Iain MacNeacail of the Isle of Skye has been making songs since 1917,
when he was fourteen years old; he still composes today. His style is that
of the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century bàird bhaile
[township poets] who compose on a huge range of subjects. This
dissertation explores the world of a Gaelic song- maker, largely in his own
words through the use of tape recorded interviews and investigates his
thoughts on his motives and his methods of composition. These aspects
of song scholarship are under -researched in many cultures and though
there are extensive collections of Gaelic songs available which allow
study of the textual /musicological side, the maker's own perceptions of
his work and the community's perception of their bard have been
neglected. The picture that emerges is of a living village song -maker in
the context of a community rich in song and cultural life, where villagers
look to their local bards for articulation of their own feelings.
Functional local song in its element operates on many levels.
Chapter one is the biography of Iain MacNeacail, largely in his own
words, which sets the scene and provides some historical background on
north Skye itself. Chapter two describes the community social life,
centering on the taigh céilidh [céilidh or visiting house] and other
pastimes during the long winter months. Chapter three consists of an
edition of MacNeacail song's, with notes and detailed transcriptions of
interviews relating to their background and genesis. Chapter four
elucidates the actual process of making a song: how they come to him,
his conscious technique and his unconscious skill. Chapter five discusses
the function of song in MacNeacail's Hebridean community. This ranges
from amusement to revenge and protest and looks particularly at song as
a form of response, whether to adversity, requests or questions. The
functional aspect of song has changed dramatically since World War II;
these changes and how MacNeacail has adapted to cope with them are
discussed in some detail. The final chapter examines the song- maker's
aesthetic: what poets he likes and why. MacNeacail views his world
through a song- maker's eyes and everything is therefore interpreted in
relation to and through the words of the great bards of the past that he
admires so much and quotes so often. It concludes by examining others'
and his own opinions of himself and his abilities.
Iain MacNeacail's knowledge and experience provides a unique
opportunity to record one of the last Gaelic bards reflecting upon his life,
his art, and his role in tradition. These reflections, together with
information gathered in further fieldwork, present a portrait of a type of
village life once common in Gaelic society, but now rarely seen and even
less frequently preserved.