Failte gu Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle

30th May 2013:  140 Islay musicians collaborate on Blàr: a unique performance of a community musical event celebrating the Islay Bard, William Livingstone

 Blàr (Battle) is a community musical event taking place on the Isle of Islay on 30th May, which will see 140 island musicians staging a performance of new Gaelic music composed by the outstanding Gaelic traditional musician Clare Jordan.  The new music is based on a Gaelic poem by the long-neglected Islay bard, William Livingstone, that tells the story of the infamous Battle of Gruinart which took place in Islay in 1598.  Every musical group on the island will take part: the traditional instrumentalists from Feis Oigridh, the island brass band, all the primary school Gaelic choirs, the community youth Gaelic choir, the Islay High School choir, the senior Gaelic choir and the Islay Pipe Band. The performance will be an innovative multimedia event, featuring a dynamic digital art work commissioned from local artist and writer Raymond Lafferty.

Clare Jordan said: 

“Last year Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle asked me to compose a suite of three songs with words from William Livingstone’s poem Blàr Traigh Ghruineart.  I wasn’t familiar with Livingstone’s poetry when I started, but I became fascinated by this forgotten masterpiece.  

"The Battle of Gruinart was the last clan war fought on Islay.  Behind Livingstone’s bloody, brutal depictions of 16th century Scottish warfare is the tragic story of two families, the MacDonalds of Islay and the MacLean of Mull, torn apart over claims to ownership of Islay lands.  Sir Lachlan Mòr MacLean was killed in the Battle, and he was Sir James MacDonald’s uncle.  There’s a further layer to the poem: the folklore and legends surrounding the battle and in particular the story of the evil Dubh Sìth (Black Fairy) who in a spiteful rage killed MacLean of Mull with an arrow.  These stories are well-known on Islay, but we’re now going to be sharing them with a wider audience.”

Iseabail Mactaggart Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle’s conductor said:

“This is a thrilling event to have produced.  The three songs Clare composed for the choir are wonderful, and linking them together with new instrumental passages has produced a really stunning new work.  Bringing 140 performers together has been a considerable challenge, but it has brought together people from all age groups with different musical interests and from all corners of Islay, uniting them in common cause.  This is truly a community arts event and Islay has never before seen anything on this scale and of this ambition. 

"We are delighted to have Raymond Lafferty on board. He is working with Islay young people at RSPB Gruinart to produce a stunning digital film which dovetails with the music.  Children from all the Islay and Jura primary schools are working on producing their own artworks based on the stories in the poem, and we are thrilled with the results.  Although Gaelic poetry is at the heart of this project, we have been determined that this will not be a barrier and that Blàr will be fully accessible to non-Gaelic speakers.   The scale and ambition of the project means that we can only have only give performances on one day, during Islay’s exceptionally busy Fèis Ìle week.  We already know that our audience will not only be a local audience but an international one, too.”

performances of Blàr will take place in Bowmore Hall, Islay on the evening of Thursday, 30th May at 6:30pm and again at 8:00pm. 

Tickets for the 8:00pm performance are SOLD OUT! 
There are a small number of tickets still available for the 6:30pm performance. 
Tickets cost £10. and are available through the Fèis Ìle/Islay Festival committee at www.islayinfo.com/festival-payments/ 
There will be a very small number of tickets available for the 6:30pm performance, which can be purchased at the door. 

We gratefully acknowledge support from:

Argyll & Bute Council

Awards for All

Bòrd na Gàidhlig

Caledonian MacBrayne

Comunn na Gàidhlig

The Mactaggart Third Fund

The Schroder Foundation

Iomairt Ghàidhlig Ìle agus Dhiùra


Videos of Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle singing at our reception at RSPB Loch Gruinart, launching the new  "Blàr Thraigh Ghruineart" songs;
An original poem written by Islay Bard William Livinstone, set to  music composed and arranged by Clare Jordan.


Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle has recently commissioned talented young traditional musician Clare Jordan to compose  choral arrangements for texts from Islay poet Uilleam MacDhùnlèibhe’s "Blàr Thraigh Ghruineart"  (William Livingstone’s ‘Battle of Gruinart Strand’).  The songs were commissioned for the choir’s own choice pieces, to be sung in competitions at the 2012 National Mòd in Dunoon this October.  All three songs will be given their first public performance in Islay by Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle at a special event on 11th October, to be held at Gruinart in a venue near the scene of the 1598 battle between the MacDonalds of Islay and the MacLeans of Mull, the subject of MacDhùnlèibhe’s epic masterpiece.

 Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle’s conductor, Iseabail Mactaggart, said:

“The seeds of this project were sown almost two years ago.  We wanted to inspire the young people of Islay through the folklore and the stories from the island’s history that had inspired the great Gaelic Bards of Islay.  This led to a project with Clare Jordan in the summer of 2011, which focused on the work of four Islay Bards; William Livingstone, Duncan and Charles MacNiven of Kilchoman, and Duncan Johnstone.  Poems were chosen which had never previously been set to music, and new music was written for them by Clare Jordan.  Islay children learned and performed these pieces at a public concert, and it was a huge success.

"Blàr Thraigh Ghruineart" is a masterpiece, but because MacDhùnlèibhe’s work was not set to music it has not been passed down through the generations to audiences at ceilidhs and concerts.  "Blàr Thraigh Ghruineart" is a rich and emotional epic that deals with a very important event in Islay’s history.  The poem is full of Islay folklore and vivid imagery.  We have selected three segments from the poem which capture the raw power and the drama of the story.  Clare’s melodies and arrangements are superb, and we are very much looking forward to performing these pieces at the National Mòd and for Islay audiences.”

 Clare Jordan said:  “This was a brave and an ambitious project, as neither the choir nor I myself could have had any idea of what these pieces would be like until they were completed.  The choir’s commitment to the project and their supporting me has been wonderful.

“I was not familiar with Uilleam MacDhùnlèibhe’s work until I worked with Iseabail, but "Blàr Thraigh Ghruineart" provided rich pickings for a musician.  Our main difficulty was in narrowing down the options.  I know that Còisir Ghàidhlig IÌe will perform the songs beautifully and I know they feel proud that MacDhùnlèibhe, as a son of Islay, wrote such wonderful Gaelic words that can still inspire us a century and a half after they were written.”

 Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle will perform the new songs at the RSPB Visitor Centre at Gruinart, Islay on Thursday 11th October at 7.30 pm.  The choir would like to thank RSPB Loch Gruinart for their support of this community venture.


Blàr Thràigh Ghruineart (the Battle of Gruinard Strand) was fought at Gruinard, Islay in 1598 as the result of a dispute between the MacDonalds of Islay and the MacLeans of Mull over ownership of the Rhinns of Islay.  Sir Lachlan Mòr MacLean Chief of the Clan MacLean was the uncle of Sir James MacDonald, Chief of the Clan MacDonald (Sir Lachlan was the brother of Sir James’ mother).  Despite being heavily outnumbered, the MacDonalds won the day.  There were heavy losses on the MacLean side and Sir Lachlan was killed by an arrow shot through his eye fired, according to folklore, by the Dubh Sith (Black Dwarf). 

The suite of three pieces covers key elements of the poem:   Caomhnaibh Bràthair Mo Mhàthair reflects on the consequences of losing the battle and the repeated refrain urges mercy for Sir James MacDonald’s uncle Lachlan Mòr MacLean.  O Albainn Caoidh laments the loss of young Highlanders’ lives through the battle.  The song vividly conveys the brutality of the battle and tells the story of the killing of Sir Lachlan Mor by the Dubh Sith. Cumha Mhic ‘Ill’Leathain is a haunting lament for Sir Lachlan MacLean.  All words by William Livingstone, melodies and arrangements by Clare Jordan. 



Uilleam MacDhùnlèibhe  (William Livingstone) 1808-1870 was born in Gartmain near Bowmore, Islay.   MacDhùnlèibhe eventually settled in Glasgow and wrote poetry in his native Gaelic.  His work focused on ‘big themes’ such as history, war, the depopulation of the Highlands and the clearances.  He was largely self-educated (he reputedly taught himself to read Greek, Latin, French and Hebrew in order to read original texts) but wrote using a wide vocabulary in elegant Gaelic.  In 1882, twelve years after MacDhùnlèibhe’s  death, Archibald Sinclair and An Comunn Ileach (The Islay Association) published Duain agus Òrain, a collection of MacDhùnlièbhe’s poetry and writings. 

