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Biodh Feagal Umad às na Sìabhraichean

These recordings remind me that the Highlands is a place that has seen great change - even in the sixty years since they were made.

This piece is inspired by an archive recording of my great granny, Kate Shaw, made in Coigach by Dr John MacInnes for the School of Scottish Studies in July 1960.

Since the 50s, collectors from the School have travelled all over Scotland, recording songs, instrumental music, tales, verse, customs, beliefs, place-names, biographical information and local history, creating a rich repository of oral tradition.

Dr MacInnes made almost 30 recordings of my great granny, discussing everything from place names, her day to day life, legends and the supernatural.

I’ve used one of these recordings in this piece of music, a story about a girl who went missing on new year’s day. The piece of music itself is a series of improvisations, made while listening to the recording of my great granny.


Seall sa Ghàidhlig

JM: And, did you ever hear, eh, anyone who was taken in the chair, or in the mound of the fairies? Who was away for a long time and returned then? Anyone who came home and was taken away by the fairies. Did you ever hear that?

KS: Ah well, I didn’t hear.

JM: There was no news in this country* of that ilk?

KS: There was not, there was not. I never heard anything like that, of anyone going missing like that and coming home, I never heard. But I reckon, there’s stories we’d hear of what was happening in other places, but I wouldn’t know of here, none.

JM: Aye and do you remember any of those stories now? The ilk of things that happened, happened in other places.

KS: Well, there was one girl in Achiltibuie there, a child, when I was a child myself. And she went, went out around the house, she was lost on Oidhche Challain**, they lost her from the house. I think she was only about three or four years old.

JM: Aye.

KS: And when she was taken, up on a hill below the head of Achiltibuie a long long long way, what was the name of the place? I can’t remember the name of the place. I can’t remember the name of the place but it was a long way from Achiltibuie. A big blue*** field, that’s where the child was found. And there was some talking, although I was young I remember. I was very young but it follows into my memory still, that I can still talk about it now. There was always something strange about it. That the girl could have walked as far as she did, to that place, where she was found. That there would always, you know be something in our minds that the fairies took the likes of her over and left her there.

JM: Right, right.

KS: I was so young that I didn’t know anything, but I knew to fear the fairies.


* country = township

** Gaelic New Year, 12th Jan

*** blue and green are often interchanged, so could mean green

Credit: Northport Studio
Credit: Northport Studio
Credit: Northport Studio
Credit: Northport Studio


Music by Joseph Peach

Recorded and Mixed by Joseph Peach

Mastered by Owen Sinclair

Translation by Robbie Greig

Cover by Joseph Peach

Naidheachd mu nighean a fhuaireadh marbh - Kate Shaw and Dr John MacInnes, used with permission from the School of Scottish Studies Archive/Tobar an Dualchais.