A phiùthrag ‘s a phiuthar (Sister’s lament)

Leggi in Italiano

“Sister’s lament” (Sister or sister) is a Scottish Gaelic song from the Hebrides, where a young girl kidnapped by the fairies calls her sister to come to her rescue: in the song the fairy hideout is described. The song is included in the collection “Songs of the Hebrides”, Vol 1 by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser with the title “A Fairy Plaint” (Ceol-brutha).

In folk tales, fairies are not benevolent creatures at all, attracted by the strength and vitality of mankind, they kidnap children and especially newborns, or seduce (for the purpose of kidnapping) a lot of beautiful youths.
The fairy abduction was once an attempt to rationalize the loss of loved ones, it was a great consolation thinking that the fairies had stolen that young life from a sad fate, or it was an explanation for abnormal behavior, such as autism or depression. Thus an “absent” behavior amounted to a rapture of the soul and the victim felt like a prisoner in the enchanted Kingdom; a great danger came from food, because it was enough a tasting to preserve a tormenting desire, very often fatal.

CELTIC TALE

Two sisters lived in a valley not far from a circle of fairies, where elves held a night market, offering a wide selection of juicy and tasty fruit. The market was invisible to human eyes, but one night the girls saw him: the older sister escaped frightened, but the younger intrigued, let himself be involved in the market and gave a lock of her golden hair for those fruits so inviting.
She returned home only after eating at will and the next night, driven by hunger that human food could no longer satisfy, she went to look for the elf market, no longer finding it. The older sister, realizing that her little sister was prey to an inexplicable malaise that consumed her, sought in turn the magical place, managing to find it; nevertheless the elves would have yielded their fruits only if the elder sister had also banquished with them; the girl fearing the end of her sister, she stubbornly refused, despite the elves, who did everything, even slamming the fruit in her face and pressing them against her mouth. So some juice remained on her lips ..

Goblin-Market-Arthur-Rackham
Goblin Market. Arthur Rackham.

At dawn the girl managed to return home to give a last farewell to her dying sister, a last sweet kiss .. that was how the little sister from her lips tasted elven food, her hunger was satisfied and she found healing.

A phiùthrag ‘s a phiuthar

The song shares the structure of the waulking songs and was originally perhaps a work song. The melody is very sad and some assume it is a funeral lament.

Flora MacNeil learned the song from a relative of the island of Mingulay
live in Tobar an Dualchais

Margaret Stewart in Togidh mi mo Sheolta (Along The Road Less Travelled)

Julie Fowlis in Alterum (follow the Calum Johnston version here)

The structure of the song repeats the last sentence as the first sentence in the next stanza. The choral part of the song is entrusted to “vocables”

English translation Flora MacNeil
I
Little sister, sister
My love, my sister [beloved sister]
Do you not pity(1)
My grief tonight
II
Do you not pity
My grief tonight
In a little hut(2) I am
Low and narrow
III
In a little hut I am
Low and narrow
With no roof of turf
and no thatch entwined (3)
IV
With no roof of turf
and no thatch entwined
But the rain from the hills
streaming into it(4)
V (english translation John Lorne Campbell)
But the rain from the hills
Streaming into it
I am a poor woman
sad and miserable.
VI
I am a poor woman
sad and miserable.
I climbed up
Ben Sgrìobain
VII
I climbed up
Ben Sgrìobain
and Laigheabhal Mhòr
with it’s spotted horses
VIII
and Laigheabhal Mhòr
with it’s spotted horses
I didn’t find there
what I wanted,
IX
I didn’t find there
what I wanted,
A girl
with hair like a golden daisy.
Irish gaelic, Flora MacNeil version
I
A phiùthrag ‘s a phiuthar, hu ru
Ghaoil a phiuthar, hu ru
Nach truagh leat fhèin, ho ho ill eo
Nochd mo chumha,
hu ru
II
Nach truagh leat fhèin, hu ru
nochd mo chumha, hu ru
Mi’m bothan beag, ho ho ill eo
ìseal cumhag, hu ru
III
Mi’m bothan beag, hu ru
ìseal cumhag, hu ru
Gun sgrath dhìon, ho ho ill eo
Gun lùb tughaidh, hu ru
IV
Gun sgrath dhìon air, hu ru
Gun lùb tughaidh hu ru, hu ru
Ach uisge nam beann, ho ho ill eo
Sìos ‘na shruth leis, hu ru
V (Calum Johnston version)
Ach uisge nam beann,
Sìos ‘na shruth leis,
’S mise bhean bhochd
chianail, dhuilich.
VI
’S mise bhean bhochd
chianail, dhuilich.
Dhìrich mi suas
Beinn an Sgrìobain,
VII
Dhìrich mi suas
Beinn an Sgrìobain,
’S Laigheabhal Mhòr (5)
nan each grìs-fhionn. (6)
VIII
’S Laigheabhal Mhòr
nan each grìs-fhionn.
Cha d’ fhuair mi ann,
na bha dhìth orm
IX
Cha d’ fhuair mi ann
na bha dhìth orm
Tè bhuidhe,
’s a 
falt mar dhìthein.

