When I was delving into the School of Scottish Studies archives last year, for a project celebrating 70 years of the Sound Archives, I came across this interview by Calum MacLean in 1952 with Peter MacDonald from Glenmoriston.
Peter talks about about travelling dance masters and dance classes in Torgyle. It’s a wonderful interview and so great to hear native, mainland Gaelic from just 10minutes up the road from where I grew up in the Great Glen. (I will post a transcript of the interview in Gaelic and the English translation below this blog post)
Peter “Struy” MacDonald was an uncle of Hamish "Cluanie" MacDonald who lived in Fort Augustus and who was a close family friend to my own family. He was a descendant of one of the Seven Men of Glenmoriston who sheltered Prince Charlie after the '45 and was the keeper of a cuach that the prince had given to his ancestor. Unfortunately, the cuach disappeared after his death. (source)
Here is also a section from Calum MacLean’s book ‘The Highlands’, written in 1959:
‘Further down the strath at Crelevan near Struy lived Peter MacDonald and his son Charles - the latter named in honour of Price Charles Edward Stuart. Peter was a native of Glenmoriston and had first come to the strath as a gamekeeper but rose to the position of estate-manager. All the schooling he ever had was in the little primary school at Dalchreichart, Glenmoriston, but that could not deter a man of his ability. He was a veteran of the Boer War and had been decorated for valour. Peter had a lovely speaking voice and spoke the purest Gaelic and sang well too. He was full of the traditions of his native Glenmoriston and from his mother had inherited a good deal of the traditions of the now desolate Glenquoich, for she was born there. He was one of a large family. He gave a most interesting account of dancing schools and masters in Glenmoriston 70 years ago (ie c. 1880s/1890s). The dancing masters were itinerant and when they came to Glenmoriston and held classes during the winter evenings in the local school, the youngsters over a certain age all wished to avail themselves of the tuition. The fee for a dozen or so lessons amounted to something like 30 shillings, which in those days was a very considerable sum, and for members of large families it often meant that they had to do without footwear for the winter, if the tuition fees were to be paid. Of course, Peter, like so many of the other youngsters in Glenmoriston at that time, would go barefoot all winter rather than miss the dancing classes. The fees were paid and Peter went to the classes in his bare feet. They were there taught the Highland solo dances and other country dances popular at the time, but the dancing-master was as equally insistent on a high standard of deportment as on graceful and correct dancing. No dancer could rush across the room to grab a partner, no dancer could enter or leave the company without conforming to the rules laid down by the master, but in those humble surroundings the master had the barefoot youngsters of Glenmoriston bowing like so many Spanish Grandees.’
DANNSA AGUS SGOILTEAN DANNSAIDH
Bha m’ athair glè mhath air dannsa agus gu h-àraid air an stepaichean ris an can iad na Highland Flings an-diugh. Agus dh’ionnsaich e dhomhsa iad is cha robh mi ach dà bhliadhna dheug nuair a bha sgoil dannsa agam ann an Gleanna Moireasdainn. Agus choisinn mi a’ chiad bonn an sin, am bonn a b’ àirde ann. Agus bha beul ri dà fhichead pearsa a’ feuchainn ann. Agus cha robh dragh sam bith agam. Agus cha robh fiù brògan orma. Cha robh brògan ri fhaighinn.
Bhiodh maighstir-sgoil dannsair a’ dol mun cuairt MacDhùghaill agus Mryon. ’S ann aig Myron a bha mis’. ’S e feadhainn Ghallda a bha a’ tighinn. Bha iad a’ tiarsadh (charge) dà thasan deug air a h-uile duine a bha ag ionnsachadh aca.
Q. Cà ’m biodh iad ag ionnsachadh na cloinne?
Cà bheil an dà fhichead. Bha sgoil danns’ – dà fhichead pearsa ann an Tòrr a’ Ghoill. Agus choisinn mi agus cha robh brògan idir orm. Cha robh brògan ann. Bha MacDougall agus Mryon, bha iad sin na maighstrichean, a’ teagasg. Bhiodh iad a’ siubhal bho àite gu àite agus nuair a gheibheadh iad talla far am b’ urrainn dai’ gràinne, badan dhen òigridh a chruinneachadh bha iad gan toir a-staigh, is bha an dà thasdan deug ri phàigheadh – an dala leth an toiseach an sgoil danns’ agus an dala leth a-rithist as a dheaghaidh. Agus bha modh is ionnsachadh ann. Bha iad a’ toirt sin daibh cuideachd a’ faotainn sin ag ràdhainn?
