Sunday, 1 April 2018

Colin Sievwright the Weaver Poet and Queen Scota, Ancestress of the Scots

  A post of two halves, this one, and only loosely connected, I'm afraid.  Let's first look at the Brechin-born 'weaver poet' Colin Sievwright.  Born in Brechin in 1819, son of a hand-loom weaver, he was the eldest of a large family.  His parents were Solomon Sievwright and Martha Burnett.  He started work in the East Mill Company at the age of eight and was paid a shilling per week for seventy-two hours' work.  He married Annie Mackenzie in 1842 and they had four sons and one daughter.  The year before his marriage he was recorded in the census as being a resident in Kirriemuir, working as a weaver.  By the time of the census in 1871 he was living at 21 Dundee Loan, Forfar, and he was employed in a factory as a starchmaker, though he pertinently - and proudly - listed his subsidiary occupation as 'poet'.

   And a poet Colin Sievwright certainly was, a member of that peculiarly Victorian breed of artisan bards who flourished all over Great Britain.  The merits of this brand of poetry are hard to judge as a whole, and I admit that 19th century poetry in its entirety is not something which I love.  Colin published four books of poetry:  The Sough O' The Shuttle (1866), A Garland for the Ancient City:  Or, Love Songs of Brechin and its Neighbourhood (1873), New Lilts O' The Braes O' Angus (1874), Rhymes for the Children of the Church (1879). Sievwright's work covered subjects such as the beauties of natures and the characters of rural life.  He wrote in both Scots and English and the following (from his 1866 book) gives a flavour of his work, describing the (then) ruined castle of Inverquharity:

Auld Kirrie, Cradle of the Nation?

Scota - First of the Scots?  Dream Queen?

   In his introduction to his poem 'View from the Hill of Kirriemuir' (again from his first collection), Colin Sievwright provides some surprising information about Kirrie Den which seems to take us to a very remote place in Scotland's past:

At the entrance of this delightful arbour [where the Gairie Burn issues from a ravine at the west of the town], on your right hand as you ascend the banks of the stream, there is to be seen a little cave in the rock beautifully overhung with 'the ivy evergreen,' and known to the people in the neighbourhood as the Queen's Chamber, where it is believed that Scota Eta, a daughter of Pharoah king of Egypt, and the first who swayed the royal sceptre over Caledonia's hills and glens, found a shelter, when in the course of one of her Royal perambulations she was overtaken by the double calamity of darkness and drift.  In this little chamber we are told she passed the night in perfect safety, while her bodyguard lay encamped on the holm on the opposite side of the stream.
   The tale of this mythical queen goes back very distantly indeed into the murky past of both Irish and Scottish origin myths.  In one version of these confusing tales, Feinius Farsaidh and his son Nel were intrepid heroes and linguists who took the sacred Gaelic language from the Tower of Babel.  Nel made a good career move by journeying into Egypt and hooking up with the Pharoh's daughter, Scota:

He went into Egypt through valour
Till he reached powerful Pharoh,
Till he bestowed Scota, of no scant beauty,
The modest, nimble daughter of Pharoh.
  Following the drowning of the Egyptial leader in the Red Sea, Nel and Scota's son Gaidel Glas led their tribe west, into western Europe, and they were named Gaels in honour of him.  But how the Queen of Egypt happened to be encamped in Kirrie Den is anyone's guess.

Scota:  Any resemblance to any character, actual or fictional, is purely co-incidental.

More Classical Connections in Kirriemuir, the Graeco-Pictish Conspiracy

   Caddam Wood is the name of a noted Scottish country dance tune, and it is an actual case near Kirrie where - possibly - a Greek nymph once sported itself. (The wood features in The Little Minister, Sentimental Tommy and Tommy and Grizel by J. M. Barrie).  But there is a more elusive mention of the place (elusive to me anyway) in The Barrie Inspiration by Patrick Chalmers (1938), which states:

There is a legend of Caddam, borrowed from the Greek mythology, which tells how a god pursued a Greek nymph there, which was an unco' thing to happen in an Auld Licht Parish.      
 Further details of this Doric tall-tale are sadly unknown to me.  But I have a theory which may revolutionise the ethnicity of the entire Scottish race.  We know that Lallans was a name for the Scots language, and before that it was known as Doric, signifying a metaphorical connection with the wild, rural country of uncultured highland Greece.  But what if there was an actual, real DNA connection?  We know that Usan on the Angus coast was supposed in a so-called tall story to have been founded by the mighty Ulysses.  It all fits together.  It is too coincidental that we also have this story, however slight, of the minions of Pan cavorting in the Kirrie glades.  The Picts were neither Celts nor Scythians, but actually a lost tribe of noble Greeks, lost in time.  Case proved; enough said, except to state that less knowledgeable commentators may blame the transference of classical culture on a misinterpretation of local lads and lassies to the noble efforts of local dominies back in Victorian times, but that is quite simply not the case.

Sievwright himself.

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