catholic by birth; scientist by choice; sinner by merit. gaidhlig-speaking neuroscience student at oxford. likes to question everything! @di_macd

Books that nailed it and books that failed it 2013!

There is no such thing as a Little Scotlander

Vote yes for Scottish independence because Scotland would be one of the most progressive countries in the world.

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heav’n of hell, a hell of heav’n!

Blathachadh na Cruinne

This story won second prize in the Northwards Now New Gaelic Fiction Competition. It has to be read carefully or the joke won’t be got!

“Tha an riaghaltas agaibh seasmhach. Gu dearbh fhèin, tha sinn deiseil airson buille sam bith a bheir Nàduir oirnn. Tha an t-àrm a’ gluasad. Tha sinn a’ dol gur cumail sàbhailt’. Tha sinne a’ dol gur dìon.”

            Cha robh guth aig a’ Mhìnisteir uasal air cò bu choireach gun robh an là seo air tighinn. Faclan snog, cofhurtail, a’ suaineadh a-mach às an rèidio, a’ snàigeadh a-steach tro mo chluasan, ‘s a’ faighinn smachd air m’inntinn. Briathran breugach brèagha. Thug mi breab dhan rèidio. Bha mi seachd searbh sgìth dha bhi ag èisdeachd ri srannalaich a’ Mhìnisteir. Cha robh a gheusan ‘s a gheallaidhean a’ dol a thràghadh an tuil.

            Dh’èirich mi, a’ casadaich ‘s a’ cofhurtaich, is plaide thana mam ghuailnean. Bha an saoghal a’ fàs teth ach bha mise fuar fuar. Cho fuar ris a’ phuinnsean, ri cridhe a’ Mhìnisteir. B’esan an aon chleasaiche a bha air fhàgail.An robh e a’ magadh oirnn, e fhèin sàsaichte le fhion ‘s le annlan? Chuir mi às a’ choinneal. Cha b’e solas iùil a bh’innte. Bha an dorchadas a’ sgaoileadh, cho farsaing ris a’ chuain. Bha an rèidio sàmhach san oiseann.

Nuair a dh’innis iad dhuinn gun robh an là seo a’ tighinn ‘s ann a dh’fheuch mi ri mi-fhìn fhalach ann an toll. Bha cabhaig orm. Chladhaich mi domhainn i. “Dùinibh an doras!” bhiodh an rèidio a’ sgiamhail, “Na tigibh a-mach! Dèan nead dhuibh pèin!” ‘s mar sin air adhart, gach comhairle a’ cur eagal às ùr orm. Ann an ciaradh balbh an t-saoghail an robh mi air fois fhaighinn mu dheireadh thall? Aig a’ cheann thall? Thug mi sùil air an dorchadas. Chaith mi smugaid. Bha mi seachd searbh sgìth a’ feitheamh. A’ feitheamh ri fairge, ri facal, ris an naidheachd dheireannach.

Ach, ged a ghlas mi mi fhìn ann am priosan, cha do chaith mi na h-iuchraichean air falbh. Dè feum a bh’ann feitheamh? Bha mi airson bàs an t-saoghail fhaicinn – air an dòigh sin, dhèanainn ciall dhan chùis. Cha robhas a’ dol gam thiodhlacadh mar ghealtaire aig aigeann a’ chuain ùr. Bha mi gus a bhith seasmhach, làidir, nam dhuine ceart. Bha mi gus an doras fhosgladh dhan tuil. Bha mi gus mo shùilean fhosgladh. Bha mi gus an rèidio a shadadh air falbh.

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Camhanaich - Sorley MacLean (with translation!)


"Bu tu camhanaich air a’ Chuilthionn,

's latha suilbhir air a' Chlàraich,

grian air a h-uilinn anns an òr-shruth,

agus ròs geal bristeadh fàire.

Làinnir sheòl air linne ghrianaich,

Gorm a’ chuain is iarmailt àr-bhuidh,

An òg-mhadainn ‘na do chuailean

‘s na do ghruaidhean soilleir àllainn.

Mo leug camhanaich is oidhche

T’ aodann ‘s do choibhneas gràdhach,

Ged tha bior glas an dòlais

Tro chliabh m’òg-mhaidne sàthte.”


You were dawn on the mountain,

And daylight dancing over the water,

A sun on her elbow in the gold-stream

And a white rose breaking the horizon.

Glitter of sails on a sunlit firth

The blue depths and bronzed sky

Morning is young in your hair,

And in your cheeks, bright, beautiful.

My jewel of night and daybreak -

your face, your love and kindness,

Though the arrows of misfortune

Marr this morning of our youth.

NOTE: Both Sorley MacLean and Iain Crichton Smith have translated this poem too. I borrowed one line from Smith “glitter of sails on a sunlit firth” but otherwise the translation is my own, inadequate, work. I have deRassified and simplified the poem to make it more English-friendly. In Gaidhlig the first line “Bu tu camhanaich air a’ Chuilthionn” has an almost Biblical feel in the majesty MacLean sees in Eimhir, but the Cuilthionn means little to non-Highlanders, so I just generalized it to mountains. Gaelic words like ‘og-mhadainn’ have no real English equivalents either, so I just gave up and made up something similar. I hope you enjoy my translation.

“Roses are red,
Violets are violet,
The heart is simply a pump
And love is merely a chemical imbalance in the brain.”

—   Richard Dawkins


On the 8th of May, my late grandfather, a crowned bard, would have been 99. Here is a (literal) translation I did of my favourite of his Gàidhlig poems:

Flùraichean / Flowers

 “Of all the sights I see

It’s the flowers that snatch at my heart;

For as I ponder through the fields

They lift my mood and appetite.

Millions marching throughout the world

And found in every corner.

An infinite blessing on the One who thought,

Upon the shepherd forever tending.


Plentiful throughout the meadows;

On the banks and in every garden.

Jewellery of precious stones

On the white proud breast of nature.

They gaze gleefully from its shoulders

when the seasons are sweetly smiling.

Until she folds them safely up

When cold danger and hardship approach.


Sometimes, I try to deny a part of their beauty,

Setting them against

Other gifts the God of Grace gave us

But notwithstanding my tribulations

I’ll admit and It’ll be said to me

That there was nought ever as handsome without soul

As the little flower of the desert.


When I’m pained

To suffer the trials of this world

It is my desire if it can be done

To take a trip into the desert

Where I can converse closely

With the sweet smelling flowers

And see children

Diligently twisting them into garlands.


Those bonds man cannot understand

Always between child and flower:

Both innocents blooming fresh and renewed

They won’t die till age takes their heads off

Without trouble, blame or care,

In close companionship with nature

Taking heaven to the borders of the world

Like a revelation; a wish of God.


I cannot tell

How many thousands of meadows they proliferate

Between the machair and the ditches:

Even in the thirsty deserts,

Every hill and mountain brim,

Every deer forest and moor is full of them

Universal in every land

Thick as the grains of the shore.


Often we look with happiness

At the colours of the rainbow high in the sky -

Yet sailors of the stratosphere do but complain when

Compared to the graceful moors,

The scarlet mountains,

With every colour together

Feeding the eye of beauty

They gaze upon the covering of life.


Primroses the colour of the sun,

Clover deep as the ragged waves,

Dog-violet as blue as the heavens,

Daisies worthy of gold and silver,

Roses red and white adorn the branches,

And lilies fall as snow on the rough moorland.

Voice and speech cannot describe it

Nor can an artist with brush to canvas.


Wasn’t it a most ravishing mix of colours?

Nature’s beguiling, becoming dress

A comely suit that makes us aware

When it’s sunny, calm and warming

Cursed be bad weather

Which brings with it the icy bite of winter

And puts beautiful holy flowers

Out of sight until the seasons depart.


Before I part with you dear flower

Tell me the secret to your joy.

Mankind holds you in high regard

Seeking you as a lover would.

But you do not cheat the world’s ways for long

The blemish of old age stains you not

Till a long time after you fade away into the soil,

Your glamour ever obsesses me.


You are the messengers of peace

Who will banish ill-will and hatred.

You are the guiding light of the desert

To the hopeless who trundle after.

You are truth’s greatest revelation

Who will not betray me for as long as I live.

For it’s not the land that gives you essence

But the One with whom awoke my consciousness.


I see you on a noble’s table,

I see you in a virgin’s locks,

I see you in abandoned corners,

I see you with the wedding party,

I see you at the graveside

Holding court with those I loved -

Rich and poor in your presence

All gain an intangible delight.


It’s a past time for me in the winter

When the mountains gloom

And I think of summer

When the glens grow green -

When that picture comes to mind

It’ll spin in my head

Flowers backwards and forwards

Busy dancing in my thoughts.


And when death comes to call me,

I’m soothed by the everlasting sleep

Of being buried as a Christian

With a headstone beside the sea.

My only wish is there be hundreds

Of every kind of flower giving life at the grave.

With that thought, thank god

My soul, at least, will be smiling.”