A Song for Every Cow She Milked..." Sharing the Work and Sharing the Voices in Gaeldom

Margaret Bennett


Throughout the history of the Gael, both in Scotland and overseas, every aspect of life had its songs. Whether composed by the highly literate clan bard or by the non-literate farm servant, a huge wealth of songs was handed down from generation to generation. Traditional settings differed between the nobility and the ordinary folk, yet the songs were equally preserved in the clan chieftains great-hall and the humble thatched cottages that were the taighean ceilidh (visiting houses).
Events (such as weddings, births, feuds, battles, emigration, death) and memorable individuals were celebrated (or mourned) in song. Almost every kind of work had its songs, especially daily or seasonal labour done to a particular rhythm, including milking, churning, spinning, waulking (fulling) hand-woven cloth, reaping, or rowing. At the end of the days toil, songs in the taigh clidh were the expectation and right of everyone, along with an opportunity to learn the tradition from established singers and custodians of centuries of knowledge.
This presentation discusses the range of songs and their function, from the most ancient lay through to modern compositions. Example of Gaelic songs from Scotland and Newfoundland (both recorded and sung by the presenter) will demonstrate points made through the paper.

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