Mu dheidhinn an sgoil dannsa an uair sin an t-àm a bha sin: tha sin beul ri a-mach thar trì fichead bliadhna. Well, bidh feadhainn an-diugh an dùil gun robh feadhainn cho fada air ais is nach robh modh na ionnsachadh aca is nach b’ urrainn dai’ iad fhèin a ghiùlain am measg cuideachd. Ach chan eil sin ceart, bhon a’ chiad ionnsachadh a gheibhte aig an sgoil dannsa: nuair a rachadh sinn a-staigh dhan talla, far an robh a’ chuideachda, bha h-uile fireannach gu h-àraid a’ dol a-staigh agus a’ cumail aghaidh air a’ chuideachda. Agus bha aige ri a làimh a chur air ais agus an doras a dhùnadh as a dhèidh, ach chan fhaodadh e coimhead air ais. Agus an sin bha aige ri cromadh mar onar, bow, dhan a’ chuideachd. Agus bha e air ionnsachadh mar a dhèanadh e sin. Agus chan fhaodadh e a dhol dìreach thairis air ùrlar na talla. Dh’fheumadh e, ma bha e airson a dhol gu taobh eile na talla, dh’fheumadh e a dhol mun cuairt agus mathanas iarraidh airson sam bith a dh’fheumadh a dhol tu tao’ airson a leigeil seachad, ach chan fhaodadh e a dhol tarsainn air an ùrlar. Agus nan dèanadh neach sam bith sin, bha e a’ faighinn rabhadh agus nam biodh e coireach an dara h-uair bha e a-mach as an sgoil danns’. Chan fhaodadh na gillean òga suidhe air an aon tao’ ri caileagan. Dh’fheumadh iad suidhe mun coinne’. Agus chan fhaodadh fear sam bith dannsa tric le aon chaileag. Dh’fheumadh e dannsa a thoir’ dhan a h-uile gin dhe na caileagan, is chan fhaodadh e dhannsa le bhannsrach fhèin, ma bha i an sin, dà uair gus am biodh e air riuth thairis air càch uile. Agus nam biodh e a’ dol a-mach a-rithist, na fireannaich gu h-àraid, dh’fheumadh iad a dhol a-mach air an doras a thao’ an cùil agus cromadh mar onar dhan a’ chuideachda. Agus an sin an doras a dhùnadh as a dhèidh, ach chan fhaodadh e a dhol a-mach a thao’ a bheòil.
Bha sinn ann a h-uile h-oidhche airson cealla-deug. Agus bha iad uamhasach, na maighstrichean-sgoil, dannsair, bha dithis ann dhiubh. Ach ’s ann aig fear Myron – M – y – r – o – n – ’s ann aige a dh’ionnsaich mise, ach bha nam fhàbhar-sa, bha m’ athair, dhannsadh e fichead step dhe na Highland Flings a dh’ionnsaich e bho mhaighstir-sgoil, dannsair MacDougall, MacDhùghaill. Agus fhuair mise steapaichean m’ athair cho math ris na dh’ionnsaich mi aig Myron. Agus ’s ann mar sin a fhuair mi cosnadh.
Sin agaibh-s’ an t-seann sgoil danns’.
A fascinating social history of dance schools from this particular area of the Highlands.
[Reciter: Peter MacDonald, Milton, Drumnadrochit; transcriber: Calum Maclean on 04/11/1952 (Ref: CIM I.I.20: pp. 1678–82)].
DANCES AND DANCING SCHOOLS
‘My father was an extremely good dancer and especially with steps that they nowadays call the Highland Flings. And he taught me them when I was only twelve years old when I attended dance-school in Glenmoriston. I won the first medal, the highest medal awarded. And there were nearly forty persons competing. And I had no trouble at all. And I wasn’t even wearing shoes as they weren’t available.
The dance-master would come around, MacDougall and Myron. I had Myron. There were a few Lowlanders attending. Everyone was charged twelve shillings who were being taught by them.
Q: Where were the children being taught?
Where there were forty. There was a dance-school – forty persons from Torgoyle. And I won without wearing shoes. There were no shoes. MacDougall and Myron were the masters who were instructing. They used to travel from place to place and when they could get a hall where they could get groups of youngsters gathered together they would take them in, and twelve shillings had to be paid – the second half of the dance-school and the other half after that. And that was their method and instruction. They gave them that as well they were getting spoken instructions.
Regarding the dance-school then at that time which is around sixty years ago, well, there will be a few nowadays that think those folk were backward and they didn’t have either manners or learning and that they were unable to behave in company. But that’s not right at all, from the very first lessons in the dance-school when we’d go into the hall, where the company and, especially every malem would go in and they’d keep their eye on the company. And they had to keep their hand back and to close the door afterwards, and they couldn’t look back. And they had to bow as a mark of respect to the rest of the company. And he was instructed and he would do that. And he couldn’t just traipse across the floor of the hall. He’d have to do that if he wished to go to the other side of the hall; he’d have to go around and ask permission for anything he’d have to go to one side to let them by, but he wasn’t allowed to go across the floor. And if anyone did that, he would get a warning and he if was found at fault for a second time he was thrown out of the dance-school. The young lads weren’t permitted to be on the side, on the same side, as the lassies. They’d have to sit opposite them. And a lad wasn’t allowed to dance with the some lassie too often. He’d have to dance with every single one of the lassies, and he wasn’t allowed to dance with just one partner, if she was there, and do it twice until he had danced with all the rest. And if he’d go out again, especially the males, they’d have to out the back door and make a bow in respect of the company. And then to close the door after them, and he wasn’t permitted to out the front door.
We were there every night for a fortnight. And the headmasters, the teachers were terribly good, the two of them But it was Myron who instructed me, and it was in my favour that my father could dance the twenty steps of the Highland Flings that he had learned from the schoolmaster, the dancer MacDougall. And I learned my father’s steps just as well as I learned from Myron. And that’s how I earned my way.
There you have the old dance-school.’
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