Oran Bagraidh was printed in the book From the Farthest Hebrides. Collected in North Uist by Donald Fergusson and his Gaelic editor, Angus Macdonald, it has remained a mystery to scholars ever since the book’s publication in 1978. As a result it has remained relatively invisible to the wider public eye.
It is quite possibly an incredibly significant piece and a fascinating and enigmatic element of the corpus of Gaelic tradition in Scotland and Ireland. It highlights a major part of South West Scotland’s linguistic heritage.
Many parts of the song are unintelligible to modern Gaelic speakers, academics and scholars alike. The song mentions Galloway place names in the Glenkens parishes and local historians have also tried their hand at deciphering the piece.
The Oran Bagraidh project has not corrected or translated the song but remained true to the version as it is printed in the book, the first source we have. This enables the listener or reader to come to their own conclusions.
Taking informed guesses as to pronunciation, the song is sung in a Lingua Gadelica (a phrase coined by Scottish Gaelic/Irish poet Rody Gorman during the Oran Bagraidh residency), combining Scottish and Irish Gaelic elements which, from the evidence of local place-names, was the case with Gaelic in Galloway. The sung is also rendered in part in Welsh phonetics, reflecting mention of Welsh place-names in the song.
We can provide further places to go for anyone who wishes to investigate this piece further. We would also absolutely love to find another version of the song. It is said that a version was sung on Arran – if anyone has any information to offer or would like to get involved in any way please contact us.