On Wednesday evening, the Friends of the Innerpeffray Library had the pleasure of attending a talk by Margaret Bennett, a Scottish folklorist and ethnologist. Ms. Bennett was discussing Scottish customs and traditions, as per her book, “Scottish Customs from the Cradle to the Grave”. Two of the loveliest points of the evening were when Ms. Bennet sang traditional Gaelic songs, one a lullaby, and the other a lament entitled “The Lament of Gregor MacGregor”. She reminded her audience of the importance of music in the milestone events of birth and burial. Lullabies, she noted, are a unique time of intimacy between a parent and baby as they interact through eye contact and the human voice. Ms. Bennett also taught us that in times of mourning, the ability to sing signifies the ability to live through tragedy. Some men and women even joined in with Ms. Bennett as she sang her lullaby and her lament, showing the threads of Scottish culture which ran through our group.
There are many traditional songbooks held in the Innerpeffray Library. On display now is the manuscript of a song written by Robert Burns, which was published in Perry’s Morning Chronicle on May 10, 1794. The song is written to Burns’ landlord’s daughter, Janet Miller, whom Burns affectionately refers to as Jeanie in his lyrics. “Wilt thou be my Dearie?”, writes Burns. “When Sorrow wrings thy gentle heart,/Wilt thou let me chear thee?” The page ends as Burns begs, “Jeanie say, thou loe’s me;/ Or if thou wilt na be my ane,/Say na thou’lt refuse me…” This song was inspired by a sweet folly of the heart, a bit different from the weightier subjects of birth and death inspiring the Gaelic tunes sung by Ms. Bennett.
Another offering from Innerpeffray is the tome “Ballad Minstrelsy of Scotland”, published in 1893. It describes a traditional Scottish ballad as “short narrative poems, each celebrating a real or fancied event, and suitable for singing or chanting to some simple natural melody”. We are strictly reminded that ballads “often are, but ought not to be, confounded with songs, which, properly speaking, are the more polished and artistic vehicles of ‘sentiment, expression, or even description’”. This book of minstrelsy provides us with such stories as “The Birth of Robin Hood”, “The Battle of Balrinnes”, and “The Lament of the Border Widow”, whose husband was slain by the king. We can see that these stories do mark lifetime events, such as birth and death, just as Ms. Bennett’s songs did, and perhaps you could even read the words with a “simple, natural melody” in mind.
Here is a wonderful interview with Margaret Bennett backed by several recordings of Gaelic songs, for those who missed her talk or for those who simply want more: