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Updated 11/08/2019

 


O Mhiri, e Mhiri
 

O Mhiri, e Mhiri (Oh Mary, Mary) was a song popularized by entertainer Calum Kennedy in the early 60s. During the 1960s and Seventies, for countless listeners and viewers, Calum Kennedy was the Gaelic singer, known as the golden voice of the Highlands. His was a hard-earned popularity, as he pursued a gruelling schedule of road shows, recordings and regular television appearances, as well as running two theatres. An expansive figure often clad in full kilt and plaid, his mellifluous tenor voice took him from the Lewis croft on which he grew up to singing before the Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev.

Kennedy was born in 1928 in Orinsay in the South Lochs area of Lewis, where his father ran a local bus service and the family home was a focal point in the community, hosting many a ceilidh, while the music of the wider world emerged through the first wireless in the village. Calum would claim in later life that among his earliest singing experiences, apart from Sunday worship in the local Free kirk, was calling home the family cow, Jessie, a practice which certainly developed voice projection. With Gaelic as his first language, he attended primary school in Harris then went on to the Nicholson Institute in Stornoway for his secondary education.

Leaving the island to seek work, he spent three and a half years in the Army then started in accountancy with a Glasgow firm before setting up his own publishing company. He was inspired to enter the Glasgow Md by his wife, Anne Gillies, herself a Md gold medal winner, and by her musical family from Skye. He won at the Glasgow event, then competed in the National Md, not winning that year but going on to win a gold medal in Aberdeen in 1955, which was presented to him by the Queen.

These successes settled the direction his career would take and he started performing throughout Britain and making the first of many recordings on the Beltona, Decca and Pye labels that earned gold and silver discs, while broadening his Gaelic material to include English-language songs to entertain a broader audience.

In 1957 he joined the Irish actor and singer Richard Harris on a memorably roistering train journey to Moscow and there beat several hundred contenders to win the World Ballad Competition, singing the Gaelic song, O Mhairi e Mhairi. The trophy was presented to him by the then Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, after which the lad from Lewis capped his triumph by performing on the stage of the Bolshoi Ballet.

He and Anne performed together throughout the country. It was, however, television that sealed his popularity. He brought to what was still a relatively new medium shows such as Calums Ceilidh the first live program transmitted by Grampian Television and Round at Calums. With Anne and their five daughters (all named after songs Fiona, Kirsteen, Morven, Morag and Deirdre) he also ran a touring show which took to the small screen as Meet the Kennedys. Of these daughters, Fiona has continued in the family tradition as a singer and broadcaster.

While maintaining a daunting touring schedule, he further expanded his stake in show business, buying the Dundee Palace and the Aberdeen Tivoli theatres and presenting the likes of Tony Hancock, Frankie Vaughan and Shirley Bassey.

Kennedy believed in living life to the full, but things took a downturn in 1974 when Anne died suddenly after what should have been a routine operation. Calum became beset by throat problems and didnt sing for two years. He attempted to retire at 51, but demand led to him taking the road once again. In 1986 he married Christine Wilson, whom hed met while recording Songs of Praise, and with whom he had a daughter, Eilidh.

In 1985 he was the subject of an early version of reality TV when a BBC camera crew followed a chaotic variety tour he took round the Highlands and islands. The resulting documentary, Calum Kennedys Commando Course, has developed cult status.

Critics may have sometimes carped at Kennedys showbiz tartanry, but his was a voice to be reckoned with. While popularising songs such as Lovely Stornoway, which he co-wrote with Bob Halfin, it was his heartfelt delivery of such great Gaelic songs as Mo Mhathair, Oran na Caiora and Peigi a Ghraidh and other lyrical material like Island Moon and, of course, Dark Lochnagar, that demonstrated his superb combination of natural purity of voice and formidable vocal technique.

The story goes that, at his peak he was such a household name that in 1963, when headlines screamed Kennedy shot, distraught fans assumed it was their favorite singer, rather than the US president who had been assassinated. Despite continuing health problems, Calum Kennedy was still singing at 70, and died in 2006 in Aberdeen, aged 77.

Lyrics

Ni mi innse le frinn

I'll tell you truly

An ni rinn mo chrdh

What has tormented me

Bheir snth air mo shilean

It has left my eyes tearful

'S a dhuineas mo chil

And sapped my energy

An gaol thug mi m'mhaighdean

The love I gave the maiden

Bu chaoibhneile ghnth

Of the gentle ways

D'am b' ainm Miri Anna

Mary Anne, who lies

Tha 's an anart a chnmh

Decaying in her shroud

 

 

'S ann air feasgar Di-ciadain

On Wednesday afternoon

Nuair bha ghrian anns na neil

With the sun in the sky

'S i ri dealradh cho bragha

Shining beautifully

Cho sgiamhach ri r

As lovely as gold

Thachair mise 's mo Mhiri

My Mary and I met

Ann an gradh nan rs

In a rose garden

Is bha faileadh nan ubhlan

And the fragrance of apples

Gl chbhraidh tighinn oirnn

Enveloped us

 

 

Nuair a thig a h-athair 's mthair

When her father and mother

Gu robh Miri an gaol

Understood Mary was in love

Rinn iad fhoighneachd gun dil dhi

They asked her at once

Co h-ailleagan caomh

About her beloved

Fhreagair i gum b'e gunnair

She answered that he was a gunner

O mhullach an t-slibh

From the hilltop

Fear a Gaidhealtachd na h-Alba

From the Highlands of Scotland

Far am marbhte na feidh

Where they hunt the deer

 

 

Nuair a chual' iad a facal

When they heard her words

Gun do ghlas iad i suas

They locked her

Ann an semar bha glaiste

In a bolted room

Fad seachduinn gun truas

For a week without mercy

Tha mo chrdh's brist' nach fhaodainn

My heart is broken since

Bhi bruidhinn ri mo luaidh

I could not speak to my love

'S i gam choimhead troimh'n uinneig

And she looking at me from the window

'S na doir a' ruith sios o gruaidh

With tears running down her cheek

 

 

Thainig ltir gam dh' ionnsaidh

A letter came to me

Air a dnadh gu dlth

Carefully sealed

Mi dh'fhalbh sios gu suibhlach

Informing me to go down quickly

Gu cul-thaobh an din

To the back of the castle

Far'n robh carbad gu muirneach

There, transport awaited

Gus mo ghilain gun dil

To carry me across

Gu paileis duin-uasail

To the nobleman's palace

Far'n robh gruagach mo ghridh

And my darling girl

 

 

Nuair a rinig mi'n aitreamh

When I reached

Far'n robh m'illeagan buan

My beloved's house

Rinn a silean ciuin drabhadh

She opened her calm eyes

'S bha dreach a'bhis air a gruaidh

And death's pallor was on her cheek

'S nuair a thug mi mo limh oirr'

And when I touched her

Dh'fhg a cainnt i gu luath

Speech quickly left her

'S dhuin a silean 's a chadal

And her eyes shut

Nach duisg 's a bhi buan

In eternal slumber

 

 

O Mhiri, e Mhiri

Oh Mary, Mary

'S tu dh'fhg mi cho tinn

You have left me so ill

'S tu dh'fhg mi fo mhulad

You have left me despondent

Is duilich ga inns'

And it's hard for me to tell my tale

'S ann ort tha mo smuaintean

My thoughts are upon you

A latha is a dh'oidhch'

Each day and night

Gus an teid mi dha'n anart

Until I lie in my shroud

Cha sguir mi gad chaoidh

I will not cease to mourn for you