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Cultural Traditions

The School of Scottish Studies, founded at the University of Edinburgh in 1951, stewards unique archives of Scotland's cultural traditions in sound, photographic, film/video, manuscript and book form. The School's Sound Archive contains interviews with St Kildans recorded from the 1950s onwards and St Kilda tradition recorded from other individuals, such as the song you can hear sung by Joan MacKenzie, and items selected from the Scottish Tradition CD TRAX 9019. Topics on these tapes include tales, songs, customs, beliefs, descriptions of the way of life, and place-names, as well as linguistic data collected by the Linguistic Survey of Scotland (Gaelic).

St Kilda song text and translation (From Scottish Tradition CD TRAX 9019: School of Scottish Studies)

Track 18. Hion dail-a horo h

Hion dail-a horo h
H hion dail-a l
Hion dail-a horo h
Hu ru u-ru-i (2)
Hion dail-a horo h
H hion dail-a l.

Tha fleasgach a's a' bhaile -sa
Ris an can iad Dmhnall
'S na faigheadh e saoghal
Gu saoithricheadh e mine.

Ged a bhithinn a' bruidhinn riut
'S a' briotas riut an cmhnaidh
Cha tugadh tu na h-uighean dhomh
Nuair shuidheadh tu Di-Dmhnaich.

Is truagh nach robh mo leannan
Ann an iochdar Leac na Gdaig
Acainn air a smioradh
Agus mise bhith gu h-rd oirr'.

SA1961/71 18.

The refrain consists of vocables
(vocables: sounds without meaning).

There is a young man in this township called Donald, and if he was to live long
he would get the peats done.

If I were to speak to you and flatter you all the time, you would not give me the
eggs when you sat down on a Sunday.

Pity my sweetheart was not at the edge of Gadag Slab, his harness smeared,
and me in charge of it.




Oran le te Hirt, a' magadh air a fear o nacheil e cho duineil sa dh'iarradh i. Dh'ionnsaich Seonag aig Uilleam MacMhathain e. Chaneil an tionndadh a tha ann an Songs of the Hebrides eucoltach ris.


One of the means of livelihood of the inhabitants of St Kilda was to find seabirds' eggs on the cliffs. The song is by a St Kilda woman who is ridiculing her husband – or prospective husband - because he is not seen to be good at the tasks required of a good man in St Kilda. Joan McKenzie learned it from the late Reverend William Matheson. A version appears in Songs of the Hebrides vol. 3


Photographic archive

The Photographic Archive holds the important Robert Atkinson Collection. The author of Island Going visited St Kilda after its population was evacuated but while some St Kildans were in the habit of returning home for periods in the summer months. He was thus able to continue the documentation of its human life in context, as well as its natural features, in a remarkable way.

Finlay Macquien snaring puffins on
Carn Mor, July 26th 1938
Photograph: Robert Atkinson Collection, School of Scottish Studies,
 University of Edinburgh

Finlay Macquien outside his house,
Number 2, August 9th 1938.
Photograph: Robert Atkinson Collection, School of Scottish Studies, 
University of Edinburgh

SS Hebrides lying in Village Bay and
sending a boat ashore, August 9th 1938
Photograph: Robert Atkinson Collection, School of Scottish Studies,
 University of Edinburgh

Mrs Gillies, Neil Gillies and Finlay Macquien waiting for the SS Hebrides on the jetty, August 9th 1938
Photograph: Robert Atkinson Collection, School of Scottish Studies, 
University of Edinburgh

Further Information

The School of Scottish Studies provides undergraduate teaching for single and joint honours degrees in Scottish Ethnology and postgraduate supervision in research areas of archive strength such as Scots and Gaelic oral narrative, song, instrumental music, custom and belief, material culture, social organisation and place-names. School publications include the journal Scottish Studies, Tocher (archive materials attractively presented in transcribed and translated form), Occasional Papers and the disc and cassette series Scottish Tradition (Greentrax Recordings Ltd.).

An Isle called Hirte by Mary Harman (Waternish: Maclean Press, 1997), who carried out her doctoral research under the aegis of the School of Scottish Studies, includes information on the School's St Kilda holdings.

The School of Scottish Studies
University of Edinburgh
27 George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LD
United Kingdom

Tel: (+44) 0131 650 4161


© The National Trust for Scotland