N MacDonald (1896): The Exile’s Dream

Contributed by Michael Newton

Niall Domhnallach (Neil MacDonald) was a leader of Comunn Gàilig New York (The Gaelic Society of New York), which was established in 1895. An original poem of his appeared in The Scottish-American Journal (printed in New York) on 25 March 1896 entitled “Aisling an Fhògarraich” (“The Exile’s Dream, or Vision”). The translation into English is by Michael Newton.

This poem is a fairly typical poem of exile, focusing entirely on idyllic memories of an idealized homeland and wishes to return there. There are virtually no details about his origins or place of residence.

“Nuair a chaidh mi an-raoir do m’ leabaidh
Cha b’ann gu fois no gu suain
Oir bha mo chridhe trom brònach
’S mo dhùthaich fad thar a’ chuain.”

“Ach sgìth le m’ osnaich ’s dian dùrachd
A bhith far an d’ fhuair mi mo bhreith
Thuit sgàil na h-oidhche air mo shùilean
Agus bhruadair mi a bhith aig an teach.”

“Chunnaic mi m’ athair is mo mhàthair,
Mo bhraithrean is companaich m’ òige,
Is caileag bhòidheach nan donn sùil
A thug dhomh mar àbhaist a pòg.”

“Chunnaic mi ceò air bharr a’ mhonaidh,
Am fraoch fo mo chasan fo bhlàth
’S an smeòrach ’s a’ phreas binn a’ freagairt
A’ ghuilbnich thùrsaich bho’n tràigh.”

“Agus thog mi mo shùil gus na speuran
An-sin dh’amhairc mi sìos air an làr,
A-rithist mu’n cuairt air an tìr:
Cnoic, sruthan is na h-achaidhean fo bharr.”

“Agus dhùisg mi le lànachd mo chridhe;
Bhrist aoibhneas do-labhairt mo shuain
Agus tha mi fhathast air faontradh
O m’ dhùthaich tha fad thar a’ chuain.”

“When I went last night to my bed
It was not for rest or deep slumber,
For my heart was heavy and sad,
While my homeland is far across the ocean.”

Translation

“But tired from sighing and intense longing
To be in the land of my birth
Nighttime’s curtain fell on my eyes
And I dreamed about being at home.”

“I saw my father and my mother,
My brothers and the friends of my youth,
And a lovely brown-eyed lass
Who used to kiss me.”

“I saw mist over the top of the moor,
The blooming heather under my feet,
The mavis in the bush sweetly answering
The sad curlew from the seashore.”

“And I raised my eyes to the heavens
Then I looked down to the ground
And again around the land:
Hills, streams, and harvest-ready fields.”

“And I awoke with the fullness of my heart;
Indescribable joy broke my sleep,
While I am still cast adrift
From my homeland that is far across the ocean.”