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A2 - Beginners : Learn a Gaelic song - ’Illean bithibh sunndach

’Illean bitheabh sunndach

This is a rousing song though some of the lyrics are sad and relate to an emotive subject. Emigration occurred at various times from Scotland to places in North America, Australia and New Zealand. The destination in this song is Cape Breton in Nova Scotia, Canada. This was at one time a popular destination for Gaels, and Cape Breton still has strong ties to Gaelic culture. The author of the song is looking forward to a new life in the new world but there’s also a hint of sadness about leaving the homeland. This performance is by Sineag MacIntyre, let’s listen to the whole song to get a feel for it.

Chorus first, so let’s familiarise ourselves with the vocabulary:

'illean

Shortened version of gillean, boys

gillean

boys

bòidse

voyage

The first three lines are:

'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhòidse,
Fàgail ar dùthcha

Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage,
Leaving our country

The next three lines are:

Gun dùil ri thighinn beò ann,
'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhòidse

Without hope of doing well there,
Boys, be happy,
Going over the ocean

Once you are comfortable, let’s put the six lines together to create the whole chorus:

'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhoidse,
Fàgail ar dùthcha,
Gun dùil ri thighinn beò ann,
'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhoidse

Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage,
Leaving our country,
Without hope of doing well there,
Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage

How did you get on? Let’s gets started learning the first verse. As before, let’s crack on with the vocabulary:

cridheil

hearty

aodach

clothes, in this context it refers to the cloth, or sails.

gaolach

loving

seòladh

sailing

The first two lines of the first verse are quite hearty and urge the men to get on their way:

'Illean cridheil gaolach,
Togaibh rithe h-aodach

Hearty, loving boys,
Hoist the sails

The verse continues in the happy boisterous manner:

Tha buidheann mo ghaoil-sa,
Dihaoine dol a sheòladh

A group of my dear folk,
Are setting sail on Friday

Let’s put the four lines together:

'Illean cridheil gaolach,
Togaibh rithe h-aodach
Tha buidheann mo ghaoil-sa,
Dihaoine dol a sheòladh

Hearty, loving boys,
Hoist the sails
A group of my dear folk,
Are setting sail on Friday

’Illean bitheabh sunndach - the second verse

The second verse explains that the author is leaving Crinan, near Lochgilphead, to make a new life overseas. Again, vocabulary first:

fiadhaich

wild

cianail

mournful

lòn

livelihood

Crianain

Crinan, the place where the song originates from

The first two lines of the first verse express the singer’s sadness:

Gur mise tha gu cianail,
A' fàgail a' Chrianain

I am homesick,
Leaving the Crinan

The second verse continues with the author expressing his reason for leaving his land. It also hints at his hope of a better life in the new, though wild, land:

A' dol don dùthaich fhiadhaich,
A dh'iarraidh ar lòin as

Going to the wild country,
To make a living (from the country)

Now we are confident with the four lines, let’s put them all together:

Gur mise tha gu cianail,
A' fàgail a' Chrianain,
A' dol don dùthaich fhiadhaich,
A dh'iarraidh ar lòin as

I am homesick,
Leaving the Crinan,
Going to the wild country,
To make a living

’Illean bitheabh sunndach - the third verse

The third verse is quite foreboding, with the singer despairing about the journey. Let’s look at vocabulary:

siubhal

travelling

cuantan

oceans

muladach

sad

gruaim

gloom

Let’s listen to the first two lines:

Gur mise tha fo ghruaimean,
A' dol a shiubhal chuantan

I am in despair,
Travelling over the oceans

The dark theme continues in the next two lines:

Tha 'n t-soitheach dubh a' gluasad,
Gu muladach a sheòladh

The black ship is moving
Sailing in sadness

Once you are comfortable, we will put all the lines together:

Gur mise tha fo ghruaimean,
A' dol a shiubhal chuantan,
Tha 'n t-soitheach dubh a' gluasad,
Gu muladach a sheòladh

I am in despair,
Travelling over the oceans,
A black ship is moving,
Sailing in sadness

’Illean bitheabh sunndach - Let's sing

Okay, Let’s put the three verses together with the chorus:

'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhoidse,
Fàgail ar dùthcha,
Gun dùil ri thighinn beò ann,
'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhoidse

Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage,
Leaving our country,
Without hope of doing well there,
Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage

'Illean cridheil gaolach,
Togaibh rithe h-aodach
Tha buidheann mo ghaoil-sa,
Dihaoine dol a sheòladh

Hearty, loving boys,
Hoist the sails
A group of my dear folk,
Are setting sail on Friday

'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhoidse,
Fàgail ar dùthcha,
Gun dùil ri thighinn beò ann,
'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhoidse

Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage,
Leaving our country,
Without hope of doing well there,
Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage

Gur mise tha gu cianail,
A' fàgail a' Chrianain,
A' dol don dùthaich fhiadhaich,
A dh'iarraidh ar lòin as

I am homesick,
Leaving the Crinan,
Going to the wild country,
To make a living

'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhoidse,
Fàgail ar dùthcha,
Gun dùil ri thighinn beò ann,
'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhoidse

Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage,
Leaving our country,
Without hope of doing well there,
Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage

Gur mise tha fo ghruaimean,
A' dol a shiubhal chuantan,
Tha 'n t-soitheach dubh a' gluasad,
Gu muladach a sheòladh

I am in despair,
Travelling over the oceans,
A black ship is moving,
Sailing in sadness

'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhoidse,
Fàgail ar dùthcha,
Gun dùil ri thighinn beò ann,
'Illean bithibh sunndach,
A-null air a' bhoidse

Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage,
Leaving our country,
Without hope of doing well there,
Boys, be happy,
Going on the voyage