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Updated 01/22/2014


Soraidh Leis An Ait
(Farewell To The Place)

Soraidh Leis An Ait
: Farewell to the Place is a beautiful lament written in the 19th century by Mairi Mhor Nan Oran - Big Mary of the Songs. A strong, politically-motivated crofting woman, her influence still resonates today, particularly on Skye. Over the years, "Soraidh Leis An Ait" has become an anthem for the island.

Miri was a prolific song writer from the age of 50, writing songs of exile, praise and hope as well as songs of protest about the way the Gaels were treated by others.

She was born Mary MacDonald in 1821 and left Skye for Inverness in 1847 to marry Isaac Macpherson. When he died in 1871, she was left with four children to care for alone. It was during a short imprisonment in 1872 on a charge of theft that she first turned to poetry, protesting her innocence and expressing her anger through Gaelic verse.

Shortly after her release, Mary moved to Glasgow where she trained as a nurse and worked until 1882. While living there, she regularly attended Highland Society ceilidhs and met leading advocates of Highland land reform. She became well known in these circles for her poetry and songs. When she returned to Skye, she was Bard of the Land League agitation of the 1880s. Her personal sense of injustice and empathy with the sufferings of her people gave a unique force to her poetry.

Mary's support for Charles Fraser Mackintosh, candidate in the Inverness Burgh election of 1874, was declared through her early songs. Later, she accompanied him during his tour of campaign for election to parliament. Song was a primary vehicle of popular journalism among Gaelic speakers at that time, for newspapers were available only in English.

In 1891 a volume entitled 'Gaelic Songs and Poems', by Mrs. Mary Macpherson (Miri nighean Iain Bhin) was published. These were transcribed from Mary's recitation. She was invited to become the official bard of the Clan MacDonald Society.

Mary was a gregarious woman of great physical stature. Among her friends was the great scholar Professor John Blackie. He always wore the plaid she made for him, and it was placed upon his coffin at his funeral. The design was patented as the 'Blackie Tartan', which Mary sold as rugs or wraps.

After a short illness, Mary died on 8 November 1898 while visiting Portree. She was buried in Chapel Yard burial ground, Inverness, where Charles Fraser Mackintosh MP erected a monument to her. A plaque to her memory was unveiled in 1966 at Skeabost in Skye.


Lyrics by Mairi Mhor Nan Oran



Soraidh leis an it

Farewell to the place

An d'fhuair mi m'rach g

Where I was raised

Eilean nam beann rda

Island of the high mountains

Far an tmh an ce

Where the mist dwells

Air a moch a dh'ireas

Where the sun rises early

Grian nan speur fo rs

In a rosy sky

A'fuadach neul na h-oidhche

To dispel the shade of night

Soillseachadh an Strr

And illuminate the Old Man of Storr



Cur m'aghaidh air Glaschu

When I headed towards Glasgow

B'airtneulach mo cheum

My step was sorrowful

Cur mo chl ri cirdean

As I turned away from relatives

Nochd am bigh cho treun

Who had shown me so much kindness

Ghluais ar buadhan nduir

Our senses stirred

Ann an grdh dha chil'

With love for one another

Shruth mo dheir a mhin

My voice failed me

Is dh'fhailnich guth mo bheul

And I could only shed tears



Seallaidhean bu bhragha

The eye never saw

Riamh chan fhaca sil

Such wonderful sights

Spridh a mach gam feurach

As the cattle grazing

Madainn ghrianach, chiin

On a quiet sunny morning

'N uiseag air a sgiath

The sky-lark on the wing

Seinn gun fhiamh a chiil

Singing out its music

'S an ce mu cheann Beinn Tianabhaig

The mist about Ben Tianabhaig

Is an sliabh fo dhrichd

Its slopes wet with dew