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Poet Day

"A’ falbh an aonaich ag iarraidh chaorach,
‘S mi cheart cho aotrom ri naosg air lòn,
Gach bot is poll agus talamh toll,
A toirt na mo chuimhne ‘n uair bha mi òg."

(Wandering the moor in search of sheep,
and I was as light as a snipe on the marsh,
each mound, bog and marshy hollow,
bringing to mind my youthful self.

~ Mary MacPherson (1821-1898)


One of several tartans derived from a portrait or photograph, this tartan was reconstructed from a black and white photograph of a tartan shawl worn by Skye poetess, Mary MacPherson, also known as Mairi Mhor nan Orain (Big Mary of the Songs). Mairi MacPherson started composing in her 50s, and from then until her death produced some beautiful songs in Gaelic on a wide range of subjects, including her songs of exile and powerful prose during the days of the Highland Land League as a leading figure in the battle for crofters' rights. Mairi Mhòr greatly admired and became friendly with Professor John Stuart Blackie of Edinburgh University. A professor of Greek language, Blackie was an enthusiastic Scottish nationalist and displayed real sympathy with highland home life and the grievances of the crofters. Mairi who was a skilled spinner and wool worker, made Blackie a tartan plaid and later devised a tartan which she called "The Blackie". It is conjectured by the Dualchas (Heritage Service for Skye and Lochalsh) that this might be the tartan worn by Mairi. ✍️

Aug 21

Mary MacPherson known as Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (Great Mary of the Songs) (1821 –  1898), was a Scottish Gaelic poet from the Isle of Skye, whose work focused on the Highland Clearances and the land struggle.  


Following the death of her husband in 1871, Mairi Mhòr took employment as a domestic servant with the family of an army officer.  Accused of stealing clothes belonging to the officer's wife, who had just died of typhoid, she was sentenced to 40 days imprisonment.  She protested her innocence for the rest of her life and was almost universally believed by the Gaelic speaking community.  Her brush with the law and the feeling it aroused is recorded in Tha mi sgìth de luchd na Beurla (I'm tired of the English speakers). 


On her release in 1872 Mairi Mhòr moved to Glasgow, aged about 50. Here she seems to have learned to read and write in English, and qualified with a nursing certificate and diploma in obstetrics from Glasgow Royal Infirmary.  In 1876 she moved to Greenock to work but often returned to Glasgow for cèilidhs and other gatherings of Skye people.  It is thought that she probably sang at many of these cèilidhs as there is evidence of her frequently doing so after she retired to Skye in 1882. By this time she had acquired a reputation for her songs and her championing of the crofters in the increasingly heated debate over land rights. 


Register notes:


A requested reconstruction by Jamie Scarlett MBE in May 2007 from a black and white photograph of a tartan shawl worn by Mairi Mhor nan Orain - 'big Mary of the Songs' (1821-1898) from Skye. Mairi MacPherson started composing in her 50s, and from then until her death produced some beautiful songs in Gaelic on a wide range of subjects. She was a leading figure in the battle for crofters' rights as was Professor John Stuart Blackie (1809-1895) from Edinburgh. Mairi apparently designed this tartan for him and it was conjectured by the Dualchas (Heritage Service for Skye and Lochalsh) that this might be the tartan worn by Mairi. Admittedly an extremely long shot but, in the absence of any other name, it has been given that of Blackie. The Dualchas Heritage Service have commissioned a colour painting from the Mairi photograph portrait which is why they were eager to ascertain the colours of the tartan shawl.


For more on Mairi's work life and work, click the photo.