This tune is attributed to Raghnall Mac Ailein Òig (1662-1741), known in English as Ronald MacDonald of Morar. He is well known in oral tradition as the local strong man and hero, and was a reknowned musician on the bagpipes, and also on the fiddle, and also on the clàrsach.
Raghnall’s tunes are still played today by the pipers, but to reclaim this enigmatic piece for the clarsach tradition I went to the earliest written version - a fiddle setting from Patrick MacDonald’s Collection of Highland Vocal Airs, published in 1784.
On the pipes, the drones sound continuously, and the fiddle uses retunings to get droning open strings, but the fiddle setting clearly indicates an ambiguous or shifting drone which I have tried to emulate. I also listened to the master piper and singer Calum Johnson, whose cannteraichd is available on the Tobar an Dualchais website.
The title by the way, is a real enigma. The pipers translate it as “The Finger Lock” which does not explain very much. I was once approached by a Gaelic speaker after performing it in Glasgow, who said it referred to arthritis. I prefer to imagine that it is connected to the old Gaelic musical terms Glas or Gleis.
© Simon Chadwick 2012 - earlygaelicharp.info/laments