O an strì ann an tìr a phailteis,
O am fallas, o am fuachd,
Cha robh cùisean mar bha dùil seo idir
Le olc is aingidheachd is cruas.
— Tìr a Phailteis, Calum Martin
The Megantic Outlaw, Donald Morrison, is a folk hero in Quebec and Uig alike and his story is well-known on both sides of the Atlantic. The ruins of his grandfather’s blackhouse can still be seen in Kneep, on the hillside behind the machair and Loch nan Cuilc, but the family left for Quebec, where they settled near Lake Megantic and where Donald was born, their youngest son.
This year, as part of the Hebridean Celtic Festival, local musician and teacher Calum Martin is bringing his Gaelic folk-rock song cycle based on the Megantic Outlaw’s life, to Uig and Stornoway. The story follows the family’s voyage from Lewis, their hardships in the new land, and Morrison’s ten months on the run until his capture, imprisonment and eventual demise.
For this show Calum has brought together an amazing cast of musicians from both sides of the Atlantic featuring Fraser Fifield (Sax/Whistles), Graeme Stephen (guitars), Bobby Millar (bass guitar); from upstate New York by way of Nashville Tennessee, Peter Young (Drummer/Producer) from Nashville, Scott Neubert (guitars/dobro/banjo/mandolin) and from Lewis Andrew Yearly (keyboard/accordion) and Calum’s own daughter Isobel Ann Martin (vocals).
Tuesday 14 July 2009 at Uig Community Centre, 8pm
Wednesday 15 July 2009 at An Lanntair, Stornoway, 7.30pm
Tickets from the Hebridean Celtic Festival box office (online, from 01851 702333, or on Saturdays 11-4 from the office in Stornoway, and a little nearer the time from us Uig Museum in the community centre) for this and all the other Festival gigs. Calum Martin also wrote and performed the new Festival anthem, Blue on Green, which is available as a free download from the Festival website (and playable here – click the arrow.)[audio:blueongreen.mp3]
And now for the Megantic Outlaw’s story, from the CD insert; the Gaelic follows the English version. Song titles are in bold and the full text in Gaelic and English, plus more audio samples, are at the Megantic Outlaw website. (It’s worth noting that the double-crosser, Lieut-Col Malcolm Macaulay, was also an Uigeach, apparently of a family cleared from Baile Nicol (now Ardroil) about 1840.)
* * *
Donald Morrison was born in the township of Megantic, Quebec in the year 1858, the youngest son of Scots immigrant parents. Years earlier Murdo and Sophie Morrison had been driven by hardship from their native Hebridean Island of Lewis and forced to set sail on The Ship of Hope for a new life in Canada. Building a new life was not so easy for the new immigrants, not only did they have to overcome a harsh environment but deceit and injustice were rife in this Land of Plenty.
Being the youngest, Donald was the last to leave the family home. Like many of his generation, he headed westward to seek his fortune, working as a cowboy, and he became used to the freedom of the wide open spaces, and from this work, sent home regular contributions to help his parents re-pay the debt on the family home.
On The Journey Home after 7 years toil, he fondly imagines that by now the debt must be about paid. To a Lewis man, like Donald’s father, Murdo, a man’s word is his bond; he had paid off the family debt with no thought of written receipt, but Macaulay, the unscrupulous money-lender, denied receiving the payments, had the Morrison’s evicted from their home, and after The Deceit sold it off to a Frenchman. After trying in vain to obtain justice through the courts, Donald is left with nothing but deep anger and bitterness.
Frustrated in his attempts to obtain justice, Donald takes the law into his own hands and, allowing his heart to rule his head, he begins to fall foul of authority. Despite the fact that there is a price on his head the loyal exiled Islanders and French in the community protect him, and it is a known criminal Lucias Jack Warren who is appointed to bring him in dead or alive.
After a confrontation in which he kills Warren in Self-Defence Donald is branded as a murderer, he experiences Solitude as he is hounded as The Outlaw; he is now very much on his own, but his loyal friends still protect him, for which he is so Thankful. Even the addition of 100 soldiers brought from Montreal to supplement the local Police, failed to capture the elusive Donald Morrison; utterly frustrated the authorities offer him a truce and Donald, tired of being on the run for over a year is prepared to trust them.
Despite the repeated warning of his friends (especially his close friend Augusta who would meet with him regularly out at Ayres Sugarbush to keep him up to date with all the news and also try to keep his spirits up), Donald once again puts his faith in the law, and in this False Truce.
This faith and trust are repaid with treachery, and he walks into The Trap set for him; for Donald his Freedom Days are over, and when he loses his freedom, he also loses his faith in justice, sentenced to 18 years imprisonment for manslaughter, his friends continue the fight for justice, but Donald has lost the will to live. After 4 years, his friends win him a pardon, but Donald’s fight is over, The Sentence Passed, and he dies tragically on the day of his release 19th of June 1894.
