not willing; so they pursued him through a deep river, or burn, as we call it; and when he saw he could not escape, he placed his leg between two stones and snapped it in two, so they had to carry him home.
The second version was written by Hector MacLean, and fills twenty-five pages. The reciter was Alexander MacNeill, who lives in Barra, and who names as his authorities several old men. He also recited No. XXXVI.
The third was also written by MacLean, from the
telling of John MacGilvray, labourer, Colonsay, in July 1860. It fills fourteen pages, and has this tradition attached to it,--"Two ministers, long ago, desirous of trying the powers of the Gaelic language, composed this story and the Knight of the Red Shield (No. LII.). MacLean suggests two Monks of Iona.
The fourth was written by Mr. Fraser of Mauld, near Beauly, Inverness-shire, and fills six pages. It was told by Dugald Martin in Crochal.
I have heard the story told by various reciters, particularly by Donald MacPhie in South Uist, and Charles MacIntyre in Benbecula. The latter spoke for an hour. I did not time the former, but be spoke for a long time, and I though his version the most consistent and the most complete story which I had then heard.
The story then is very widely spread in Scotland--from Beauly on the east, to Barra on the west, and Dunoon and Paisley in the South. No two give it in the same words, or give exactly the same incidents; but MacNair's version written in Dunoon, and MacNeill's in Barra, written independently by different scribes, so far as they go together, closely resemble each other.
Dewar who is a very intelligent man, suggests that the story is "purely Irish," and that "it was composed about the time of the crusade, as it tells about the Turks invading the king of Iubhar's country." He thinks the Green Isle is one of the Orkneys.
"Innse torrain, the isles of Noise. Ossian's poem on Cathul," so called because covered with fir trees and with large rocks facing the sea, against which the waves make a great noise." (There are no trees in Orkney.) Dewar does not think this tale so old as many of the others which he has written for me.
My own opinion is that the story is mixed with the adventures of the Norse sea rovers who frequented the Western Isles; and that it is impossible to say whether it was composed in Ireland or in Scotland; but it is clear that it was composed a long time ago, and by some one able to imagine and carry out an elaborate plot. There are many old men in Scotland, widely separated, and who cannot read, who know the story and can remember the plot, in whole or in part; so it must be old. It is also known in Ireland. I have traced the incidents amongst Irish labourers in London. One man, a bricklayer, had "seen Conall Gulban in an Irish manuscript;" and a story so called is mentioned in the transactions of the Ossianic Society of Dublin.