An Dàn CD Lyrics

T8: Iain Againn Fhìn (Our Own John)

Donald Meek: Mary Ann Kennedy

“And you, John, over the top went leaping to support your fine commander;
But you did not hear the little bullet whistling, with your fate in its lead”

A century-old story brought into the present: Donald’s own upbringing was in a house where his great-uncle’s memory was honoured with love. His researches into the two men’s stories took him through John’s letters and diaries and many of the images sing out vividly in this poem. The contemporary poetic structure gave me space to try different approaches to the song – and there must have been some subconscious Tirisdeach sensibility at work, as I realised much later that I had created a melody that was in fact a counterpoint to the island’s ‘national anthem’, ‘Am Falbh Thu Leam, a Rìbhinn Òig?’.

Donald Meek: When I was a boy, hardly a day passed in the house when we would not mention John. Everything belonging to him that survived – his letters from France and his diary among them – were preserved carefully. We would go through them now and again, and I used to try to catch a picture of ‘Iain Againn Fhìn’ as a man and soldier. The last words in his diary moved me greatly, as he had written them in Gaelic: ‘Waiting to go into battle. I am well.’

T8: Iain Againn Fhìn

Dòmhnall Meek: Màiri Anna NicUalraig

“’S leum thu, Iain, far na bruaiche, toirt taic dod chomanndair uasal;
Am peilear guineach, beag cha chual’ thu, tighinn le fead ’s do dhàn san luaidh’ aig’”

MA: Bha na na faclan mu dheireadh a sgrìobh Iain na leabhar-latha ann an Gàidhlig, ga thoirt dhachaigh ’s air
falbh bhon uabhas mu thimchioll san Fhraing. Air chlach-uaighe san chladh-cogaidh an Arras, chìthear na
briathran, “Not forgotten in Caolis, Tiree”.

Dòmhnall Meek: Nuair a bha mise nam bhalach, cha robh latha a’ dol seachad ach ainneamh san taigh anns nach biodh iomradh ga dhèanamh air Iain. Bha gach nì a bhuineadh dha a mhair – a chuid litrichean às an Fhraing agus a leabhar-latha nam measg – air an gleidheil gu cùramach. Bhitheamaid a’ dol tromhpa an-dràsd’ ’s a-rithist, agus bhithinn-sa a’ feuchainn ri dealbh fhaighinn air Iain mar dhuine is mar shaighdear. 

Tha e a’ faighneachd mu obair na croite tric is minig na litrichean, agus ’s ann na chànain mhàthaireil a sgrìobh e na facail mu dheireadh. ’S e dàimh Iain ri eilean agus ri dhualchas, agus an dòigh anns an deachaidh a mharbhadh, a’ frithealadh air creuchdan Jock Stiubhart gun smuaint air fhèin air 9 Giblin 1917, a ghluais mi anns an òran. Agus cuideachd an call mòr a bha ann am bàs Iain don teaghlach – call a tha mise a’ faireachdainn gu geur gus a’ mhionaid seo fhèin.

Aig Arras cha robh do smuaintean
Air poll no eabar no uamhas,
Air gunnachan mòra le nuallan
A’ tilgeil shligean gun truas annt’,
A’ treabhadh talamh torrach na uaighean,
No air cuirp a’ grodadh sa bhuachair,
Gun sealladh air latha na buadha.

B’ e do dhleastanas, b’ e do dhleasdanas,
Bu dual, bu dual, bu dual duit.

’S thill thu bho thaobh thall nan cuantan
Gu feachd Earra Ghàidheal ’s nan Sutharlan;
Tìr nam beann ’s nam breacan uallach
Ann an èiginn - ‘Dìon do dhualchas!’

Ach bha do smuaint sa mhionaid uaire
Air obair earraich san eilean uaine,
Teaghlach a’ cosnadh lòn le cruadal,
’S do mhiann a bhith le crann a’ gluasad,
A’ gearradh sgrìob gu treun tron chrualach,
A’ cur an t-sìl le dòchas buannachd
Fa chomhair nan geamhraidhean fuara.

Bheuc an gunna mòr gu suaicheant’,
Sanas-maidne blàr na buadha,
’S leum thu, Iain, far na bruaiche,
Toirt taic dod chomanndair uasal;
Am peilear guineach, beag cha chual’ thu,
Tighinn le fead ’s do dhàn san luaidh’ aig’,
Bho fhear-cuims’ bha falaicht’ bhuatsa;

Thuit thu le lot nach gabhadh fuasgladh;
Geamhradh na fala ’toirt buaidh ort.

“Am falbh thu leam, a rìbhinn òig?
Non tèid thu leam thar sàile?
Gum faic thu ann gach nì gud mhiann
San eilean shiar a dh’fhàg mi.”

‘Iain Againn Fhin’, bu truagh e,
Sìnte a’s a’ bhàs neo-bhuadhmhor,
’S na ceudan ghaisgeach marbh ra ghualainn -
Earrach searbh an Arras uaignidh.

 


At Arras your reflections
Were not on mud or mire or horror,
Or on the great guns with their roaring,
Firing shells that had no mercy,
Ploughing fertile fields into graveyards,
Or on bodies putrefying in battle-glaur,
Without ever glimpsing the day of victory;

Doing your duty was in your nature.

And you returned from across the oceans
To join the regiment of Argyll and Sutherland;
The land of mountains and proud tartans
Was in distress - ‘Defend your culture!’

But your thought at that very moment
Was on spring work in the grass-green island,
A family struggling to make their living;
You wished to be at the plough, and moving,
Cutting a furrow through the hard soil bravely,
Planting the seed in the hope of cropping,
With due regard for winters’ coldness. 

The big gun roared its public signal,
The reveille for the day of triumph,                                    
And you, John, over the top went leaping
To support your fine commander;
But you did not hear the little bullet,
With your fate in its lead, whistling,*
From a marksman hidden from you;

Incurably wounded, you were toppled;
Blood’s cold winter was the victor.

“Will you go with me, my young darling?
Or will you sail across the sea with me?  
You’ll see your every heart’s desire there
In the western island I left behind me.”

‘Our own John’, his plight was piteous,
Stretched out lifeless to no profit;
With hundreds of heroes dead by his shoulder –
Springtime was bitter in bleak Arras.

 *This line is deliberately ambiguous: the alternative translation is ‘and your song/elegy in its story’

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