This is the second of two surviving Flyting songs between Nic Iain Fhinn, the bardess of MacNeil of Barra, and Nic a’ Mhanaich, the bardess of MacDonald of Clanranald. The Uist bardess supposedly fell dead at the waulking board with the bitterness of the Barra woman’s reply to her! Also taken from “Hebridean Folksongs” by JL Campbell.
Cha deid mor a Bharraigh bhronaich – ‘Marion won’t go to miserable Barra’
Here is the story behind this brilliant waulking song found in John Lorne Campbell’s “Hebridean Folksongs” volume 11. I have only recorded a snapshot, but it has many verses telling the full tale of the flyting between Nic Iain Fhinn of Barra and Nic a’ Mhanaich of Uist. It was well known among traditional singers in Barra and Vatersay and those of Barra descent in Cape Breton and represented the triumph of the seventeenth century bardess, Nic Iain Fhinn. Apparently the singing of this was banned in certain places in Cape Breton where the descendants or emigrants from Barra (many of my own) and South Uist lived side by side around Christmas Island and Beaver Cove on the eastern shore of the Bras d’Or lake for fear of a fight breaking out!
Once upon a time MacNeil of Barra had a bardess called Nic Iain Fhinn ‘the daughter of fair-haired John’, who was a famous poetess in her day. MacNeil was then married to a daughter of MacLeod of Harris, and her sister was married to clanranald, and they were living at Ormaclate castle. Clanranald was a wealthy, powerful man. But although MacNeil only owned a little rock, he was proud and arrogant and very vain of his wordly possesions. The two ladies were very jealous of each other.
Clanranald too had a bardess , called Nic a’ Mhanaich ‘the Monk’s daughter’. Many a time MacNeil was casting it up to Clanranald that she (Nic a” Mhanaich) could not come anywhere to Nic Iain Fhinn in composing poetry. Clanranald, who was better off than MacNeil in every worldy respect, was vexed that it was being said that the Barra bardess would win poetic honours from Nic; a Mhanaich. Eventually they each made a wager that his bardess was the better, and they decided that there should be a waulking at Ormaclate Castle, and that Nic Iain Fhinn should go to the waulking, and that Nic a “Mhanaich should be in her party, and that the two of them should have a chance to prove themselves.
So a boat with a crew went from Eoligarry to Uist with Nic Iain Fhinn. Tide and wind were against them, and it was rather late before Nic Iain Fhinn reached her destination. But she went up to the castle, where she saw a band of women gathered together. When she came near them, she heard one of them abusing her, in these words:
Nic Iain Fhinn, she-islander,
Club-footed, thick-ankled quean!
With broad greedy flashing mouth
And short lumpy blue nose;
Snout and claw and blubber lips,
And the red side of her hide outside!
Nic Iain Fhinn did not listen to any more, but jumped in amongst the Uist women, yelling at the top of her voice ‘You come out and let me in, so I can make the flyting with the stumpy, catty, lumpy, greedy, thick-ankled hussy’. And she sat sown at the waulking board opposite Nic a’ Mhanaich.
She went on like that, and what happened but when she stopped satirizing her, the Uist woman fell dead on the waulking board opposite her. “Take that old hag out of the house and put another on in her place’ said Nic Iain Fhinn “I’m not half finished’. Then the Uist people went to catch hold of her and she went off with the Barra crew. When they reached their boat , they jumped aboard, cut the rope, sailed off, and reached Barra. Nic Iain Fhinn had won the wager!