PS 305 – The Battle of the Birds

      An Cath Gailbheach

      Cath nan Eun

Primary Sources

K2 Cath n a’n Eun, na An Càth Gailbheach / The Birds Fight or The Desperate Battle K2.34: 72
KK An Cath Gailbheach / The Desperate Battle KK.15: 29
KS ’N Cath Gailidheach / The Desperate Battle KS.13: 33
JK An Cath Gailliach JK.33: 87

Notes on Gaelic Titles

An Cath Gailbheach  An Càth Gailbheach / The Desperate Battle K2; An Cath Gailbheach / The Desperate Battle KK; ’N Cath Gailidheach / The Desperate Battle KS; An Cath Gailliach JK. The Desperate Battle. This could be amended to An Cath Gairbheach, The Battle of Harlaw (1411). W.J. Watson, The History of the Celtic Place-names of Scotland, Edinburgh (1926), p. 118. Melodies related to this one bear the titles Battle of Garlan (c.1620), Battle of Hara Law (c.1785) and Battle of Hardlaw (1839). See R.D. Cannon, ‘The Battle of Harlaw. A lost piobaireachd?’. Piping Times 26, No. 12 (1974), 7–13; and S. Chadwick, (2011). Cf. Là Chatha Gharbhaich, heading of the Brosnachadh on the Battle of Harlaw in the McLagan MS (D.S. Thomson, ‘The Harlaw Brosnachadh: an early fifteenth-century literary curio,’ in Celtic Studies: Essays in memory of Angus Matheson, ed. J. Carney and D. Greene, London [1968], pp 147–169).

Cath nan Eun  Cath n a’n Eun / The Birds Fight K2. The Battle of the Birds. A well-known folk tale in Gaelic tradition. J. F. Campbell, Popular Tales of the West Highlands, New Edition, Vol. 1 (Paisley: Alexander Gardner, 1890).

Roderick Cannon (2009), rev. Barnaby Brown 2016

Archive Recordings

1953 Pipe Major William MacLean
1953 Pipe Major William MacLean (canntaireachd)
1953 Pipe Major Robert Bell Nicol
1967 Duncan Lamont
1970 Calum Beaton
1971 George Moss
1971 George Moss (canntaireachd)
1981 George Moss

Other Material

2009 William Donaldson: Set Tunes Notes

2011 Simon Chadwick: melodic variants from non-piping traditions

2 thoughts on “PS 305 – The Battle of the Birds”

  1. simonchadwick

    I would take issue with the statement that the Harlaw tunes from Dow, Stenhouse, Rowallan etc. are “similar” to this pibroch or “related” to it – to me, they are clearly all variants of each other.

    When I was doing Harlaw research in 2011 I made a diagram showing what I saw as the relationships between different Harlaw tunes:

    The relationship between the verses and the tunes is also interesting – I wonder if this pibroch tune originaltes as the melody for the Gaelic brosnachadh?

    The tune you have heard me doing, Ronald, is the Daniel Dow fiddle variation set (which also works nicely on clarsach).

    I’m interested in the relationship between the variations that Angus MacKay writes with this pibroch, and PS062 Port Marie or Port a chrunluadh. Clearly one borrows from the other but which do you think is older?

  2. The name of this tune, An Cath Gailbheach, is possibly a corruption of An Cath Gairbheach (The Battle of the Rough Land; ie The Garioch, near Aberdeen, which was the location of the Battle of Harlaw). This battle was referred to in highland tradition as ‘An Cath Gairbheach’ and not Harlaw.

    There is an air of this name, The Battle of Harlaw, for the lute, in Stenhouse’s book. It is very similar to the urlar. Simon Chadwick on his CD ‘Clarsach na Banrighe’ has yet another version,played on his clarsach.
    The variations, of course, are taken from the tune ‘Port Marie’ in the CC. They may have been added to the air, which has an unusual structure for a pibroch, by Angus MacKay. His MS also appears to be the place where ‘The Battle of the Birds’ (an entirely separate folk tale) was added to the title, at a later date from the first title, An Cath Gailbheach.

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