* * *
Rugadh Dòmhnall Moireasdan ann a baile beag Megantic an Quebec anns a’ bhliadhna 1858, am mac a b’ òige ann an teaghlach eilthireach à Alba. Bliadhnaichean ro seo thàinig air a phàrantan, Murchadh agus Beathag Mhoireasdan, eilean an àraich, Leòdhas fhàgail ri linn cruadh-chàs am beatha, agus seòladh air Bàta an Dòchais gu Canada, gu beatha às ùr a dhèanaibh dhaibh fhèin. Cha robh e furasta idir do na h-eilthirich beatha às ùr a dhèanaibh dhaibh fhèin, oir bha Tìr a’ Phailteis loma làn de chealg agus eu-ceartas.
Air sgàth gur e a b’ òige den teaghlach b’ e Dòmhnall an duine mu dheireadh a dh’fhàg an dachaigh. Mar iomadach fear de leithid, rinn e a shlighe an iar a shireadh fhortain, agus bhiodh e an-còmhnaidh a’ cur airgead gu a phàrantan ach am pàigheadh iad fiachan na dachaigh. An dèidh sin air An Turas Dhachaigh, bha làn dhùil aige gum biodh na fiachan a-nis uile pàighte.
Do Leòdhasach mar Murchadh, athair Dhòmhnaill, bha facal duine na cheangal daingeann nach fheumadh tu ach sin fhèin; bha e air fìachan na dachaigh a phàigheadh gu lèir, gun ghuth air bonn no cuidhteas, fhaighinn air an son. Chaidh Macamhlaidh, am fear bhon fhuaireadh iasad an airgid às àicheadh gun d’ fhuair e sgillinn ruadh air ais. Chuir e na Moireasdanaich chun na sittig agus leis A’ Cheilg reic e an taigh aca ri Frangach. Rinn Dòmhnall oidhirp mhòr air ceartas fhaighinn tron lagh, ach bu dìomhain sin dha, is dh’fhàg sin e lan de chorraich agus de ghamhlas.
Le bacadh bho cheartas fhaighinn tron lagh ghabh Dòmhnall cùisean na làmhan fhèin agus thoisich e ri briseadh an lagha; bha muinntir na coimhearsnachd ga dhìon, ach a-nis bha duais air a cheann, is chaidh fear Lucias Jack Warren, eucoireach aithnichte a shuidheachadh gus Dòmhnall a thoirt a-steach beò no marbh.
An dèigh do Dhòmhnall Warren a mharbhadh ga dhìon fhèin bhuaidhe, bha e air a chomharrachadh leis an ùghdarras mar mhuirtear a dh’aindeoin Teasairginn Dhòmhnaill. Dh’fhairich e Uaigneas nuair a bha iad an tòir air mar Am Fògarrach, ach a dh’aindeoin aonaranachd bha e fhathast air a dhìon le caraidean a bha dìleas dha, agus airson sin bha e gu math Taingeil.
Cha deach eadhan aig ceud saighdear à Montreal air Dòmhnall a ghlacadh; bha an t-ùghdarras a-nis deiseil gu fosadh sìth a thairgse dha, is bha Dòmhnall air a bhith fad bliadhna bhon ruaig deiseil gus gabhail ris an tairgse.
A dh’aindeoin rabhaidhean a chàirdean (gu sònraichte a leannan Augusta a bha a’ coinneachadh ris gu tric aig Preas an t-Siùcair Ayres, far an robh i a’ toirt dha gach naidheachd, agus a’ feuchainn ri togail inntinn a thoirt dha), bha Dòmhnall uair eile deiseil gus earbsa a chur anns an lagh, agus anns An Fhosadh Chealgach seo. Chaidh an earbsa sin a dhìoladh dha le cealgaireachd is chaidh A Ribeadh anns an lìon, agus do Dhòmhnall a-nis, bha a Làithean Saorsa a’ tighinn gu ceann, agus le call a shaorsa, chaill e am beagan creideis a bha aige an an ceartas, is mu dheireadh thall chaill e eadhan a mhiann gu bhith beò fhein; b’ i a’ bhinn a chaidh air Dòmhnall gun deach ochd bliadhna deug de phriosan air, airson murt.
Lean a chàirdean a’ sabaid airson ceartas fhaighinn dha, is an ceann ceithir bliadhna, bhuanaich iad mathanas agus saorsa dha, ach bha strì Dhòmhnaill a-nis seachad, bha A’ Bhinn Seachad, agus bhàsaich e gu cianail air an latha cheudna a leigeadh ma sgaoil e, air an naoidhaibh latha deug den Ògmhios 1894.