Nach fhreagair thu Cairistiona?

An anonymous text, possibly composed around 1500. Other than its general location and the name of the deceased girl, the song reveals little concerning its provenance, but is remarkable for being one of the very few Gaelic songs addressed by a female author to a female subject (and, moreover, for praising the extent of her education; cf. Frater & Byrne 2012, p. 30).


Nach fhreagair thu, Chairistiòna? [i] 

È hó hì ura bhì
Ho ro ho ì, ó ho ro ho,
È hó hì ura bhì. 

Nach fhreagar thu, Chairistiona?
           È hó, etc.
[Nach fhreagair thu, chuilein dhìlis?]
Nam freagradh, gun cluinninn fhìn thu,
            È hó, etc. 

Bha mi bliadhna 'n cùirt an rìgh leat [ii
'S ged chanainn e, bha mi an trì ann –
Fuaigheal anairt, a’ gearradh shìoda,
'S a' cur grainn'[iii] air léinidh rìomhaich 


Thug mi turas do Ghleann Comhann,
'S bha 'm muir àrd 's an caolas domhain[n]
Gheàrr mi leum 's cha d’rinn mi thomhas
Gun leum na h-uiseagan romham
'S thuirt iad rium nach dèanainn gnothach,

Nach fhaighinn mo mhuime romham,
Ceann na cèille, beul na comhairl’,
Sgrìobhadh 's a leughadh an leabhar;
Bhìodh na h-uaislean ort a’ tadhal
Cha b’ ann gu mealladh an gnothaich.


'S iomadh long is bàrc is birlinn
Is luingeas a tha 'm beul Chaol Ìle
Tighinn a dh’ iarraidh Cairistìona;
Chan ann gu pòsadh mhic rìgh leat,
Gus do chur 'san talamh ìseal,
Fo leaca troma na dìleann. 


Fhleasgaich oig na gruaige duibhe,
'S ann an nochd as mòr do mhulad;
Do leannan a-staigh fo dhubhar
An ciste nam bòrd air a cumadh,
An dèidh na saoir a bhith 'ga dubhadh.

[i] Title from HF1, p. 54, cf. ASWP, p. 42 & DnS, p. 421; untitled in KCC, p. 87. Text from HF1, pp. 54‒6. A slightly longer text of 46 lines was collected by K. C. Craig (KCC, pp. 87‒8);
[ii] Meg Bateman has suggested that this is a reference to the court of the Lords of Isles, which, if so, may date the song’s original composition prior to 1494 when the Lordship was declared forfeit by James IV. It is just as likely, however, that the song’s environment, like its overall tone, is retrospective. 
[iii] Lit., ‘putting tiny things, seeds’ i.e. ‘to embroider’?


Won’t you answer, Cairistiona? 

È hó hì ura bhì. 
Ho ro ho ì, ó ho ro ho,
È hó hì ura bhì. 

Won't you answer, Cairistiona?
          È hó, etc.
Won’t you answer, faithful pup?
I’d hear you, if you did.
            È hó, etc. 

A year I spent with you in the King's court,
Though it seemed like spending three    
Sewing silk and linen
And adorning beautiful shirts. 


I travelled to Glencoe,
The waves were high and the narrows deep
I took a leap, but judged it poorly
So that I leapt into the water.
They told me I wouldn’t achieve my end,

And wouldn't find my wet-nurse,
Sensible mind, prudent mouth,
You could write, and read the Bible;
Noblemen would often visit
And would do pleasing business. 


There's many a ship, barque and birlinn
And fleet at the mouth of Caol Ìle,
Come in search of Cairistiona;
Not to wed you to a king’s son,
But to put you deep in the ground,
Under heavy, sodden stones. 


It's the dark-haired young man
Who’s most saddened tonight;
Your sweetheart closed up in the dark
In a box of deal planks,
After joiners blackened them.

ASWP: KERRIGAN, C. (1991). An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets, with Gaelic translations by Meg BATEMAN. Edinburgh.
DnS: MCLEOD, W. & Meg BATEMAN, eds. (2006). Duanaire na Sracaire: The song-book of the pillagers. Edinburgh.
HF: Hebridean Folksongs, 3 volumes, i.e. CAMPBELL, J. L. & Francis COLLINSON. (1969, 1977 & 1981). Hebridean Folksongs: Waulking songs from Barra, South Uist, Eriskay and Benbecula. Oxford.
KCC: CRAIG, K. C. (1949). Òrain luaidh Màiri nighean Alasdair. Glasgow.
FRATER, Anne C. & Michel BYRNE. (2012). ‘Gaelic poetry and song’, in The Edinburgh Companion to Scottish Women’s Writing, ed. NORQUAY, Glenda. Edinburgh; pp. 22‒35.