Iseabail Mactaggart is a native Gaelic speaker, born and brought up in Islay, and who won the National Mòd Gold Medal in 2004.  Iseabail has lived and worked in Shanghai, Glasgow and London and returned to Islay in 2005. She is Chair of Fèis Òigridh Ìle is Dhiùra and has been conductor of Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle since 2007. 

Clare Jordan was born and brought up in Connel.  She has been closely involved with the Fèisean Nan Gaidheal movement over a number of years and was awarded a degree in Traditional Music from Sàbhal Mòr Ostaig in 2011.  Clare is a professional musician and composer who is currently living and working in Islay.


 Tha Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle air ceòladair tradaiseanta, tàlantach Clare Jordan fhastadh gus òrain rianachd a sgrìobhadh stèidhichte air a’ bhàrdachd Blàr Tràigh Ghruineart aig bàrd Ìleach Uilleam MacDhùnlèibhe.  Tha na h-òrain air an sgrìobhadh airson roghainn a’ Choisir aig Mòd Nàiseanta Rìoghail Dhùn Omhain 2012.  Thèid an gabhail airson na ciad uair gu poblach ann an Ìle air 11 Dàmhair aig Gruinart, aig làrach a’ bhlàir 1598 eadar Clann Dòmhnaill Ìle agus Clann MhicIlleathain à Muile.  Tha am blàr seo na chuspair airson an sàr-phìos bhàrdachd aig MacDhùnleibhe. 

Thuirt Stiùiriche Choisir Ghàidhlig Ìle Iseabail Nic an t-Sagairt: “Chaidh bunait a’ phròiseict seo a chur air dòigh bho chionn dà bhliadhna.  Bha sinn ag iarraidh dùsgadh- inntinn adhbharachadh a-measg òigridh Ìle tro bheul-aithris agus sgeulachdan eachdraidheil a bha nan spionnadh do Bhàird Ìle.  Lean seo gu pròiseact le Clare Jordan ann an 2011.  A-mach à seo, thàinig trì pìosan ciùil stèidhichte air bàrdachd bàird Ìle nach robh a-riamh air an taisbeanadh tro cheòl.  Dh’ionnsaich a’ chloinn na pìosan seo agus ghabh iad na h-òrain aig cuirm-ciùil a bha glè shoirbheachail. 

‘S e sàr-phìos bhàrdachd a th’ ann an Blàr Tràigh Ghruineart ach air sgath ‘s nach deach a stèidheachadh do cheòl cha deach am pìos a ghabhail aig cèilidhean agus cuirmean tro na linntean. Tha  Blàr Tràigh Ghruineart na phìos mhòr, thòcail a tha dèiligeadh ri àm chudromach ann an eachdraidh Ìle.  Tha e làn beul-aithris Ìle agus smuaintean beòthail.  Thaghadh sinn trì pàirtean às a’ bhàrdachd a tha taisbeanadh cumhachd agus dràma na sgeulachd Tha an ceòl aig Clare air leth math agus tha sinn gu mòr a’ coimhead air adhart ri na h-òrain seo a ghabhail ann an Ìle agus aig a’ Mhòd Nàiseanta”. 

Thuirt Clare Jordan: “B’ e pròiseact mòr a bha seo seo dhomhsa agus don choisir oir nach robh beachd againn air coltas nam pìosan mus deach crìoch a chur orra.  Tha taic agus spionnadh a’ Choisir air a bhith na thoileachas dhomh. 

Cha robh mi eòlach air bàrdachd Uilleim MhicDhùnleibhe gus an do dh’obraich mi ri Iseabail ann an 2011 ach bha Blàr Tràigh Ghruineart na stòras làidir airson neach-ciùil sam bith.  B’ e a’ phrìomh dhùbhlan dhomh a bhith teannadh air na cothroman.  Tha fhios ‘m gun gabh Còisir Ghàidhlig Ìle na h-òrain gu snog agus iad pròiseil às MacDhùnleibhe, mar fhear à Ìle, a sgrìobh pìos a tha na thogail dhuinn linn gu leth as dèidh dha an sgrìobhadh.”

 Bidh Coisir Ghàidhlig Ìle a’ gabhail na h-òrain seo gu luchd-èisteachd aig Ionad-tadhail Chomann Rìoghail Dìon nan Eun, Gruinart, Ìle, Diardaoin 11 Dàmhair aig 1930.