ANGUS MCPHEE - Weaver of Grass

ANGUS MCPHEE or MACPHEE was a crofter from Uist who spent almost 50 years in a Highland psychiatric hospital. During this time he chose not to speak - instead he wove a series of incredible costumes out of grass. These he hung on trees in the hospital grounds.

This blog follows the progress of HORSE + BAMBOO THEATRE as they develop and tour a show about Angus....

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The bard John MacAskill

It crossed my mind to find something more about the photographer who had taken the evocative photographs of Angus during his last years back in Uist (see recent blogs). In doing this I came across not only the photographs but the writing of Timothy Neat and, in particular, a very special book 'The Voice of the Bard': Living Poets and Ancient Tradition in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland'.

It's a lovely book, larger than I expected, and takes the form of interviews or biographical portraits, written in the first person, with a dozen or so bards - poets and singers who continue a rich and ancient tradition but are rarely heard outside of their own communities. It also has a short essay on the history of the bardic tradition by Dr John MacInnes. It's available at the moment (via Amazon) at the amazing bargain price of £9.99.

One of the bards portrayed in the book is John MacAskill, of Grimsay, North Uist, and he talks about Angus MacPhee "many men went away with the Lovat Scouts in both world wars. One of them came back to South Uist last year after more than 50 years away. His name is Angus MacPhee and he was from Iochdar. It's beautiful story. We saw a man talking about him on the television." He goes on to tell this story in his own way, making powerful points through his use of language "...he was brought back by aeroplane, all those years after he set out on his horse."

John MacAskill ends his piece with this.

"When I heard the story of Angus MacPhee, it's a very strange thing, but a lullaby came into my mind. Its called 'Blue Donald's Lullaby' and it used to be sung by Mrs Archie MacDonald, up in South Uist. She's dead these many years. It's a lovely song, and it's very old."

The sun rising
And it without a spot on it,
Nor on the stars
When the son of my King
Comes fully armed,
The strength of the universe with you,
The strength of the sun
And the strength of the bull
That leaps highest.

That woman asked
Another woman,
What ship is that
Close to the shoreline?
It's Donald's ship,
Three masts of willow on it,
A rudder of gold on it,
A well of wine in it,
A well of pure water in it. 

(Trad. trans. HH)

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