NOTE
1) “Can you not pity” or” Would you not pity me my mourning tonight”
2) “Small my dwelling”, or little bothy
3) or Gun lùb sìomain, (Without a roof-rope)
gun ghad tughaidh (or a wisp of thatch.)
4) “hillside wate like a running stream” or “Water from the peaks in a stream down through it”
5)  or  Flora MacNeil version: Hèabhal mhòr= Mighty Heaval
Heaval is the highest hill of Barra Island located north-east of Castlebay, the main village.
6) or  Flora MacNeil version: Nan each dhriumfhionn= with the white-maned horses.
Horses are those of fairies and therefore white. It could be the palomino or cremello breed. The origin of the Palomino is very old, in fact it is believed that golden horses with tail and silver mane were ridden by the first emperors of China. Achilles, the mythical Greek hero, rode Balios and Xantos, which were “yellow and golden, faster than the storm winds”. The cremello instead has the particularity of the blue eye, the coat is white with silver reflections.

A Fairy Plaint (Ceol-brutha)

The version of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser (as collected by the song of Mrs. Macdonald, Skallary, Isle of Barra

Kenneth MacLeod lyrics
Would you not pity me, o sister?
O hi o hu o ho
Would you not pity me my mourning tonight?
O hi o hu o ho
My little hut
Without a bent rope or a wisp of thatch
Water from the peaks
in a stream down through it
But that’s not the cause of my sorrow

Nach truagh leat fhéin phiùthrag a phiuthar
O hi o hu o ho
Nach truagh leat fhéin nochd mo cumha
O hi o hu o ho
Nach truagh leat fhéin nochd mo cumha
‘S mise bhean bhochd chianail dhubhach
‘S mise bhean bhochd chianail dhubhach
Mi’m bothan beag iosal cumhann
Mi’m bothan beag iosal cumhann
Gun lùb siomain gun sop tughaibh
Gun lùb siomain gun sop tughaibh
Uisge nam beann sios ‘na shruth leis
Uisge nam beann sios ‘na shruth leis
Ged’s oil leam sin cha’n e chreach mi
Ged’s oil leam sin cha’n e chreach mi
Cha’n e chuir mi cha’n e fhras mi

Rory Dall’s Sister’s Lament

Cumh Peathar Ruari — Rory Dall’s Sister’s Lament was composed by Daniel Dow about 1778 (in A Collection of Ancient Scots Music for the violin, harpsichord or German flute) referring to the analysis of the melody here

Ossian in “Borders” 1984

Sources
http://www.omniglot.com/songs/gaelic/aphiuthrag.php
http://www.celticlyricscorner.net/maggiemacinnes/aphiuthrag.htmdhttp://www.tobarandualchais.co.uk/en/fullrecord/62594/9;jsessionid=89A212440240A80FF960AD2D4B425BD3
http://research.culturalequity.org/get-audio-detailed-recording.do?recordingId=11984
http://www.educationscotland.gov.uk/scotlandssongs/about/songs/supernatural/index.asp
http://mudcat.org/thread.cfm?threadid=69117

http://www.earlygaelicharp.info/tunes/CumhPeatharRuari/
https://thesession.org/tunes/15575
http://www.cynthiacathcart.com/articles/rory_dall_lament.html